Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Eggnog for Expats

Now that the reality of Christmas has set in, I find myself missing the arguments celebrations at my parents’ house. Aside from the fact that they constantly play Christmas music (the good stuff, not Kenny G), they always have the most amazing food, and 10am is not considered too early to have an eggnog and brandy. I can't even find eggnog here. I am perplexed, as I thought it was an equally British drink. The only place I’ve managed to obtain it so far is in ridiculously overpriced lattes.

When I wake up on Christmas morning at my parents’, my stocking is always filled and there are presents under the tree as if by magic. Okay, so I’m old enough to know it doesn’t work that way, but I love presents (I really love presents. Did I say how much I love them?). I probably have more faith in a guy who lives at the North Pole and delivers presents to the children of the world in a single night, than in a white kid named Jesus being born in the Middle East. I mean, come on! Jesus was obviously Latino. He worked as a carpenter, he lived with his parents until he was 31, and he honestly believed his mother was a virgin!*

In any case, I wish we could have gone home for the holidays. Since getting married, I’ve quite come to relish my role as adult child in the house. Particularly when it comes to helping out. My husband is an excellent helper of chores, and therefore makes me look good by association. I miss the flurry of preparation for the big day… well, almost.

Recent message from Dad: I’m sick. Your mother is mad that I’m sick. Can I come to London for Christmas?

My reply: Sure, if you want to sleep on my kitchen floor, and spend 3 days in the Heathrow Terminal trying to get home.

Not to be outdone, my mother popped up on my computer screen to offer her take on things.

Mom: Your dad is sick. So is the dog. Can you send Michael to help me out?

Me: Only if you pay for the ticket and realise he won’t arrive until after Christmas.

At this point I had both of them typing away to me from different computers, in different rooms of the house. I briefly entertained the thought of trying to pit them against each other (for my own amusement) when their attentions became focused elsewhere.

Mom: Your sister was trying to water the tree and it fell over. I think it’s time for my first eggnog of the day.

Dad: Oh Christ, the tree fell over. I have to go.

I liked to imagine they sprang to action, united in the cause to make the tree vertical once more. In reality, I’m told my brother did most of the work tying the tree to the wall with festive, green twine. But even if my family complains about the giant production that is Christmas, they’re still luckier than me. They have delicious eggnog** to get them through it all.

*I can’t take credit for that joke, though. My friend, Alonso told it to me years ago.

** If any of my astute readers know where I can buy eggnog here, please let me know. I have tried Waitrose and Tesco, and have come away empty-handed!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Pour le service en français, appuyez sur le 2


We were in Paris for a wedding this past weekend. You may have remembered me saying in this post that I was afraid Michael might not like it. Luckily, I needn’t have worried. We had a wonderful time.

The wedding was absolutely fantastic, the sort of event Martha Stewart Weddings could only dream of covering (though it might have been too euro chic even for them). It was one of those weddings we know we’ll be talking about for years. Usually in my family, that honour is reserved for either horrifically bad (or weird) weddings, or all out luxury VIP weddings. The rest, I’m afraid to say, fall somewhere in the middle, and are all lumped together in memory.

My parents and I once went to a rodeo wedding. Oh yes, you read correctly. The bride and groom wore cowboy/girl accessories (she was a barrel racer, he was a bull rider), and they were photographed sitting on the back of an old, docile bull. And up until the reception, it all could have been explained by saying it had a 'rustic theme'. But no. When it came time for the best man's speech, he raised his glass and proclaimed, 'I don't think there's anyone in this here room whose life hasn't been touched by the sport o' rodeo.' My father had to physically restrain my mother from putting her hand up, while trying not to burst into laughter himself.

The wedding in Paris, though, will be remembered for the amazing venue (the King of Qatar owned the old, restored hotel that looked out over Place Vendôme), and the equally stunning food (fois gras stuffed quail's breast, anyone?). The bride was beautiful in an exquisitely ethereal Vera Wang gown, and the groom looked dapper in his tux. We ate and drank, and even slow danced to 'La Vie en rose', and then I ate some more. Okay, I gorged myself like an ancient greek at a vomitorium (with predictable results)... but it was so worth it. Un gros merci to the wonderful bride and groom for hosting a fabulous party.

Because the wedding events took up most of the weekend, we weren't able to do as much sightseeing as I'd have liked. I'd planned on showing Michael everything, which now that I think about it was rather ambitious. Still, it warmed my heart to see that he really liked the city. And nobody made fun of him for being un anglo. Actually, people were a little too nice. It kind of freaked me out.

I would order for both of us en français, and the waiter, hearing us speak in English to each other, would immediately decide to try out his meagre anglais. I'm sure in his head he thought he was being helpful, or maybe management told him he had to try, but I found the result extremely offensive.

'Why would you find someone being helpful offensive, Cait?' you ask. Look, I didn't go to Paris to have les parisiens be nice to me. I went to be scowled at and ignored! I was so looking forward to showing Michael how I knew all the tricks to getting service (not good service, just ANY service). This time I didn't even have to try. And I'm sorry, but unless you're one of my totally bilingual friends, or you're a Trudeau, my French will always be better than your English. If I wanted service in English, I'd have stayed in England. In Canada, almost any toll free number you phone will give you the option of English or French. I wanted to carry around the ubiquitous recorded voice saying, 'Pour le service en français, appuyez sur le 2,' but I doubt they would have understood the joke.

En tout cas, we will definitely have to return, if not to Paris then to somewhere else in France. By the end of the weekend, Michael didn't even notice he was telling people 'merci' (and pronouncing it correctly... I am so proud!). They say you can't change a man, but can you make him bilingual? On verra...

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

What's in a name?

It all started when my very best friend told me she was pregnant. Just like that, pregnant friends were everywhere, having apparently gotten together and decided that 2010 was THE year for maternity wear. I was thrilled for them, but worried for me. What if they turned into ‘smug pregnant women’? Luckily none of them have (so far), but I began to feel left out. Not because I actually wanted a baby, with tiny fingers and chubby toes and… gah! Okay maybe they’re a little bit cute. No, I felt left out because I wasn’t in on the trend. Babies, you see, are the new ‘it’ accessory.

More than that, I worried about how it would affect our friendships because I am self-absorbed things would never be the same. What happened to staying out until dawn? To dancing and debauchery? Okay fine, I haven’t actually done any of these things in years, but it didn’t help the gnawing anxiety that things were changing.

My friends weren’t the only ones procreating. Suddenly, women everywhere were giving up their freedom at the expense of tiny humans who would rule their lives for the next 18 years. They were doing things like buying 400$ prams and organic mushy carrots. They were probably doing all these things before, but I’d never actually noticed. And they were naming their children… oh were they ever! Some of the names these poor kids would have to deal with seemed like unwarranted punishments.

If you have a child, you might want to stop reading now, because I am about to write down my personal rules for child-naming, and I’m likely to offend at least one yummy mummy. I know everyone has personal preferences when it comes to this, usually having to do with unfortunate results when combined with the last name (put it this way, my parents would not have named my brother ‘William’ because the nickname-lastname combo would have sounded quite similar to ‘Billabong’). These are my personal guidelines. Feel free to use them, or to send me hate mail.

Rule #1) No nicknames in place of formal names. I’m a bit of a snob when it comes to this one, but I really think that if you want to call your kid ‘Tony’, you name him ‘Anthony’ or ‘Antonio’. If you want your little girl to be a ‘Liz’, name her Elizabeth. Put the formal name on the birth certificate, and call your child whatever you like. It’s why they’re called nicknames, people!

Rule #2) No medieval professions (again, a more personal one). I know names like Cooper, Carter, and Fletcher have become quite popular, but where will it end? Cobbler? Tinker? Serf? Townwhore?

Rule #3) No nouns that are linked to personality traits. You just know little Joy will be a miserable child, little Hope will be despondent, little Charity will be selfish, and... I think we all know what will become of little Chastity. And speaking of little Chastity...

Rule #4) No stripper names. Why on earth would you name your child 'Candy' (Candace is fine), 'Destiny' or 'Cookie', when you know they'll end up giving lap dances for a living? Okay, most people who give their children these names are probably strippers themselves...

Rule #5) Last names as first names only if you can find them on your family tree. I have to admit, I am quite a fan of the 'last names as first names' trend, but only when it applies to your own family. Don't name your kid 'MacKenzie' unless somewhere in your ancestry you were part of the clan. And for the love of God, please don't spell it 'Makynzee'.

Rule #6) No 'yooneek' spellings. Your child's name will still sound the same (once people have figured it out), and then she'll be just another 'Emma', even if you spell it 'Ehmah'. Different spellings for similar names in other languages are, however, perfectly acceptable.

Rule #7) No abandoning your cultural/ethnic background. If you are pasty white, and your husband is pasty white, do not name your little girl Ebony (unless she's adopted). It might be a pretty name, but she'll have to spend her whole life explaining that her parents were being ironic. Same goes for some Brazilians who, inexplicably, name their children things like 'Washington' and (this one's a doozy!) Waltdisney (though I think they might spell it 'Ualtdisni')... fala serio! I'm not even going to get into how weird that is.

Rule #8) You don't live in the Lord of the Rings series. Please stop naming your children 'Gwenevere Finevere Elthwith Tinklebottom' or anything else that makes them sound like a hobbit.

Rule #9) No place names that aren't already established people names. Names like Devon, Paris and Virginia have all been human names for a long time. However, if you choose to name your kid 'Tokyo' or 'Vancouver' we're all going to assume it's because that's where the little one was conceived. And no one wants that mental image.

Rule #10) No combo names. Your kid isn't a meal deal at McDonald's, so don't give him a combo name. Double names are fine (these are just two names put together, sometimes with a hyphen), but it's a bit silly to take two names, lop off half of each, and stick them together. I don't care if you like both names, or if they're both names that have meaning to you. When you perform DIY on names, it sounds just as silly as when you do it with random words. ('Deotamin' is, like, a totally masculine name! I made it up by combining deodorant and vitamin!) Plus it makes your kid sound like a celebrity couple.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Days of 'Your'

The time has come when I can no longer ignore the rage building up inside of me. No, I’m not talking about my so-far-unsuccessful plight to get a job here, nor is this about social justice for immigrants. This is about idiocy… ‘your’ idiocy, to be exact. There is a huge ‘your’ problem going on. It’s not necessarily your fault, but if, like me, you have a basic grasp of the English language, it's certainly responsible for your headaches. And if you haven’t yet guessed the subject of my tirade, then YOU’RE probably one of the people at fault.

I can’t count the number of times in a day I come across the misuse of the word ‘your’. I used to think it was limited to facebook, and possibly texting (hey, ur, like, saving text space, rite?), but it isn’t. I’ve seen it appear in online articles, supposedly edited, but evidently not. Every time I’m forced to read things like ‘lol your funny’, I die a little inside. If raging against stupidity makes me an elitist, well good! If the world had more elitists, maybe it would be a better (or at least more literate) place.

Here is what I think when someone uses 'your' instead of 'you're'. They write 'your invited', and in my head I hear 'MY invited'? What is an 'invited'? I didn't think I owned an 'invited'! Well now I must go out and buy an 'invited' since I'm obviously supposed to have one. Now, of course I know what they mean, but I choose to silently mock them. It soothes me. Other, more popular (wah!) blogs like this one also spew forth wit for those of us fed up with the deterioration of the English language.

Now, I know what you're going to say. "Cait, you of all people should know that languages are constantly evolving". This is true. New words are invented every day for technology, music, politics (heh heh... teabaggers) etc. But this doesn't excuse the laziness of native speakers when it comes to simple grammar. It's not a split infinitive, people, it's just a common homonym. And if you missed that class in JUNIOR HIGH (gah! pen in hand coming dangerously close to poking out eyes!... calm, calm...), homonyms are words that SOUND the same, but are SPELLED differently. Like be and bee? Why, that's right! Gold star for you!

Yes, I realize I have more education than most, and that education systems are quite different depending on where you grew up, but this should have been covered by the time you were 12. Even my Korean students managed not to use the wrong 'your/you're', and they don't even use the roman alphabet in their mother tongue. That's right, 10 year old Korean children have a better grasp of the English language than the 'your' crowd.

How someone who only speaks English can't manage to master their native language boggles the mind. In this world of technology and ever-expanding internationalism, communication is everything. Wouldn't you want be respected for your writing? Well, maybe not.

All I know is, I'd thank you lazy, grammar-shirkers* for inspiring this blog... but you'd just go on about MY welcome.

*New word!

N.B - Bonus points for understanding my play on words in the title. (Self congratulatory pat on back).