01 December 2008

1 - Berkeley

When I landed in California, I thought Oohoo, I am in California! Actually I didn't, San Francisco isn't exactly California. Well it is, but it is not LA is it, and LA is where all the stars are so that's California, right? Actually I didn't do that either, I was too busy singing happy birthday to my knees, which had turned 80 somewhere over the Azores, and very much considering crawling over the bearded gentleman sitting on the aisle who seemed in no hurry to leave the aeroplane, restful things that they are, and that might not have been the most proper thing to do but he was wearing white socks with birkenstocks, he clearly wouldn't have minded extra pain.

[Speaking of which:

Someone deserves to be flayed alive.]

I am the poorest flyer, at best I doze briefly and even though I am not that tall I never know what to do with my legs, they hurt all the time. I was lucky enough to have had an empty seat btwn me and Woodstock and I claimed it immediately, snarl and all, and I was able to diminish the suffering but really, it's still a circle of hell, only slightly less so. My skin is also never amused and by the end of the flight it and I were totally dehydrated, despite copious amounts of moisturiser. I'll now share with you a little ode I created in honour of United Airlines' flight attendants:
Honestly, I have never understood the supposed glamour of it but it does seem to go to their heads. When I worked at the Aquarium people used to become so excited when I told them what I did when, in fact, I cleaned up guano and scrubbed floors and walls and hand-fed 60 little mouths with minute amounts of fish cut up by me which left me and my car [ExPorky, for those who speak Portuguese, bcs it was the Expo and the car was always filthy.] [Brilliant, right?] smelling like sprat by the end of every day, joy, and as far as I can see that's basically what they do, no offense meant to anyone but if you're a glorified waitress and the flight costs a small fortune the least you can do is charm the costumers, that's what you are actually paid to do, and not be supercilious and generally bovine, and if I am obviously trying to get back to my seat but the way is blocked by the very visible trolley, and you condescendingly say You need to get back to your seat and I reply Yes, I am trying to and you bark Now! I will retort Oh let me just fetch my wings then and you can shove your offended look down your lack of professionalism, not to mention that it will only ensure I will call you often for a glass of water bcs I need to take my medication please, again. Ha.

I was then greeted by a fell-down-the-stairs-and-therefore becrutched V. and my friend let's-call-him Jorge and off we went to Berkeley. When I was living in Israel I went to a congress in Hawaii and it was so bad I barely remember anything abt the flights, except that I did Tel Aviv - Brussels - Milwakee - LA - Maui and lost a whole day and generally wanted to die by the time I landed. It will be a long time until you find me on an aeroplane again, I'm afraid, jetlag lasts forever. It was all I could do to not go to bed at 17.00 and I am shamed to admit I was forced to drink coffee. Coffee. Me. That's very wrong, particularly if you happen to find coffee a bitter, vile beverage, which I do. We went straight to a burrito joint where I could not decide what to eat bcs lo, we have no Mexican joints in Portugal! We have one or two very fancy restaurants somewhere but that is it, so I bowed to their expertise and ate - a burrito, I think? The first few days are a bit of a blur, I went book-hunting with Jorge - sadly, funds were low and all I have to show for myself are 60 miser paperbacks this time, no record beaten, I chatted briefly with V. who needed to write 3 papers but was in pain from the swollen foot - she kept showing me its colouring trying to ellicit a dramatic response but dude, vet, remember?, if it's not dripping blood or pus I am not going to be much fazed - and had lovely PMS and actually walked on said foot and felt more pain and then became further aggravated when I'd mildly suggest that she didn't, woohoo. Ok, so the last bit was to rile her, I actually had a brilliant in Berkeley even though I kept turning to her and asking 'They're dressed like that bcs of Halloween, right?' and she kept saying 'No dear, this is Berkeley, you can even wear your pyjamas outside and no one cares' and, as it turns out, the day I returned from Canada, bfr I flew back, my skin was so raw it could bear no other fabric so I did, I wore my wide, fleece pyjamma bottoms to go to the supermarket and do you know, no one batted an eye and that, dahlings, is what cultural shock dreams are made of.

She also wanted me to remember my past life as an anthropologist and go talk to her class abt the many ways in which fieldwork can go wrong, regardless of your planning. Now, remember how I am European and do not care for PC rubbish at all? AT ALL? Berkeley seems to be the place where euphemisms go to die and she was so worried she actually had me rehearse my kibbutz story with her. The conversation was punctuated by Oh nonono, you canNOT say that, they will kill you, this is Berkeley! Apparently, if I am to tell her class, among other things, how the volunteer leader made my life a living hell bcs a fresh group of girls arrived on the kibbutz and for the first time in ages said girls did not look like dogs, end of quote, and the leader was all insecure bcs she was living with a 10-year volunteer, but then everyone else left and I stayed to bear the brunt of it you are not to actually say the dog bit, for in Berkeley there is no such thing as some serious ugly, at best one may be facially-challenged and even that may be crossing a line bcs really, ISN'T INNER BEAUTY ALL THAT MATTERS, YOU FASCIZOID? And yet, despite my abundant reservations she still wanted me to do it. Like this: 'V., you know I cannot promise that I will not inadvertently say something that will horrify them.' 'Don't be silly, I know what I am getting myself into.' What I am getting myself into, notice the phrasing? Bring the children inside, hurry, the Portie is coming! The talk went well, in a puzzling way. I was concentrating very hard on being totally serious - considering that I do not speak formal academia, and even when I was an academic of sorts I still didn't so I am more informal than might be expected - but that's also bcs in a university in Portugal you find all sorts of teachers and there is not a required template, for the most part. There seems to be in Berkeley, and yet her students address V. by her first name and will say things like "hell", nevermind that class hadn't officially started. Ah, foreigners are endlessly entertaining! Anyway, as I said, I tried to be serious and was thrown bcs they kept laughing. Honestly, sometimes it's even a tad annoying, yesterday I was telling the Rebbetzin a story that really wasn't cheery at all - AT ALL - and she laughed and said 'Oh Johnny, you should write short stories!'. Cheers. I don't understand why it happens but they loved it and V. didn't faint, not even once, so I consider it a success.

Then came the most puzzling bit of the entire trip. I was to meet M., which wasn't an easy thing to accomplish at all. We kept missing each other and then we'd agree on a day and V. would have to change it bcs she had things planned already and then we finally sorted it out but I did ring him to apologise for not having been able to meet him after all on the day we'd agreed to bcs we arrived home too late and he was very surprised bcs I was a day early. I tell you, jetlag is the pits, the absolute pits. On the agreed day we talked around 3 and I was already so knackered by then I wasn't even hungry, and he asked me if I wanted to go out for a drink or eat something, and I said I wasn't very hungry but I didn't mind a restaurant if he was, I could have a coke anywhere, and then he said he'd ring later to arrange the final details and when I hung up V. said 'You are hopeless at this American thing, he must be so confused!' and I said 'Huh?' and she said 'The poor man asked you out for drinks and you told him you'd have a coke!' and I asked 'But doesn't that count as a drink in the US?' and she said 'Yes, but he now probably thinks you want to go to a diner or so, he said drinks!' and I said 'Someone please kindly shoot me now' and she explained that drinks meant somewhere with alcohol, right, and my mentioning the coke was likely interpreted by him as my saying I wanted to go somewhere really greasy and ugly and oily-smelling, I don't know, I was barely awake and the finer points of American socialising fully eluded me, plus I'd counted on him remembering I do come from a different culture anyway bcs, HULLO, I DO, but apparently it's all very rigid and every American hides a niponic bone structure so when he rang back I said 'My handler tells me I 'm bound to have confused you, sorry, what I meant was, I do want us to meet, I don't care where as long as there's caffeine and it's nice' and bcs V. exclaimed from her room 'God,you're blunt' I added 'And I apparently shouldn't have told you that either' but bless him, he wasn't much fazed and he actually had a very witty reply which, thanks to the afore mentioned jetlag, I cannot recall at all. If you think this was the worst bit you are much mistaken, for next came The Great Hug Debacle of 2008 and by the end of it I wanted to throw myself in the river and possibly kick V. It started so innocently, with my asking how I was supposed to greet him bcs in America people don't walk around smooching everyone else, that much I knew, and a handshake seemed ridiculous after all this time of reading each other. I was told that a hug would be appropriate but it couldn't be a Portie hug and God, are you still reading?, bcs my eyes are rolling back into my skull just thinking abt how bloody complicated it all is when you don't have ritual kissy-kissing - apparently we groin-hug, I'm not sure what we do with our arms but we don't do the propeller hugs, where one arm goes up and one down, and it's like interpretative human tetris and that was the required hug bcs a Portie one would have been the equivalent of my saying 'Honey, why are your clothes still on?' and surely I didn't mean to scare the natives. I couldn't understand what she meant so she had me stand up and we practiced. People, WE PRACTICED PROPELLER-HUGGING, how utterly demented is that?? And then M. arrived to pick me up and we propeller-hugged [God!] and I dare say no groin was ground in the process so hurrah, another success story and poor M. had the pleasure of my very foggy company and maybe that is why he left a comment saying I was exactly as he expected only more so, but I am firmly determined to take as a good thing although, honestly, the poor man, I had been guzzling coffee all day and it was 5 pm and I was already half gone, and we chatted easily, he too was exactly as I'd expected, and he drank wine, indeed he did, bcs we went out for drinks, see, not coffee and by 8 I suggested we moved to a place with actual lattes bcs I was fast fading away but not even Starbucks could salvage it and by 8.45 I was back at home (and comatose not long after that), which was all right with him bcs he had had a long day and anyway, as we know, Anglos are in bed by half 9. He was a sweetheart and gave me two books and, AND, said he didn't see anything wrong with the girls [so sorry, women] = dogs bit so it was all very thrilling and vindicating.

And now I am exhausted so I'll leave the Marine Mammal Centre in Sausalito and the dim sums and the latte vs cappucino and the clothing swap and how I made some Mexicans very happy and the elections and the beauty that is the Castro and V.'s insistence that I not call them My Gays even though I feel they are and have since I first read Armistead Maupin 17 years ago for later, but just know that from now on, be warned, I will kissy-kiss bloody everyone, I WILL, and I don't care what your cultural freakitudes are.

10 furballs:

Kristin said...

Just reading about your trip makes me feel tired. I would have loved to sit in at your talk at Berkley.

Vacant Uterus said...

I read the hugging part of your entry to my husband who replied "You can't go around hugging people like that! (Portie-style) You send the wrong signals that way." I asked him if he'd hug someone like that in Protugal where it's okay and he said no. I called him a cultural philistine and we're currently not hugging at all in this house.

For the record, I kissy-kissy my girlfriends. But not their husbands because it IS America and I think every last man of them would freak right the heck out if I did. Not to mention I would probably not be welcome in church anymore. Americans are weird.

It sounds like you had an exhausting but hilariously fun trip. Can't wait to hear about the rest of it whenver the internship lets you up for air.

xx (<~ kissys)

Anonymous said...

1. i second Rebbetzin
2. are you sure your friend didn't record your lecture for posterity?
3. is it available on youtube?
4. are videos of Portie hugging available on youtube? cause i still don't know what you're talking about
5. anthropology field works rules. i miss it sometimes.

kissy kisses,

CarpeDM said...

I know that Beth and I were somewhat insecure about the kissing but by the end of the trip we were greeting people and saying goodbye like we had been doing it for years. And wanted to continue to do the whole Portie greeting when we got home but knew there was no way people would handle it well. And you described American hugging perfectly and my goodness, it is ridiculous.

I miss you. Beijos.

JoeinVegas said...

Sorry about the jet lag, you should have stayed longer.
When we meet a Portie hug would be fine. (and expected now that you've mentioned it, whatever it is)

portuguesa nova said...

lol! Love it. Love it. It's funny, a hug seems so very non-committal and casual and easy peezy to me.

The double kiss, on the other hand, I get heart palpitations just thinking about it.

When I am at my first day on the job, will I have to kiss my new co-workers? Please say no.

Lioness said...

Kristin, I am STILL tired from my holiday! :D The talk - V. told me they're still mentioning it so now I wish it'd been taped. Am mostly glad it wasn0t though, I know it'd make me cringe.

F., "a cultural philistine"! That's hysterical! I'd actually love to see hom try and hug someone here the American way, limbs would bump and pain would probably be achieved. The rest of the posts will take a while, yes.

K, 1. You shouldn't, it as a tragic story. 2., 3. yes and NO. 4. I've been thinking abt it, I think we do the propeller when it's 2 men or people who don0't know each other. Let me look into it. 5. WHAT?! WHo are you?? HOnestly, not fair, you know all abt me and I know nothing abt you and the you drop these bombs! When and where did you do it?? If you're shy send me an email but put me out of my misery!

Dana, I remember and it was hilarious and sweet and you actually learnt the kissing ritual fast and did it well. WIsh I could have seen you try it at home, how I wish I could! Wish you came visit again as well!

Joe, I will never fly across the ocean again and THAT IS THAT! I am now a propeller expert, no worries!

PN, well... Depends on the level of familiarity in the company really. I'm against kissing co-workers, I like every monkey on his own branch, as we say (am already furthering your education, see?), but I don't know, depends on the size. I'd say smile broadly and say hello, and if hey lean over just kissy-kiss them, it's really not hard, just time-consuming when there's a lot of people. Best of British to you!

kirkjerk said...

Wow, "Burrito"... absolutely one of those things it's easy to forget is kind of a "New World" only phenomenon.

Hugs are funny. Here in the great Northeast we're of course a cold-hearted, puritanical people so hugs are even rarer, especially two guys (maybe we're all raging homophobes as well) - there's a casual propeller-based guy hug farewell on the West Coast that's absent here, and I think we're poorer for its absence. (And there's the much goofed-on way that when guys DO hug, they feel the need to add in the backpound, lest the hug be seen as anything touchy feely instead of manly camaraderie.)

It's pretty terrible. Judging appropriate greetings and farewells is tricky, especially with people you're newly introduced to, too often you just kind of stand there smiling goofily and waving a bit.

Feh, being in the culture, one might wish it were otherwise, and a little more steeped in the humane pleasantness of friendly physical contact, but what ya gonna do? Becoming one of "those guys" kind of forcing hugs probably isn't a good option.

Jealous of getting the chance to remeet you in person!

M said...

Ha! I didn't realize giving me a hug was the source of such upheaval. But it was executed marvelously, as was the meeting for drinks of any kind, the conversation, and etc. I shall ring you next time I am in Portugal, whenever it should be.

coffee buzz said...

They should make Human Tetris into a real video game -- NES original of course