Sunday, February 18, 2007

A nation of wasteful abundance

I remember being shocked in my first few days at university here to see the amount of food and paper serviettes (napkins) that were wasted at every mealtime in the Dining Commons on campus. It seemed as though everyone took half a dozen napkins instead of just one. Lots of people took far more food than they could possibly eat and then threw it away. My culture shock at this was nothing however compared to Mark Mathabane's. Mark is about my age but grew up in the black township of Alexandra in South Africa under the apartheid regime. He ended up studying in the United States too. In his book Kaffir Boy in America (sequel to Kaffir Boy , the story of his childhood in South Africa) he writes of his first few years in the United States. He too was (unfavorably) impressed by the amount of wasted food. His shock was clearly far greater than mine of course. I got over it to some extent but the memory of the shock is still there.

Occasionally as I look at our well-stocked pantry and wonder what we should have for dinner, I think how spoiled we are. We bulk buy because it's convenient. We can store far more food than we would be able to in the typical English house. Although we might not be eating what we wanted, we would have enough food for several weeks should something happen to stop us from getting to the stores.

It's not only food, but all the other 'stuff' in our lives that is embarrassingly abundant. I assuage my guilt a little by trying to throw as little out as possible. No, that does not mean hoarding! We recycle paper, glass, and plastic, and would even if our town did not require it. I pass on outgrown kids clothing to friends with smaller children, or to local agencies that collect such stuff. Recently we have used Freecycle as a way of passing things on that we have no use for anymore. (Freecycle exists in many other countries including in the UK too.) It's a small thing to do, but why throw things out when someone might be happy to reuse them? Enjoy the abundance, but cut down on the waste!

Saturday, February 03, 2007

37% American

My quiz results from the blogthings "How American Are You?" quiz:

You Are 37% American

America: You don't love it or want to leave it.
But you wouldn't mind giving it an extreme make over.

Dear Husband (who was born and raised here) scored 44%.
I passed the blogthings US Citizenship test though:
You Passed the US Citizenship Test

Congratulations - you got 7 out of 10 correct!

Then again, blogthings says I belong in the UK:
You Belong in the UK

A little proper, a little saucy.
You're so witty and charming...
No one notices your curry breath

Friday, February 02, 2007

Chewing gum

Growing up in the UK, I always thought of chewing gum as quintessentially American. It was another of those nasty American habits, like not pronouncing words properly, that marked one as boorish and uncultured. I knew people who chewed gum, but it wasn't something I did. Chewing without eating seemed rather pointless and, anyway, my dentist had advised me not to bother as I had some problems with my jaw that he said chewing gum would aggravate. I remember noticing that French teenagers seemed to chew gum more often than the English did. (They smoked more too.)

My dislike of gum is apparently typically British - as Cadbury's starts a large advertising campaign to launch Trident gum onto the British market, the BBC reported today:

most people think it looks "common" and "uncouth", according to government research. And that includes the 50% of the population who chew it.
My issue with gum chewers when I was in school was the fact that they didn't seem to know how to dispose of their gum. Of course one reason my peers didn't dispose of their gum in more appropriate ways was because they weren't supposed to be chewing it in the first place. I worked for some years in a school where gum chewing was not allowed and the teachers seemed to be fighting a losing battle to stop the kids from chewing gum or to get them to throw it in a trash can when they had finished chewing it. Then I worked at a school where it was allowed unless individual teachers asked students not to chew gum in their classes. There seemed to be very little problem with finding it in places it shouldn't have been. Then a new regime changed the rules - no more gum permitted, and suddenly there was gum on the ground outside buildings, under desks, stuck on the walls . . .

Just as I've become used to American pronunciation, I've become used to seeing people chew gum without judging their social worth. I still don't do it myself, but I really don't think more people in the UK chewing gum indicates the decline in standards that some people over there are bemoaning.
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