Posted by Adam @ 3:20 pm on July 28th 2008

The US for Limeys, Part 9: Driving, Part I

Full speed ahead in our sporadic, but ever informative, Limey Guide to America.

Driving is the real American Dream. In our next Guide we will consider the American Rite Of Passage, the gastric bypass Road Trip, but firstly, a primer on driving in the US, essential reading before you set your pedal to the metal, lay your rubber on the road and, unless you paid extra for deluxe seat coverings, stick your ass to the vinyl.

As you have demonstrated your driving competence to the DMV, you will know that Americans drive on the other side of the road, like the French (it is always worth pointing this out). It is wise to remember this, at least until after the bars begin to shut, by which time your fellow roadusers will themselves appear to have forgotten it. Also, again like the French, they will view pedestrians with the same enthusiasm that traditionally greeted wandering lepers looking to offload a year’s supply of Watchtower magazine. The pavement is called the sidewalk and the road is called pavement; whilst this may seem confusing at first, in most places there is no sidewalk and, thus, what you’ll end up walking on will, in fact, be the pavement, which you will share with cars in much the same way that the early Christians shared the Arena, and lunch, with the lions.

Americans roads don’t generally have speed cameras. They do, instead, have an army of policemen, hiding behind bushes and local geographical features like fun-hating versions of the sexual predators your mother warned you about, steely-eyed and implacable dealers of tickets with hearts of stone and, one is often told in dark tones, quotas to meet before they dare waste time on less important matters such as locating the perpetrators of crimes which result in no net financial benefit to their local police force. You will hear many rumours of how to escape ticketing with an appropriate sob story, reference to military service or a prominently displayed sticker avowing your generous donations to police organizations. Ignore these rumours; if they worked, no one would ever get a ticket and traffic police would be forced into a life of prostitution or even be driven to the investigation of crimes of theft and violence. You can, it turns out, avoid speeding tickets by not speeding (which is unAmerican) or else throw the dice like a chain-smoking Vegas visitor from the upper Midwest wearing a wrinkled nylon loungesuit that perfectly matches the greying nicotine-stained moustache which has long since seamlessly merged with a riotous outgrowth of nasal hair. Sure, sometimes you’ll lose, but it’s worth it to look so damn cool.

Petrol will seem laughably cheap, regardless of how much it costs. It will be years before you learn to adopt the correctly agonised expression when petrol rises to half of the price that you paid for it in the UK ten years ago; imagine your fourth-level magic-user walking unknowingly 5 feet into a Gray Ooze before experiencing the dawning recognition that you’re going to need a new pair of boots, ones that come with a replacement pair of feet and you just spent all your money on scrolls of Magic Missile with a caster level of 3 for the benefit of the rest of the party, yes, those guys that are laughing at you now and miming being broke as you wonder about the costs of a Resurrection spell as you further dissolve up to your knees. That’s the expression. Fortunately, unless you are filling up in New Jersey (where the beneficent government have wisely decided that you yourself are not to be trusted with the task of safely filling your petrol tank with petrol so that you have to seek the assistance of the highly trained gas pump specialists to do it) you are not likely to have to interact with human beings; you just swipe your card and pump away*.

Your car will seem big. Americans will tell you of how they bought a smaller car because of the better fuel economy and will show you something that ought to have Kate Winslet on the bonnet while Celine Dion impersonates the production of catgut violin strings in circumstances where nobody remembered to first kill the cat as you consider that hitting an iceberg and dying in the freezing water might not be entirely the worst outcome. Whilst cars are often compared to penises, for Americans, they are actually always bigger than their owners think they are. Like penises, however, it’s the hidden costs of ownership that kill you.

In order to drive a car you will have to own or borrow one. Car salesmen in the US are so similar to those in the UK that one can only assume that they were all descended from the same primeval proto-salesman, a lonely figure cast out by his fellow cavemen for an epic lack of sincerity and an irritating tendency to collect a bunch of inferior rocks for barter simply to drive up the perceived value of the acceptably-formed rocks, a creature whose reproduction in the face of evolutionary selection would serve as supporting evidence for Intelligent Design if only its proponents held that God Hates Us All. Once you have bought a car it is, of course, essential that you tell all your friends how you suckered your opponent into giving you a great deal, stories which will be remarkably similar in tone to the stories the salesman tells as soon as you have left the showroom, except his stories are true.

Now you have secured a vehicle, your next mission is to drive it a long way (possibly to the tune of Celine Dion’s appalling cover of “I drove all night”, which if nothing else will create a same sense of fear and pressing urgency that will, in fact, keep you driving all night). That’s for next time.

*Insert joke about futuristic Japanese brothel here.

Posted by Adam @ 12:40 pm on November 9th 2007

The US for limeys, Part 8: Politics — The Presidential Nominations Process

After some delays, the next exciting installment in the Limey Guide to America is upon us, nay, crashing over us like a foaming wave of bitter mediocrity, in which regard it is appropriate that today’s topic is ‘Presidential Nominations’.

The business of nominating a party candidate for President is a serious one: in a very real sense, the candidate put forward represents the party to the nation and to the world. The task, then, is to take a large potential pool of well-qualified candidates and narrow them down until only the worst candidates are left, before letting them run loose about much of the country raising money like a cross between demented snake-oil salesmen and the street urchins from ‘Oliver Twist’. This money is then used to do important stuff, like raise more money, and to persuade the party’s voters (and unaffiliated ‘independents’, in some states) to vote for them. This process can be easily distinguished from buying votes, because when a vote is bought, that voter receives something of value in return; in this case, the voter only gets the crushing disappointment of seeing their candidate beaten or else the crushing shame of realising that their candidate is a no-good scumbag whose victory will ring long through the Halls of Infamy and echo eternally through the bottomless Dungeons of Disaster*.

Some people might see the business of partisan pandering aimed at winning a party nomination as getting into the Belly of the Beast. Others might prefer to describe it as a sausage machine, where one doesn’t want to know what’s going on inside but just wants to enjoy the results. In fact, it’s both: it is like passing ingredients through the belly of a beast, and calling the output ‘sausages’. Enjoying the results is a specialised skill.

Each state has its own nomination process, which takes place at a date decided by the state party. Or the state government. Or the state government or state party in defiance of the national party. Because each state hates to pick a loser, the first few states get to pick and the rest of them copy their picks, unless one of the candidates is from one of those later states, in which case their own state will vote for them in much the same way that the fat kid who is scorer for the school cricket team gets to wear cricket whites to maintain the fiction of participation even though Satan will be executing a string of flawless triple lutzes across the gleaming Infernal Icefields to the amazement of assembled squadrons of airborne hogs before he ever gets to actually play in a game.

Those all-important early-nominating states are states like New Hampshire and Iowa, whose population is too small to mean anything in electoral politics if they weren’t, in fact, the early voting states in the nominations process. One might be worried, then, that the nominees are picked by untypical states with small populations that might be unrepresentative of the nation as a whole. The national Democrat party, mindful of these concerns, has moved some other states forward, such as Nevada: who better, after all, to cast a discerning eye over a group of desperate chancers, moral degenerates and ethical prostitutes than the inhabitants of the state with most experience of their common-or-garden counterparts?

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Posted by Adam @ 1:54 pm on June 22nd 2007

A limey guide to Ron Paul

In a quick diversion from the Limey Guide to America, we have a quick presentation of a uniquely American political phenomenon: Ron Paul.

As limeys may be aware, the US has a Constitution. A relatively short written document, it lays out what government can and can’t do.

The existence of such a restrictive document is, of course, a terrible problem for the majority of people in government, who don’t want to be told what they can’t do, not because it is explicitly forbidden and not because it is implicitly forbidden by its absence from a list of things that they are allowed to do. If one can’t decide what to serve the people, well, what point is there in serving the people at all? Why, one might as well pass time discussing hay and milk quality with one’s dairy herd.

Consequently, ever since there has been a Constitution, the US Federal Government has been ignoring it. Now, the Supreme Court can decide whether or not a law passed by Congress is constitutional and whether, therefore, it should be struck down, at least since 1803, when the Supreme Court decided that it can decide whether or not a law passed by Congress is constitutional and whether, therefore, it should be struck down. The Justices that sit on the Supreme Court, however, are appointed by Congress (having been nominated by the President). They serve, listening to each other and to lawyers, until they die of boredom, which actually takes a surprisingly long time; unavoidably, however, as some of the people who wish to expand the powers of government and who can be prevented from doing so by the Justices of the Supreme Court are also the people who get to appoint Justices to the Supreme Court, as the years, and Justices, have passed, the Supreme Court has progressively allowed the Federal Government to expand its powers beyond what might be expected from a literal reading of the Constitution. This process has been gradual; in much the way that a piece of pristine meat becomes covered in flies and gets degraded by maggots, the constitutional limits on the power of the Federal Government have been covered in lies and steadily degraded by, how to put this, maggots.

And so we come to Ron Paul. Paul is a doctor by trade (Ron Paul supporters have a secret code by which to identify each other, calling him ‘Dr Paul’) and a somewhat reluctant politician in the US House of Representatives, which is a group of people chiefly distinguished from an unruly mob by the almost universal wearing of neckties. Paul is an even more reluctant Republican — in fact, he only really became a Republican once the Republicans realised that he was going keep stomping their anointed candidates into the electoral dust and so they thought that they might as well co-opt him and get him hooked on power in much the manner of the forward-looking entrepreneurial heroin dealers about whom we were warned as children, who were giving away free opiates to get us all hooked on the poetry of the Romantic Period. Or something like that. I forget exactly what their payoff was. But, I digress.

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Posted by Adam @ 11:01 am on April 24th 2007

The US for limeys, Part 7: taxes

As our ramble, for limeys, through the more boring sides of US life continues, it is clear that no guide to the less glamorous aspects of the American experience that pretends to completeness can omit mention of filing taxes; when better to detail the byzantine maze of American taxation than in the exhausted aftermath of the annual tax-filing circus?

Itís often said, by people fraudulently assuming the mantle of a wisdom to which they merely aspire, that there’s nothing so certain as death and taxes. Well, in the US, they are by no means independent; if you don’t pay your taxes, you will be put in prison, where you will be Raped to Death.

It is generally wise to pay your taxes.

Let us lurch into uncertain action with the everyday experience: purchase taxes. Purchase taxes are much more transparent in the US than they are in the UK. Prices are advertised without applicable taxes so that youíll find out how much the tax is when you are asked at the checkout for more than the advertised price, assuming that the goods you are buying are taxable which, like the tax rate itself, varies from state to state. There are a veritable plethora of other taxes; in many states, for example, youíll pay a tax when you rent a hotel room, because the taxes that the hotel pays are clearly not enough to pay for the critical resources you use when you dare set foot in the state, turning the heads of good, unsophisticated, local folk with your filthy ‘money’ and foreign ways. The price you agreed for a car rental may likewise attract a mysterious tax, because government has a clear interest in penalising antisocial behaviour such as car rental. Anyhow, in general, before loudly accusing the person at the checkout of robbing you, check the receipt; if you have been gypped by taxation, the correct response is to loudly accuse the government of robbing you (see below).

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Posted by Adam @ 3:14 pm on April 4th 2007

The US for limeys, Part 6: television advertising III

The third part of the three-part television advertising subsection of our multi-part trawl across the open seas of Ordinary American Life, for limeys.

Did you turn on your television set to see a freezing-cold sleazebag walking through a car lot pointing out the price and virtues of each car there? Oiled, muscular individuals using an exercise machine in an effortless fashion? Apparent round-table discussion of dietary supplements or stock-trading secrets? Faux interviews with the lucky insiders who paid to get into a members-only shoppers’ club that the manufacturers and Big Retailers don’t want you to know about?

You have discovered the ‘infomercial’, which is the Inuit word for ‘long television advertisement filled with lies’*. Infomercials are the very pinnacle of the uppermost peak in the mighty mountain range of ‘televisual insults to your intelligence’. These half-hour long nuggets of deceit-disguised-as-documentary are aimed at people too stupid to find something good to watch on television, which can even be achieved on Sunday mornings, you will be surprised to hear, so long as you like watching Magnum, PI (and who doesn’t enjoy seeing our tightly-shorted irreverent heart-of-gold heavily-moustached hero ply his White Knight trade in the tropical island paradise of 1980s Hawaii? Commies, that’s who).

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Posted by Adam @ 8:37 pm on March 23rd 2007

The US for limeys, Part 5: television advertising II — medical advertisements

Our doubtless-soon-to-be-legendary scouring of the most boring parts at the bottom of the American Barrel of Life continues with a further look at television advertisements.

So, 30% of your precious Lorelai time is made up of television advertisements, lovingly tailored by advertising executives three to five lines into their morning Colombian pick-me-up. If there’s one thing that every shallow, coke-addled egomaniacal cardboard cut-out approximation to a human being knows, it’s that paranioa is real, so where better to leverage paranoia for financial gain than through worrying people about their health? Sure, there is the small problem of doctors being the only people allowed to prescribe medications, but see how they like saying ‘no’ to hundreds of pushy self-deluded patients coming in to their surgery and demanding a particular named drug they saw advertised on TV for a condition they’ve convinced themselves that they have. Easier to prescribe the drug and hit the course in time to practice your putting.

One handy use of adbreaks is to go to the toilet or, as they say here, ‘go to the bathroom’ (best not to refer to the toilet at all, lest you be viewed as someone with normal bodily functions and find yourself unwelcome in polite company). The adbreaks are so frequent and protracted, however, that if you need even a small fraction of them to attend to your excretory needs, you could have a problem requiring the purchase of medical supplies. You’re in luck! There are many such products available to you in this consumer paradise and your research starts right there in front of the TV. Take it to the bathroom with you.

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Posted by Adam @ 2:25 pm on March 9th 2007

The US for limeys, Part 4: Television advertising I

Our hard-hitting investigative plunge into Americotedium continues with an introduction to television advertising.

You are a Gilmore Girls addict. Every week, you tune in to find out whether Lorelai and Rory are talking, whether Luke and Lorelai are talking, whether Lorelai and her mother are talking and whether Lorelai and Chris are talking. You want to know what it is that they are saying when they are talking, or what they are saying about each other when they are not talking. You live the sweet, sweet agony of not knowing if they are talking or if they are about to start talking or, perhaps, stop talking. If you have any friends*, you can to talk to them about Lorelei, Rory, Emily, Luke and Chris talking, or not.

Obviously, you want to buy the DVDs of this series so that you can put them under your television and never watch them, secure in the knowledge that if you ever wanted to watch them and couldn’t wait until the next Gilmore Girls all-day marathon on ABC Family Channel, you could spend a relaxing five minutes opening the theft-proof DVD packaging before kicking back to watch an episode or two with a nice cup of hot cocoa and a clean dog curled by the foot of the chair as you sit cross-legged with a blanket over your lap in front of a crackling fire while the snow falls gently outside.

As all fans of this cutesy light-hearted human-comedy masterpiece know, the scheduled time for a showing of Gilmore Girls is one hour. The running time of an episode on the DVD, however, is 42 minutes. 30% of your cherished hour of scatty females failing to connect with dumb but secretly sensitive males in the picturesque Connecticut town of Stars Hollow is made up of television advertising aimed at the needs, I said needs, godamnit, of people between 18 and 49 years old.

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Posted by Adam @ 10:35 pm on March 1st 2007

The US for limeys, Part 3: Credit

The much-awaited third installment in our tough look at the most boring parts of everyday life in the US, for limeys.

You are in America. You have your driving license. You are watching television advertisements (subject of a future limey guide) to find your spurious ailments of choice. What you need now are some credit cards, some storecards, a mortgage on a house which you cannot afford to pay from the moment you sign the papers, a car that will not be worth what you owe on it at any time in the next five years and for the moments when you just have to get away from the stress of being functionally bankrupt, you need a boat.

We need now to take a diversion and talk about the Social Security Number (SSN). It is your numerical fingerprint, the barcode on your soul, the number of your inner fiscal beast, everything your NI number would love to be but fails to achieve. The government issue you with one so that they can track your Social Security payments, which are used to make the federal budget deficit appear smaller than it is; in fancy financial terms, think of it as you lending the government money for absolutely nothing in return ever. So, it makes complete sense that you need one of these to buy a car, rent an apartment, see a dentist, get insurance, have cable tv connected or get a driving license from the DMV. (more…)

Posted by Adam @ 10:39 pm on February 22nd 2007

The US for limeys, Part 2: the DMV

Hot on the heels of Part 1, here is Part 2 of our hard-hitting limey’s guide to the most tedious aspects of life and how they are differently dull in America.

So, there you are, outside the DMV. It’s Columbus Day. State employees don’t work Columbus Day*.

So, there you are, outside the DMV, the day after Columbus Day. Hardened by previous encounters with the bureacracy, you will have brought a sheaf of documents pertaining to visa, employment, your UK driving license, birth certificate, wedding certificate, degree certificate, social security card, two or three utility bills, dog license, any deals you may have signed with the Devil and anything else that occurred to you once you had reached the end of your road.

As with supermarkets, you will not be allowed to carry a gun into the DMV, for reasons that will become obvious.

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Posted by Adam @ 2:03 pm on February 17th 2007

The US for limeys, part 1: supermarkets

A hard-hitting series providing a penetrating look at the dullest parts of life and how they differ between the US and the UK.

You find yourself in an American supermarket. The trolley only has two steerable wheels and won’t steer like you’re used to (this is why wearing a gun into a supermarket is frowned upon, since the Great Dubuque TrolleyRage Mass Shooting*). People are much more polite to each other in supermarkets than they are in the UK, although old ladies are as irritating as they are everywhere. When you find the thing that you are looking for, stand back; there be may be 10 different brands, nearly identically priced for the same size. Pick the one with the packaging that speaks to you, as an individual. Remember, it’s not just a choice, it’s a lifestyle accessory. Today, the wrong gravy granules, tomorrow, divorced and refused credit. Don’t just take my word for it; watch television advertising.

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