Jewish World Review Dec. 15, 2003 / 20 Kislev, 5764
Life's brilliant on the other side of the pond
"You won't want to miss this!" the host said.
Now, I had no idea they kept records on Brussels sprouts. But I am behind on all things British and Irish. This became clear during a book tour last week in Dublin and London.
I was to appear, they told me, on some of those nations' most prestigious TV and radio programs. This included the one with the Brussels sprouts. That segment came just after the interview with the transvestite who had won a national arts award. He arrived with a dress, lipstick, wig - and his wife and kids.
"Hi," I said meekly.
"Hello," he said, his booming voice belying his eye shadow.
Let's face it: We both speak English, but Brits and Americans have as much in common culturally as Jack London and Jack Black. And not just because, if Americans wanted to break an eating record, it would be Krispy Kremes, not Brussels sprouts.
Did I mention it was "brilliant"?
This is a word that apparently has been devalued across the pond. I always thought brilliant was, you know, Albert Einstein, Stephen Hawking or at least the winner of "Jeopardy!" But in England and Ireland, all you have to do to get a "brilliant" is show up on time.
"You're here," they'd say. "Brilliant!"
"Can you fix your tie? Brilliant!"
"Smile for the camera . brilliant!"
Of course, the irony of being told you are brilliant is that, in Great Britain, you feel anything but.
For example, one morning I was taken to a BBC radio program. (Or "programme" as they spell it, which only shows they waste letterrrssss.) Again, I was told this was a huge show and a wonderful vehicle to promote a new book. I envisioned a one-on-one interview. Questions about writing, plot, characters.
Instead, I was led to a windowless studio and introduced to the other guests: a 17-year-old Muslim boy who started a radio station during Ramadan, a longtime British actress and folk singer, and the winner of another prestigious British award - for best floral artistry.
"Let's break the ice," the host said, starting the show. "What is your favorite flower - and why?"
"No fair!" the American in me wanted to scream. "The floral artist has home-court advantage!"
This thought was quickly replaced by another: "I don't have a favorite flower. I go to the store and say, "a red one, a white one, some of those yellow ones ."
And, of course, the floral artist went first. And she picked some flower I never heard of, and proceeded to describe its stem, petals, texture and aroma. The host smiled. Then the actress, who, naturally, being British, tended her own garden, also had a bunch of multisyllabic personal favorites. My last hope was the 17-year-old kid, except that he was also applying to medical school - and so, of course, he rattled off a few perennials and annuals.
"And yours?" the host said.
And I said, "Uh . roses are nice."
From that point, it was clear there was a moron in their midst. They endured me in polite British fashion. And, of course, afterward, they said the show was "brilliant!" even though I was obviously not, especially when it came to horticulture.
What else? There was a photographer who took my picture standing on a picnic table. There was a radio host who said my book was "cracker!" There was a TV show described as "our version of your Regis and what's-the-woman's-name?"
"Kelly?" I said.
"Brilliant!" they said.
All in all, I had a fine time, sipped a lot of tea, met a transvestite. And, though I did it the hard way, I now have the answer to my favorite flower. It's Brussels sprouts.
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12/08/03: Squeezed by the politics of business