Posts tagged ‘tradition’

January 27, 2013


Superbowl is coming up to the excitiment of everybody, pic:

Superbowl is coming up to the excitement of everybody, pic:

THE annual event is coming up.  No it is not Christmas and I certainly don’t mean Valentine’s Day either.  I mean Superbowl, one of the most holy and revered sporting events in the US.  There are others, but I don’t now anything about baseball and World Championships and basketball and whatever very important events they have.  But I know a thing or two about American football and I have been to a Superbowl party for 10 years straight.  That makes me an expert – at least for an expat from Germany.

Every year through some mysterious process which I don’t tend to follow, 2 teams end up playing the Superbowl.  Whoever wins is the champ.  I am sure they get something cute to put on the mantel and tons of money.  This year a catastrophe was narrowly avoided: the home team, the San Francisco 49ers, qualified and the Patriots (the Boston team) was a hot contender to play the 49ers.  Now that would have thrown me into a big conflict over whom to root for as I also spent two extremely educational and very pleasurable years in Boston.  Alas, the Patriots lost to the Ravens (Baltimore) and so I won’t have to face this conflict.  Go 9ers!

If you want to know about the football rules, there are better sources than this blog to educate you.  I can follow the game, yell “interference” with the best of them or say something like “3rd and 8” with a grave face if it pertains to “my team” but the subtleties are lost on me, sort of like off-side in soccer.

The point, though, is that Superbowl is an excuse to party.  And by that I mean drinking beer during the day  and eating food that would generally not pass the “healthy, whole-grain, gluten-free” test but will score high on fat, carbs, spices, and preservatives – and lots of it.  It’s also the day where the man cave turns into the center of the house and the poor schmucks who don’t have a man cave dust off all sorts of comfy reclining chairs that have been banned to the basement by wives with a finer taste in interior design .  Wives/girl-friend pass platters with nacho chips and salsa during the game, chat among themselves and wait for their moments: the abundant ads.  Superbowl ads are super expensive and legendary and anticipated as eagerly as the game.  A classical radio show host question has become: “what do you look forward to most?  The game, the ads or the snacks.”  In recent years companies have started to leak sneak previews of their anticipated ads a couple of weeks before the Superbowl – as if these things were big movies.  This years anticipated ads include VW and Mercedes Benz, Coke, Best Buy and a bunch of others to be found here.

I do enjoy these events, they are so quintessentially American (although, where I live the majority of the Superbowl party attendees are of Indian or Chinese origin) – and a perfect excuse to eat junk food.  Go, 9ers, go!

November 9, 2012

Of Cows and Curtains

I just returned from a business trip to Australia and so a blog post about an Australian

can’t be far.   This specific one is about Queensland, the subtropical north-eastern part of Australia where my travels always take me.

No DST here! pic:

In late October, when the rest of the country goes on daylight savings time, Queensland doe not.  Queensland keeps its regular time with the comment that there is nothing wrong with it (true) and that a subtropical climate does not require that (well, maybe).  The reasons you hear when questioning that inconvenient habit (for travel to other states  it means to get up at 3:30 am to catch a 5:00 am flight to be in Sydney for a 9:00 am meeting) is that it negatively impacts the cows resulting in less milk.

It appears the Queensland cows are a very delicate breed as clearly the Californian or Austrian cows are not affected by the time change and happily continue to produce milk.  But, of course, we can’t rule that out.

The second in line argument is even quainter and has to do with curtains.  So here the story goes: the typical Queenslander comes home from work and apparently draws the curtains shut immediately to keep the sun out.  Now, this habit will inevitably lead to some fading of the curtains which is only exacerbated when – due to daylight savings time – the typical Queenslander gets home an hour – as the sun goes – earlier .  Just think of all the additional fading that takes place during that hour.

Both arguments, but especially the latter one, strike me as quaint, sort of from the 50s.  My interpretation is easy: people just don’t want daylight savings time and for no better reason than “we didn’t have it before and so we don’t need it now.”

Just guessing, though.

October 3, 2011

More man-stuff

Man cave certainly is one of the more frequently used of the new “man terms” but there are others.  Here a a few more important ones:

Manscape – the process of removing unwanted and overabundant body hair from a male body.  The days where real men looked like our hairy cousins in the trees seems to be over – at least for now and so a minimum of “maintenance” is required even by males.  Which, I guess, is fair since most of them seem to expect women to undergo pricy and painful hair removal procedures frequently.  So the process of shaving, plucking, waxing a man’s cheat, back or other regions is refered to in popular culture as manscaping.

Then there is the manshower – it had to happen though I personally have never heard that any of my friends and acquaintances had done  such a thing.  The manshower is the male event equivalent  to the babyshower – an event for the dad-to-be.  Whereas the ladies are supposed to sit at home, eat dainty cupcakes and drink herbal teas the guys go out for a round on male fun, like golfing and then have a guy appropriate dinner – steak and beer at some sports bar.

May 17, 2011


Love my free water, pic:

So here is something I absolutely love about US restaurants and would terrible miss if we ever moved back to Europe: free tap water.  Every restaurant you go to from the fast food joint to the high end French you always get free water.  Depending on where you are it comes in a styrofoam cup or a crystal glass but it is always free and generally served without asking.

That doesn’t need to keep you from ordering your diet coke or red wine or iced tea – it is just something to quench your thirst without adding outrageous extra cost to your bill.

Little thing, you think.  It is really not.  If you ever traveled with a child (thirsty husband, etc.) through Europe and every time you went to a restaurant you get a shock when you see that a teeny weeny little bottle of mineral water or apple juice costs like 3 Euro and your son drinks the whole thing down in one big gulp and asks for more and you, who always tells him to hydrate well, can’t really now tell him to tough it out – then you know what I mean.

The prices for water and soft drinks in pretty much all of Europe border on extortion.  I remember having lunch in a restaurant in Vienna on a hot summer day.  The food was decent and amazingly affordable and still we ended up paying roughly twice of what I thought we should pay.  One glance at the receipt explained it all: the three “large drinks” (mineral water, medium size by US standards) we had cost almost as much as lunch.  I thought it was a big scam – charge me more for the food, I don’t mind paying a fair price for that but don’t lure me into the restaurant with promises of cheap food and then screw me over by doubling my bill by selling  me overpriced water.

So every time a go to a restaurant here in the US I cherish the free water (with ice, always with ice!)

May 16, 2011

Art vs Prudishness

David's assets are modestly hidden in this picture, Pic: Tina Baumgartner

Here is another story under the heading “Only in America …”  This one plays in the town of Abilene in Texas and started with some new people moving into the neighborhood and putting a piece of art into their yard.  Not just any art, though, a replica downsized version of Michelangelo’s David.

David is a good-looking guy and he doesn’t wear a fiber of fabric on him – neither in the marble original located in Florence, Italy nor in the replica downsized version now adorning that front yard in Abilene.  And that is where the problems start – a statute of a nude guy upsets the neighbors – they find it offensive, they are outraged.   Especially the families are upset, specifically the mothers because children start asking questions and comment on David’s “assets”.

“So?” I am inclined to say – being my immoral European self – let them ask and then answer, its not like some explicit sexual act is being shown here – just a guy.  And: “To hell with all the prudishness and moral outrage over body parts.  Get over it, explain to your child that this is how they used to do it back in the days in Italy and that they didn’t think much of showing a guy’s (insert word for the body part in question you normally use at home, if you don’t use one it is about time you start).

Word is, that the homeowners have no plans to take David away or put a pair of swim trunks or a fig leave on him – I’ll try and follow that story, though, to see how long it will take for them to crumble under the combined moral outrage of an entire neighborhood.

Be strong, guys!

May 10, 2011


I don’t like coffee so I am not speaking from experience here but the topic coffee has to be covered in any blog about America and American culture.  Coffee is very much a part of American everyday life, from morning until night.

Coffee in an American dinner - served with lunch, pic:

Most of my coffee-drinking European friends have little more than disdain for the American brew, which they consider too weak and flavorless.  Coffee these days comes mainly in the form of large, overpriced take-out products with all sorts of additions, from the usual milk and sugar to the less common one like caramel or hazelnut flavorings.  The variation of sizes, flavors, additions and permutations seems as limitless as the Americans desire to drink it everywhere and all the time.

The opposite end of the fancy coffee drink is the lowly dinner coffee – brewed and then kept on a percolator until empty, weak, made generally of inferior quality beans this is the stuff you get served in traditional American dinners.  The stuff they used to dring in that form back in the 50s, probably even before then.

One wired thing about American coffee consumption (especially the dinner type) is that people consider it a “regular drink”, like water or maybe even iced tea.  They have it with lunch, like the Germans have beer (or mineral water) with lunch and the French red wine (or mineral water).  So they order a burger with fries and coffee for lunch.

My coffee drinking European friends find that quite strange.

May 9, 2011

Starter marriage

Happy ever after? pic:

The average American is about 4 years young than the average German when he/she first marries.  In general, Americans marry younger than their Western European counterparts (stats here).   This has led to the phenomenon of the starter marriage – a first marriage that ends in divorce (ideally) before the couple has kids.

The term is a play on the term “starter home” (also very American) describing a often smallish and older house that a young couple, individual, or family can afford to buy.  The starter home gets ditched as soon as the owners can afford something bigger, newer, nicer, or in a better location.  And the same seems to happen to the starter marriage.

Starter marriages last on average eight years.  The divorce rate is highly contested but is somewhere between the lower 40 and 50%.  It doesn’t really matter whether it is 43% or 49% – the chances for a first marriage to last are similar to winning in roulette when better on black or red.

Reasons for starter marriages seem to range from “I have dreamt about my wedding ever since I was a little girl and now I am finally doing it”, to “we’ve ben together 3 years so we better get married” to “we are going to be this great power couple and make it big.”

Not judging here – just glad I skipped the starter marriage and went straight for the grown-up version.

May 1, 2011

Royal Wedding

An American dream story: commoner makes it big, pic:

A day and a half late I finally watched the TiVo’ed version of the royal wedding with the girl friends – we had little sandwiches and tea and – of course – something bubbly and alcoholic as well.

The wedding was well covered over here as well – though it is a very British story, with royalty and all which we don’t subscribe to over here, it has a bit of an American dream element to it: the pretty daughter of a commoner, solidly middle class with what seems to be a thriving party supply business – think balloons and confetti – marries the future king, carries herself with dignity and even chooses a nice, albeit unspectacular dress for the occasion.  The Queen is gracious enough to let her wear the heirloom tiara and everybody is guardedly blissful.

This resonates with the American dishwasher to millionaire story.  Only problem, that might have happened in past generations but the has become increasingly rare these days, making that jump from rages to riches seems reserved to people who handle balls of one kind or another extraordinarily well.  So the story of the commoner turned queen-to-be is embraced here in a “uou-go-girl” kind of way.

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:

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 21, 2011


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

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.