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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!

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