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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…..

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Little green men and women - Planet Big Apple becomes Planet St Paddy's Day

You just can’t beat the luck of the Irish.

Yesterday morning the inhabitants of Planet Big Apple awoke to what was a truly appalling day – pouring, relentless, pitiless rain. Typically Irish, except, as I commented on more than one occasion, in Ireland it would be blazing sunshine by the end of the afternoon whereas experience has taught me here, even as far as the weather is concerned, they do nothing by halves.

But sure and begorrah, by late afternoon yesterday the sky was blue, the sun was beaming down and the clouds were as fluffy as an Irish lamb’s fleece. This morning we awoke to the finest Spring Day ever so you just couldn’t help walking with a bounce in your step as if you were dancing to a thousand Irish fiddles.

There’s no way you can escape St Patrick’s Day over here. One slogan I’ve seen promoting today’s festivities reads “For everyone has a little bit of Irish in them” and you’d believe it if you walked around the streets of Planet Big Apple today, full of green men and women, some of whom are not even aliens.

Of course the manner of professing it varies – head for the main parade area and it can range from bright green wigs (I’ll own up, I have one of those), very short female Leprechaun outfits (Superalien owns up to wanting me to get one of those) and the ubiquitous silly hats, green beads and shamrock sunglasses (because you need sunglasses a lot in Ireland).

In our “nabe” we’re perhaps a little more subtle so I aim for the “colleen chic” look. And I met plenty of smartly-dressed Wall Street Masters of the Universe walking their dogs this morning wearing shamrock-covered silk ties – the men that is, not the dogs. That said, even the dog accessory stores have jumped onto the Irish horse and cart and run an impressive line of shamrock doggy T-shirts and collar and leash sets.

I’d always resisted the St Paddy’s Day paraphernalia until we landed here. Back home it wasn't even a full holiday for us when I was growing up. Coming from the little corner of the Emerald Isle where you had to have your feet in one of the two religious camps, we would simply get a half-day off school so we could watch the Inter-School’s Rugby final. There were certainly none of the parades that have started to emerge in recent years but then again as Male Mini-me said on the way to school this morning – “Sure if you’re Irish you don’t need one day a year to celebrate - you celebrate every day!”

I think he may have had a certain type of celebration in mind and he’s not alone. The local freebie papers have been running articles for the past week on how to “survive” St Patrick’s Day as well as tips on how to hide your hangover from your boss the next day. Somewhat understandably, public consumption of alcohol is strictly forbidden during the parade itself so that is a true test for some given the march starts at 11am and was still going last year when I crossed it at four in the afternoon. Mind you, parade goers seem to be able to find the necessary moral courage to continue in the many pubs along the parade route.

As you can imagine in the land of choice, Irish-themed eating and drinking options are as varied as the hues of green in the Emerald Isle itself. What true Irishman could resist trying a corned beef and cabbage pizza or a bright green bagel (I had my first one ever this morning). This could then be washed down by a Shamrock Shake served only at this time by a certain well-known burger chain. 

Or of course there are the numerous alcoholic beverages being promoted for the big day ranging from the obvious traditional stouts, liqueurs and whiskeys to the more visually obvious green-coloured beers to the downright strange. I'd never heard of an Irish Cactus (a mixture between Irish Cream and tequila) nor an Irish Flag  - green crème de menthe, Irish cream and then brandy poured in order very slowly over the back of a spoon into a shot glass giving a perfect Irish tricolour.

Hopefully all the little green men and women who try these out will also have received the recent Happy St Patrick’s Day greeting from my car service. This wished us all a great day and then reminded us not to drink and drive but use their enclosed $5 off coupon to book a car home. I think they've found their crock full of gold at the end of the rainbow!

As a true green Irishwoman, it will probably come as little surprise to you all that I will not be partaking of the Parade festivities, nor quaffing stout nor whiskey, nor eating corned beef and cabbage. But I will be raising a glass or two at some stage in the day with friends and would like to take this opportunity to wish everyone this simple Irish wish.

As you slide down the banister of life, may the splinters never point in the wrong direction!

Happy St Patrick’s Day.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Adversities of finding Planet Colliversity

Poor Mini-Mum. We’re just back from a week of intergalactic traveling aimed at helping her decide where she wants to land next as she prepares to launch herself off towards Planet "Colliversity".

I call it "Colliversity" as once again we’re finding a common language doth not a common education system make. For starters, there’s the college/university name issue – this side of the pond, the next stage on from high school is generally called college which offers undergraduate degrees whilst our preferred term, university, is reserved for larger institutions that includes postgraduates. Confused? I’ve only started.

There are more than 4,000 colleges and universities in Planet America and if our brimming mailbox is currently anything to go by, it seems that most of them are sending letters to my daughter, explaining how they are the one for her. In contrast to Planet Britain, it’s more of case of getting you in, rather than letting you in the door. Perhaps that’s why many are from Recruitment as opposed to Admissions Officers.

Most other Mini-Mums in her grade have already embarked on the Campus Trail which seems to involve manic three-day sessions driving hundreds of miles from one college to the next, attending the obligatory campus tours and making sure you register your "interest" at the Admission Office.  

Apparently there is even an app that maps out college routes for you, grouping them together so you can maximize your “hit” rate. Although from what I understand, most of the hitting seems to be from the mothers banging their heads against the steering wheel when after driving 200 miles, their beloved offspring refuses to leave the car as he or she doesn’t like the colour of the buildings.

It wouldn’t be Planet America unless you were spoiled for choice, and that goes for your choice of subject - or rather subjects. One of the biggest differences in the two planetary systems is that whereas in the Planet Universal (ie the UK) you apply to study a specific course, in the Planet Collegiate, you simply choose your college and can spend your first two years studying subjects as varied as astronomy, cultural anthropology and newyorksubalien literature (well, maybe) before  "declaring your major".

For Mini-Mum, this could (ironically) be the decision-breaker. She’s already likened the whole process to the dilemma she faces every lunchtime at the sandwich shop. With the multitude of options available – breads, meats, cheeses, dressings, sides - Mini-Mum is the only person to ask for things to be taken out of her roll. All she wants is a simple ham sandwich.  Likewise for her next three years of study – she’s happy to keep it simple. No baloney for her.

Personally I feel there is another aspect of college-life that might also tip the scales eastwards.  Most US colleges expect first year students to share rooms with essentially complete strangers. Top Freshman survival tip? Invest in a really good sleep mask and ear plugs so you can fall asleep when your roomie stays up until 2.00am. A friend whose daughter started college this year bought her a special present half-way through term – two nights in a hotel so she could sleep, eat, study and watch TV on her own.  So you have to pay for fees, living costs – and nights in a hotel as well?

I’m already having sleepless nights anyway trying to come to terms with the new vocabulary needed to negotiate the entry systems – SAT, ACT, GPA, AP all now roll off my tongue but don’t ask me what they actually stand for. It’s the sandwich thing again – Planet Universal keeps it simple, a clear-cut offer based on predicted grades in your final exams. In Planet Collegiate, where there is no formal final exam as such, colleges look at your GPAs (Grade Point Averages I’ve since discovered) over the penultimate 3 years plus your scores from the infamous SATs (Scholastic Aptitude/Assessment Tests), SAT subject tests or other multi-lettered equivalents.  

As I write this, Mini-Mum and I are about to head off to a "motivational "  talk on the Colleges Admissions Game which I am sure will have us all cheering in the aisles by the end of the evening. But when decision time comes round, I suspect that Mini-Mum will be going British rather than Greek, choosing societies over sororities, cream teas over pop tarts and trail mix.

And we'll be left, one star less in our universe. And me, a newyorksobbingalien. That's the real adversity of finding Planet Colliversity.
Creative Commons License by Caroline Eagles is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.