10 Things Most Americans Don’t Know About America

One man’s frank view of his own country, a very interesting read. I encourage you watch the video at the end too!

Thought Catalog

Imagine you have a brother and he’s an alcoholic. He has his moments, but you keep your distance from him. You don’t mind him for the occasional family gathering or holiday. You still love him. But you don’t want to be around him.

This is how I lovingly describe my current relationship with the United States. The United States is my alcoholic brother. And although I will always love him, I don’t want to be near him at the moment.

I know that’s harsh, but I really feel my home country is not in a good place these days. That’s not a socio-economic statement (although that’s on the decline as well), but rather a cultural one.

I realize it’s going to be impossible to write sentences like the ones above without coming across as a raging prick, so let me try to soften the blow to my American readers with…

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Anti-mimesis in the 21st Century (what we haven’t learned from football, recruitment and The Great Gatsby)

I read with interest today the news of a business partnership between a leading global recruitment firm and one of the top clubs in the English Premier League. Knowing a thing or two about recruitment firms, and having a keen interest in football I pondered for a while on how such a deal may have come about, and what each hopes to gain from the relationship.

The football club in question is well known for having more money than sense, employing a group of talented yet very egotistical staff in the hope that this alone will get results, and generally throwing toys out of the pram when things don’t go their way.

The recruitment firm is also well-known in the market for offering less-than-ideal service to customers, and using buddying tactics/throwing money at a situation in an attempt to assert some influence over an outcome in their favour.

I inwardly smiled and didn’t know who to feel more sorry for. But then I remembered that this is an adult world, and I’m sure both went into the deal knowing what to expect from the other. Much like, in fact, two central characters within one of the world’s finest novels – the recently re-popularised The Great Gatsby.

Stay with me here. The parallels are uncanny. Tom Buchanan is money. And represents money, excess and rubbing everyone else’s nose in it. Flaunting a mistress in front of anyone he meets, he lives in fear that his people will soon have their superiority usurped. So he resorts to his influence and bullying to remove their threat.

And then there is Daisy. A whimsical fly-by-night, who settles with Tom because he has money and status. She considered following a higher calling of love but resorts to the simple maintained life, safe in her wealth and comfort, not offering anything new to the world, shrugging off responsibility and true affection.

So maybe it is right that they belong together – money with money, irresponsibility with money, trophy wives with money, blame with money, the occasional victory with a stab in the back.

One could argue that from a brand perspective the each is reinforcing their current brand status with this partnership, albeit one of a relatively low public perception. But is this really a wise idea? How could Daisy have made more of her situation? We don’t really expect more from Tom, but Daisy had potential. She could have had Gatsby: an up-and-comer, striving to better himself for the love of his life. An opportunity for the public to love and adore her for having the strength to follow her heart. Now we know Gatsby had his faults and that his relationship with Daisy ended (well, we know how it ended), but surely there’s a lesson there somewhere.

If I were looking to forge a long-lasting business relationship at this level, to have the chance to show a middle finger to my competitors and still look great from a PR perspective, I’d pick an underdog. A try-hard. Someone who plays nice, and who, with a bit of a boost from myself could really achieve something great. Then we would both benefit. Now wouldn’t that be nice?

But who am I to comment? Let’s just say I won’t be surprised if a relationship such as this (based on money and influence, without enough trust and respect for the other) ends in the valley of ashes…

Just what should you put in the dishwasher?

I had a very insightful conversation this afternoon about what items are suitable to be washed in a dishwasher. Apparently, not everything.

Fortunately, the select but highly representative group was very civilised, and did not descend into brawls, protesting and tactical changes in seating arrangements du to disagreements about this, the most sensitive of topics. I was quite proud. We mostly agreed on acceptable dishwasherable items, so I have taken the liberty of summarising our agreements below.

Now before any of you cry “fix” on me, let me tell you the jury was a very balanced party incorporating a represenative number of women, Asians and homosexuals. How very modern. And we all agreed. Who knew? We represented the pinnacle of democracy, and all in a lunch hour on a Monday.

So, I know you’re all dying to know just what we put in our dishwashers:

Pans (but not non-stick ones)

Plates (but if we’ve only had toast on them then we hand-wash)

Glasses, except wine glasses. And we don’t put them in sideways

All manner of baking dishes

Cutlery. Sharp knives to be laid down on the top shelf


Not hamsters.



Enjoy folks.

Somebody fix the trains!

I know these days everything is getting more expensive, but to me, train travel is just ridiculous. Now obviously, not knowing one hoot about how the train service in this country is run, I can’t really comment, but I will anyway, from the naiive consumer perspective.

I just don’t understand how ticket prices can be so high, for such “easy” journeys, and still we are constantly hit by issues and delays to the system. I personally think this whole bidding to run a line thing is flawed, and any provider who wants to run trains from one station to another should be allowed to do so (providing it is practical). Then consumers would have more choice as to which trains they take, and can walk away from shoddy service and unnecessarily high prices.  We could choose providers we trusted and respected, and those who can’t deliver should lose out.

Either that, or nationalise the lot of them again, so we actually have a service run for the people and not for profit. If more people were able to get places cheaper and quicker (sometimes on loss-making routes), the country would be far more productive, not to mention happier, and I’m sure we would see increases in consumer spending as shopping trips and other leisure time becomes more accessible (both for natives and toruists) to even out the costs. We could have more open and sense-making ticket prices (everytime I go to Birmingham the train fare seems to be a different amount – surely it’s just the same trip?!!). Then I wouldn’t have to moan and could concentrate my energies on more positive endeavours.

So please, someone fix the trains!

A first impassioned impression (part 2)

I was fortunate/unfortunate (delete as appropriate) enough to go speed-dating a couple of weeks ago: a modern form of torture/method of helping us middle-class folk meet that all important “one”. Because apparently, by the time you get to my age (which I’m going to say is 30-ish), one almost becomes a social pariah if one is still single. And what with wedding season coming up, that just wouldn’t do. So, I took one for the team, knocked back three cheeky cocktails on a Wednesday night, and went in…

Now speed-dating, friends, is the utmost test of first impressions. For those of you who have been, you will know what I mean. Crammed into a slightly too compact room with roughly 30 other desperate (yes, I did say desperate) hopefuls, one must stand out with confidence, sexuality and humour to bag that much-coveted prize of an exchange of email addresses with the next least unattractive person in the room. But in order to achieve such a feat, one must first overcome many two-mintue obstacles. Some easier than others.

Now I won’t go into the intricacies of each of my dates, but suffice to say, keeping up a smiley persona while trying not to allow my belly to gape out of my especially-bought-for-the-occasion trendy shirt was tough going. So was trying to not judge each date within about half a second of glancing in their direction, and, in some cases, restraining myself from running for the hills.

I know, I’m quick to judge. And yes, there have been times when I’ve judged people way before I’ve even met them. I genuinely don’t see it is a bad thing, though. It’s just efficient networking. And if you choose to be offended by that attitude then that’s your hard cheese. Don’t go speed-dating.

Over the years (oh, so many years) I’ve gotten very good at knowing if I’m going to “click” with someone very quickly. And even if I do put in many subsequent hours trying to build a relationship – platonic or othewise – as I have often been lectured to by many an acquaintance, I always draw the same conclusion as my initial instinct. What about that? I’m a big believer in karma, so I believe that finding a connection with someone shouldn’t be hard work. If it’s meant to be it will be. Otherwise why bother with all the triviality in between?

I fell hopelessly, helplessly and utterly in love seven years ago, on a night of mystery and magic (with someone who consequently left the country five months later never to be heard from again, but that’s another story). I know what that feels like and I don’t want to compromise.

So forgive me if I’m quick to judge or snub people without giving them half a chance. I just know what I like and what I don’t. And I’m not talking about judging in a Nazi kind of way. I mean judging people’s choices. Chosing to wear silly shoes they can’t walk in. What they choose to talk about and be interested in. Whether they have 15 piercings in their face. Sometimes, you just know you’re never going to see eye to eye with them.

And that’s not to say I never try anything new. I surround myself with friends who understand me and encourage me to try new things (like speed-dating, sushi, music from the 80s, trendy clothes etc), and mostly I’m right in my inital view but sometimes they are. Either way I normally know within about five seconds.

What’s my point? For us middle-class folk, first impressions ARE everything. There’s too much going on in the world for them not to be, people get bored quickly. If you feel like you made a bad one, then fight for your life to turn it around.  Or not. If it’s meant to happen, it will happen. Follow your heart.

A first impassioned impression

Deciding upon which combination of semi-suitable words to use in this, the opening line in my maiden blog entry, taunted me for several vain minutes before I settled on these that you see before you. I so wanted to make a good and lasting first impression to you and the rest of the blogosphere. Thankfully, sitting here typing, I am safe from many modern day make-sure-you-create-a-goood-first-impression hazards such as tripping over my own shoes on my way to meet you, going in for the kiss when it really should have been a handshake, and having to pull a bemused face when asked who won the rugby yesterday. Those are all things that in this situation, I don’t need to worry about. As it’s just me and a screen, and a very valuable Edit function, I can spend as long as I want really perfecting that first impression.

And it was in this utterly self-indulgent phase of wheedle-deedling over my wordsmything that got me thinking about the many, many things  a middle-class man worries about on a daily basis.

Now I am a middle-class man, and I have worked hard to get where I am. Yet while I value a lot of the privileges I have earned, I am more often deeply ashamed of many of my peers for their ignorance, small-mindedness and lack of appreciation of what is actually important in life.

I have titled this blog Man without substance for many reasons, one of said reasons is that I fully intend to comment and judge the behviour of others without necessarily having much of a leg to stand on myself. So please read what I write with a good pinch of salt. It would be wrong of me to start without my making that clear from the start.

Phew, that’s done and admitted. Good. Sweating. Next paragraph.

So, I’ve started this blog, not to bleat on narcissistically about how unfair society is (please, spare me), but instead, I shall take a light-hearted view on the various middle-class problems I come across in my day-to-day life.  I will attempt to shed light on, console, empathise with and most likely also ridicule those I encounter, so I hope you enjoy the ride.

Somewhat aptly then: first impressions. Just how do you make a good one? And do you even need to? I often joke that in the amount of time I spend over the days, weeks and years just waiting for girls (and, granted, the occasional guy), I could probably run MI5.

What to wear. How much lipstick is too much. Moisturiser. Weird metal instruments for eyelashes that look like they were designed purely to cause pain. Which shoes. Which bag. Transferring necessary contents from one bag to another. Changing mind. Swapping bag. Doing it all again. Then, when you finally get there,  just how pretentious should one be? Dashingly offbeat? Confidently bohemian? Sensible and oafish? Or maybe just honest. Or maybe, just turn up on time. If they like you, they like you, not all your regalia. They probably won’t notice 90% of your efforts. But they will notice if you’re on time, and if you have a personality. My advice? Just be there. Everything else is secondary.

Part two of A first impassioned impression to follow soon…