Sunday, 30 June 2013

Why living in America has made me love swearing (even more than I did before)

When I was little, someone (in retrospect possibly a schoolteacher) once told me that swearing indicates a limited vocabulary. I have always thought that is complete and utter bollocks. I wholeheartedly ascribe to the Stephen Fry school of thought on this matter and believe that the use of forbidden or taboo words or phrases are an integral part of the development of the English language I love so much.

I love swearing. I love the power certain words have and how applicable they can be to any situation. Fans of The Wire will recall the scene in which McNulty and Bunk examine an old murder scene, and the only word used in the 5 minute scene are all variations of fuck. It's genius television. Don't get me wrong, I was never told off at school for audibly swearing, and it's not like I don't know how to express myself using words that aren't offensive to other people, I just think that swearing is a big part of that personal expression. I also think there's a big difference between saying that someone is acting like a wanker and outrightly calling them a wanker. I'm not a big fan of direct insults in any form.

My mum rarely swears. When she does it's a bit of a shock to the system. She once told my little brother when he was a teenager that his behavior was 'completely fucking unacceptable'. You could have heard a flea jumping in our kitchen for a good ten minutes after that. The power her use of the word had was immense and none of us really knew how to react. I think we all trod on eggshells around her for a few weeks, knowing that for her to use the word must have meant that she was really angry.

I used to work with a woman who told her children that, yes, they might hear swear words every now and again, even from her, but they were grown up words and she'd let them know when they could use them. Which to her credit, she did (on their 18th birthdays but the sentiment is still there...!)

The evolution of swearing and profanity is fascinating, and there are plenty of excellent resources online which help understand where our modern swear words come from. Shakespeare is often cited as a writer who was a genius in inventing new and clever ways to convey meaning and insults without sweaaring, and seeing as I read his complete works in the summer holidays between Year 5 and Year 6 meant that I had a pretty scary vocabulary by the time I joined senior school anyway. Swearing became just a part of that. Reading Julie Burchill around the same time probably helped...

I'd be remiss if I didn't take a second to discuss the gendered nature of our current selection of profanity. When I was studying for my undergraduate degree, I took great delight in discussing why the word cunt should be reclaimed by my feminist sisters. Looking back, I think I enjoyed the discussions because the power the word has is still so immense certain people won't even say it aloud. The power of shock and awe is one thing I love about the word. It says a lot though that the most offensive thing someone can say is synonymous with vagina. Saying someone is a dick doesn't quite have the same ring to it.

Since living amongst Americans, I've noticed a high dependency on replacement swear words. I started thinking about the people I know who I also hear swearing on a regular basis, and it turns out they are either mainly English or Canadian (Pirate Sam and Mikey Longshot I'm looking at you here). Using shoot instead of shit, or frigging instead of fucking for example, are phrases I hear daily. It's really started to wind me up and I think I've worked out why. They think that by using these replacements they are conveying the same meaning of the word just without the intensity. I think this is bollocks.

The problem is that we all know the words they are attempting not to say. So by saying 'Your behavior is frigging unacceptable young man', we know they mean to convey the same meaning as my mum just without using the actual words. Part of me wants to scream 'Own your language choices Americans!' If you mean something is fucking awful then call it out for being fucking awful.

But I don't. I appreciate the fact that certain words are just not appropriate for certain situations, and if people can't express themselves without using a replacement, then fair enough. Knowing when and where to swear is vital. The effect on me however has been that when I'm back in Europe my language is fucking atrocious. And making up for lost time I bloody love it.

- The Future is Unwritten. Make the most of every single day.

Thursday, 27 June 2013



I don't really know how to start writing this. Eric told me that when his friend died, writing about him helped. I really can't believe that you're gone. I only spoke to you the other day. Sounded like you were having a great summer so far. Being in Europe and not being able to grieve with other people who knew and loved you makes me wish I was back in California. So here goes.

I have so many memories of you that make me smile. You never failed to make me laugh every time I saw you, whether it was stories about your Grandma's chihuahua, talking about our tattoos or choosing which of the Golden Girls we'd want to marry on that long car ride back from CCWF (and yes I feel the same way about Bea Arthur as you!).

When we met in January, I remember thinking, wow this girl is cool, I really hope we're friends. The sparkle in your eyes, your commitment and passion, your general outlook makes me feel so lucky to have had you in my life. Your commitment to justice and helping others shone through everything you did. Your face was priceless when you realized that I didn't just have the same surname as my Dad but was actually his daughter. We had some good long chats about our favourite Cock Sparrer songs and why we loved them.

Thank you so much for coming to my graduation bbq, I can't believe that was the last time we got to hang out. I know my parents and parents in law all told me how awesome they thought you were and how pleased they were that I had someone like you in my life. I have a cool photo of you and Dad somewhere. I'll dig it out when I get home.

You gave me so much support with our work at Justice Now these past few months. Having spoken to a couple of the other interns I know they are as heartbroken as I am. We're really going to miss your intelligence, your compassion and your commitment to the work we were doing. You always asked about the stuff I was working on and always gave great suggestions for how I could improve it. You were so good at it!

I can't begin to imagine what your family and friends are going through right now. There's some beautiful photos and memories shared on Facebook since you left us. I feel really proud to have counted you as a friend and to have known you for the time that I did.

I'll never forget you LuciLu,

All my love,

Han xxx

I'm selling raffle tickets, whilst Luci and Nora crack up. Can't remember at what but this is how I remember her best.

Proud to be part of this team L-R Misty, Luci, Nora, Me, Bryget, Naas and other JN community member who's name escapes me at the moment

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Tales from the aeroplane part 2 (less dickhead spotting and more, well I don't know what)

So I promised a follow up to my little tale about the snobby English woman and her son at SFO (thanks to everyone for all the repostings and comments!) and I have to share with you some of the most bizarre behavior that I have ever seen on a plane.

The flight from San Francisco to London is usually just under 11 hours and I try and sleep for as much of it as I can, this time with a window seat making that easier. On this particular crossing I had a young couple in the seats next to me, probably in their early twenties. From the snippets of conversation I earwigged as we were boarding the plane, they were headed to London to stay with friends of his.

It was clear from the moment we all got settled in our seats, that she was not a happy flyer. In fact I would describe her as absolutely petrified. As the plane took off, her face screwed up, her body became a concentrated ball of terror and she pulled all her extremities in to adopt the fetal position. Still strapped into her seat. Next to me.

Then she began to whelp like a puppy with his head trapped in a door. Now I've never seen or heard a stuck puppy, but you can sort of imagine the noise she was making. Get a three year old to do an impression of a puppy wanting to be let in and you pretty much get the picture. This went on until the fasten seat belt sign was switched off. About ten minutes all in all.

Flying can be scary, I get that. The very abstract notion of realizing exactly how high you are above the ground sometimes still hits me halfway through the crossing of the Atlantic. And like pregnancies, the most dangerous parts are the take off and landing so it does make sense to be extra scared during those bits. I sometimes find myself gripping my partner's hand tight enough to cut off circulation and I like to think of myself as a seasoned traveller at this point.

That's not the weird bit anyway. Puppy noises aside, the true weirdness is yet to come.

Somewhere over the Mid-West we hit a pocket of turbulence and were bounced around for a good twenty minutes. It was rough by any standards. The fetal position was re-adopted and we were again treated to the puppy impression (albeit with increased ferocity).

This time, her boyfriend stepped up and tried to comfort her. He leant close to her, took her face in his hands and started to lick it.

Yes, I will write that sentence again. To try and calm his girlfriend down, he licked her face over and over, like a mother cat giving a kitten a wash. I still feel like you are all going to think that I'm making this up but I swear that not only did it happen, at one point he caught me staring in disbelief and just shrugged his eyebrows, as if to say 'What? This is perfectly natural'.

No mate. It's not. It's weird. Very weird.

And to top it off, it didn't work; the puppy noises did not abate and she was still really scared. And she now had a wet face. Covered in his spit. Please tell me I'm not the only person who can't quite believe he thought that would calm her down...

If I was scared of flying I think I'd want to hear about how well trained the crew and pilots are, how often they practice for situations that happen once in a blue moon and how safe modern technology has made flying the 6000 miles from London to San Francisco. I'd probably want to hear that everything was going to be alright and that there was nothing to worry about.

That's not what he did. Instead he licked her face and gave me material for this column. Gross, bizarre and marvelous all in one fell swoop.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Snapshots of dickheads Part 1

When I'm traveling on my own I like to use the time as an opportunity for some serious people watching. I also have very little patience for idiots, less so than normal. Airports unfortunately seem to bring out the dickhead in a lot of people. Here's a snapshot of my favorite dickheads from today's airport adventure...

Today I watched a mum and son, both English, horsey posh, try and queue jump the security line at SFO continuously for the twenty five plus minutes it took me to get through (seriously SFO, it was embarrassing compared to how efficient other airports are).

Every opportunity to wave their boarding passes in a TSA guard's face and demand preferential treatment, they did so with the unashamed expectation of being treated differently from the rest of us.

'But are you sure we're in the right line? We're travelling business, we get priority'. 'We're being waited for in the Executive Lounge, anyway you can let us through?' 'This clearly says we are the priority.'

It took one last severe telling off from a TSA legend who was taking no prisoners, to finally get them to wait their turn. I wanted to buy him a beer or give him a standing ovation. (But I was going through security and it seemed a better idea to keep my trap shut and not draw attention to myself.)

Every time they got knocked back and told to wait, I was half mortified by their actions (on behalf of all English people) and half wetting myself laughing with how pompous and self-important they were and how they were getting nowhere.

The woman in particular was the most embarrassing. I half expected her at one point to point to her Botoxed forehead and claim her ancestors founded Sussex and there was no way she was a terrorist. THAT'S how bad it was. Her son was one of the snivelly types who had an expression of perpetually smelling something rotting. Maybe it was his manners slowly decaying over a lifetime of acting like an entitled brat.

It's in times like this when I feel my working class upbringing more keenly than other times. There is something ultimately equalling about a good queue. You know that you'll get to the front and be seen within the same time frame as everyone else in the queue. It is a very English thing, to love a queue.

There is nothing that pisses me off more than people that queue jump because they think they are more important than anyone else. Especially if it's because they think they have more money than everyone else. No horse-lady, you are not above the law, you have to take your shoes off and go through the body scanner the same as everyone else here waiting that you are trying to push in front of.

And watching them get put in their place over and over, by working people trying to do their job, kind of made my day. Manners cost nothing, but looking like two generations of entitled dickhead, and giving me ammunition for this blog? Priceless.

Find me on Twitter @hannahmcfaull

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Here's a promise

Last night I wrote a list. This is itself is not uncommon. Along with my blue eyes and sense of adventure, my innate list making is very much a habit inherited by my mum. And she's right. There is something amazing about crossing things off a list.

This particular list in question is one that I've had floating around in the deepest reaches of my subconscious since January. This in itself makes it odd. The whole point of making a list is that it's flexible, both in its creation and implementation.

You see, the thing with writing a thesis is that it takes over your life. You wake up in cold sweats at 4am needing to check something. You train yourself to keep focused on the job in hand. You make yourself push all other thoughts out of your mind, no matter what they are or how much you want to focus on them.

I always thought I was a pretty good multi-tasker. I'm currently holding down a range of positions in a range of different organizations. But this is different.

I'm starting to think of myself more as someone who really enjoys writing (still not a writer yet though!). I have published a few articles since January but they have mainly been interviews and not anything I've spent ages lovingly crafting. (PS I've also been helping out with good people the Street Dogs and their fundraising - for the unaware...)

So this week was the time to collect all of those ideas, half-thoughts and ponderings that had been shoved to the outskirts of my memory. My list is a collection of all the blogs I've wanted to write since January but haven't been able to.

And once I started putting the list to paper (or iPhone note as it were) I started to get really excited. I'm going to work my way through the list this summer, publishing some here, some for Louder Than War and some for the Huffington Post UK. I'll let you all know where and when.

And just as a taster, here's a few of the topics I'm planning to cover; how Americans cope with my accent and the hilarity that ensues, why I love swearing even more than I ever did, the day I got compared to Maggie (and my bilious response) and why I think Johnny Gomes and I should be friends. Some food, some baseball, some feminism, some politics, a lot of music.

So my promise to you all is to not flake, and try to commit as many of these thoughts to paper as possible. Because maybe I'm loving this writing malarkey and maybe there's some stuff I'm tired of being quiet about. Watch this space. You have been warned.

Find me on Twitter @hannahmcfaull