I received an email from a colleague the other day saying that she wouldn’t be coming in to work because she had woken up with ‘pink-eye’. Back home, this is known as conjunctivitis and when I was a teenager we all got it from sharing mascara. Here, however, I am told that one of the ways to contract pink-eye is direct ballsack-to-eye contact. My colleague had sent this email to the entire team. Basically she was showing off.
This nicely illustrates the kind of linguistic oddities I have observed since moving to the US, particularly when it comes to health issues. The phrase ‘I’m sick’, for example, does not necessarily mean you’re in the bathroom waving goodbye to your lunch, it just means you’re generally unwell. ‘Strep throat’ does not, as I had been led to believe from watching ‘ER’, involve blood-flecked bubbles of pus frothing up from the throat and sloughing out of the mouth with the kind of stench that would make a goat wince. It’s just having a wee sore throat.
Obsessive behaviour, however, is the same the world round. My DC friends are threatening an intervention if I continue my fascination with the Republican nominee battle. Well, fat hairy bollocks to them. There’s a linguistic oddity not often used in the US.
The Republican nomination race has highlighted, for me, a few interesting differences between our two nations. Take photo-calls. Can you imagine candidates in the UK deliberately posing with guns for the cameras? No, of course not. Our conservatives do that in their free time.
And what about the issues that matter to voters? Any difference between the UK and the US? This weekend’s Republican Presidential Forum gave members of the audience the opportunity to ask the questions. Topics ranged from the housing industry, healthcare, immigration and manufacturing, to foreign aid, jobs and education; not so different from concerns in the UK. And it was so dull that I got a headache in both eyes. Dull can be good. It’s just not good material.
But a couple of the questions flew out of the television, danced in front of my face and shook their dirty little fists at me, shouting “WHAT ABOUT US?!” Yes, abortion (oh fuuuuccckkkk, she said the *A* word). Not the biggest topic for a heated debate in a UK general election campaign. The manner in which abortion has been discussed during this campaign has made me feel even more uncomfortable than when I sat with my parents watching Christian Slater getting his end away in ‘The Name of the Rose’ (“Oh it’s about a detective monk, shall we watch it? It’ll be like Cadfael. Lovely.“). I’ve seen the documentaries, I know how ugly and divisive this issue is in America. But these professional politicians have used their opposition to abortion rights in the most audacious game of ‘please pick me’ since David Cameron waved his sorry arse in front of the Lib Dems in 2010.
Republican lawmakers across the nation are increasingly using overbearing regulation to limit and ultimately deny a woman the right to choose. Take this, for example, a law in Texas, supported by Ron Paul, that requires medical practitioners to first perform an invasive procedure on women wishing to have abortions. As for the other candidates, Newt has been getting in on the act by attacking Mitt for his ‘liberal’ record on abortion. And don’t get me started on Rick Santorum or I’ll be frothing orally too.
The fact that this issue is used so dispassionately for political purposes was brought home to me here in DC when District leaders including Mayor Vincent Gray recently rejected a deal with Congress that would have meant more budget autonomy (yes!) in exchange for banning publicly funded abortions (oh dear perhaps not).
How about – now don’t yell at me for being radical – debating with some empathy the underlying issues that might lead a woman to one of the most difficult decisions of her life; poverty, education, welfare provision, employment, role models (or the lack of them). And those issues that may influence women: what they see on television and read in magazines. Just a thought.
Tonight’s debate in South Carolina on Fox News is back to the usual format of broadcasters asking the questions and the candidates standing on the corner of ‘Fuck You’ and ‘Vote for Me’. I’m sure it will be entertaining. Hoping for a little compassion is probably too much to ask.