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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, April 28, 2011

Resisting a "plan-it-early" takeover

I’ve just realised why so many New Yorkers currently profess they are not planning to watch tomorrow’s Royal Wedding.  It’s nothing to do with the early start (coverage begins at 4am New York time) – it’s just that they had not been given enough time to put it in their diaries!

The announcement of the big day some 5 months ago was way too late for many of my fellow islanders who probably are currently already marking 2012 dates in their planners. We had been warned of this particular endearing New Yorker trait at the “cultural” seminar we attended shortly after landing on Planet Big Apple - and for us it is one of those unexpected insights into individual national quirks that make each of our interplanetary experiences unique.

In Brazil, for example, we were told a common parting salute “We’ll get together some time” in no way meant plans would soon be made to see each other again. This was not too difficult to come to grips with as it was similar to the great Northern Irish passing greeting of “How’s about you?” It took me a while when I first arrived in mainland Britain to understand that non-Norn Iron speakers actually thought this was an enquiry about their health or general well-being and were somewhat dismayed that I was already half-way down the street before they replied.

In France there was the code of always saying “Bonjour madame” or Bonjour monsieur” as you walked into any shop or restaurant.  And the importance of correctly cutting cheese (not to be mixed up with "cutting the cheese") in polite society – important tip, never, never cut the nose off a Brie.

Here we were told how New Yorkers would also invariably say “We must get together some time” and (unlike perhaps some of their Brazilian counterparts) would really mean it – at the time. But once out of sight, the busy whirlwind of everyday Manhattan life would erase your contact details from their memory. So diaries at the ready, any arrangements for lunch, coffee, speed-walking (not my thing, better at the speed-talking) have to be made there and then – although invariably for a get-together months in advance.

I have to admit, it’s taken me a while to get used to this system, coming from a more spur-of-the-moment social environment. Luckily my tendency to call up last minute and see if someone is free for a coffee or lunch is regarded as quite quaint by my other “life facilitators” as I call my fellow females.  And because I am not a New Yorker, my friends do not have to worry that about how it appears if they are, perish the thought, available and not already booked up.

I’m currently however feeling the social pressure to commit to summer. One’s plans for summer (which becomes a verb over here as in “Where are you summering this year?”) is the main topic of conversation or rather has been since Christmas. I was used to this somewhat in France where the general rule was to be two school holidays ahead but summer over there essentially involved many families flocking to their country retreats. Why on earth would you want to go anywhere else when your homeland has sea, mountains, beautiful countryside and amazing wine and food?

Here, while Planet USA of course also fulfills all those criteria, one has to be doing something – unless, of course, your country retreat is in the Hamptons where summer rentals can easily be $75,000 for  a three-bedroom house in which case your “doing” is spending money.

This year is apparently particularly important as it is the last summer before Mini-Mum applies to college and all her fellow students have the vacation mapped out with internships and summer courses. Her college counselor is starting to panic slightly at our renegade relaxed attitude. My belief that Mini-Mum should be allowed to spend the time reading books outside her examination syllabus in preparation for interviews is not regarded as sufficient - she should be out saving the world rather than learning about it.

Those of you who know me out there also know that inevitably we’ll all end up having some great adventure somewhere that I’ve booked three days before. I'm determined not to lose my spontaneity (disorganisation?) during our sojourn here but I can feel myself slipping. Already I am booking lunches, dinners one month ahead and, worst of all, I even now know today what I’m doing tomorrow – watching the Royal Wedding of course!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Weddings, weather and wabbits!

It seems to me on this side of the Atlantic that many of you on the other side of the pond are currently solely focused on the 3Ws – not the World Wide Web but weddings, weather and wabbits (had to get an Easter connection in there somewhere).

Us U.S. aliens however are sadly lacking in all three. So far as the weather is concerned, while Planet WWW may be enjoying 80 degrees and glorious sunshine, here we are, heading towards the end of April and the summer kit still remains stashed away at the back of the wardrobe. Footwear is predominantly of the toes-in variety and street fashion remains focused on variations of black and grey – with a multitude of tones of white from bare, wintered legs only beginning to make an appearance.

If Spring has not yet sprung, it’s fair to say that the Easter bunny certainly sprang past us this weekend with barely a second glance. This was our first Easter in Planet Big Apple as the school holidays in previous years fell in such a way that we could head back to the wee Green Isle.This year however with Male Mini-Me and Mini-Mum in the same American school, we switched from Easter holidays to Spring Break. This meant that we only had off the statutory holiday of Good Friday. But we did have the added bonus of no school on Tuesday and Wednesday of the same week for Passover. 

With the two big holidays falling so close together, shops here have to be democratic thanks to New York demographics. In the grocery and drug stores, Easter eggs shared shelf space with matzo bread, egg-collecting baskets with disposable Seder plates. In keeping with our new planetary home, Superalien lived up to his name and rose early on Easter Sunday to shop for the necessary ingredients at our local Jewish deli to make chocolate brownies!  So much nicer than an Easter egg.

And so to the final W – THE wedding. Hard to believe, I know, but wedding fever still has to grip Planet Big Apple. Perhaps everyone has been waiting for Easter and Passover to end before turning their full attention to the upcoming festivities. But no one I know has asked me about it and even I, in the interests of research, had to force myself to watch the recent Made-for-TV movie on the future royal couple in order to acquaint myself of all the important facts. So glad I did, otherwise I would never have known that the Royal family appear to use at one’s breakfast table the same “crystal” glasses my father collected religiously with petrol coupons many years ago.

Come the big day, apart from the inevitable TV coverage (beginning at 4am local time), the main focus of any celebrations would appear to be two street parties. The first is being held by ex-pats in the DUMBO district of Brooklyn (no comments on the venue please), the other in Greenwich village organized by one of the few “British” shops cum restaurants in the city that boasts such delicacies as Heinz spaghetti on toast, bangers, mash and beans and Scotch eggs. During the wedding coverage however, breakfast will be served by the French restaurant across the way – that probably says it all.

Personally I think several New York hotels have got the right idea, organizing breakfast packages complete with morning wake-up call. One such package does require you to make it downstairs to watch the great event on a wide screen TV but promises slippers, pillows and blankets on hand throughout to ensure the “coziest of dining experiences”.

Now that I know everything about the young couple (said TV movie having being “inspired by true events”), I admit I will most likely turn the TV on after the Minis have left for school and enjoy my own wedding breakfast experience complete with blanket and pillow but without the $150 plus a head price tag.

All in all, I can cope without the wedding and Easter wabbits, but can we have the weather back please?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Subaliens take on the Big One, where man meets moose and skis are fat

We’re back with a spring in our step and thankfully no breaks after a new planetary experience - skiing the wilds of Wyoming.

In true galactic exploring tradition, I’ve made it a family goal we visit as many states as possible in Planet America, in order to see its inhabitants in as many states as possible, so to speak. Therefore this ski holiday rather than return to the slopes of our much-loved Colorado, we decided to head a little higher geographically and try out Jackson Hole, referred to apparently as “The Big One” in the skiing community.

Things did not augur too well before our departure – Mini-Mum picked up immediately it was a little more out of the way than she is used to when I repeated the agent’s assurances the resort did not get busy at the weekend. Quote “There’s no big town around for anyone to drive from!” Plus she also quickly ascertained there wasn’t even a branch of that well-known coffee shop that has previously acted as one of our “basic criteria for holiday destinations”, the others being dishwashers in self-catering units (me), lots of shops for impulse buying (Superalien) and free Wi-Fi (Male Mini-me).

Then I committed the rookie mistake of looking at videos online of daring-do skiers, daring to do what I do not - jumping off crevasses and throwing themselves into razor-thin mountain corridors. I did however learn some essential vocabulary as many of these videos involved the (fortunately unhurt) skiers losing their skis and poles in all different directions, resulting in delighted shouts from observers of “Yard Sale!”  At first I admit I understood “yard sail” and assumed this was alluding to the billowing cloud of snow the poor skiers usually created as they fell. It took Superalien and Male Mini-me to point out the more obvious “belongings spread all over the ground as if on display for purchase”.

Needing someone to explain “yard sale” to me led to my second mistake. I was already slightly wary because of the reactions of many here in Big Apple when hearing of our destination (“steep and deep”, “a real skier’s mountain”, “how’s your medical coverage”). By showing Superalien and Male Mini-me said videos, I was then constantly plagued by Male Mini-me in particular maintaining how such and such didn’t look that bad and telling me the age of the youngest person to ski it (never mind their poor mother who aged 10 years the moment they did).

So it is probably fair to say that there were mixed feelings in the Subalien family as we touched down last week, divided between testosterone-filled males and cappuccino-lacking and knee-quaking females. I needn’t have worried. Jackson Hole is no hole in any respect, sitting in a 50 mile-long sun-drenched valley and full of cappuccino-making coffee shops (both in town and on mountain) and enough ski, moose, and cowboy-themed shops to make any impulse buyer happy. And we had a dishwasher and free Wi-Fi.

As for the skiing, I’d like to think the Ballygowan division of the Irish ski team as we call ourselves held its own on the mountain - not too many yard sales and no, I did not allow Mini-me to age me 10 years by trying to jump into afore-mentioned corridor.  All the locals had time for a chat - even the coolest of dudes (yes, they did call each other that) would break off their phone calls in the gondola checking their mates weren’t picked up by the local sheriff the previous night to ask where we were from and tell us where to head next on the mountain (and they did not suggest crevasses or couloirs).  

Over the space of a week we had everything from 10 inches of powder to spring snow. Superalien discovered “fat skis” which are not apparently designed for the portlier figure but are supposed to help you ski better in powder – either way, they worked.  We saw our first wolf, our first elk, our first moose (why isn’t the plural of moose meese?) and decided that while facial hair is big out here, trucks are even bigger.

We sadly left Jackson on April 1, an important day in our household where previous japes have involved peanut butter smeared on bathroom doors and ketchup sachets hidden between the toilet seat and the bowl (guess, who got that one). This year, Male Mini-me thought he had caught out Superalien shaking his bed at 7am in the morning – it took us quite a while to convince him it actually was a 4.1 earthquake, centred elsewhere in western Wyoming.

On our way out at the airport, I picked up the town’s freebie newspaper and found out that it too took April Fool's Day seriously. Amongst a host of great bogus stories was my personal favourite, tucked away in its Community Calendar - “French Ladies Society hosts workshop on how to drink responsibly with your children”.  In the big country, guess that also applies to the local sense of humour. 
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