Saturday, 29 September 2007

Bigger in Person

U.S. people have a variety of misconceptions regarding Europe and the U.K. Smaller, more central U.S. cities have a wildly disproportioned view of everything. They can't help it, they're in the middle of a huge land mass. Information sometimes just does not travel there. In between dirt and more dirt, we're like earthworms, wriggling through our own plots of land with only a vague idea of what's going on elsewhere. Mmm, dirt.

We have an idea that cities like London and Paris and even New York City are full of glamour and magic, where everyone's sophisticated, thin, has a great haircut and an automatic sense of style that lends itself to the creation of an amazing wardrobe. I wholeheartedly blame movies and celebrities for these notions, of course. Plus, the media for covering fashion shows, which reflect a teeny square block of the city usually.

Before I came to London, I felt under the impression that I would be the only person here above a size 4. One can but imagine the immense fear and pressure I felt when stepping off of that plane, only to find myself amid a swarm of people who carried ten, twenty, maybe fifty extra pounds! This was not the London of picture books, for sure, and it baffled me as to why people were overweight when they walked everywhere.

Becoming acquainted with the city, I discovered the sinister truth behind London's weight problem. It seemed that, for every two feet of concrete, a restaurant, take away, quickie mart or pub appeared. I had always complained about the prevalence of food in the U.S., but this, this was beyond compare! Chinese food, Indian food, Greek food, Thai food, French food, Canadian food, American food, Middle Eastern food, sushi, pastries, Starbucks, fish and chips, vending machines, supermarkets, candy, cafes, all poured superflouously out onto the streets and all teemed with action within. I'd never seen more people stuffing their faces in more places in my life!

To make matters worse, the food's unhealthy and tasteless. Even ethnic foods change their flavoring to appeal to British consumers. British people have no interest in the tang of exotic spices. Even Indian curry posesses a blandness that knocks the wind out of the enjoyment of the meal. The result is flat, fat-laden food that can be eaten without much thought or satisfaction.

As a Franco-American in London I've lost all pleasure from eating. I go to the supermarket and pick things which I know I can choke down. The only thing that I look forward to is my morning Nutella on wholemeal. Everything else goes down because of necessity.

Perhaps we think that people are thin in London because we, as Americans, lose weight when we're here. Between the nasty food and the walking (which we never get), it is inevitable that we should shrink in size.

Perhaps the only way to beat the international obesity epidemic is get people to switch countries. Move Ethiopia to France, France to the U.S., the U.S. to London, London to Ethiopia and there you go! No one's fat, no one's too thin. I think my plan could work, right?

At any rate, being here definitely causes me to dissolve any preconceived notions I had about this city. People don't even seem to do their hair here. Women wear their hair long and styleless and in ponytails. No one's interested in spending money on hair. It's the tourists, I imagine, that make the industry go round.

At least, that's what this "tasteless American" has observed.

Friday, 28 September 2007

Light a Fire

Lighting a fire under one's arse can prove difficult, especially in the U.K. As a journalist, how does a person inspire another person to talk to her? As a regular person, it's difficult. As a journalist, it's maddening. Deadlines aren't forgiving. Pursuasiveness is an art.

On the other hand, Brits with an agenda have a fabulous ability to pursuade. They will pull off a complete screw job with the finesse and polish of David Copperfield.

"Now you see your time and hard-earned money, now you don't!" And somehow you walk away thanking them for it.

Life moves slower here in the U.K. than it does in the U.S. It takes some getting used to and I haven't worked out all of this planning ahead business. It seems that one has to be extremely organized to live here. Practically nothing can be done off the cuff in just five minutes. No, even going to pick up a can of soup proves to cost a person almost fifteen minutes of precious time. As a wise New Yorker once told me, even seconds add up. It's true!

So, deadlines looming, I decide that the best way to get the job done as a journalist covering an event or other time-sensitive matters, is to let them know you're coming and just show up. In most cases, "May I have an interview?" does not work. They will politely put you off until infinity. No, you must charge in with your pad and paper (because we print student people don't have digital recorders like the broadcasters were given) and start asking questions.

It just so happens that on Sunday I'm going to be interviewing puppets, or puppeteers, same diff. It will prove itself an interesting endeavor. I'm charging into a Punch and Judy festival with eyes and ears open. Wish me luck!

Also, I've been given the opportunity to write for a new UK night clubbing publication online. I will keep everyone posted on the developments.