Monthly Archives: June 2010

Source: Watts/News

Often, the best way to improve skills in a language different from your own is to utilize them under adverse circumstances. As proven by The Nanny, New York’s true mother tongue is Yiddish, and my 24-hour ordeal to fly from The City to Jacksonville on a buddy pass provided ample opportunity to strengthen my flimsy, yet precise grasp on the language. Observe these vocabulary exercises:

  • Shlimazel (n., receiver of bad luck) – I became a shlimazel the moment I tried to fly from LaGuardia during the summer, with one runway out of commission at neighboring Kennedy Airport, all flights oversold by nine or ten people, and five thousand airline employees/family/friends trying to leave town from whatever event they’d attended in New York that weekend (TBEX, Gay Pride, the New York Junior Chess Championship).
  • Shmuck (n., someone who’s intentionally nasty or uses their power for ill) – All the gate agents who seemed hell-bent on making sure I knew how much they held me in contempt for daring to fly on a buddy pass (a job perk that those same gate agents even have) are shmucking shmucks: “You’re on a buddy pass? Pssshhht! You’re not making this flight.” ~or~ “Your ‘buddy’ should have warned you of the realities of buddy pass travel.”
  • Shlemiel (n., a clumsy, inept, pathetic oaf) – I stood there like a shlemiel as I got the shpiel* about buddy pass passengers being the lowest of the low, only cleared from standby AFTER all employees, their spouses/domestic partners, their family members, their former roommates, their cable guy, and their masseuse make the flight, with THAT list then being sorted by employee hire date.
  • *Shpiel (n., a story, sales pitch, speech).
  • Putz (n. a nasty, unlikeable man who has no real power, except to make your life miserable or at least unpleasant) – I couldn’t tell if the agent was calling me a putz or insinuating that I shouldn’t become one by informing me of the airline’s “act up” policy in which the friend who gave me the buddy pass would lose her privileges if a customer “acted up” in the airport, such as “demanding a seat.” The ambiguity lies in the fact that I never technically “demanded a seat,” but either way, they tried their damnedest to make me feel like a putz.
  • Punim (n. face) – All I could do was give ol’ girl the gas punim and get back on the “Help Line” to change my routing yet again. She looked trigger-happy enough to invoke the “act up” policy just to send one of her own kind to jail, the shmuck (and yes, if the “act up” policy had been invoked, there would have been some furniture moving around that terminal).
  • Shlep (v., haul, carry, drag either something or oneself) – After not making the 8:05 departure Monday night, I shlepped over to the Upper West Side on the M60 bus because my friend in Queens wasn’t getting home until 2am. Then, my buddy told me I was booked on the 6:10 morning flight to Detroit, meaning I had to shlep back over to LaGuardia on the M60 at 4am. Once it was certain the 6:10, 6:45 to Memphis, 8:42 nonstop to Jacksonville, and 10:29 to Cincinnati had no room for me, I shlepped back down to Long Island City where I had to shlep my bag off the bus, up the stairs to the elevated, over the turn-style, then back over the turn-style, down the stairs, and fifteen minutes up the road to my friends place in New York summer heat.
  • Shlump (v., sag; hang around in an unkept manner) – I shlumped around the airport in the limp polo and khakis I had worn for two days in the New York summer heat, and under imminent threat of deodorant failure.

Finally, one of the agents who’d seen me attempt to escape New York the night before had pity on my soul and got me on the very last seat on the very last row of the very last flight to Jacksonville.  I was whisked onto the plane, my carry-on left in the jet bridge to be stowed, as the overhead bins were full.

Needless to say, it did not arrive with me in Florida, despite the 30-minute delay in pulling back from the gate.

“Oh, you unfortunate shlimazel,” I heard the baggage agent say in my mind before I realized I was back down South.  “Well, baby, you were flyin’ on a buddy pass,” she said as she logged my missing bag into the system.

Oy vey!

This weekend, I’m in The City for a travel blogging conference, TBEX ’10.  And while I stood sweating in the sweltering Times Square subway station today with every color and creed on the globe represented on that platform, I remembered a post from last year, in which I compared the two capitals of the English-speaking world after visiting London; I’m convinced now, more than ever, that Noo Yawk’s betta.

Originally posted as I ♥? LON on Sept. 8, 2009:

The comparison is overused, but with London and New York City being the pillars of global culture and finance, as well as the launchpad and rocket booster, respectively, of the new millennium’s lingua franca, there’s almost no way to avoid comparing the two cities. Even culture bible Time Out London had to ask if New York was the better, upgraded, 2.0 Beta version of the swingin’ British capital.

Though New York isn’t a national capital and was never the center of a colonial empire, it’s always been a magnet for immigrants from overseas and transplants from the nether regions of the US. Still, London has a greater percentage of its population born outside of the UK and is home to much larger groups of various ethnic communities, whereas New York has a little bit of everyone, but certain groups have greater numerical dominance. London wins the diversity prize.

Speaking with some of my newly-minted black British friends in London, it’s interesting to see the relative lack of a unified identity similar to that of black Americans (which, essentially functions as our ethnicity). Unlike black Americans, who’ve been an established part of the US since its very inception, the black British experience has essentially been one of immigration over the past five or six decades, so each different group, be it Nigerian, Kenyan, Jamaican, Belizean, has a different set of identity markers and occupies a different place vis-a-vis other immigrant groups on the path toward assimilation into “British” culture and society, a necessarily basic response to being an immigrant. Folks are too busy trying to survive in a new and sometimes hostile environment to focus on carving out a shared identity with other strivers. This means a less coherent sense of pan-African/”black” identity and therefore less organized efforts to fight discrimination or encourage community empowerment. My friends also tell me that the black professional class in London is comparatively miniscule. Score one for the NYC.

That being said, I certainly see more thorough interaction between people of various ethnicities in London than in New York. I once went to a hip-hop club in Manhattan where there was an even mix, numerically, of blacks and whites. But even though people danced in close proximity to one another, they remained clumped into their racial groups, the dancefloor from above looking like a Dalmatian fur rug. In London, I saw countless racially-mixed friend groupings and a few black American expats in the city confirmed that day-to-day interaction in the UK is less yoked by racial baggage than in the States. London’s up on this one.

Notting Hill Carnival was fun, but much more subdued than I expected. There has been recent violence, and a teenager was killed this year, so with ordinarily staid British society trying to deal with that, maybe some of the flavor was lost. We Americans are some violent, aggressive, gun-totin’ brutes, so a shooting at a street festival doesn’t faze us as much. Besides that, summer in Noo Yawk means West Indian Day, Puerto Rican Day, Brazilian Day, Dominican Day, the Irish Festival, concerts in Central Park, house music in Fort Greene Park. Seriously, can hottie watching get any hotter?

Tranportation: New York, all the way. 24-hour subway service. Stations every few blocks in Manhattan. One-way, undiscounted cash fare, US$2.25 (compared with £4.00 on the London Underground – thas almost $7). Though “This is the Piccadilly line for Cockfosters” does sound better cooed over the PA system in Received Pronunciation than “Stand clear of the closing doors (ding, ding)” in some random chicken-fried twang.

Overall, I found London to be exhilirating in some aspects (people-watching in the Circuses, space-age window displays, the accents, the history!), underwhelming in others (semi-wack nightlife, uninspiring pubs, very average-looking people). I had very high expectations of the city and was all set to have it sweep me off my feet as it has several of my good friends, to consider a move to “the centre of the world” and knock ’em dead as the Next Big Thing From Across The Pond (yeh right), but that just never happened, despite heavy lobbying by my London peeps, Lord love them. I liked it. I didn’t ♥ it.

I’ll be back, though.

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Few places stimulate the imagination for better or worse than India, though travel posters seem to have focused primarily on elephants, the Taj Mahal, and multi-armed Hindu deities to sell a continent-sized country full of over a thousand languages and just as many cultures. Still, the colorful, detailed designs make up for the lack of thematic ideas.