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So what is a newyorksubalien...

I’m a New York subalien. Don’t get me wrong, I’m perfectly legal – it’s just my loving other half, official alien that he is, comes with a so-called “supermodel” visa that apparently denotes him as one possessing extraordinary abilities (falling asleep within 5 minutes of sitting down in front of the TV, remembering only 2 of the 3 items on a mental shopping list and not knowing where the dishwasher tablets live after 2 years in our apartment are just some of his many talents).

The same visa leaves me extraordinarily unable to possess that most American of entities - a “social” i.e. a Social Security Number. Calling it a “social” makes it sound like the password to some party-filled, fun-packed lifestyle. That’s not far wrong as without these all-important 9 numbers, you pretty much can’t have a lifestyle at all - no bank account, no credit card, not even a driver’s license.

So what does a subalien do? Well, like over sub life forms waiting for evolution to give them a leg up on the ladder of existence, I have plenty of time to observe and these, dear reader, are my observations…..

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Lampese, realtorese - it's all americanese to me

Superalien never misses an opportunity to say how life on this side of the Atlantic is proving to be one of our most foreign experiences even though in theory, we all speak the same language. 

We certainly get as many puzzled looks over here when we open our mouths as in Brazil and France and we're not talking about pronunciation issues (although I doubt if I will ever be able to say "water" correctly - currently using the "say it while trying to regurgitate a piece of fluff at the back of your throat" method which is proving reasonably successful).

It's the little things that you never had even thought about before - like when I rang up the doctor's and asked what time surgery finished. The poor receptionist started explaining that this was not a hospital before I clicked. Or when Male Mini-me recounted the other day how the class all started looking at him when he said he had lost his jumper, visions of misplaced frogs obviously springing to mind (that reminds me of another school frog story in Paris - Mini-mum was doing dissection for the first time in Biology and the teacher brings in frozen frogs' legs bought that morning from the local supermarket.Don't you just love the country! Anyway, I digress...).

So we now have to think restroom (what a great word!) not loo, eraser and not rubber (definitely not rubber, especially in the classroom), pants and not trousers (again, always brings a smile to Male Mini-me's face), trunk rather than boot (particularly useful when trying to get into a taxi and out of the pouring rain but needing to offload a saxophone case and upteen packages in the back of the cab). Then you have words such as "ramp" which have a whole new meaning here and unfortunately one you only get after you've passed the only "ramp" or exit off the "highway" for the next 100 miles. 

The other day I had my first lesson in “lampese”, essential if you need to purchase any form of lighting in this country which rests on tables. I am now proud to be able to add this additional language to my CV (sorry, resume) and am sufficiently fluent to know that the word “harp” means (1) a musical instrument (2) a very popular lager in Northern Ireland and (3) the round wire thing that sits around a light bulb and has to be bought at great additional expense to any base.

In addition, the word “finial” means (1) architectural device, typically carved in stone and employed to decoratively emphasize the apex of a gable (thanks, Wikipedia) and (2) the little screw thing that attaches the lampshade to the aforementioned harp and which has to be bought at great to exceptionally great additional expense to the base. 

Over the past two years I have also reached conversational level in “realtorese”, vital to all those seeking a roof over their heads. Initially I was somewhat bemused when told that “window treatments” were included in the price of any apartment (note, not flat), assuming it was plagued with wood-worm or termites. Now of course I know to nod wisely and reverently finger the curtain fabric to appreciate its velvety quality.

As with any great language, there are regional dialects and it helps to be conversant with New York’s particular patois when browsing property listings. “City views” should not be confused with “cityscape views”, for example. The latter means a panoramic outlook on the skyscrapers or parks of this amazing city; the former means looking into your neighbours’ back gardens - or worse.

My personal favourite is “artist’s light”, which to me conjured up images of an apartment constantly bathed in a soft, natural glow. To some extent, I was right - it does mean constantly bathed in a soft glow, but that of table lamps (complete with harps and finials) as this means an apartment that receives no direct sunlight at any time of the day. Now I know why so many painters were manic depressives! 

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