The limits of globalisation
I came to Los Angeles with just the clothes I stood up in, plus a swimming costume. The intention had been to be more organised. But the moment of departure coincided with the time that the now copy-edited version of the manuscript of my new book was due back with the publisher – with my very final corrections.
It should have been a quick job. All that was strictly necessary was my response to the copy-editor’s questions: Did I really want to use the adjective “subversive” three times on the same page? Did I realise that the phrase “own-goal” wasn’t much used in the USA? On most of these questions, she politely gave me a choice. But she was so often, so obviously right, that it wouldn’t have much mattered if I had just sent it back saying: “do as you suggest, passim”.
But I actually decided to go through and check all – well, it ended up being most – of the footnotes and bibliography again. They had all supposedly been checked before, but as I’m feeling a bit sensitive to howlers after the Agrippina incident, I decided to err on the side of caution.
Thank heavens. I didn’t find anything dreadfully wrong, but there were too many things that were not exactly wholly right – including a handful of nasty embarrassments with German endings. It’s hardly fair, but if you end up, in English, printing “ot” instead of “to”, everyone assumes it’s a typo. If, in German, you put “der” instead of “den”, the assumption is that your German is ropey.
So I went right up to the wire, nerdishly checking everything I could, and then with a couple of hours to spare before getting in the cab to the plane, I stuffed some books into a case and that was that.
Since I arrived, I’ve been reconstructing a wardrobe, and other essentials of life. Some things, it turns out, transfer seamlessly from the UK to the US.
Other surprising areas still fall short of easy “globalisation”.
On the plus side, the Sat Nav works. I had actually nearly left it behind. But the taxi driver nicely drove back to get it, when I remembered about it 10 minutes into the journey. Now, after a worrying few minutes when it still seemed to think it was in Shrewsbury not Los Angeles, it gets me almost anywhere I want to go in a car I’ve hired from a nice firm called Rent-A-Wreck. (Though if anyone knows how to stop the Sat Nav – a Tom Tom – trying to play its demo tape every 90 seconds, I’d be very grateful.)
I can also feel right at home and listen to the Today programme when I get up, thanks to the BBC web-site’s Listen Again. If we’re really smart we can co-ordinate it with real LA time… so that when John Humphreys says it’s 7.15, it really is (even if in another way it isnt – if you see what I mean). And the fact that you are actually listening 8 hours behind means that you can find out the end of the story – from the question of an interest rate rise, to whether the lady could use the frozen embryos – straight away, thanks to the same BBC website.
It’s also proved gloriously easy to open a bank account. With a passport and an address and an institutional connection, I became proud possessor of some Wells Fargo cheques (appropriately decorated with stage coaches) in less than half an hour.
The same wasn’t true for buying an air ticket however. In a couple of weeks, I’m going to give a lecture in Yale and so need an internal flight. I had entered the American Airlines website in the UK and it looked complicated, so I decided to do it from here. Logging in again when I arrived, it still seemed that I wasn’t going to be able to book a ticket on-line with a British credit card. So I called the airline, assuming that – at a price – I would be able to do it over the phone. But no. Despite what you read as you leave Heathrow about your global flexible friend, the only way I could pay for a ticket without a card registered to a US address was to go down to the airport with a bundle of used green-backs.
As my Wells Fargo debit card hadn’t arrived, the husband came to the rescue with his debit card acquired last year. But can it really be true that you can pay for meals and movie tickets and shoes and trousers with a UK card, but not an air ticket? If it’s a system meant to foil terrorists, how exactly does it do it? Isn’t a credit card more traceable than dollar bills?
But maybe it's comforting to discover that globalisation has its limits.