Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Irony deficiency

I was recently approached by a Liverpudlian wearing a corporate t-shirt and waving a clipboard. Did I have a minute to spare, he wanted to know.

Having worked for the NHS last year, accosting innocent shoppers at retail parks and signing them up for some newsletter they didn't want or need, I felt it in my karmic interests to stop and speak to the lad. He told me about some service or product and asked where I was from, guessing not Liverpool. "Newcastle," I replied. "Oh," he said, cocking his head, "you don't really have a Geordie accent." I agreed and allowed that I'm actually American. His face lit up. "That's great!" he declared. "Good on you for learning sarcasm!" But then he worried. "Do you have a British bank account, then?" he implored. I did not at the time. "No worries," he said, and took his leave, urging me to "keep up the sarcasm!"

Oh you bloody Brits. Americans are actually very handy with sarcasm. How else do you explain the Simpsons? (I've actually asked this question of an Englishman, who replied, "Well, the Simpsons is very British.") Listen--just because some fat South Carolinian tourists missed your mordant zinger when asking directions outside Paddington Station doesn't mean that irony escapes us all. (This nefarious stereotype is steadily reinforced by the liberal, Jewish, hemophiliac media.)

I think the difference that divides us is just when and how we use irony, and to what effect. Take for example a short clip from Ian McEwan's new book, about the protagonist preventing someone's queue-jumping:

Abrubtly, driven by shameless rectitude, Beard stepped forward to deny the man space, and felt [the queue-jumper's] briefcase bang against his knee. At that moment Beard turned and sought out his gaze and said politely, though his heart beat a little harder, 'Terribly sorry.'

A rebuke poorly disguised as an apology, pretending manners to a man he would rather at that moment kill. It was good to be back in England.

Many Americans in a similar situation would turn to a sharp "What the hell, asshole?!" instead of irony. Similarly, an American driver trapped under the front of a truck and dragged for a minute along a highway would probably not say, regarding making a call (to emergency services) while driving, "I wasn't on hands-free, but I figured I wasn't really driving the car." One can imagine an American cursing the driver's idiocy and announcing intentions to sue.

So, my British friends, when you come across an American being direct, just know that it's not because he's chosen to not be ironic, or unable to be; rather, Americans revel in being direct and feel little shame in expressing anger or disapproval straightforwardly - just ask national hero George W. Bush.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Britain minus London a "huge soup kitchen-cum-industrial theme park"?

A London Evening Standard columnist derides a proposed London-Birmingham high speed train:

"At least the French have thriving regional economies to travel to and from. By contrast, we have a modern economy in the South-East with a huge soup kitchen-cum-industrial theme park attached."

Freedom Chips is of course based in Birmingham and so felt many emotions after reading this: anger, jealousy, shame, tea-drinking. But what do the actual British readers of this blog think? How true is this statement?

Exit Through the Gift Shop

If it ever crosses the pond, Americans should check out the new movie by Banksy, a graffiti artist notable for marking up the Israel-Gaza wall. The film starts as a documentary on street art and ends a sardonic take on the selling out of a genre born untame and unowned. In proper Banksy style, there's no direct judgment--the mockery of street art's co-opting is effected by (and Freedom Chips is only guessing) Banksy's manipulation of events depicted in the documentary.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Hungry Brummies

Hungry Brummies cooking a curry at home must be sick of supermarket naan (and, creepily, I know that some FC readers are indeed Brummies, thanks to Lord knows this faux-Brummie is fed up with the stuff. But never again will we have to make do with Sainsbury's ersatz Asian bread: I've recently found the Kurdish Stone Bakery in Sparkhill, where the staff put a graceful hurting on the dough and fling the finished product like a frisbee:

The menu:

I tried the کولڊ with cheese and while the cheese was nothing special, the bread was perfect. Supple without being soggy, slightly crisp but not dry, it's a fully rounded flat bread.

The bakery is easy to find, not too far up the road from Fashion 2000 Babies:

Sparkhill is a bit of a Little Karachi/Mogadishu/Dhaka and constantly bustling. It's a nice place to visit, but I was glad to return to painfully British Moseley, only one neighborhood south but a world away.

Moseley: quaint but sorely lacking in sari stores and Islamic centers