Saturday, 27 November 2010

#39 Bet you didn't know I don't care!

There exists a corpus of 'facts' which aren't really facts, proffered with the pride and enthusiasm of the know-it-all, but without the 'know'. I refer to statements like:

'Did you know that tomatoes aren't vegetables?'


'Did you know that the Great Wall of China is the only man-made structure visible from space?'


'Did you know that you lose 3,000% of your body heat from your head?'

They are irritating because of the smug way in which they are delivered. Often 'I bet you didn't know...', in fact, rather than 'did you'. The assumption of superiority - an insight which the lesser interlocutors lack - grates jarringly.

Perhaps they upset me especially because I see myself in them. Through my youth - and no doubt, in my ignorance, today still - I have been and am a purveyor of such 'facts'. I remember telling people how fungi are animals when I was a child, and I blame Dorling Kindersley.

Incidentally, the fiercest fuel for these insufferable know-it-alls is QI (the British television show). It is a whole programme dedicated to often spurious facts, and watched partly for its comedy, but not insignificantly for the ammo it give viewers to throw arrogantly at unsuspecting dinner party guests.

It doesn't really matter if that facts are true - or accurately represented - or not, because your colleagues are unlikely to have much knowledge of the finer points of Shakespeare's scatological habits, and so are unlikely to mount a defense. You can bask in the warm glow of superior insight into some minutiae, and surely your friends will drink in the incomparable wit of your company. Never admit you got the fact from a TV show, of course, and try to weed out others who may have watched. The key is convincing everyone that your knowing that Amazonian custard frogs are the only animals other than humans to conduct full ritual burials fits into your wider knowledge of custard frogs, or the Amazon -but a piece in the monumental puzzle that is you.

This was going to lead into something, but I've gone so far off-topic I'll make a separate post. It's not even about America, for shame.

(Incidentally, all of the statements I proffered at the start were false, though I know nothing for sure about the burial rituals of custard frogs.)

Friday, 19 November 2010

#38 Christmas is coming, the goose is getting sadly replaced.

Britons bemoan the iterative expansion of Christmas. From one day of family cheer, nearly two months of commercial reverie has grown. Well, as the eunuch flasher said, you ain't seen nothin'.

My first winter in America beckons, and the simple truth is this: nobody does it better. It's all about the spacing of holidays. (And, I suppose, the bloodthirsty rapacity of unrestrained capitalism, but I'm picking my battles.) Halloween - which is about as big a deal here as the Second Coming - segues neatly into Thanksgiving, which serves as a teasing prelude to Christmas. From mid-October until New Year, middle America can justifiably say that it is 'holiday season', and stuff its collective face unrelentingly with lard and eggnog.

And here in the melting pot, it's even better: Hanukkah lights up mid-December; Chinese New Year draws the animalistic revelry into February. This year, our Muslim friends have come along for the ride: Eid-al-Adha just ended. Americans of every colour and creed face a four-month assault on their waistlines and credit cards.

I simply love it. As SoHo's normally exquisitely-appointed storefronts descend into sparkly gaud, and Halloween Reese's ads segue, almost imperceptibly, into Christmas Reese's ads, I tingle all over with excitement. I don't find the commercialism oppressive. Nor the pressure to buy gifts, or to bake.

The fact of the matter is, Christmas is the great leveller. Its trials; bustling high streets, far-too-small ovens. Its joys: family unity, carols, binge drinking,. They are the same, give or take, for all of us.

And it is the great regressor. As much as we try to be grown up about it - and I urge you not to try very hard at all - the excitement is childlike. Butterflies fill our stomachs faster than pumpkin pie. We fall head-over-heels in love - real, syrupy love - every time.

I'm excited. So excited I'm prepared to concede turkey's place at the Christmas table, after a long and largely fruitless battle in goose's favour. America is getting to me.

Let it snow, children.