Americanisms what ‘ave puzzled me.

I honestly, truly only realised today for the very first time, that “to kill (it)”, in American slang, means something like “to do better than anyone else could hope or expect to do”. That’s probably not exactly it, but it’s close enough, when you consider that until today I thought it was overwhelmingly negative, not positive. I may actually have misunderstood quite an alarming number of pop culture stories/headlines scrolling past on my newsfeed!

I usually do quite well with Americanisms. Growing up in the UK, we’re exposed to fairly equal doses of American and British media, and when you hear words and phrases repeated in certain contexts it’s really not very difficult to work out that “bathroom” means “toilet” even if there’s not a bath in the room, and “garbage can” means “bin”, and “drugs” can mean innocent painkillers for your headache as well as a line of coke.

I have, I confess, struggled with the odd one here and there. “Herb/herbal” with a silent ‘h’ puzzled me for years, as I’d never heard it pronounced like that before and wasn’t entirely sure, from the context, what it referred to – particularly as I often heard it in repeated episodes of Friends, when they would mention herbal tea. As a teenager, I probably had a vague idea of what herbal tea was, but it wasn’t exactly a part of my everyday vocabulary – and I was thrown still further off track by the different pronunciation, with emphasis on the first syllable (“hERbal tea”) rather than on the third, as it would naturally be said by a British English speaker (“herbal TEA“). As a result, I heard “ERbaltee” and it would annoy me every time I heard it, as I was no closer to knowing what this “erbaltee” stuff was. The penny only dropped after many years, when an American friend was right next to me, holding a packet of the stuff in her hands and asking me if I wanted some. One of those dazzling “ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhh right!” moments of blinding clarity!

Likewise, I will never forget my bemused horror when Marge Simpson casually started talking about Lisa’s fanny. I was probably about 12 years old, and couldn’t believe she’d said that word on early evening TV, on a show that children watched. It was only after a few years of noticing it cropping up on other child-friendly shows and films, and only American ones, that I gradually worked out that it meant “bum”, as opposed to what it means in the UK. (I still can’t hear “sit on your fanny!” or “smack on the fanny” without cringing though. I suppose the nearest equivalent would be me casually asking an American for a “rubber”.)

Other differences annoyed me at first because I didn’t actually realise that they were differences. I honestly thought that they were frequently-repeated mistakes, and the writer/speaker had accidentally missed out a word! Examples:

I’ll write her. To me, that means I – as a writer – will create a character. Like Charles Dickens wrote Scrooge. If I’m going to send a letter/email, I’ll write to her.

I’m going to the shops. Do you want to come with? My brain hangs on expectantly, waiting for completion, waiting for closure, and eventually silently adding “(me)”.

A couple things. A pair of, a duo of, a couple…

Could care less. This is the worst one, for me, because it means exactly the opposite of what the speaker intends it to mean. If you could care less, that means you care, and would have to be less affected by it to not care at all – but what you mean, as you say it with a shrug of indifference, is that it doesn’t matter to you in the slightest, and you couldn’t care less than you currently do.

Still, although these differences jumped out at me (and always will) simply because they sound incorrect to my British English-thinking brain, you can’t seriously misunderstand their meanings in context. Unlike “a million and a half”. I mean… what… I don’t… why?! There’s no way my first thought on hearing this would be 1,500,000. If someone is reading out a figure for me to write down, and says “one and a half”, I’ll write down 1.5. “Ten and a half”, 10.5. A half means ‘point five’, not “half of the last number mentioned” (which would make “ten and a half” = 15!). Once you start getting into higher figures, it seems a bit weird to be mentioning the half instead of rounding up or down, but I would still instinctively follow the pattern. So “a million and a half” is 1,000,000.5, but that’s apparently not the intended meaning  – which is actually 1,500,000, or, as I would say it, ‘one and a half million’, or ‘one point five million’.

Resign is another one that has caused actual misunderstandings for me. When talking about jobs, all my American friends in Korea would talk about resigning, which, to me, has always meant handing in one’s notice. Turns out they were talking about signing again, as in re-signing their contracts – which in my experience had always been “renewing”. Ah-ha! Another “the penny has dropped” moment when I worked that one out. I couldn’t understand why they kept saying they were going to quit and then signed new contracts!

However, there are three similar Americanisms that I’ll probably never get straight in my head – which takes me back to the beginning of this post. They are: killing/killed it, sick, and the shit. 

All of these are positive, and yet to me are extremely negative. When I hear something described as “the shit!”, that is never going to scream “this is amazing!” at me. The word “shit” used to describe anything in UK English means it couldn’t be much worse. The subtle addition of “the” turns it into a glowing compliment from across the pond, but it makes me flinch! Likewise, sick. Usually a one-word comment on a link to a story or picture online: Sick! In my mind, it’s going to be something perverse, gory, or offensive, and then I see the headline or title and it’s about the start of a new series of a popular TV show, or a photo of flying robot-car or something.

And as for my most recent realisation, I am amazed and a little embarrassed at how many posts on my newsfeed I must have totally misunderstood. To kill something, in British slang (at least, when I was growing up!) meant almost the same as its literal meaning. You could kill a party or an atmosphere/mood by saying or doing something to bring everybody down: end of party. You could kill a drink by knocking back the last mouthful so someone could take the empty glass up to the bar or throw away the bottle. I have always been especially good at killing (or indeed, murdering) classic songs at karaoke nights, and we’ll often say “well, that killed that conversation…” when there’s a long and/or awkward silence after someone has spoken.

So, when I’ve seen links to stories about celebrities wearing something or other and “killing it”, I’ve glanced at the photo and thought they must be terribly out of fashion or something. If the link refers to a song (usually yet another video of someone singing the USA’s national anthem and “killing it”), I assume it must be a particularly screechy, tone-deaf, cringeworthy performance and don’t click on the link. It was only when I was scrolling down my newsfeed in an idle moment today, and read a shocking headline, that I clicked on it and finally had my “ohhhhhhhhh right!” moment of understanding for “killing it”. The headline was [NAME I DON’T KNOW] KILLED ON [SOME AMERICAN TV SHOW] LAST NIGHT. I hadn’t seen this variant before, and had it said “killed it” or “killing it” I would have continued in my ignorance, thinking they’d been especially terrible. The fact that I read it with the literal meaning and thought someone had actually been murdered on live television was the only reason I was startled enough to click and read the story – whereby I made the discovery that the person in question had actually done something wonderful and was being praised for it.

Ohhhhhhhhhhh right!

As one of my favourite Americans would say: d’oh.

 

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Mental in the Morning

I’ve been suffering from really severe headaches for a couple of weeks now, and trying various things to make them go away. Drinking lots of water… getting extra sleep… no alcohol… lots of painkillers… nothing worked.

On Tuesday night I came down with a bug on top of that, from a sick child at pre-school, and I took the rest of the week off. Not what I usually do, but I’ve subbed for so many other people for absolutely no compensation that there’s truly no incentive for me to just soldier on as employers tend to expect (and I tend to do). Sod that. I’m fed up with always being the quiet, dutiful, good girl. I called in sick and proceeded to sleep for 5 days, and did not trek halfway across town for the necessary doctor’s note. What are they going to do, fire me? ;)

I realised yesterday that I hadn’t had a headache for a few days – and wondered, with a sinking heart, if that was because I hadn’t pumping my body full of caffeine every day. And so it came about that I decided to give Monday a try without any coffee.

Did you hear that? Monday. Without coffee.

Yeah, it was almost criminally stupid.

Now, I don’t know if this is normal, or if it’s just me, right, but my state of mind in the morning is absolutely nothing like in the evening. I know there’s the whole early bird vs. night owl thing, and I am most definitely a night owl who is unfortunately in an early bird’s line of work. But surely it cannot be normal to feel completely, utterly despairing and hopeless in the morning, when you feel right as rain a few hours later?

I don’t mean grumpy, or irritable, or in a bad mood – although all those certainly apply. I mean downright depressed, lethargic, unhappy, and almost panicky. I have colleagues here who tried for many weeks to arrange to meet me in the morning if we were travelling to schools in the same area, and they eventually had to give up, because I just couldn’t face anyone. I couldn’t speak, couldn’t force a smile, couldn’t be in company. By the time I got to work, the coffee would have kicked in, and I’d be perfectly happy to travel back home with said colleagues a few hours later. I’d even be quite chatty!

I remember my mum, when I was a child, knocking at my bedroom door to get me up for school, and the feeling of sheer dread that paralysed me, sending me burrowing under the covers to hide from the horror that was Morning. I didn’t dread school in the slightest. I loved school. I wasn’t worried about anything – I worked hard, I always had my homework done. I looked forward to seeing my friends. I had every reason to be happy to greet another day – and yet when I heard Mum calling out the time and telling me to get up, I felt as if life wasn’t worth living. Very often, she had to eventually come in, telling me I was going to be late, and drag the covers off me to make me get out of bed.

All my colleagues, even my best friend at my job in Korea (the job I absolutely loved, remember!), knew there was no point in speaking to me when I arrived each morning. Everyone else would be chatting in the corridor or at the water cooler, and I’d slink past with my head down, fill my coffee cup, and retreat to my classroom, closing the door behind me. Just 20 minutes later, I’d be out there chatting with the rest of them, all my woes and despair forgotten until the next morning.

Now, add this knowledge to the current state of affairs, where I’m not happy. Mornings have been frighteningly depressing, to the extent where I sat on the edge of my bed one day recently, with my head in my hands, saying aloud to the dark, empty room “I don’t want to, I don’t want to, I don’t want to”. I was completely fine once I was in class, but that hour or so in my apartment, and the bus journey, were a kind of mental hell.

So what possessed me to attempt to do it this morning without any coffee, I really cannot say. I swear, I honestly felt like the world was ending. Small problems seemed huge; big problems seemed to crush and suffocate me. My head was not aching, but my mind was racing in a crazed, out of control way. By the time I got to work, I was trapped in a tangled prison of thoughts and worries. And then all the children wanted to chat to me.

I thought I was going to scream, I really did. They were being all cute and sweet and friendly, and all I wanted to do was press my hands over my ears and yell “Go away! Leave me alone! Stop talking to me!”. After somehow getting through the morning on autopilot, I stumbled towards the bus stop in the grey and drizzle, and realised that the no coffee thing was not going to work. If it’s a choice between headaches and insanity, I choose headaches. I dragged myself into a coffee shop and asked the girl there if she spoke English, which – happily – she did.

Right, I said, very firmly, I need your largest cup of strong Americano, with no milk or sugar, and 2 extra shots of espresso. 

Just to make sure, she said as she rang in my order, you really want SIX shots?

I nodded, and she looked mightily impressed, if a little concerned.

Half a litre of black coffee with 6 shots of espresso, please.

Half a litre of black coffee with 6 shots of espresso, please.

I have just finished my coffee, and all the demons are gone from my mind. I can face my afternoon classes with a smile and lots of chatter.

I know this isn’t normal, this mental morning allergy or whatever it is, and it’s starting to seriously concern me, but at least it is treatable. I am never giving up coffee again.

Istanbul (not Constantinople)

The countdown is on: I’m making my escape and flying to Istanbul on the first of February. I can see the glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel!

In order to take my mind off the grim reality of my present situation (getting up 3 hours before my preferred breakfast time; being a glorified babysitter; living in a dump; earning less than I would on benefits at home; that sort of thing), I have been determinedly replacing misery with enthusiasm by researching the country that is to suddenly be my home for the next few months, if all goes according to plan.

Of course, it very well may not go according to plan in the slightest, as I have never before embarked on a trip with so little certainty. The one exception would probably be that time my boyfriend and I broke up in Tallinn and I found myself on a night bus across the Baltic states, heartbroken and clueless, with my belongings in a bin liner, before waking up with next to no money in Lithuania and pleading with a stranger to build a bed for me so I didn’t have to sleep amongst rats. But these things happen, you know.

Even when I went to Korea, though I knew nothing and no one, I had signed a contract and gotten a visa and arranged for someone to meet me and take me to my apartment. In Turkey, I apparently have a job, but there is no contract (and no hint of one appearing), no one has told me what documents they need from me, and I have to find my own accommodation in a city about which I know nothing. Ha! It’s all very haphazard and laid-back. Or “dodgy”, as a less naive soul might put it. But I don’t care. I really don’t. If I stay in this place any longer it will have sucked the soul and sparkle right out of me. I’m taking a gamble, and if it all goes pear-shaped, well, I’m no worse off than I am now. LET’S DO THIS!

I know nothing about Turkey, except that Brits like to go to there on resort-style package holidays, and the capital is called Ankara. My lack of knowledge is probably shameful, but hey, you have to start somewhere. When I went to Korea, after all, I only knew that the capital was called Seoul and that there was some kind of problem with the North. Now, I have Korean friends, and can have a basic conversation in Korean (and read/write it!), draw a fairly accurate and detailed map, discuss the modern history of the peninsula, describe the culture, people, and traditions, and even cook a large number of the dishes I’d never heard of until I moved there (and I still crave kimchi and yukgaejang, by the way). Such is the beauty of travel. Perhaps I will fall in love with Turkey in the same way; perhaps it will just be a short ‘between jobs’ experience. But I’m going there enthusiastic, scared, excited, nervous, and willing as ever to just let life unfold as it does.

And here are some things I have discovered in the meantime:

– Istanbul was home to the world’s first ever coffee shop! From Wikipedia (which knows all):

The Ottoman chronicler İbrahim Peçevi reports in his writings (1642–49) about the opening of the first coffeehouse in Istanbul:

Until the year 962 [1555], in the High, God-Guarded city of Constantinople, as well as in Ottoman lands generally, coffee and coffee-houses did not exist. About that year, a fellow called Hakam from Aleppo and a wag called Shams from Damascus came to the city; they each opened a large shop in the district called Tahtakale, and began to purvey coffee.

This is a very cool factoid to a coffee-lover like me. Plus, I’m keen to sample lots of Turkish coffee! I’ve only had it once before, in a little basement restaurant in Seoul, but it was delightful. I can’t actually think of a better word, as antiquated as that one sounds. It was intense, rich, sweet (which is against my coffee rules, as I believe sugar in coffee to be a crime against humanity, but apparently it’s part of the process for Turkish coffee – and it works), and sort of… I dunno, silky. More, please!

– Part of Istanbul is in Asia, and part is in Europe   the only city in the world to straddle two continents. Depending on where I get a flat, it’s quite possible that I will end up working in Asia but living in Europe. I’m sorry, but that is nearly enough to make me turn down accommodation on the Asian side. Can’t stop, sorry darling, just popping over to Asia for work, can I meet you in Europe for drinks after dinner?

– Turkey has ruins and ruins and ruins galore, to rival even Rome! I am ridiculously happy about this. I love ruins. I love visiting historical places in general, but I have two favourite kinds: places related to World War II, and ancient ruins. I can’t get enough of either – and although I have spent a great deal of my travels exploring dozens (maybe nearer to triple figures now!) of WW2 museums, memorials, and sites in numerous countries, I have seen very few ancient ruins. My very brief trip to Aosta, in the north of Italy, only whetted my appetite for proud city walls and crumbling amphitheaters. One day (possibly this summer!), I am going to go and explore Italy for real, until I’ve had my fill of ruins and rubble.

It’s the feeling of history, for me. Standing there, right there, in the spot where you know gladiators fought to the death to the deafening roar of the crowds filling the long-deserted tiered seats. Seeing my footprints in the dusty earth and wondering whose footprints were there back then. Looking up at an imposing tower and imagining the scene as a prisoner was taken there, and the sounds of an angry mob. Touching the sun-baked stone of a wall thicker than my height, and picturing a mighty emperor in all his finery returning through its magnificent gateway to the cheers of his people. And knowing that I’m standing where all of this happened so long ago, so impossibly long ago, that my head can hardly make sense of it. It gives me the tingles. I can’t wait to go exploring!

– Agatha Christie wrote Murder on the Orient Express in Istanbul. Maybe inspiration for my elusive novel will finally strike…? ;)

Only 17 more sleeps (or 38 more classes!).

I think I can, I think I can, I think I can… I know I can, I know I can, I know I can…

 

I am 32.

This song is both tremendously comforting (“I’m not the only one”) and utterly tragic (“There is no hope now”).

Poor Taylor Swift, with her angst-ridden song about the pain of being 22. Clearly this girl, Elaine Moran, wanted to set her straight about the road ahead of her. Honestly, she is actually me, only in blonde, American form. The song is tongue-in-cheek and the video is amusing, but the overall sentiment is that the general confusion and anxiety that comes from being 22 is nothing to how you’ll be feeling in another 10 years. I actually descended into half-depressed, half-amused laughter at more than one point of this video, but when it got to the line “my whole body’s sore… from walking up a staircase.”, with her accompanying (priceless) expression of disbelief and horror, I had to stop it and go back, having missed the next few lines in my amusement.

I mean, seriously. You start feeling aches and pains in middle age, don’t you? That’s what they lead you to believe, as a child. Not when you’re 32. I took up jogging and working out last year, and was getting quite energetic and motivated, and losing a lot of weight, when I had to pack it all in due to the depressing reality that my body appears to be knackered. My knees became so sore that I couldn’t get up the stairs without a series of cracks and creaks, and I couldn’t (still can’t, probably never will again) get up off the sofa without groaning like an old man who needs a walking stick to get down the street to collect his pension. But no. 32. And I’m actually sort of relieved to find out I’m not the only one.

As for lines like “It feels like one of those days that I’ll just go to work… that’s probably all”, and “then I’ll just go to bed ’cause it’s 8 o’clock and I’m 32″… yeah, this is my theme song for this year.

‘Cause I am 32… 32…

It feels like one of those days that I’ll just go to work
That’s probably all.
It feels like one of those days I’ll start a diet,
Maybe Weightwatchers, I’ve heard good things.

Yeah, I got wrinkles and acne at the same time,
It’s miserable but I have hope in this anti aging cream that was gifted to me by my sister.
Oh yeah, tonight’s the night I’ll finally find myself a dentist
(About time).

I don’t know about you, but I’m feelin’ 32.
Had boys when I was younger, now I don’t give a hoot.
You don’t know about me, cause I’m a recluse.
I just put on some sweat pants and keep on living like I’m 32.

It seems like every day my news feed’s crowded,
Too many new borns (“When are you gonna have a baby, Elaine?”).
It seems like one of those days we lose our damn mind,
And end up screaming ’cause we’ve gone crazy.

Yeah my whole body’s sore… from walking up a staircase.
I drink because I’m sad now.
Oh yeah, today’s the day the doctor prescribes me Xanax
(And wine).

I don’t know about you but I’m feelin’ 32.
Read Fifty Shades of Grey and
Kind of liked it, too.
I know by now that dreams don’t come true.
Wish I made more investments ’cause I’m so broke now that I’m
32, 32
(Got a cat now, too)
32, 32

It feels like one of those nights I’ll have like one drink.
It feels like one of those nights… and then I’m sleeping.
It feels like one of those nights… you look like bad news
I gotta have you, I gotta have you.

I don’t know about you but I’m feelin’ 32
I always call my mum, that lady’s super cool.
Not going out, I got this Chinese food,
Then I’ll just go to bed ’cause
It’s 8 o’clock and I am
32, 32

It’s My Party and I’ll Cry If I Want To

What was No. 1 in the charts on the day you were born?

There are lots of websites (like this one) where you can easily find out. I’ve always been quite pleased with the knowledge that when I entered the world on the 17th of October, 1981, the song at No. 1 was It’s My Party (although, sadly, a cover version. A very, very eighties cover version. You know how I feel about 80s music…)

I’ve always enjoyed the (original) song, mainly because I have a tendency towards seeing myself as the sad, plain wallflower who has to watch the man she wants leaving the party with another girl. 14-year-old Mark from the youth club was the first one, with his cute floppy hair and cool, pretty, 13-year-old girlfriend. Honestly, nothing much has really changed since I was 14, as far as that goes, but that’s not why I mention the song today.

It came into my head because I haven’t been able to write a damn thing lately. I have writer’s block in the extreme, and why? Because I’m deeply unhappy, and at the same time acutely aware that nobody wants to read negative posts. Which means there’s been absolutely nothing for me to write about. The last thing I want right now is to lose all my friends because I’ve become the depressive moaner. I used to be all enthusiastic and excited – about travel, about teaching, about partying, about random insignificant moments and discoveries – and now I’m just… flat. I hear myself talking to the one or two colleagues I travel with to and from a few schools throughout the week, and all I hear is negativity and misery. In my own voice. I hate it. Granted, I might always have enjoyed a bit of a rant, but it wasn’t my character-defining attribute! But for these newest people in my life, that’s who I am, and who I’ll always be in their memories. Negative, bitter, miserable, and complaining. Ugh. Hence my almost constant solitude. I don’t want to be the one bringing everyone else down, tainting the air with my unhappiness and marring their own experience. So I avoid them, as far as I can.

I had a total meltdown on New Year’s Eve, sobbing uncontrollably to my parents (sorry, Mum and Dad!) and panicking indescribably about… well, everything. Most of all, I suppose it’s a feeling of failure – of disappointing everyone. I was so confident, a few years ago. I felt like I’d found my place in life – I was meant to be a traveller, an explorer, an adventurer, a writer, and a teacher. Over the past year, though, it’s gradually all come crashing down around my ears, and I’ve reached that painfully self-aware place where I’m in my thirties and have achieved nothing. No real savings to speak of, no investments, no home full of memories and trinkets, no worthwhile qualifications, no partner/children or desire to have them, no plans for the future. My Facebook feed is a constant stream of friends getting masters degrees, getting married, getting promoted, basically getting their lives together in one way or another.

I was a fairly smart child, which weighs on me now because I feel like a let-down. I had real potential! I could have done something with my life – could have made a difference. Failing that, I could have at least gotten on to a more highly-paid career path, and been financially secure, which would have given me peace of mind both for myself and for my loved ones. But no. I had to be all free spirit-y, which is why I now live in a crappy, dark, cramped studio flat in a grotty, depressing city, working for peanuts, singing nursery rhymes every day, and watching my meagre savings dwindle away to nothing. I’m not proud of myself. I’m frustrated, and disappointed, and scared. My granny, in her innocence, always asks when I’m coming home for good – but what on earth would I do there, at this point? I’d have to go back to university and plunge head over heels into debt in order to get a decent-paying job, and then live on next to nothing for the rest of my life anyway, as I repaid the loans necessary to get the qualifications in the first place.

You know, you have all those dreams when you’re a child, when even the age of 20 seems impossible and ancient, when they’re pumping you full of  “You can do anything you put your mind to!” motivational speeches in your teen magazines and TV shows. I thought I was going to set the world on fire. I was going to make my family proud, and strangers interested.

But now I look at my best friends, and other members of my family, and acquaintances I’ve met along the way, and I see their achievements, and how far they’ve come. I look at myself, and all that’s there is a whinging, regret-filled, terrified teenager in the body of a woman whose next big -O birthday will be 40. Feck.

Feck, feck, feck, feck, feck.

And I can’t even talk about it because I know I’m just whinge, whinge, whinge, and that knowledge makes it worse, so the vicious circle continues because I’m a disaster and a flop and I can’t talk about it because other people have real problems (guilt, shame, more failure, and rinse and repeat), so I become a recluse and eat and sleep and drink a lot.

But then I remembered my birthday song, and you know what? This may be uninspiring and depressing for you to read, but it’s cathartic for me to write.

And it’s my blog, and I’ll cry if I want to, cry if I want to, cry if I want to.

You would cry too if it happened to you!