Archive for April, 2011

April 30, 2011

Gym Parking Lot

I go to the gym three times a week, sometimes more.  I go there to exercise and move my body.  I assume most people who go to the gym would do it for the same reason.  Why else would you hang out in a sort of smelly noise place with people dressed in unattractive outfits?

Rather wait than walk, pic: ibtimes.com

I do take my car to the gym most always for a variety of reasons and do feel somewhat guilty about it – I should really use the bike.  So I get to the parking lot in front of the gym and more times than not witness the following scene: big car waiting, indicator lights on  for some guy to open the car, open the trunk, then put his bag in, than futz around a bit, then futz a bit more, then getting in the car, grabbing a bottle of water, having a drink, turning the car on, buckling up, having another drink, checking email on the smart phone and then – finally, slowly – drive out.

If the parking lot was full I’d do the same but – for crying out loud – there is a parking spot, in fact two or three right there, all you have to do is walk ten more meters to the gym entrance.  Not happening.  People rather wait – patiently to my amazement – for the guy to stop futzing around and leaving than walking 10 more meters before they hop on the treadmill.

This must be one the most irrational behaviors ever.  I cannot (unless it rains

cats or dog or you are in North Dakota in February with below zero Fahrenheit temps) think of any even moderately good reason to behave that way.

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April 29, 2011

Credit cards

Credit cards to the rescue! pic: newsjunkiepost.com

Books can be written – and big ones at that – about the use and abuse of credit cards in this country.  Before the 2008-09 big economic slump hit it was easier to sign up for a credit card then renewing your drivers license (a lot easier), faster than having a manicure and for many more frequent than taking a walk.

Back then, we must have gotten 10 letters every week trying to entice us to sign up for this or that credit card which we, of course, were already pre-approved for.  Sometime the envelop contained checks that could be used immediately – so one could start spending against the new credit card without any delay.  This way you could finally get rid off last year’s TV and buy that new one with the somewhat flatter screen and the 2 inches more in diameter.

This changed when people were unable to repay their TVs which – a year or so later – had pretty much lost all value due to larger and even flatter models but where still 95% unpaid for.

Now there is somewhat of a resurgence.  Nothing like before but we do get solicitations regularly again.  They now entice you with all sorts of stuff, the latest one, which I just saw today in an email from my son’s school.  The spiel is:  get the Target Red Card and a minuscule percentage of your purchases will be donated to the school.

So this is where we are at right now: schools are defunded by the State and Federal governments because we really can’t afford to give our children a good education – so big corporations to the rescue (target made just over $1B in profits in Q1 2011) who can throw a few morsels at the local schools.

Am I the only one thinking that there is something wrong with this picture?

April 28, 2011

About face

Did an about face on immigration issues: McCain, pic: /www.azcentral.com

Here is another useful and not intuitive expression I have heard on occasion: “about face”.  When I first heard it I had no idea what it meant also, once one knows the meaning of this expression it is a little less unintuitive.

So an “about face” is  he act of turning around by 180 degrees so one faces the opposite direction.  The expression comes from the military where it is used as a command to get the soldiers to turn clockwise (I guess it is important that everybody turns the same direction) by 180 degrees.

In “civilian” language the phrase is used to indicate a complete change in view point or opinion.  As such the phrase is often use in connection with politicians.  One famous (or rather infamous) example is the about face of the republican nominee for the last presidential elections, John McCain, on immigration issues.  McCain used to be bipartisan and fairly moderate on immigration, defying many of his hard-line republican colleagues – these days he is an uncompromising hardliner himself.

An about face does not have to be negative.  In its best incarnation it implies that somebody learned something and as a consequence has changed his/her position.  In a negative case, like the one mentioned above, it means that somebody caved in and has adopted the opposite position because he/she expects to benefit from it.

April 27, 2011

Oxymorons, part 2

Couldn't resist this one, pic: usableinterfaces.com

I found a few more oxymorons that are worth featuring in this blog.  Just as a quick reminder, oxymorons are figures of speech that combine contradictory terms, such as “pretty ugly” (which, btw, means rather ugly).

So here are a few more that I have heard used by people, who are often rather unaware of the fact that they are using an oxymoron.

Let’s start with a fairly frequently used one from high-tech:  virtual reality

From the home we have: freezer burn (which is what you get after you leave stuff for too long or not properly wrapped up in the freezer)

A very Californian one: rolling stop – California is full of STOP signs on streets.  In some parts of San Francisco there are more stop signs than houses.  If a driver, tiered of the stopping and driving almost stops at the STOP sign but not quite and then proceeds on – that is a rolling stop (and you get fined if caught!)

Another kind of funny one is “clearly confused”, as in “the driver was clearly confused when the police officer told him that he had not stopped but only had come to a rolling stop and would therefore get fined.”

Got to love language!

April 26, 2011

Bright and early

Way too early for me, pic: mumbaishianews.com

I am not a morning person – at all.  In fact. I think a civilized time to get out of bed would be sometime around 9:00 am and a good time to go to bed around 2 am.  But nobody ever asks me.

The expression that instills fear in my late risers heart is “bright and early”  as in “I’ll see you tomorrow bright an early”.  Not only does this imply that I will have to get up early – very early – and that I might even have to fake energy, alertness, and enthusiasm – all things that are hard to fake and definitely not part of my character before say 10 am.

The bright, in fact, does not refer to the attitude one has to display but is related to the brilliance of the rising sun at dawn.  Here is another usage example:

“It is going to be a long hike so be better get started bright and early.”

April 25, 2011

Going hiking

Going hiking in this country is always fun for a variety of reasons.  For one, there are absolutely amazingly beautiful spots, like the Sierra Nevada not too far from where I live.  The other fun part is to watch people.  Now people watching is a favorite pastime of many Americans but it is generally done in a shopping mall or a sidewalk cafe.  But, really, a National Park is much more interesting venue.

What's appropriate for a Sierrs crossing isn't for a walk in the park, pic: nps.gov

There are several categories of people to watch but I have the most fun with the extremes.  Let’s start with the gear nuts.  Going on a 2 mile hike these guys are equipped like they are about to climb Mount Everest:  the latest and most expensive of branded pants, jackets and backpacks are used, expensive water bottles, hiking sticks, shoes, performance food, goggles, sun hats, and  socks for $25 a pair are being shown off.  Its more like going to an outdoors fashion show.  Even the kids are outfitted like little professionals.  Today I saw two kids, aged 4 or 5 or thereabouts walking with little helmets, each with a camel back and a high-end coordinated outfit of pants and jacket.  How far can the little rascals go to be needing a camel back?  I am a great fan of taking enough water 9as long as my husband carries it) – but you don’t need three galons for a moderate 2 mile hike.  Trust me!

The other extreme are the people in flipflops and shorts at 8000 feet elevation, no water, no food and no idea that that big gray cloud at the horizon could bring ice cold rain in about 30 minutes from now.  I have seen grandmas in clogs climbing around on slippery, wet rocks, Indian women in strapy sandals on paths entirely covered in snow, girls in mini skirts and ballerinas trying to go up Mount Whitney (almost 14,500 feet = almost 4,500 meters).  I have rushed down mountains in drizzly weather with temperatures in the 40s while guys in shorts and beach sandals just started to climb the mountain, apparently thinking they are cool.  If I hear another story about somebody getting lost in the local county park for three days I am not surprised.

People watching is always fun!

April 24, 2011

Restaurants, part 2

This morning we were sitting in a restaurant near one of America’s big tourist attraction – Yosemite National Park – having breakfast.  The crowd was pretty international but from the look of it mainly Europeans,  a few Hispanics and of course Americas.   On the table next to us was a German couple.

After dinner drinks are the norm in Germany, pic: http://www.ausgezeichnet-geniessen.de

We had just settled in and finished half of the food we had gotten from the buffet when the waiter came and asked whether everything was fine.  We nodded and mumbled something affirmative between two bites of French toast and he produced our check from behind his back and put it on the table with the usual “whenever you are ready” or something to that effect.

We hardly noticed.  Then he did the same with the German couple and the woman got all upset, felt kicked out and insulted and commented in German to her companion that this wasn’t the first time somebody had treated them in this very rude way.   I almost intervened to tell them that this is the way things are done here.  It isn’t rude or unusual, you aren’t being kicked out you are simply spared the inconvenience of having to ask for the check.  In the US, unlike in Germany for example, you go to a restaurant, you order, eat, pay up, and get out of there.  No lingering at the table for another glass of wine or beer.   You don’t have to rush and wolf down your food but after you have finished your food and dessert you leave.  If you want to have another glass of wine you either get it at the bar or you go to a different place, like a bar and get it there.

In Germany and certainly any number of other European countries I have been to like Austria, Italy, Switzerland and Spain that is not the rule.  You eat, then you finish you wine, decide, get another glass, talk, laugh, have another and (until not too long a go) smoke a cigarette or two or three.  You might not leave for an hour or more after dinner is finished.

Not so in the US – just different customs, has nothing to do with rudeness, it is just the way it is.

April 23, 2011

Hanging…

These guys are chilling for real, pic: wayodd.com

With a good part of the world enjoying a long weekend here are some commonly used expressions for relaxing, not doing anything.  Doing nothing is very popular thing to do in the US – as probably in many other places – and there is a variety of words and expressions for it.

Hanging – or rather hanging out – is one of them.  Hanging out is used to describe a situation where one goes somewhere to do nothing much as in:

“What did you do over the weekend?”

“Hanging out at the beach”

“Hanging” alone is used is the same sense but without necessarily specifying a location:

“What did you do over the weekend?”

“Just hanging …” hanging is often done with friends in one’s own backyard/on one’s couch – or theirs

Then there is chilling as in chilling out which implies that one was all worked up before and sort of running hot and now one is chilling out, that is getting a bit more cool, calm and relaxed.  This expression, too, can be used alone:

“What did you do over the weekend?”

“Nothing much, just chilling”

There are other words describing relaxation but these are pretty commonly used.  These terms are not appropriate in a more formal setting.  So if your boss asked whether you ahd a pleasant weekend the answer: “sure, dude, I was chillin …” wouldn’t be a good choice for anybody  working a serious job (if you temp in a surf shop, it would be cool, though).

April 22, 2011

Make-over party

make-over parties for little girls, so wrong on so many levels, pic:maramostafa.wordpress.com

A friend told me the other day about a make-over party, complete with make-up and hairdos and all sorts of other fun sounding stuff.  I thought to myself that this sounds like a great way to while away an afternoon -if one is into whiling – until I realized that we were not talking about a make-over party she was invited to – but her 3-year old daughter.

In fact, it was a 4th birthday party for a kid from daycare and the parents had apparently reached the conclusion that it would be a wonderful and appropriate idea to show three and four year old girls how to put on lipstick, do their hair right and apply glittery products all over their faces.   My friend was shocked – but what can you do? Grab your child and leave under protest, causing something approaching an international incidence resulting in a permanent ban from all birthday-party-lists for the next two years or swallow hard, screw a smile on your face, and pretend that you think this a very cute idea?

My friend’s little girl keeps wondering and asking whether she looks pretty now, without all that make-up on her face and my friend keeps telling her that she is beautiful and does not need all that stuff.  But seed has been planted – a seed that does not need to be planted, especially not so early.  In 10 years’ time she will fall into that trap of defining her worth by her looks anyway.  Do we really need to get them started at 3 years old?  I think it is absurd and obscene to make-up little girls like models.  Sometimes I am very happy to have a boy! (other times not so, see blogs about guns!)

April 21, 2011

Easter

Easter - nothing but an overly cute non-event here, pic: theholidayspot.com

Easter is almost upon us and here is the surprising news: it is an almost complete non-event in the US.  This country – by all standards – is very religious compared to other industrialized Western nations.  There is ample Gallup data to back this claim up, here is one set that shows that many of the poorest nations are also the most religious – with the Americans bucking the trend (to be fair, the Italians and Greek buck right along).

A second data point: Christianity is still the most prevalent religion with about 3/4 of the population saying they are Christians.

Even more surprising is it to me then, that Easter, this most central and important of all Christian holidays, isn’t much more than a footnote in the typical American calendar.  While the German kids  – little atheists that they mainly are – get 2 weeks of Easter vacation the American kids get nothing, nada, zilch.   Good Friday is off for pretty much everybody in Germany as well as Easter Monday – a concept unknown to Americans.  While the Spanish celebrate Semana Santa with amazing dedication and effort, mid-nightly processions and masses all odd hours of the day and the Germans dye insane numbers of eggs – here you get a flyer from Big Lots with a special on plastic eggs, 2 packages for $1.50.

I really don’t quite get it, Christmas gets celebrated with all the pomp and expenses imaginable and Easter barely happens.  I don’t get it until I let my cynical side out: somehow Easter can’t be commercialized so easily.  Maybe people have become rich selling chocolate eggs and special colors to paint Easter eggs but not very many and so by and large Easter is a very non-commercial holiday.  It is among other things about death, salvation, and hope – and not about new flat screen TVs.  As such, it does not seem to rank very high in the hierarchy of holidays in this very religious country.

Too bad, it was always my favorite and today I am going to dye my eggs the old fashioned way – like grandma Zita used to.