The Arrow

There are no answers; only choices.

Archive for September, 2008

Modern-Day Fairy Tale

Posted by thearrow on September 30, 2008

I was biking downhill this morning and, knowing that sometimes things jump out of my basket, I started worrying when I heard one of my plastic bags fluttering in the wind. So I stopped to see what was going on and saw that one of my shoes was missing (I pack my office attire). Shoot, now I have to go back, it’s uphill, God knows where I lost it, what a waste of time, what a bummer, etc, when a guy comes (he was walking) and hands it to me, smiling: you lost a shoe?

Who said fairy tales aren’t true? 🙂

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Clouds

Posted by thearrow on September 28, 2008

I swear none of this is Photoshop. It’s just spectacular clouds. I took the second pic near the Guggenheim Museum, the third one is Cleopatra’s Needle (in Central Park), and the fourth is from my bike trail to work.

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Negative Is the New Positive

Posted by thearrow on September 27, 2008

Remember how I was saying that too much positive thinking, the kind you can only see in America, distorts your perception of reality? I complained about it at large in Positive Spin. Well, I wasn’t crazy. There are other people out there who seem to agree with me that this is not normal behavior and one of them said this in an opinion piece published by The New York Times.

In “The Power of Negative Thinking” (http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/24/opinion/24ehrenreich.html?), Barbara Ehrenreich writes about “the delusional optimism of mainstream, all-American, positive thinking.” Wow! As a foreigner, I wouldn’t have dared used such strong words, so I’m very glad to see them written by an American in a major newspaper. I can’t think of a better description of optimism in the face of disaster than “delusional.” Ehrenreich refers to the recent financial crisis but she offers a little bit of attitude history, too, from Protestantism, to Calvinism, to today’s optimism on steroids.

Don’t get me wrong: I don’t think nonstop Balkan/Slavic doom and gloom is good either. But having to put up a show when you’re down is nuts. Me, I’ve stopped pretending things are all right when they’re not out of a desire to protect other people’s sensibilities. I decided I need to protect my own sanity first. I do think it’s fine to try to take trouble slightly less seriously, if only because it makes the burden a bit lighter, but let’s not lose perspective, people.

I feel vindicated by The New York Times 🙂

Posted in American culture, cultural differences | Tagged: | 7 Comments »

Little Britain E-cards

Posted by thearrow on September 26, 2008

What a great idea! As expected, they’re hilarious.

http://www.hbo.com/littlebritainusa/ecards/

Later edit: I tried sending a card, but it doesn’t work 😦 Even though I fill out all the fields, it keeps telling me that I haven’t entered my email address. HBO! You gotta fix this! Do you hear me? 🙂

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Interview with David Walliams

Posted by thearrow on September 23, 2008

Now, you didn’t think I wasn’t going to be writing about Little Britain again any time soon, did you? 🙂 I just came across a great interview with Walliams by It includes an excerpt from Walliams’ children’s book, The Boy in the Dress (HarperCollins). The way he manages to artfully dodge the answer to the (otherwise silly) question, “Are you gay?” is amazing. I’ve seen it in other interviews and he always finds a very elegant and funny way of not answering 🙂

My favorite part: “He was particularly thrilled when Sir Paul McCartney came to watch Little Britain on tour and greeted the former Beatle by thrusting his bare bottom into his face, while performing as the mental patient character Anne.” Just imagining that absolutely cracks me up.

“David Walliams, Confessions of a Cross-Dressing Boy”
http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/books/article4775299.ece

I found it on a fan site: http://www.littlebritainfans.com/index.htm. I wish I had checked it more often; I missed their appearance on Jay Leno’s show this Monday. That’s particularly frustrating since I was actually awake that late. Normally, I go to bed around 10, but on Monday I went to bed at midnight. Darn! Anyway…

While the sketches are absolutely hysterical, the interviews included as special features on the DVDs are a real treat. I always like listening to Lucas’ and Walliams’ explanations of how they think about the show, what works, what doesn’t, and why. I like the fact that they are very honest about their struggle to get to where they are today and their regular-people appearance. Sure, Walliams is dapper and Lucas looks “a little strange,” but they come across as very genuine and thoughtful people. Somehow, you don’t feel that there is a huge distance between you and them, like you feel with any other stars.

Here is the trailer for Little Britain USA, with excerpts from interviews and the live audience shows that they do when they film.

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Do You Need Any Help?

Posted by thearrow on September 20, 2008

I was doing my grocery shopping today, using the basket that goes on my bike rack, as I always do. The basket holds as much as I need to heap on it for one person and, since I’m single, that works out great. So I told the cashier that I don’t need any bags; whenever I can, especially when riding the bike, I try not to use plastic bags. As I’ve said before, the key to being environmentally friendly is using as little stuff as you can; recycling comes second. The cashier was ok with my choice, but the boy who was supposed to bag the groceries really wasn’t 🙂 More precisely, he was instantly miffed. When the cashier put the bread on the counter for me to pick up, the boy said immediately, with an irritated voice, “that’s yours.” “Yes, it is,” I said with a neutral tone, trying not to react to his negativity. Then, as I was packing my stuff, instead of asking what these people usually ask — do you need help outside? — he said, still irritated, “is there anything you need help with, really?”

Hm… I can think of a few things I’d love some help with, but no one can do what I need 😀 While the exchange was funny (for me) and his reaction most certainly triggered by things other than my no-bag choice, I couldn’t help but wonder: Boy, do I look that self-reliant? I certainly try to be, simply because I’ve learned it the hard way that you’d better not count on anyone for anything in this country. Everyone is very busy and has little time to spare for others. Then, a lot of people really cherish their personal comfort and things that might seem very little to you can actually be pretty big for them. Thirdly, most people seem to expect something in return and, since I have very little to offer at this point, I prefer not to have any kind of debt, symbolical or otherwise, unless I really need it. Again, something else I’ve learned the hard way. So I prefer to err on the side of caution and not ask for anything unless I absolutely cannot do it myself. Self-reliance is a quintessentially American value that permeates the whole culture. I’ve seen people who could have really used some help and yet were cheerfully refusing it and saying they were ok. Romanians in their situation would have never hesitated to accept it or even ask for it.

In making the inevitable comparison, though, I wonder if I’m not romanticizing my native culture, even though my friends know I have quite a few bones to pick with it. But I do think that this extreme self-reliance ultimately leads to society’s atomization. Everyone is on their own and everyone is pretty much expected to be on their own. I look at the little things people can help with each other as occasions for bonding, yet I can count on my fingers the times I’ve seen it happen the way I’ve seen it at home. And yes, I know things have changed and people are busy and selfish in Romania, too (particularly Bucharest, where I’m from). So maybe I am viewing this through rosy glasses; hard to know what the truth is.

I guess what it all boils down to is that you just cannot be weak here and that’s particularly hard when you’re not from here, which means you’ve got a few more things stacked up against you than the natives. For one thing, you don’t have the support system of family and friends that you had back home. I know that all in all I’m in a pretty good situation; so many things have worked out wonderfully for me. Yet, other important ones haven’t and there’s that constant stress of still having to struggle that keeps me on my toes. You don’t want to ask for help unless you’re dying, something like that. But, when thoughts like this bring me down, I remind myself that life is a struggle anywhere you are. If it’s not this problem it’s that other one.

Being self-reliant in America without having a car, though, can be difficult sometimes. Everything is far and not always reachable by public transportation; even in DC, which does have a pretty good system. There are whole areas in the U.S. that have never heard of the concept. You have to be ok with walking long distances. All this means you have to be in good shape. Well, I didn’t think of this when I signed up for my gym membership, but the results sure came in handy. All those spinning classes I’ve been taking for more than three years now have definitely helped me find my 5-mile commute to work and the four hills on the way back easy. Plus, I can go to all the big, cheap stores out in the suburbs; I’d see my hair go gray waiting for a bus to take me there.

And, speaking of heaping stuff on my bike, I think I’ve discovered my inner Chinese in America.

Later edit: There’s no connection between the toilet paper and my inner Chinese; I just didn’t have a better pic that would show how much I can carry on my bike.

Posted in American culture, cultural differences, immigration | Tagged: , | 8 Comments »

I’m the Workhorse

Posted by thearrow on September 17, 2008

cat
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Forever sweating the details. The Wikipedia definition of a workhorse couldn’t be more appropriate:

  • a machine that performs dependably under heavy, prolonged use
  • a person who works tirelessly at difficult, time-consuming tasks

At times I think I’m both 🙂 Not that I find it easy or it doesn’t drain me of energy completely sometimes, but at least for now I can’t be any different. I truly think that details matter and, if you give them proper attention, the sum is going to be greater than the parts. I’ve gotten a bit better at not becoming distressed when seeing that it’s just not possible to do everything you need to do.

The problem is, there’s never enough time for creative thinking. I envy Google employees who can dedicate 10 percent (or was it 20?) of their time to whatever work-related project they fancy. I can’t even dream of 5 percent.

You can tell it’s the middle of the week again; all I can think of is work 🙂 Surprisingly, though, I don’t feel exhausted. I suspect one reason is that I’ve cut back on coffee considerably; some health scares of the kind I haven’t had in many years have made me rethink those two daily mugs of dark pleasure. I don’t wish the splitting headache from not nourishing this addiction on anyone, though. I thought I could go cold turkey but by mid-morning I couldn’t take the fogginess any longer.

And no, biking to work doesn’t wake me up. I’m usually half-asleep when I get on the bike and not even the adrenaline rush of riding on the street wakes me up. This is a more recent thing, riding on the street. I was getting frustrated with pinging pedestrians and slowing down through Georgetown (old neighborhood, very narrow sidewalks). So when I saw that the street was actually almost empty at times at 7:30 in the morning, I pushed the next frontier. Oh, the exhilaration of biking on a street that’s usually bustling with traffic at any other time of the day!

On this happy note, I’m going to bed to catch enough sleep before another work frenzy.

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