Don Fried — Playwright & Author

Posts Tagged ‘U.K.

One of the biggest cultural shocks in living overseas was the realization thatrembrandt-portrait I wouldn’t be required to live forever, and to be young and beautiful all that time.

Here in America, the prevailing impression is that everything is under your control.  If you just eat right, take the right vitamins and herbal supplements, exercise right, meditate right, go to the right massage therapist, the right psychiatrist, and the right plastic surgeon, shop at the right stores –you will never get sick or be unattractive or be unhappy or get wrinkled.  If you do, it is ALL YOUR FAULT!  Sounds ridiculous, of course, but think about it.  Deep down, don’t you believe that?  I know I did.

I moved overseas when I was 22 and was exposed to an entirely different philosophy.  Depending on where you are in Europe, you may be expected to have some degree of control or very little.  Germany tends to be close to the U.S. in this regard, while the Brits are generally of the impression that you are  going to get old and sick and ugly soon enough — if you aren’t already — so why bother.

Because I had spent my youth in the U.S. but left when I was young and moved from country to country, I ended up being schizophrenic.  Of course, I knew intellectually that time marches on and eventually destroys what genes hadn’t configured in the womb and bad luck doesn’t take care of in the interim.  But subconsciously, when I got my first grey hair and started needing glasses, I felt guilty.  I must have done something wrong.

But no matter.  I could fix it.  The same when my colesterol got a little high.  No drugs for me.  I’ll just go on a macrobiotic diet, run 30 miles a day and meditate, and everything will go back to where it was when I was 18 years old.  My British doctor’s response was, “Well, OK, if you want to.  But you’ll be exhausted and it probably won’t make much difference.

So eventually, I relaxed and started to go with the flow.  Yes, believe it or not, I have lots of grey hair, a few wrinkles, my feet and knees hurt after I’ve walked 10 miles, and my stomach — well, it isn’t the stomach of an 18 year old either.  What a relief.  Believe me, it’s a lot more relaxing than being responsible for eternal perfection.

But then I moved back to the U.S., to Boulder.   While Boulder doesn’t have the mania for artificially induced beauty and youth of much of the rest of the U.S. (yes, you occasionally encounter old, ugly people here), it is one of the world’s touchy-feely centers of endless happiness.  And, of course, I get ample exposure to the rest of the American ethos through the media.

So it’s back on the treadmill for me.  Age 25, here I come!

Some people are born to curmudgeonhood (curmudgeonness? curmudgeonity?), some people achieve curmudgeonhood, and some have curmudgeonhood thrust upon them.  While it now all seems to have come so easily, I suppose I’ve worked hard to achieve my current position atop the Curmudgeon Pantheon.

When I was a kid, way back in the middle of the last century, I guess I kind of enjoyed the “Holiday Season.”   I remember first being profoundly annoyed at all things Christmas in my second year at Haverford College.  I lived in a suite with 3 other guys, and one of them, Ned, took out a tape of Christmas carols and started playing it a couple of weeks before Thanksgiving.

What’s so bad about that, I can hear you asking.  Everybody starts playing  Christmas carols (and putting up Christmas lights, and ringing bells at you outside of stores,  and sending you letters asking for money, . . .) around Thanksgiving.  But Ned had a single, 60 minute tape of Christmas carols, and he played it continuously, over and over again, more or less around the clock.

How many times can you be expected to listen to Gene Autrey singing “Rudolph the Rednosed Reindeer” before you start to lose it?  So after the first few days, I very politely suggested to Ned that he take his f*^%ing tape and shove it up his f*^%ing a^%#.   (As you can see, I’ve always been a patient person, sensitive to the feelings of others.)

Ned was, and I’m sure still is, one of the world’s professional sweet guys, and patiently explained to me that Christmas carols are something deep and meaningful that he grew up with, and not being a Christian, I just couldn’t understand.  I got no support from my other two roommates, one of whom had disappeared into the library in early September and didn’t emerge until graduation 3 years later, and the other of whom was another professional sweet guy who had grown up with Christmas carols, and why couldn’t I understand just how important it was for both of them, anyway?

The tape continued to play 18 hours a day, 7 days a week, and by the time school closed for the holidays, I’m not sure whether I was closer to suicide or homicide.  But I was certainly relieved that my ordeal was over.  Right!  On our return to school in January, out came the tape again, and Ned played every waking hour for another two weeks.  He was just so sorry to see the Christmas season end, he  had to listen to those wonderful, nostalgic songs another 3,000 times!  Even then, he couldn’t bear to stop cold-turkey, but tailed off gradually, playing the damn thing off and on until Easter.

Is it any wonder I’ve never been the same since?  Believe me, the steps were deceptively small and easy to take from carol-terror to decoration-angst to “You know what you can do with your ‘Ho, ho, ho,’ you red-suited weirdo!”

Sinterklaas.  Looks different from the other red-suited dude, doesnt he?

Sinterklaas. Looks different from the other red-suited dude, doesn't he?

As you may know by now, I left the U.S. in 1974 and didn’t return for good until 2004.  During those 30 years, my mania was mostly dormant.  Christmas celebrations just weren’t all that big in Iran or Israel.   And Western Europeans take a much less overt, less time-consuming  approach to the holidays.   In Holland,  preparations start about December 4th, and the whole thing is over on the 6th, the day after Sinterklaas comes riding through from Spain on his white horse.  That’s right, there’s nothing universal about celebrating the 25th.  In the U.K., nearly nobody puts up Christmas lights.  You see a few decorations in the stores for about a week, and on Boxing Day, the 26th, everything mercifully disappears.

But after I moved to Colorado in 2004, all that anxiety came rushing back.  Two weeks before Thanksgiving that first year, my new favorite radio station — a country music station, for crying out loud — started playing Christmas carols 24/7.   A week later, 11 of the 13 houses in my cul-de-sac put up Christmas lights, and didn’t take them down until mid January.

Fortunately, I seem to be getting over my little problem.  Last January, I even volunteered to help my next door neighbor take her lights down.

“Here, you shouldn’t be doing that alone.  Let me get it for you.  Oh, that’s too bad, I seem to have broken that string.  And there, I’ve broken another.  I’m so sorry.  How clumsy of me to step on those bulbs like that.  I’ll just get those strands now.  Oops!”

Heh, heh.  Sometimes, it’s all worth it.