Thursday, August 24, 2006

Friends & Relatives

As the saying goes, you can chose one but not the other.....blah blah blah.

Back home in the UK I've got few of either but here in the US, I've sort of adopted many of those belonging to my gracious hosts. I've been coming to this part of Michigan for almost a decade now and by staying for up to 6 months at a time, I've met their friends and relatives and been welcomed by all.

Staying here for so long, I've learned much more about the American way of life and certainly much more than the usual visitor who can only spend 2 weeks or so here as part of their annual holidays. Even those 2 weeks are rarely spent exploring deep into the country and sadly most Brits have their impressions of America and Americans clouded by those they may meet at Disney World (FL) or Disneyland (CA).

This would be like an American visiting the UK and only exploring the landmark sites in London and thinking that every Brit was like those they meet there. God help us all but that is often what happens. If only international visitors to our shores would get out of London after a few days and see the rest of our wonderful land.

Even more so than the UK, America is a diverse country with unbelievable contrasts in scenery and peoples. Abject poverty and violence can be just a few city blocks from incredible wealth and (paid for) safety. In the days when I was touring by myself, I'd visit the main cities of all the states and come away thinking of them as clean, safe, vibrant places with much to offer the tourist. Only later might I learn that I'd been lucky to 'escape' without seeing or even being involved in some acts of street crime or violence; that there were parts of certain cities where drugs and guns were commonplace. I was totally unaware of this and looking back on those days now, I'm really glad I was so naive and ill-informed as it has left me with only positive memories and opinions of all the cities and peoples I met.

Now that I've hung up my solo touring boots (ok a few mixed metaphors there !!) with only Alaska left to visit, I have the time to spend many months every year living among the people and getting to know much more about them and what they think and believe in. I have a constant battle trying NOT to compare many of the customs and attitudes here with what we have back home and I tell myself that different doesn't mean better or worse - just.... different.

Televison for a start is.....different. The ridiculous frequency of commercials makes me yearn for uninterrupted programming from Auntie Beeb or Sky Movies or even ITV with it's 3 breaks an hour. Watching any long sporting event like golf here is a nightmare - imagine coming out of a commercial break and seeing Tiger Woods making a 30ft putt, seeing his reaction, seeing the new leaderboard, seeing the customary blimp shot and suddenly....whoooosh, we're off to commercials again. Seriously ! It's probably a good thing that they've never taken to cricket here but I bet the advertisers would love it. An opportunity for a commercial break after every over ??? It makes me wonder why they've NOT taken to it !

And the commercials themselves ??? Take out the ones for food, cars, medicines and lawyers and there isn't much left. Medicines are the, the worst as I hate them all. Here the viewer is constantly urged to "tell your doctor about......." followed by the name of some drug or other which claims to help with everything from piles to irritable bowel syndrome. It would appear that in the US, doctors don't have any medical training whatsoever and sit in their surgeries just waiting for the patients to arrive and tell them about a drug they saw on television which they'd like to try out if you please. I also love that the makers of these commercials have to add information about possible side effects after they've told us how awesome the drug is. I swear one last night told us about this wonderful pill that only had to be taken once a month (probably to stop unwanted nasal hairs from getting trapped in our teeth) and then a man with a vocal speed worthy of a Texan cattle auctioneer told us it wasn't suitable for those who are pregnant or might become pregnant (hmmmmm that's pretty general for a start), those with liver or heart problems, those with ingrowing toenails or flat feet, those with ugly parents or a sibling called Elvis (and basically 9/10ths of the population) due to nasty (potential) side effects ! Yep, I'd love to ask my doctor about THAT !!

There is even one for Lipitor, a pill I actually take. The ad is accurate and yes the people who should not take it are identified and get a mention at the end. Fair enough. BUT then it adds that "you should tell your doctor if you are taking any other medication" as Lipitor should not be taken with some of these other drugs. Now it is just me or shouldn't your doctor know what you're taking already ??? Maybe the NHS isn't so bad after all. I don't tell my garage mechanic what oil filter to fit on my car ( lets face it, I'm just glad if he actually DOES fit the new filter he's charging me for in the first place) and so I don't see the point in telling my trained doctor that I quite fancy trying out a drug I heard about on a tv commercial.

But I've digressed (oh shut up) and may well return to these little US peculiarities from time to time when I remember them.

So last Saturday my hosts 2 younger sons (and a wife) arrived for a visit from down state. They brought a cute doggie, called Bailey, who was just like a lamb in springtime with the same exuberance and energy.

I've known these young men since they were mid teens and along with their older brother (who just got his first teaching job in NC this week) are 3 of the most charming and delightful sons any parents could hope to have. Well I would say that I guess !!

I think the very fact that I'm 'allowed' to live here and become part of the family for 6 months at a time is a testament to the open and friendly nature of these people and indeed most Americans.

So this all disproves or maybe just adapts the statement I typed at the start of this post - they are chosen friends who have become my chosen family in a way. I got the best of both worlds !!

Anyway I'm hoping to meet some more friends over the next few days as we're taking out the 5th Wheel for a spin - so to speak. We hooked it up to the truck earlier tonight and in the morning we're off down I-75 to a campsite near Detroit for 4 nights as we want to see how the 3 of us can live in it together before we leave for Florida for the winter. Best to find out about any 'issues' now rather than when it's too late.

We plan to take in the Michigan State Fair and a visit to Toledo Zoo so the time will pass quickly. We've got cable hookup and even wi-fi internet (we don't rough it) but just in case those aren't enough to keep us amused when in the camp, we got 3 dvds from the local library and can play them on the built-in dvd player. It's a hard life.

So the next posting might be from pastures new and hopefully I'll have some photos of exotic and even dangerous animals to post - and I might even take some at the zoo

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