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January 2007

Feliz Cumpleanos/Happy Birthday to me!

The Two Crabs and friends celebrated Mr. Crabs' birthday on Saturday, donning "fancy dress" (British slang for 'costumes') for a pub crawl through West London.  This photo of me and my "harem" was taken in Piccadilly Circus, London's version of Times Square. This was our first fancy dress event in London.  Wearing fancy dress is huge in Britain, and it's not just for Halloween. Every weekend you will see people in fancy dress for birthday parties, housewarming parties, holidays, Stag (Bachelor) and Hen (Bachelorette) Parties, football games, or for no reason whatsoever! It's just an occasion to let loose and be silly! 

P.S. My actual birthday is Tuesday, Jan. 30.  I'm still waiting for that PlayStation 3. Hint hint! 

Death and guilt

My father is dying.  Docs say he has 3 to 6 months to live. Maybe a little less, maybe a little more. But the end is near. 

When my mom told me by phone last night, I wasn't particularly surprised. We all knew this day would come, ever since my dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in 1999. Since then, he's gotten progressively worse. He no longer recognizes anyone around him. In fact I was one of the first people he stopped recognizing. He cannot care, bathe or eat for himself. 

In many ways, it seems as if my father died years ago.  His memory, the person he was, ceased to exist at least three years ago. Which is why the news of impending death has not really shocked or fazed me.

But there is one feeling that has overwhelmed me: guilt.  Guilt that I am not home helping my mom.  Guilt that my two "baby" sisters and my mom have been burdened with everything, from bathing my dad to making funeral arrangements. I'm 4,000 miles away and there's not much I can do than offer support by phone.  It's the Catholic guilt that's tearing me apart. I have nothing but respect and admiration for my sisters and their unending patience for dealing with this ordeal.

I also feel guilty for not being sad.  My father and I were never particularly close, despite having common backgrounds (journalism, military, a love for the outdoors, etc).  There were many MANY skeletons in his closet that I later uncovered, skeletons that can't easily be brushed under the rug and ignored. And that makes it very difficult to be sad or sympathetic. 

My mom says she and my sister went have already picked out my dad's casket. He will be buried at Quantico National Cemetery -- as a U.S. army veteran, my dad is entitled to a free burial plot and full military honors funeral.  The funeral home is already collecting information for his obituary.

I've always wondered what I would say in an obituary or eulogy. Would I tell the truth? Or would I keep the peace and give the usual, glowing pep talk?   

For now, I'm more preoccupied with figuring out how to pay for a trip back home when the time comes.  My mom wants me to come now and see my dad.  But we can't really afford to be flying back-and-forth to the States more than once a year.  I have horrible thoughts:  "Why bother when my dad doesn't even know who I am...It would be a waste of money...What if he dies when I'm in the middle of our upcoming ski trip to the French Alps and I have to cancel our prepaid, non-refundable holiday?...What if I have to pass up a well-paying freelance gig to go to a funeral?" I feel guilty for thinking about money or inconveniences, when I should be thinking of going there to support my mom. It shouldn't even be a question.   

I must be the worst son ever.

London snow "storm"

London snow "storm"
Originally uploaded by TwoCrabs.

At 6:30 in the frackin morning, Mrs. Crab woke up screaming. I thought somebody had been bloody murdered.  "IT SNOWED!!  IT SNOWED!"  Half-asleep, I sat up, looked out the window, and shrugged. "Oh. Ok." I fell back asleep and didn't get up until 9am. By then most of the snow had melted.

It's amazing the affect that snow has on England.  London came to a virtual standstill today after less than one inch of snow fell before morning rush hour. Half the Tube lines were severely delayed, traffic was a mess, and basically 7 million Londoners were running around like chickens with their heads cut off.  But keep in mind, it RARELY snows in London!  This was only the second time we've seen snow here..both less than an inch. 

London has the climate equivalent of Seattle: Often rainy and cold, but it rarely gets below freezing.  It's about 33 today...cold but not unbearable.    Can you imagine the results London was hit by a proper "Nor-easter", East Coast, one-foot snowstorm? The entire United Kingdom would have ceased to exist!

The Cranky Crab

Passport As of today, all Americans now required to show a passport to fly to Mexico, Canada and the Caribbean on ...disconcerting news for the majority of Americans who do NOT own a passport. A fact I find mind-boggling considering I've had a U.S. passport since I was 3 years old.

Depending on what source you read, only about 15% to 25% of Americans have a U.S. passport.  European people and media here say that statistic proves we are a nation of close-minded, untraveled, American-centric people.

Meanwhile, a new study released today by the Travel Industry Assocaition says that there has been a 17 percent drop in foreigners visiting the United States since the 9/11 attacks, costing the country $15 billion in lost taxes and 200,000 jobs.  The United States was ranked as the world's "most unfriendly" country to foreign visitors in another survey of travelers. 

Frankly, I'm tired of my European hosts telling me how stupid and pathetic we are as Americans.  Allow me to defend the good ol' U.S. of A.

First of all, we just cannot compare the European and American experience with regards to the passport issue.  It's apples and oranges.

K633043 The reason why most Europeans own passports is because, until recently, people needed passports to travel from one European country to the other. Nowadays Europeans can travel freely from one EU country to another. But a few years ago, that was not the case. It would be like requiring Americans to show a passport to travel from one state to the other. 

Second, I accept that Americans do not travel as much as Europeans. But that's because the U.S. is such a HUGE country. From Alaska to Hawaii to, um, Delaware, we have every imaginable climate and geography imaginable. From mountains to beaches, from deserts to forests. We have 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam and other territories, each with it's down distinct culture, foods, dialects, accents. 300 million people all united by ONE language and ONE  flag.   In Europe, people travel outside their country because they have to:  you can't go to the beach in land-locked Austria, and you can't ski in Greece. And when Europeans -- especially British -- travel, it's often on cheap pre-packaged holidays where you sight-see, eat, sleep, drink and shag with the same little group of fellow countrymen everyday, all sheep being herded by a perky tour guide carrying a colorful umbrella.

Third, Europeans cannot begin to comprehend the SIZE of the United States.  The entire European continent would fit inside the United States east of the Mississippi!   It takes a minimum of 3 days to DRIVE across the U.S.; you could drive across Western Europe in one long day. It takes about 6 hours to FLY from New York to Los Angeles.  If I were to fly 6 hours east from London, I would end up in somewhere in Kazakhstan, about halfway to Tokyo! And that's only the continental United States we're talking about. 

Just because Americans don't own passports does not mean we don't travel. Many Americans travel a lot, but most of it happens to be within our border.  And the more adventurous might travel to the Caribbean or Mexico. A passport simply wasn't needed to travel to those areas...until today.  Conversely, although I'm probably more traveled than the average American when it comes to world travel, I've only skimmed through my own country. I still have at least 13 states to visit in the USA! 

Fourth, many Americans just aren't interested in traveling to Europe when they read or hear about many Europeans' mightier-than-thou, Cambridge/Oxford attitude towards Americans.  Just as Americans make stereotypes of Europeans (i.e. snooty Frenchmen, anally-retentive Germans, etc), many Europeans have stereotypes that all Americans are Bush-loving, God-fearing, gun-totting folks with southern accents who drive Hummer SUVs, wear cowboy hats and look like the cast of Desperate Housewives.   After Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana in 2006, I actually had a middle-aged, educated Englishman tell me, "I didn't know the U.S. had so many poor black people." The entire world has this image that all Americans are rich and white whose sole purpose in life is to make money, wage wars, buy lots of stuff and consume natural resources as fast as possible.

Fifth, I'm sick of foreigners complaining about the requirements to enter the United States, such as requiring a fingerprint and photograph upon arrival. Big whoop. When I went to India in 2004, I had to shell out $150 for a tourist visa!  Jordan requires photograph and a $30 visa to enter, and another $15 to exit the country.  And not that anybody is vacationing in Iraq these days, but the last time I went to Baghdad I had to pay $88 for a visa and submit to an HIV BLOOD TEST!...and that was after waiting two weeks for the visa to clear from the Iraqi embassy in London.

Sixth,  I'm also sick of Europeans whining about how most Americans only speak one language.  Europeans in continental Europe need to speak more than one language by necessity. If you are a farmer in Italy hoping to trade your produce with a wholesaler in Switzerland, you better know at least a few words of each others language to seal the deal. Imagine if potato farmers in Idaho used a difference language from consumers in California.     It's also a myth that all Europeans speak more than one language.  We've traveled extensively through Europe and the vast majority of people in rural areas only know their country's language.  In northeast Italy, we met a bus driver who spoke LADIN...not Latin...LADIN, a language spoken by just 30,000 people in the ENTIRE WORLD.  Rather than adapt and change with the times by learning, say, ITALIAN, these folks choose to stick with their dying language and make everybody else adapt to their needs and wants.  (For the record: I speak Spanish fluently, basic French, a little Arabic and a few words in Italian and German).

Seventh:  I don't have a seventh. 

I apologize if this sounds like a neo-conservative, over-the-top rant. But for once I just felt the need to defend my homeland.  The U.S. gets a lot of crap thrown at it these days, some of it deservedly (i.e. Iraq and environmental policies). But much of it is just ridiculous, hypocritical European snobbery, like French complaining about "Le McDonalds" when, in fact, the French are the single largest European consumers of McDonalds food. Anyway, that's my two cents for the day.

An American sports nut in London

Last March, when my alma mater George Mason University made it into the Final Four, we were hard-pressed to find a place -- ANY PLACE -- that was showing the games on TV.  There are only a handful of bars in London that cater to American sports fans, most that only do so as a sidebar.

If I ever won the EuroMillions lottery, I would build a bar catered to American expats. There are plenty of bars in London that specifically cater to Australians, Canadians, New Zealanders, Polish and other immigrants. But there are hardly any places in London for Americans to call their own...which is quite strange considering there are some 225,000 Americans live in the UK including 50,000 Yanks in London alone. In fact, the UK ranks No. 3 in the list of countries with the most American citizens living outside the United States (Mexico is #1, with more than 1 million Americans, followed by Canada with 687,000.) 

For American sports fans, this is the toughest time of year to live away from home, especially with the Super Bowl just around the corner.  So I've added more links to restaurants and bars in London that will be showing the game (for odd legal reasons, the bars are now allowed to advertise that they are showing the "Super Bowl". Instead, the websites will only say that they are showing "The Big Game").  Sadly, none of my teams (Washington Redskins and Baltimore Ravens) are in the game this year.  Oh well...

Things might be getting better soon for American sports fans in Europe.  ESPN has announced that they are buying NASN -- the North American Sports Network. (see press release below!).

LONDON (AP) -- ESPN agreed to buy cable channel NASN in an effort to broadcast more American sports in Europe.

NASN is based in London and also is known as the North American Sports Network. It is the only European channel dedicated to North American sports.

ESPN is 80 percent owned by ABC, a subsidiary of the Walt Disney Co. The deal will allow Disney to expand ESPN operations in Europe, which are limited to its ESPN Classic channel, a soccer Web site and a business that sells some sports shows to other European networks.

ESPN did not reveal the terms of the deal Tuesday with the channel's current owners, Benchmark Capital Europe and Setanta Sports, a sports broadcaster based in Ireland.

"Growing our business in Europe is a key strategic initiative for us," said Russell Wolff, managing director of ESPN International. "We expect NASN, which has performed well and created a unique market position, to be a strong addition to our portfolio."

NASN has more than 6 million subscribers in 26 European countries.

As part of the deal, ESPN will also receive NASN's exclusive rights to show NHL and Major League Baseball games in Europe and the exclusive rights to the NFL in some parts of Europe.

NASN was started in late 2002 by Amory Schwartz, a New York lawyer who moved to London for work and wasn't able to watch his favorite team, the Philadelphia Phillies, on television. The channel initially targeted U.S. expatriates living in Europe but found it was drawing more European than American viewers.

Where is this blog going

According to Technorati, Two Crabs is the 908,286th most popular blog on the Internet. That is just SAD. 

If you're wondering why I've been blogging so much this week and twiddling with the layout, it's because I'm bored out of my mind. I haven't had any new freelance assignments, so blogging is a way to keep writing. Hopefully some new jobs will come down soon because 1) I'm going stir-crazy and 2) I need the money!

I've been thinking more about the direction of this blog as well. Right now it's sort of a mish-mash of thoughts, our view of the world from an expat's point of view, a resource for other American expats, and a narcissistic outlet for my writing and photography.  Maybe I'll get a little bolder in my political rants. Still thinking.  IS there anything you, the reader, would like us to write more about? Let us know.

Big Brother sparks international incident

Shilpashettyr_228x316 Britain's "Celebrity Big Brother" reality show has sparked an international crisis after allegations that several contestants have repeatedly made racist comments about another housemate, Indian Bollywood superstar Shilpa Shetty (left).

The chief tormentor and bully has been Jade Goody, (below) a despicable, disgusting, pathetic, low-class, sorry excuse for a human being.  Jade, a previous Big Brother contestant who is only famous for being famous, has attacked Shilpa for several days now. On Thursday, she referred to Shilpa's country as a slum and called her "Shilpa Poppadom" (a poppadom is a tortilla-like Indian bread).

Jade_1Jade isn't alone. Her clique of co-conspirators include a top-heavy beauty queen Danielle Lloyd (a former Miss Britain until she was fired for shagging a judge) and Jo O'Meara, a hideous singer and former band member with the bubblegum pop group S Club 7.  The three Mean Girls continuously mock Shilpa's accent. On Monday, the three refused to eat a chicken dinner that Shilpa had prepared. "They eat with their hands in India, don't they -- or is that China?" Lloyd asked before adding, "You don't know where her hands have been." Lloyd refused to let the issue drop, claiming that all Indians are skinny and sick because of unhygienic cooking practices. Jade's mother Jackie, who was also a contestant before she was voted off the show last week, refused to call Shilpa by her name, instead referring to her as "The Indian."

   The incident has dominated British newspapers and television since Monday when the controversy first broke out. British Prime Minister Tony Blair was forced to speak out about the issue in Parliament on Wednesday. And his heir apparent, Chancellor Gordon Brown, had to defend Britain's racial tolerance while he was on an overseas trip this INDIA, where Shilpa's fans have taken to the streets in protest and burned effigies of Big Brother producers!

Housemate_jermaine_185_1 And that's just the tip of the iceberg.  On Wednesday, Goody was fired as a spokeswoman for an anti-bullying charity in Britain.  Her celebrity fragrance was pulled off the shelves.  On Thursday, one of the show's largest sponsors, Carphone Warehouse, pulled all of its advertising from the air, saying it did not want to be associated with claims of racism. A UK watchdog organization that monitors television has received more than 20,000 complaints about Jade and Co.'s treatment of Shilpa. 

Channel 4, the UK network which airs Big Brother, has been shockingly silent during this entire fiasco.  They have refused to comment on the issue and have buried their heads in the sand.  The housemates have no idea how this entire issue is playing out in the world because they do not have access to television, radio, newspapers or other media.

Housemate_dirk_185_1 For her part, Shilpa has spent most of the past few days crying herself to sleep or commiserating with her few friends in the house, Jermaine Jackson (of the Jackson 5 fame) and Dirk Benedict (former star of "The A-Team" and the 70's version of "Battlestar Galactica").

The Big Brother house is now split by the controversy. Yesterday, the remaining contestants secretly nominated the next housemate for eviction. No surprise, the two nominees this week are Jade and Shilpa. The public will vote on which contestant to kick off the show. The loser will be announced late Friday.  Judging by the media coverage and public outcry, it looks like Jade's days are numbered.

Housemate_shilpa_185 It's not all bad. Viewership on Big Brother has jumped by more than 1 million since the controversy began earlier this week.  And British bookmakers are giving Shilpa 1-1 odds to win the whole thing based on the public sympathy for her predicament. And Channel 4 has agreed to donate all the profits of this week's vote to charity (viewers pay 50 pence, about $.97 cents to vote). 

Here's hoping Jade crawls back under the rock where she came from.