Snowbird City

27 01 2012

The Canadians have landed.

The annual exodus from winter to warmer climes began about Thanksgiving (American Thanksgiving, that is…) and usually lasts until Easter. That means, we here in Hollywood, Florida, are currently in the thick of it.

A caravan of vehicles bearing the license plate “Je me souviens” begins moving south down I-95 just as Florida’s hurricane season is ending, and Quebec’s deep freeze is beginning. The colony grows by the day until South Florida is saturated.

Bienvenue! And spend some money here, you Lexus driver, you!

And they really are ALL French Canadians. In all my years of coming to Hollywood between November and April, I have never seen a Canadian license plate from west of Laval. I have no idea why.

One telltale indication that the snowbirds are back in town are the signs in the stores that say “On parle français” and…I walk by this one every day….

Yuck.

For those of you unfamiliar with this culinary delight from north of the border, it is truly disgusting. A heart attack on a plate if there ever was one. Fries drowned in cheese and gravy, basically. I had the honor of making its acquaintance once while at university in Canada, many, many years ago. My cholesterol level has not yet recovered.

R. and I have started playing a drinking game when we are out in one of the bars downtown or at the beach. It’s called “Identify the French Canadian”. I can’t say what it is about them, but we are generally 98% right (and therefore drink a lot). French Canadians just have this look, and they all seem to look the same.

But despite the invasion of les Français, we are thankful for their cash, which they toss around liberally, as every vacationer should.

To keep our French Canadian friends and neighbo(u)rs happy and entertained during their annual sojourn to Florida, Hollywood offers Claude, the two-step king.

Monsieur "MC et DJ prof." in action at "Disco-Karaoké".

He is out a few times a week in the bandshell on the beach, crooning old favorites from the 60’s and 70’s. Hundreds of retired Canucks spend their afternoons in the sunshine, tapping their feet to Claude’s rendition of “Mustang Sally” and other favorites I never new had French subtitles or translations. His finale today was what seemed to be some kind of folk song that had everyone joining in in a sing-a-long.

It’s fun for the whole family, as Claude’s elderly line-dancing groupies – also out for every afternoon performance – will attest.

The ladies doing their thing for Claude.

We Floridians just sit there and gape at the crazy tourists.

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Independence day in Swiss German

31 07 2011

This weekend Switzerland celebrates its 720th birthday. Every year on August 1st, the Swiss gather with their families, raise the flag, fire up the barbecue and shoot off some fireworks. They sing traditional yodeling songs, dress up in funny clothes and celebrate their unique identity, culture and language.

A specimen of Homo Helveticus in traditional celebratory garb.

Hm. Kind of like we do on July 4th.

And though I cannot with a good conscience completely disparage my life here (it has its merits), and with all due respect to my Swiss friends and readers (they are great folks to have around), an incident last week once again made me wonder what the hell I ever did to piss anyone off in this tiny insignificant piece of overpriced real estate at the center of Europe. Other than live here and breathe air.

For six years and eight months I have attempted to learn the rules of one of the most exclusive places on earth. And the Swiss set very high standards for immigrants like myself, expecting them to internalize these rules from the moment we set foot in the country. They also have a tight surveillance network of spies for the purpose of enforcement. They call them “neighbors.”

In addition, those Swiss people in the German-speaking part of the country do it in an archaic language made infinitely more complex for the unknowing foreigner by its many dialects. I call this phenomenon “preserving linguistic discrimination.” My Swiss friends call it “preserving linguistic pluralism.”

The other day at work I had a lady on the phone who was looking for a report my company had recently published. She spoke a Swiss German dialect that I had trouble understanding. I asked her in high (proper) German for her name and the company she worked for. She responded with something unintelligible, to which I said, “Excuse me, could you please repeat that?” This was the answer I got (in dialect of course, at increased volume):

“If you want to speak with me then you will have to speak with me in my Zurich dialect of Swiss German because the only other language I speak is Swahili.”

Well, I thought. So much for friendly natives.

(And for those of you who have never actually heard Swiss German – you would be forgiven for thinking it really was Swahili. At least by me.)

I responded that unfortunately I could not send her the report, and that she wouldn’t be able to read it anyway, because it was only published in English, and not in her Zurich dialect of Swiss German or Swahili. And I hung up.

So this coming Monday, while four million German-Swiss wave their flags and proclaim in their myriad of dialects how wonderful their country is (and three million more doing the same thing in French, Italian or Rumantsch), I will quietly enjoy a day off work, a month late. We will surely also raise the Stars & Stripes, fire up the grill and light a sparkler or two.

Do me a favor and pass the steak sauce and the Miller Lite, will ya?





Happy Birthday, EvelynnStarr.com!

10 07 2011

A year ago this week my blog was born. This is just a short note to say thanks to all my readers and commentators, to those who suffered with me and laughed with me,  and to those who did not take my cynicism, criticism and thinly veiled insults personally.

Thanks especially to those who continue to inspire me, and to those who believe in me. These fireworks are for you:

I started my blog for no other purpose than to get me writing again. In that I was hugely successful. I never promised high-falutin’ literature, and I’m glad there are so many of you out there who stuck around to read anyway.

When I put my mind to it a year ago, suddenly, I had more ideas than I knew what to do with, or time to write about. A year on, I am once again in a bit of a trough, due to circumstances beyond my control. But this too shall pass.

The next year will bring greater and better things, I am confident of it.

Hello World, Part 2. Stay tuned for more.





Lanugage Traps for Foreigners

31 05 2011

Language and culture can be tricky, and there are a lot of unhealthy traps that a foreigner can tumble into without even trying. The Swiss friends with whom we are currently traveling in the United States have gotten a massive dose of both in the past couple of weeks.

Heading off into uncharted linguistic territory.

They have been pretty good sports about it all, even if, as is sometimes the case, the joke happens to be on them. And even if most of the information goes in one ear and out the other because it will be useless to them when they get home in 6 days.

In my previous post, I mentioned my role as the color commentator as we pass landmarks, cruise through national parks and drive down Main Streets of small towns along our way. And some of the stuff we have been talking about really does merit a blog post.

Cultural connotations can be difficult to understand in the language of origin, and most are more or less gibberish in some other language that doesn’t have the words for it. Here is a short list of a few things I have recently tried to explain… I have listed them in the order of least difficult to most difficult to describe in a foreign language.

See how many of these you can do in a language that is not your own, and let me know your foreign friends’ comprehension and/or reactions:

  • Why are there little red flags on the sides of American mailboxes?
  • 100 miles does not equal 100 kilometers, and 100 degrees Centigrade does not equal 100 degrees Fahrenheit (but that 100 degrees F is still hot enough….)
  • The difference between “hash browns” and “hash brownies”.
  • How drivers at an intersection with a four-way stop sign organize themselves so that chaos does not ensue in the middle of said intersection.
  • What are trailer parks, and how do you identify their human declination, “trailer park trash”?
  • The micro- and macro- economic benefits of 24-hour shopping. (And the fun of a 3 a.m. soccer game in Aisle 6 of your local supermarket using a can of tuna instead of a ball.)
  • Why it’s completely appropriate to dance with some guy to live music in some stinky bar in some little town in the middle of nowhere out west and then later ask to borrow his cowboy hat for a photo opportunity. (Prerequisite: alcohol.)

And here is one I haven’t even attempted on my Swiss friends yet, but know from past experience with other Germanic peoples that it’s pretty much impossible:

  • Major League Baseball.

    Does not exist in Europe.





On the road again

23 05 2011

So did the world end last Saturday? I have been so out of touch I wouldn’t have noticed. But somehow it seems like the same place it was prior to May 21st, 2011 – the date all those religious conspiracy-theroist wingnuts, who misused every medium in the country, tried to convince us that The Rapture was upon us.

Looks like Judgement Day came and went, huh?

But that’s kinda why it’s taken me so long to update my blog… I didn’t want to do all the work, you know, for nothing. Just wanted to wait and see if we would still be around after last Saturday.

(And we are! Great!)

I’ve been traveling with my husband and some friends, and have not had time to unpack my computer, let alone look at email or check up on current events since about 10 days ago. I have gone totally radio silent on Facebook. My FB friends are probably wondering if I drove into a ditch or something. Withdrawl has been brutal.

I don’t even know what day of the week it is. (Thursday?)

We have been on a whirlwind tour of the southwest USA, doing things like…this:

Early morning hiking in Grand Canyon. (May 22, 2011)

Our friends – two lovely Swiss folks who have been to the United States only twice before – are thankful guests, and the ultimate tourguide R. has been showing them everything this great part of the world has to offer.

My own role as the sidekick has been to provide the color commentary, filling them in with useful (and useless) USA-flavored information, mostly comprehensible translations of common Americanisms and vignettes from my own childhood in small-town America.

They often greet my explanations with blank, puzzled looks. There is clearly a clash of cultures going on here.

And fun as it has been, I have noticed that I am stressing out quite a bit about not getting enough alone-time. Prior to our roadtrip I spent 2½ months in my own little Evelynn-Starr world, doing all sorts of Evelynn-Starr things whenever and however Evelynn Starr felt like doing them. And now I have to share my time and my space with three other people. It’s been a rather rough re-entry into social life.

Complicating things is that our travel companions are somewhat novice. Imagine innocent camera-toting tourists underway in a foreign country where they don’t speak the language or understand the humor. I need not say more – you’ve all seen them, you know what I am talking about.

So I have decided to take a break from group activities, just for a few hours, to recover a bit of sanity. At this moment, I am sitting on the 18th floor of the Aquarius Casino and Resort in Laughlin, Nevada (also known as “Little Las Vegas”). I just won 50 bucks at a blackjack table downstairs and retreated to my hotel room in order to take some time to stare out the window at the Colorado River and think.

Just call me the Lone Rangerette.





This land is my land.

28 03 2011

Now that I have been in the United States for A WHOLE MONTH already, I have come to realize that there is a lot about the culture here that I can still totally identify with, even after spending the past almost 20 years overseas. I feel like I would feel completely comfortable easing back into society here, and pretending I had never left.

For example, take… people. I understand their language, their jokes, their mentality and their concerns. I can talk shop on baseball, hurricanes and inflation in the cost of an ice cream cone. And everyone is just so nice to each other. That’s what I really like about Americans.

In the past couple of weeks, I have also been noticing stuff that is maybe a little under the surface… things you take note of only when you are here a longer time, that are so very different from my life in Europe. A couple of days ago, I started writing down a few of these, and thought I’d share them.

Here an incomplete list of fascinating stuff I have (re-)learned about the USA:

Freight trains, though not as plentiful as in Europe, are exponentially longer than in Europe. The other day I was stuck at a railroad crossing in downtown Hollywood, FL as a cargo train passed. I counted 150 wagons, not including the two locomotives that were pulling it.

– There is a good reason it’s called commercial radio. When there is a commercial on the station you happen to be listening to, there will be commercials on all the other radio stations, at the same time. It’s like all radio stations have together conspired to simultaneously flood their listenership with paid advertising. The exception to the rule is, of course, (commercial-free) National Public Radio… that is in the middle of its Spring fund drive.

Radio Gaga.

– And by day four of the above-mentioned NPR beg-fest, any intelligent and loyal NPR listener is ready to pick up the phone, not to pledge but to tell them to please, please STOP! There is only so much penetrating, public on-air groveling I can tolerate before it seriously grates on my nerves. And you’ll notice that the voices get more desperate the closer the deadline creeps. (“Please, pledge NOW! We need your money!”)

– One more thing about advertising. The U.S. oil and natural gas industry is currently paying millions to bombard television viewers with the message that “the deeper you go the more good you learn about oil and natural gas.” Really?  Deepwater Horizon, anyone?

March Madness is not some kind of psychotic illness that runs rampant in the Springtime, but a basketball tournament that everyone seems to get real excited about. (OK, maybe it is an illness…)

–  To end on a positive note: Americans volunteer more than any other population I know. There are opportunities to do unpaid social work everywhere – coach a team, chaperone kids or help old people. If only there were as many paid jobs as there are volunteer opportunities, this country would be in fantastic shape.





Challenges of the English language

10 03 2011

The other twilight I decided to wade into the darkness over South Florida and try a night flight through some of the busiest airspace in the world. But I discovered quickly that darkness is relative. Though the sun dropped behind the Everglades as it does every day, the southeastern tip of the country is far from dark. A sea of light illuminating the ground beneath our Cessna Skyhawk (as well as the clouds above it) was burning enough energy to power a small developing country. For a year or maybe two.

The lights end abruptly in a straight line though, north to south, and the black abyss of the Atlantic Ocean takes over.

Downtown Miami at night. Gorgeous, isnt it?

One of the great challenges of flying (day or night) in my home country is, I’ve discovered, that I have to actually relearn my own native language in order to figure out what’s going on on the aviation transmission frequencies.

You see, in Europe, where almost everyone speaks English as their first, second, third or fourth foreign language, the pace on the radio is slower and more deliberate. The directions given by the the air traffic controllers have a distinctly European flavor. (And still, I feel sooooo superior with my native English language skills and the “Level Six – English proficient” notation on my pilots’ license.)

But here in the land of the free and the home of the verbally challenged, I am quite simply, erm… a bit lost. That evening when I contacted what is called “Clearance” at my home airport, I gave them my call sign – N5213R – and my intentions – “shoreline south” – this is what I heard back:

“Five-two-one-three-romeo, shwewlypdkjahjhsadoifhniowneknrlkmkdnn. Blurph.”

Ummm… say what?

My response: “Five-two-one-three-romeo, say again slowly, please?”

“One-three-romeo, aslhfkjjkdsopnvoewsdfkljipelous. Opuwernx.”

I looked to the instructor sitting next to me.

“Don’t look at me, I didn’t understand him either,” he said.

A second “say again” call brought clarity, I was cleared to taxi and prepare for takeoff.

Not understanding what is going on is all fine and good when stationary on the ground. There is time to pause and think and breathe and stay out of everyone’s way. There is no pressure, no airspace to watch out for, no altitude or speed to maintain and no reason to worry that something bad just might happen the next second.

Once airborne, however, is when the real fun starts. Especially in, as previously mentioned, one of the busiest aviation centers in the entire country.

A sightseeing flight down to Miami and Key Biscayne crosses the airspace of two busy international airports, where the last thing they want to see is a single-engine gnat getting in the way. Being sucked into the air intake of a passenger jet headed for Europe would create a bad day for everyone.

So therefore little itty bitty aircraft like ours are asked (told) to keep low enough over the shoreline so that we can practically dip our toes into the ocean below, and wave to residents on the 43rd floor of the beachside apartment towers just west of us.  We are almost close enough to see what they are watching on TV. The big boys thunder overhead as they depart from or approach MIA or FLL.

And so the garbled radio transmissions continued this night. I asked the various stations to “say again s-l-o-w-l-y” no less than seven times. I’m sure they threw a party when N5213R landed safely at her home airport.

Damn foreigners.