Monthly Archives: October 2014

Halloween

Halloween from cradle to cubicle.

Halloween: an American institution from cradle to cubicle.

I like most holidays, but Halloween has always been one of my favorites. In all the years I lived abroad, I tried to celebrate it as much as possible. But it always struck me as a very American holiday – one that Brits may enjoy, and Europeans may make a nod to, but no one else goes quite over the top like the Americans.

This year – my first year back in the US – Halloween falls on a Friday. This weekend I have been invited to no less than three Halloween parties. That is in addition to my office Halloween party which took place yesterday (yes, you read that correctly: professional adults get dressed up at the office in front of their co-workers, during working hours… hell yeah).

And if I hadn’t been feeling under the weather, yesterday evening I would have also attended Night of the Living Zoo, the National Zoo’s annual Halloween event. Yes, a party at the zoo. For Halloween. For adults. Really.

When I was living in the UK, I’d be lucky to get invited to one Halloween party to attend. Now I’m swimming in them. Finally, I can give Halloween the attention it deserves.

Given the four Halloween parties over three days, I even momentarily considered ordering more than one costume, so as to avoid donning the same Alice in Wonderland dress three days in a row. But then I thought maybe that would be going overboard. So instead, I decided to simply sleep in my costume for three nights. A reasonable compromise.

But even if you’re not going to any Halloween parties, you can’t escape. I just stepped out for a coffee, and there are people in costumes everywhere: so far today I spotted a chef, a footballer, a prisoner, and a woman on a bicycle covered in gold sequins and technicolor feathers. Rock on.

The great thing about Halloween in the US is that a costume can be anything. When I was celebrating Halloween in Europe, for example in France, I noticed that people were a lot more limited and formulaic in the costumes they wore. Women pretty much stuck to the standard witch or devil, and men were vampires, ghosts, monsters, or zombies, not straying far from the original meaning of All Hallows’ Eve as a celebration of the dead and departed. My European friends would often question non-scary costumes: “What does Superwoman have to do with Halloween?”

Americans, on the other hand, are as happy to be a nurse as a nun as a ninja. And, if you’re an adult woman (or even a tween, according to this article), generally the idea is for the costume to be as short and skimpy as possible. Because Halloween is the one time of year when it’s totally acceptable for (a) women to dress as provocatively as possible, and (b) men to dress in drag.

P.S. Being child-less and yard-less, I can’t/won’t even begin to touch upon all the other integral and amazing aspects of Halloween in America, including children going trick or treating (an unforgettable part of my childhood), pumpkin picking, carving jack o’ lanterns and roasting the pumpkin seeds, dressing your infant  up in a costume that you enjoy more than they do because they have no idea what is going on, and last but not least the practice of decorating one’s front yard for Halloween. When I was growing up, the only “decoration” that occurred for Halloween was when the high school trouble makers threw eggs and toilet paper at unlucky people’s houses. But now it seems to be a thing that people do: decorate your house/yard for Halloween in the same way you would for Christmas. Take it to the next level, America.

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Filed under Americana, Clothing, Holiday

Pumpkin everything

Winter, spring, summer, PUMPKIN.

Winter, spring, summer, PUMPKIN.

It seems to be that time of year when everything is flavored in pumpkin. Actually, it has been that time of year for a while already. A good two months, in fact: Starbucks announced the early release of its Pumpkin Spice Latte on August 28, 2014. And clearly the “PSL” (yes, it now has an abbreviation… when did that happen?) is the bellwether of the pumpkin season. (The Starbucks marketing machine takes it to the next level and claims that “Our customers tell us that their first sip of Pumpkin Spice Latte signals the onset of the fall season.” There are so many things wrong with that statement, I don’t know where to start.)

But it doesn’t stop at Starbucks. Even the more proletarian Dunkin’ Donuts offers pumpkin-flavored brew, under the “PumpkinAtDunkin” banner. And I also found orange K-cups popping up in my office kitchen. Guess what was inside…

All these pumpkin-y drinks are of course accompanied by pumpkin-y sweets, ranging from pumpkin bread, to pumpkin muffins, to pumpkin scones, to pumpkin cookies, to pumpkin cheesecake, to pumpkin to pumpkin to pumpkin to pumpkin. Oh yes, and how could I forget, the pumpkin donut. It becomes impossible to remember a time when you ordered anything other than the Pumpkin Spice Cake Donut at Krispy Kreme. And it is difficult to imagine a future post-Halloween. What will breakfast be without pumpkin?!

And it was only recently that I realized, after attending a beer tasting at a friend’s place, that pumpkin BEER is also a thing. Clearly, there is no end to the pumpkin power. The other weekend I even attended a pumpkin FESTIVAL. Our initial intention was simply to go pumpkin picking, because we wanted to carve the pumpkins into jack o’ lanterns and roast the pumpkin seeds (one of my favorite fall childhood memories). Instead, we ended up at this massive fall fair packed with hundreds (no, it must have been thousands) of suburbanites engaging in fun fall family activities and general pumpkin mania.

America is, quite simply put, obsessed with pumpkins.

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Monologues

Make. It. Stop.

Make. It. Stop.

On one of the many plane journeys I found myself on recently, I sat down next to a woman who could only be described as… audible. Actually, I wasn’t really next to her at all. She was sitting a row or two behind me, and another three seats to the right, with an aisle also between us.

But, judging by the volume of her voice, she might as well have been sitting right next to me. Because I could clearly hear everything she said. Everything. She. Said. Indeed, there was no way not to hear it.

It wasn’t even the volume of her voice that annoyed me. Or her nasal, heavy American accent. It was the fact that she was talking about herself, ad infinitum. I pitied the poor woman in the seat immediately next to her, who she had latched onto as her listener (err, victim). Every few sentences or so, the victim would politely nod or utter brief words of concurrence, and the woman would steam roll on with her monotonous monologue (or is it soliloquy, since she might as well have been talking to herself). Occasionally Ms. Motor Mouth would pause long enough for her victim to edge in a sentence of her own.

I repeatedly tried to block out the conversation (and by “conversation” I mean monologue) and refocus on the novel I was reading. But it was impossible. (They had not yet handed out the earphones, and sadly I had forgotten to pack the noise-cancelling headphones which I have now realized are indispensable for such journeys.)

No matter how hard I tried, my ears and my brain kept on getting drawn back to her riveting story about how she had driven all they way to the Washington airport from Florida so she could fly direct to Addis Ababa, and how she had only gotten permission from her manager to get one week off work, and how she had forgotten to pack her toothbrush, and other mundane minutiae of her life that could not possibly have been of interest to her victim or the dozens of other passengers within earshot of her on the plane.

I’ve encountered a lot of these people since returning to America. Sure, they also exist in Europe and Africa. But, they tend to be on crack or mentally unstable or homeless (or all of the above). In the US, on the other hand, “verbal diarrhea” appears to be an infection that plagues even functioning, drug-free members of society. It’s as though they just have no verbal filter, and narrate their entire stream of consciousness. Out loud. It’s like listening to the radio, but you can’t turn it off. I’ve noticed there are a lot of these “radio people” in America.

It’s especially noticeable when you hear a monologuer talking on the phone, because then you can’t even here the brief interrupting “Uh Huh” noise of the noble listener on the other end of the line; you perceive only the slight pause and inhalation of breath on the part of the speaker, before they barrel into the next repetitive detail of their day. And these monologuers always tend to repeat themselves (“And so yeah, I… [insert variation of point just stated]”). Perhaps because that’s the only way to come up with enough words to fill the air time.

God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason.

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Filed under Communications, Etiquette

I’m back!

To my regular readers who have been wondering where I’ve been for the past two months (yes, two months), I apologize for being M.I.A.  Yes, I’m alive. I just haven’t been able to blog due to a number of factors, including major life events taking place that would have been enough to distract me on their own, but also happened to coincide with an intense schedule of business and personal travel which took me to South Sudan, Uganda, Boston, Bahamas, and Democratic Republic of Congo (yes, in that order, and yes, one of the more random collection of destinations I have visited in a span of seven weeks).

I’ve barely been in the US, less been able to blog about it. Well, I’m back home now, and I’m unpacked, and I’m not going anywhere again for one full month (which, right about now, seems like a long time to go without sitting on a plane). So, I’m back to blogging about weird and wonderful America! Expect more posts from me later in the week.

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