Tag Archives: special relationship: us/uk

Cultural Disconnect (the first in a series)

Firstly, before I get self-indulgent, it really looks like things in Haiti are getting worse by the hour. If you can, please donate (I’m currently assessing whether dollars or pounds would be more effective) to one of the relief efforts, or, if you can’t afford to give money, pass on the information.
UNICEF (USA)
Oxfam (UK)
The Humanitarian Coalition (Cda)
MSF/Doctors Without Borders (int’l)

Amongst the other, considerably more worrisome news of the world lately, you may have spotted that the weather here in Britain has been massive, massive suck.

That is, more like rather nice winter weather for any US person north of the Mason-Dixon, and early spring for Canadians. Personally, I cope rather well with it. It’s nice not having to worry about wind chill, frostbite and whether or not your engine will turn over, leaving you stranded somewhere in arctic temperatures with no heater and a scratchy army blanket.

I digress. Honestly, I would be fine with the whinging and complaining that is done here in Birmingham with an extended period of temperatures hovering around 0 degrees C (32 deg F) and snow every other day. I could maybe even handle that the entire country shuts down when there’s more than an inch of the white stuff. Flights are cancelled, trains are delayed, people drive stupid, which is a problem in the US too, sometimes…

But no one in this entire nation seems to own a bleeding shovel. Or a sidewalk ice scraper. Some businesses may potentially have sand (kudos to the Selly Oak Aldi), but other than that, nothing. Also, there is a good deal more walking going on than driving. So let’s take a look at this equation:
(temps right above/below freezing + [heavy sidewalk foot traffic – adequate snow removal]) ^ damp weather

What does that equal? If you said MASSIVE DEATH TRAPS OF DEATH, you would be correct.

A good portion of anything that is not a main road here in Brum turns to a big sheet of slushy half-ice, and it has been this way for a good week, off and on. Some days are better, others are worse. And it is supposed to get up to 6.5 or so degrees C (44 degrees F) on Saturday, so that might clear things a bit, perhaps. Or the rain supposedly coming tomorrow. But I’ll believe that when I see it. My Swiss flatmate D and I are thinking of a shovel import business, as winters like this in the UK are becoming a bit of a trend thanks to climate change, but no one here really wants one, as my classmate Aaron put it today. My theory, which he agreed with, is that people here believe that ignoring it will make it go away. All I can say is that I plan on living here and I would rather not fall on my arse, thanks, as I’m thinking I may end up commuting like Hans Brinker on the canals in Broek.

There are many things I love about the UK. This, sadly, is not one of them. Though the walking penguin style is probably doing some good for my thighs.

Tracing my hand to make a turkey: Thanksgiving

I do a lot of explaining. Voluntarily, mostly because I get the notion that Americans Do Things and don’t explain them most of the time, or when they do it’s patronising, and that’s crap. So when I’m asked, or when something comes up, I explain, trying to do it without ‘splaining, except for when people talk trash about American football. (Hint: Don’t.)

Lately, I’ve been asked to explain Thanksgiving.

This has happened more than once, actually–five or six times–and it’s always a little difficult to do. People here know of Thanksgiving because it’s so embedded in American culture that there are tons and tons of throwaway references, but there aren’t really that many films about Thanksgiving. (Probably because the theme of dysfunctional family has already been done for Christmas, and who would watch a film about ‘eating a lot, talking with the fam, and falling asleep in front of the football game’?) Americans don’t need Thanksgiving explained, it’s universal, so mentions on American telly are simply in this sort of tacit context.

Truth is, Thanksgiving is actually really hard to explain without sounding either corny or dull, neither of which really conveys the cultural significance of the holiday. While I’m planning on doing a Thanksgiving guide as a class project, I figured I might as well get some thoughts down in text format, for the folks at home, not only to enlighten non-American readers, but to sort of deconstruct Thanksgiving as modern event for USA people too. You might learn something.

Please note: What Thanksgiving can mean in terms of colonialism and racism could be a whole book, and I don’t feel I can speak adequately on the subject. But at the same time, I don’t want to skip over it entirely; here is a historical overview by Karl Jacoby, and a point by point breakdown of the dominant narrative by Judy Dow (Abenaki) and Beverly Slapin on Oyate; additional guides to deconstructing the narrative for children can be found here at Resist Racism. Thanksgiving in its current form is primarily the result of 19th century advocacy by Sarah Josepha Hale…for better or worse.

What I do feel I can talk about is how, in a very general sense, Thanksgiving is celebrated in the US. Please note that this does not address everyone’s experience of Thanksgiving: it merely provides some tangible background information for the dominant paradigm as seen in the media. Wikipedia’s version of things really doesn’t provide a good breakdown, in my mind. So here’s a timeline, with the salient overall points at the end.

More behind the cut.

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