Monday, July 31, 2006

You know you're from LA when ...

I don't usually follow these, but this had me laughing out loud! It's almost pathetic just how many are already second nature after a year here. Thanks for the link, Brit in LA.

You Know You're From LA When...

You're driving on the 101 and see a clear cut definition of where the smog begins and ends

You go to a karaoke bar and battle with seven year old divas-in-training who are trying to steal your thunder

You're sitting in traffic for at least an hour at any given part of the day

You go to the beach and see that real lifeguards actually do look like the lifeguards from Baywatch

You see purple and gold and the word "Threepeat" on every corner

You begin to "lie" to your friends about where you are (i.e. "Yeah I'm like 20 minutes away") - when you know that it'll take you at least an hour to get there).

You eat a different ethnic food for every meal

You look around at the nice cars around you during traffic, thinking it'll be your favorite Laker or WB star.

You make a conscious choice to watch Jay Leno over David Letterman

You mourned for Tupac and not for Biggie

You know it's best not to be on the 405 at 4:05 pm.

Getting anywhere from point A to point B, no matter what the distance, takes about "twenty minutes".

You know what neighborhood someone lives in by the degree of damage incurred during the riots.

You've inadvertently learned Spanish.

You've got to bring the cat/plants in when it drops to 55 degrees.

In the "winter", you can go to the beach and ski at Big Bear on the same day.

You've bumped into a celebrity at El Pollo Loco.

You know what "sigalert", "PCH", and "the five" mean.

Your pizza delivery guy is also on contract with Warner Bros.

If your destination is more than 5 minutes away on foot, you're definitely driving.

You have a gym membership because it's mandatory.

Your TV show is interrupted by a police chase.

You can't fall asleep without the lull of a helicopter flying overhead.

When tourists ask where they can get souvenirs, you direct them to Venice Beach.

You know someone named Freedom, Rainbow, Persephone or Destiny.

You've trespassed through private property to get to the "Hollywood" sign.

You've partied in Tijuana at least once.

You know Hollywood has a "lake".

You don't stop at a STOP sign, you do a California Roll.

You've lost your car in the Century City Shopping Center parking lot.

You've ever bought oranges, flowers, cherries or peanuts on a freeway off-ramp.

You think that Venice is a beach.

You drive next to a Rolls Royce and don't notice.

You've started crossing a street and returned to the curb when the DON'T WALK sign started flashing.

You've never listened to NPR.

Calling your neighbors requires knowing their area code.

You have a favorite Thai restaurant.

You think Johnnny Rocket's is an accurate depiction of a diner.

You think Manhattan is a beach.

You eat pineapple on pizza.

You've been to Disneyland more times than Downtown.

When giving directions , you follow up with the phrase: "With/Without traffic."

You classify new people you meet by their Area Code. An "818" would never date a "562" and anyone from "323" or "213" is ghetto/second class. Best area code: "310."

Driving along, you see a high-speed police chase approaching in your rear view mirror. You don't panic or even flinch. Instead, you call your friends on your car phone and tell them you're on TV.

You know that if you drive two miles in any direction you will find a McDonald's or a Starbucks.

Your cell phone has left a permanant impression on the side of your head.

You never, ever go into the water at the Beach. You barely touch the sand.

Everyone you know has 3+ phone numbers. Home, Office, mobile, pager, two-way, voicemail.....

It is not unusual for your waitress at a restaurant to have blue streaked hair, a dragon tattoo and tounge piercing.

You are awakened in the middle of the night by a moderate earthquake. Your reply: "That ain't even a 5-pointer" and go back to sleep.

You think you are better than the people who live "Over the Hill". It don't matter which side of the hill you are currently residing, you are just better than them, for whatever reason.

You live 10 miles from work. It takes you 60 minutes to get home.

Walking out of Jamba Juice, you see that a movie is being shot on-location across the street.

You are not happy, or even slightly exited that there may be a movie star there. You just say, " They f*ckin better not be blocking my parking space."

You have to yell at your bank teller through a 2 inch thick wall of plexi-glass.

That last one goes for your local convienience store man, too.

You go to Las Vegas for a weekend getaway and the whole trip cost you $50.

You personally know at least 5 people with agents.

You personally know at least 3 people who have been in a movie or TV show.

You know what In N Out is and feel bad for all the other states because they don't have any.

You know that not everyone in Beverly Hills is a millionaire.

You know who the tinsel underwear dude in Venice Beach is.

You've done something on a street corner in an attempt to get money (i.e. sang, tap danced, told jokes).

You've gotten parking tickets from parking in the red zone in front of your house.

You say you live in LA when really you live in a subsection of a subsection of a subsection of southern LA.

Any major movie star is picking out the best portobello mushrooms next to you at the grocers and you don't notice.

The guy at 8:30 in the morning at Starbucks wearing the baseball cap and sunglasses who looks like George Clooney IS George Clooney.

You really can never be too rich or too thin.

The gym is packed at 3pm...on a workday.

The workday starts at 10am...or whenever you get out of your therapy session.

Any invitation comes with, "Starts at 8pm or as soon as you can get through traffic."

You have never met a waiter that wasn't really an "Actor."

You never go to a coffee house without a copy of a script - any script.

It's sprinkling and there's a report on every news station about "STORM WATCH '99"

You call 911 and they put you on hold.

You have to leave the big company meeting early because Billy Blanks himself is teaching the 4:30 tae-bo class.

The three hour traffic jam you just sat through wasn't caused by a horrific 9 car pile-up, but by everyone slowing to rubberneck at a lost shoe lying on the shoulder.

A nurse can look at you in all seriousness and ask, "you don�t drink or smoke, right?"

All the "cool gyms" allow pedestrians on the street a full-view of those working out. Literally, you can�t drive by Wilshire without staring into L.A. Fitness. Perhaps a new form of window shopping?

The hot seasonal party favor is a candied apple from Neiman's. The apples are called "Skinny Dippers."

The waitress asks if you'd like "carbs" in your meal.

Bars card. For real.

You actually get these jokes and pass them on to other friends from Los Angeles.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Chalk and cheese

As mentioned in my previous post, I start a new job tomorrow. It is for a Japanese company in the nearby city of Torrance, a temporary position to ease me back into the world of work after a year of loafing around the house.

As a half-English half-Irish woman, it can be surprising for many Japanese to see that I speak the language quite well. As a fan of the culture and literature (not to mention anime and manga -- that's cartoons and comics), I decided to go to university to learn the language after Sixth Form (that's the last two years of High School to Americans). SOAS offered a one year "business man" diploma course; a full-time course designed to take students from zero knowledge to near fluency in just under a year.

It was a difficult course, but extremely rewarding, and I gladly accepted the opportunity to spend five weeks in Japan for work experience. Reading about the attitudes and culture in a book is one thing, but actually seeing it happen all around you is something entirely different. Despite my studies and knowledge of the language and attitudes, there was still something of a culture shock.

And yet since I've moved to America, I've come to realize just how similar Japanese and British culture really are. Both are "small island" countries with rich history and tradition, strong military pasts, a surprising array of -- often humorous -- accents, citizens that are extremely proud and yet loudly critical of their home, and so on. Despite Americans speaking the same language as my birth home, I find I almost have less in common with them than my Japanese friends.

It can be difficult being a stranger in an unfamiliar land. All you need do is take a trip to your local China Town or Little Tokyo and you'll understand what I mean. I speak Japanese fairly well, but while in Japan there was a huge sense of relief from finding a McDonalds or a 7/11 for some sense of familiarity.

Today, my girlfriend and I took a trip to China Town, a favorite hangout of ours. It's cheap, cheerful and we can get good food and entertainment for a day. Seeing these people milling around, finding their favorite Chinese groceries and poking through souvineers, buying dim sum for lunch and chatting with friends, it makes me wonder if they -- and other non-native English speaking immigrants -- feel the same homesickness. While I may miss my homeland, at least people here speak the same language. What must it be like to live here, not only in a different culture but speaking a different language, I can only imagine.

I wonder what drew them here? For some, perhaps it was an escape from poverty, a dictatorship or harsh government practises, a lack of employment opportunities or a lucky break offered by a rich foreign relative. But for those who came from wealthy lands and good backgrounds, I wonder what made their decision for them. A job offer? A desire to see a new culture? A long distance relationship?

Or perhaps like me, the fulfilment of a childhood dream of living amongst the stars?

In sickness and in health insurance

Being from the world of tea and cucumber sandwiches, I am familiar with those standard conversation topics us Brits tend to stick to. The weather, public transport, "kids today", and so on.

One subject in particular is the NHS, or National Health Service. Funded by taxpayers' money, it entitles Brits to free healthcare and extremely cheap prescriptions, usually a flat fee of about £6 for each refill, last time I checked. One of the upsides is that you don't have to worry about insurance or paying for treatment. One of the downsides is that there are excrutiatingly long wait times (anything up to and over 18 months, even for important surgery).

I didn't get employment authorization when I originally arrived here, instead waiting for my green card. As things were a bit tight financially, I didn't take out medical insurance, deciding to simply wait it out. The last medical procedure I'd had was having my wisdom teeth taken out a few years ago, surely it'd be fine.

Famous last words.

Sometime around August, I was prising some brownies out of a pan -- and no, they weren't "special" brownies, smarty-pants -- with a knife. A very sharp knife. In hindsight, it was a very silly thing to do, and my hand definitely agreed with me when I slipped and stabbed myself through my left palm. Cue a large pool of blood, me almost fainting, and a panicked drive to the local hospital. The triage nurse saw that the bleeding had stopped and after a six hour wait, they finally took me out back and stitched me up. No permanent damage, five stitches and some gauze (and a lovely sedative because I really don't like needles) and I was off home.

Imagine my delight to receive a hospital bill to the tune of around $1500. No offense to them, but the care wasn't that good! It was paid off eventually, with help from my Dad, but it really did bring home just how important insurance is. In particular, how much worse it could have been. What if I'd been at home with no one to drive me to the hospital? I'd have to pay for an ambulance. And what if there'd been permanent damage and surgery costs? The amount could easily have spiraled into tens of thousands of dollars if it had been just a few milimeters deeper. Not to mention what if I didn't have a willing relative to help with the costs?

There are free options, though they are not easy to find. The Venice Family Clinic is a local center funded entirely by charity donations. They serve the homeless, poor and even those who manage to survive but can't afford insurance. By offering free healthcare and prescriptions, they offer hope to those who might not otherwise afford the antibiotics for their chest infection, for example. While a place like this is invaluable to those in need, they can only afford to offer limited services; low-grade painkillers, antibiotics and basic prescriptions. If you need anything stronger, you'll have to find somewhere else, and pay through the nose for it.

According to "Living and Working in America", 42.5 million Americans do not have medical insurance, and a further 65 million have inadequate coverage. These statistics are alarming, and unfortunately not exaggerrated. Complete coverage is expensive and can be difficult to obtain if there are any pre-existing conditions. Many live in fear of contracting a long-term illness or being involved in a serious accident and being bankrupted.

What's the solution? I don't know. Perhaps Americans should look to Western European private medical practises, or perhaps there should be stricter controls on pharmaceutical company profits and insurance costs.

While living in Germany for a while a few years back, I found that healthcare was mandatory; my workplace insisted that I choose a provider, and they would automatically pay a certain amount of my wages to them every month. The one time I visited a doctor, I simply paid a €10 introduction fee, and a small sum for my prescription, around €5, I believe. Though my experiences were limited, the impression I got was that Germany had the medical insurance system neatly arranged and implemented. If my observation was correct, it makes me wonder why the same idea seems to fail so badly here in the US.

Thought-provoking stuff, but unlikely to be resolved anytime soon without drastic reforms. As for me, I start a new job on Monday and plan to arrange insurance ASAP before I bake any more brownies. And if anyone asks about my scar, I tell them aliens abducted me and put an implant in my palm to contact Elvis from beyond the grave.

Well, it's a bit more interesting than "attacked by baked goods", don't you think?

Tuesday, July 25, 2006


Sorry for the lack of posts lately. Things have been kind of crazy here and I haven't gotten around to it.

I'm working on a post and should have it up before the weekend.

Saturday, July 08, 2006


Today is the anniversary of my arrival here in the US.

Needless to say, it is not as easy to get into the country legally as many of my English and American friends thought. The immigration system is expensive, time consuming, finicky and extremely frustrating.

A year on, I can safely say that I do not regret my decision to move here. There are things about England that I miss. Fish and chips, a good kebab (is there such a thing?), nice friendly pubs, days out in London ...

There are so many things that I love about LA, though admittedly it is a city many dislike. While it is polluted, many areas are rundown and it can be somewhat dangerous, the same could be said about London. It's just warmer here.

Hopefully this time next year I will be feeling the same way. Fondly nostalgic, but not remorseful.

Happy anniversary!


On July 7th last year, I was standing on a train platform at South Ruislip, waiting for a fast train into London. The trains were typically running late, and those of us waiting began complaining to each other about public transport. I remember laughing with a man about London grinding to a halt the day after winning the 2012 Olympic bid.

After a while, someone suggested that there were no trains coming at all, and we began to speculate as to what had happened. The wrong sort of leaves on the line? Trudging back to my Nan's house on foot, I called her on my cellphone and she told me that there were bombs. Bombs?

I discovered that there had been four bombs detonated in central London, multiple dead and god knows how many walking wounded. We knew it was coming, we'd been waiting since 9/11, but it was still a shock. And yet I remember being utterly fixated on whether my flight for Los Angeles the next day would be canceled.

Watching the news was emotional, to say the least. Tony Blair looked obviously shaken and we were glued to the updates of the injured and dead. I called several people in the US to make sure they knew I was alright and pass on the message, and called my Dad to try and arrange transport back to his place.

And yet the thing that sticks out in my mind more than anything? The production of a t-shirt with a simple slogan.

There was no weeping in the streets, no wailing and gnashing of teeth and gibbering about ebil terrorists. Just snarky humor, a cup of tea and a nice biscuit. After the shock wore off, there was indignation, sarcasm and unwavering city-wide -- and national -- pride.

Us Londoners? We're unmoveable. And fuck if any terrorist bastards think they can bring us down. I may be in LA now, and I may be partway to becoming a US citizen, but I will always be a Londoner at heart.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Independence Day

Tuesday was my very first Fourth of July. Some of my girlfriend's work colleagues decided to make it worth remembering by bringing a portable grill, weiners, buns, potato salad, corn on the cob, all manner of condiments, tiny flags, poppers and a highly appropriate movie, "Team America: World Police".

The movie did make me laugh a lot. What can I say, I have a sick sense of humor, and I'm something of a South Park fan. Despite the horrible foreign stereotypes and jokes, the humor at the expense of the so-called rescue team is what really stuck with me. Their enthusiasm and belief that it was their responsibility to police the world leads them to annoy and frustrate everyone, despite their oblivious attempts to protect world peace.

Since arriving here, I have noticed that people have a tendency to take themselves very seriously in this country, compared to the attitudes I was used to back home. Living in California means things are somewhat more laidback than other parts of the country, but there is still that confident, slightly brash arrogance that many Americans exhude. As a born Londoner, I am used to city life, but it has taken a while to understand that people are not rude for asking me how I am when I'm buying my lunch, or for stopping me in the street to tell me they like my shirt. I am used to a city where everyone ignores everyone else, where people can take the same train to work for five years and never make direct eye contact.

The confidence and friendliness is refreshing, if a little annoying at times. One thing that always bothered me a little about the English was the lack of patriotism. I was guilty of the same attitude, the need to leap to my birth country's defense at even the smallest hint of criticism from an outsider, and yet I couldn't tell you when St. George's Day was. Here, people wave flags, celebrate their independence and will gladly tell you that they love their country. Some of them may not love their current government or have problems with some people on the other end of the political or religious spectrum, but by god they love the soil they stand on.

One of the movie's most amusing and cringe-worthy aspects was the way the team continually managed to blow up historical artifacts like the Louvre and the Pyramids of Giza. Along with this dedication to Do The Right Thing and Save The World, they managed to destroy everything else in the progress. The theme song's lyrics, "America, f*** yeah! / Coming again to save the mother f***ing day, yeah" pretty much summed it up for me. That misplaced gung-ho attitude, at the same time admirably patriotic and also utterly reckless. It's a matter of national pride and yet continually gets government administrations in trouble for going just a little too far in trying to Save The World. Of course, "Team America: World Police" is a gross caricature of all stereotypes, which is part of what made it so memorable. Not all that great, but certainly something that made me think.

At times, I long for the insivibility of being a Londoner, of being able to go through an entire day without speaking a word to anyone. And yet there is something very comforting about having a stranger compliment my outfit, or having a spontaneous conversation about dinner plans with someone in line at the grocery checkout. I'm extremely proud of my English roots, and it is a relief to know that I can continue to maintain dual citizenship when I naturalize in three years time.

Oh and after the movie? We watched the firework displays from Venice Beach. I feel like a true Californian already.