Hello, welcome back to the podcast. This is part 3 in what could turn out to be quite a long series about my recent trip around California. Normally I tend to focus on British things in this podcast but every now and then I go travelling somewhere and report back on what happened. This time I went to California on my honeymoon. The itinerary for the trip was to fly to LA, then drive to Yosemite National Park, then across to San Francisco, then down the coast back to LA and then home again. In this series I’m telling you about the trip, but also I’m branching out in order to ramble on about the history and culture of California and some of the differences between British and American English, as well as some other subjects.
At this point in the series I’m still just a few days into the holiday, and there’s plenty more stuff to cover. In this episode I’m hoping to talk about Venice Beach, Baywatch, Segways, the grammar of telling stories and anecdotes in English, some facts about the Hollywood sign, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, British and American English vocabulary related to driving, the dark side of Hollywood and celebrity culture, and an analysis of the lyrics to the song “Hotel California” by The Eagles. That’s a lot of subjects to cover, so I’d better get started right away!
Saturday 8 August
Drove to Venice Beach which is just along from the world famous Baywatch Beach (Santa Monica beach).
Long Boardwalk with lots of shops, cafes and bars.
People performing and busking.
Bikes and segways.
The Segway – the most stupid invention of all time?
What we need is some way of propelling us forwards at just a few miles per hour (you mean like walking speed?), but with the ability to go slightly faster (what, like running speed?) facing forwards so we can see where we’re going, with our hands free so we can hold coffee or mobile phones. How on earth can we do it? (How about our legs sir? We could just walk, jog or run.) Don’t be ridiculous!
And the Segway was born – bringing human laziness to new levels. And you thought escalators and moving walkways were bad enough, now the Segway. It’s very hard to look cool or even dignified on one of these things. I imagine there are some people who cruise around on a Segway all day and then go to the gym to run on a treadmill in order to stay fit. Something doesn’t make sense here. OK, so it doesn’t produce harmful emissions, but neither do your legs. Sure, a person can fart – that’s an emission, but you can still fart on a Segway so it’s the same. Maybe it’s for people with mobility issues, but it seems that in order to use a segway you need the full use of your legs in order to stand on it the whole time, and balance properly. Well, I’m sure it must be useful for something – like maybe doing specific jobs, but it seems a bit silly to use one when you can just use your legs to do exactly the same job. It seems like reinventing the wheel to me. (This is a phrase which means doing something unnecessary – like working hard to do something which is already done by something else)
“Introducing a new innovation in green personal transport – legs!”
Went to the beach or sunbathing. Really huge beach covered in pristine bleached sand.
Swam in the sea. Big waves.
There are lifeguards, exactly like in Baywatch but somehow I expected (or hoped) that it would be more like Baywatch there.
Baywatch: A show which I think was ‘single handedly’ responsible for bringing a whole generation of boys into puberty – no pun intended.
But it was pretty normal, compared to the TV show. I mean, the people looked pretty normal. It wasn’t just hundreds of David Hasselhoffs and Pamela Andersons everywhere, except for me and my wife of course.
Shopping in the huge outlet mall. The place looked like Bowser’s castle from Super Mario Bros. Totally fake modern place that was vaguely like a castle and a huge castle courtyard.
Bargains on jeans. 4 items for the price of one pair of jeans back home.
Seemed incredibly luxurious. Big marble toilets with acres of space.
Yamashiro restaurant in the evening for a romantic candlelit dinner with a stunning view of the city. The restaurant was amazing, with Japanese gardens in the middle and lots of sliding doors – like the scenes from Kill Bill.
Amazing views of the city.
STOP! Grammar Time – A Note on the Tenses Used in this Episode
Usually when you’re describing what happened in the past you use past tenses (past simple, past continuous, past perfect) and so on. So far I’ve been using past tenses in this series of episodes when talking about what we did, but as I’m now reading from the notes I made during the trip, I’ve noticed that I wrote it all in present tenses and it feels tempting to slip into the present tense while reading it. Why? This sometimes happens when we tell stories that we want to make engaging, captivating and in-the-moment. Past tenses accurately report past events, but past tenses can be quite remote. They place the action in a finished time period. When people tell long stories, they sometimes slip into present tenses in order to avoid this remoteness, and make the action and events seem more real and captivating.
Also, using present tenses to tell stories and anecdotes is more common in spoken English. In written English it can be frowned upon (some people don’t like it) but the main thing when writing is that you stick to one perspective (either past tenses or present tenses, throughout). For example, a person at a dinner party might begin telling a story about their holiday using past tenses but then might subconsciously switch to present tenses to make the events more immediate, and that’s considered ok. But if a novelist writes a story and some of it is in past tenses, and other bits are in present tenses, it’s usually considered to be sloppy writing unless it is obviously a stylistic choice. What I’m saying is: you might notice some moments where my tenses move from past tenses to present tenses and this is more acceptable in spoken English than in written English. As my podcast is presented to you as primarily a form of natural spoken English, that should account for this.
Past tense version: So we were sitting in the Japanese restaurant and eating sushi, having a lovely romantic evening, when suddenly loads of ninjas dropped down from the ceiling but I wasn’t worried because I’d spent 3 months in the mountains learning the ways of Chinese kung-fu and so I dealt with them all, and went back to the sushi.
Present tense version: So there we are eating our sushi, having a lovely romantic evening when suddenly loads of ninjas drop down from the ceiling but I’m not worried because I’ve spent 3 months in the mountains learning the ways of Chinese kung-fu, so I deal with them all and then go back to the sushi. (The present tense version is more immediate, and more common in spoken English, although it might sound a bit colloquial).
Slipping into present tenses when telling a story is usually a subconscious thing, rather than a planned thing. I think people just end up using present tenses when they’re recounting events as they actually happened. So, let’s see if it happens to me while I continue to tell you this story.
Another point: This habit of slipping into present tenses that I’m talking about… This doesn’t mean that you don’t need to use past tenses. It’s not a loophole which you can use to avoid making sentences with complex past tenses. This is not a way for you to completely avoid having to deal with irregular verbs and past participles and auxiliary verb conjugations and things. No. If you get a grammar test at school about narrative tenses and you use present tenses, you can’t justify it by saying “But sir I was just using present tenses to make the story more immediate!” Sorry, it doesn’t work like that. You still need to master past tenses before you can abandon them in certain cases. You need to know the rules before you can break them. You need to have full control of the language in order to make these subconscious shifts in tone. So, keep studying those past tenses, practising and being mindful of how you’re using them. If you want to listen to a podcast episode about using past tenses (simple, continuous & perfect) to tell stories, check out episode 29 which is called “Mystery Story / Narrative Tenses”. It’s one of the most commonly listened-to episodes of my podcast. It’s got a short story featuring The Doctor from Dr Who, and a full explanation of how to use narrative tenses properly, pronunciation drills and everything. Click here to check it out: www.teacherluke.co.uk/2009/11/12/mystery-story-narrative-tenses/
So, you can study the tenses directly. Alternatively, don’t worry about it too much and just let the words wash over you and focus on the general meaning of what I’m saying to you, and imagine yourself there and just focus on the meaningful content – the more natural and contextualised English you hear the better it is for your acquisition of grammar at an almost subconscious level, creating that sense of instinct for what is correct or incorrect usage.
Anyway, on with the story…
Sunday 9 August
Breakfast and then took a drive up into the hills for a trek. (Am I using present or past tenses? I’ve become self-conscious now, so I’ll probably stick to past tenses, but I’m sure that if I get carried away with the story I’ll end up using present tenses… we’ll see)
The whole time in LA I felt very bizarre deja vu. This was of course because of the films and movies I’d seen, but more specifically because of Grand Theft Auto 5, which is very accurately modelled on LA, down to lots of small details. I felt exactly like I was in GTA5 a lot of the time. It’s an amazing game.
Stopped off at a pharmacy on the way. Vast.
I think you get the idea – everything in the US is big. Big cars, big buildings, big beds, big meals, big people. Although we didn’t see many of these huge, fat Americans that we all hear about. I think that’s because in California people are generally a lot healthier. Still, people in general are larger than in the UK.
Park the car and begin a trek into the hills around the back of the Hollywood sign.
Very dry. In fact the whole state is on high alert for forest fires. There are fires burning in various parts of the state all the time. California has been experiencing a severe drought for years. In LA they redirect water from hundreds of miles away in the Colorado River Basin. The water then gets used by rich people in Beverley Hills to spray in their gardens to keep their lawns green. Again, pretty crazy right? Welcome to Los Angeles.
L.A. is a city with a little mountain range running through the middle of it (Ok they’re hills not mountains) and if you like hiking a bit then it’s worth going up these hills.
We do get amazing views of the city sprawling away on both sides.
Arranged in lines.
Mild hike behind the sign and then down the right hand side.
Views of the sign.
Here are a few quick facts about the Hollywood sign:
– The sign is about 45 feet high and was originally built in 1923 when it was originally put up as an advertisement for a huge real estate company selling top quality real estate in Hollywood. The company was called Hollywoodland. In fact the sign used to say Hollwyoodland, but the ‘land’ part was removed and the sign became an icon of the region of Hollywood, and everything that represents – glamour, movies, fame etc.
– In 1932 a young actress called Peg Entwhistle committed suicide by climbing up the sign and jumping from the letter ‘H’, falling to her death. Apparently she was depressed because she couldn’t make it as an actress in Hollywood. Ironically, her death made her quite famous.
– The sign used to be covered in lightbulbs, which must have looked pretty cool when it was turned on, but the bulbs didn’t last long as they were too expensive.
– The sign was repaired lots of times and almost completely rebuilt in the 40s, but in 1978 it was in such bad condition after the O fell off and tumbled down the hill and also some arsonists set fire to one of the letter Ls. The city decided to repair it and it cost over $250,000 to do that. Who came up with most of the money? Hollywood’s celebrity class. In fact PLayboy owner Hugh Hefner organised a big party at the Playboy Mansion in order to provide the money. Rock star Alice Cooper also provided money to help repair the letter O.
– It was replaced in 1978 and while the work was being done there was no sign there for 3 months.
– The sign is owned and protected by the city of L.A. and there’s quite an advanced security system which monitors the sign 24 hours a day.
In fact you can’t actually get that close to it. There’s a big fence surrounding it, and a big telegraph aerial. You can get around the back, like we did, but you can only really see the letters “HO”. But when you hike around to the front you can see it pretty well, and it looks cool. Again, it’s amazing to actually see something that you’ve seen so many times on television. But it’s not just the power of TV. It is a great location, with some attractive landscape and a really good view of the city below.
We ended up quite far from the car and got lost in the winding streets under the sign. Lots of properties nestled in to the hills. Attractive places and no doubt expensive but not as expensive as other places like Bel Air etx.
No phone reception so kept walking.
Then uber back to the car.
Life in LA is life in a car.
You never drive above about 60mph. I wonder why there are so many powerful sportscars. You never drive over about 50-60 mph. Sums up the place a lot. It’s more about show and image than about practical living – for some people. In fact there are plenty of ordinary people living in LA, who drive ordinary cars, and who do all the ordinary business of life. There also happen to be plenty of rich movie industry people here too, rock stars, and their children. In fact, one of those rock stars is Anthony Keidis from The Red Hot Chili Peppers. He used to live in the Hollywood Hills, and he sang about them too. In fact, I’d now like to recommend another audiobook download for you. So, here’s some more promotion for Audible – that company that provides loads of audiobooks, and they’re giving you the chance to sample their service for 30 days and that includes a free download of any book you like. Here’s another California related book you could get…
Audiobook Download Suggestions
“Scar Tissue” by Anthony Keidis
This is the autobiography of the lead singer of The Red Hot Chili Peppers. The Chili Peppers have an amazing story. They’re from L.A. originally, they’ve been going for about 3 decades, they’ve been through numerous guitarists, ups, downs, deaths and near deaths, epic highs and devastating lows, and yet they’re still going. Anthony himself was a heroin and cocaine addict during much of his career and in this book he tells his own very personal story of growing up in Los Angeles and his experiences of living with his Dad who was basically a drug dealer to the rich and famous. He talks about struggling for years with his experimental band the Chili Peppers – doing intense live performances, sometimes naked on stage, developing their funk-rock sound which ultimately catapulted them onto the world’s stage. You can hear exactly what was like and listen to descriptions of all the complicated things that went along with that stardom. It’s a powerful story, full of sex, drugs and rock and roll but also a genuinely moving and candid account of Anthony’s success, strengths, weaknesses, friendship, personal hardship, the music business, his addiction and his eventual recovery from addiction. The book is an international bestseller and you can download the audiobook version from Audible. Get it free by going to www.audibletrial.com/teacherluke, or click one of the Audible buttons on my website.
American & British English (Part 1) Vocabulary Related to Cars & Driving
*A note on British and American English*
As you are well aware, there are, broadly speaking, two types of English – American English, and good English, I mean British English. (Just joking – I’m not one of those Brits who has a problem with American English) There are other types of English too of course, like English in Australia, South Africa, Ireland, India and so on.
Can Brits and Americans understand each other? Yes, they can – except for some slight misunderstandings sometimes, there’s no problem in understanding each other.
Really the differences are in the accents, vocabulary, spelling, some grammar and the culture or communication style.
There are definitely some differences in vocabulary. Sometimes these cause misunderstandings. E.g. I said “Are you in the queue? ” and the woman just looked at me. Then I worked out the problem and sad “Are you in line?” and bob’s your uncle. The vast majority of the words we use are the same, but there are differences that are worth knowing. These differences may be more obvious when talking about different systems (e.g. our political and legal systems are a bit different so we’ve developed different terms to talk about them) but in general English there is a relatively small group of key words that are different and it’s worth knowing them all. I’m going to go through a lot of those words with you in this series of episodes.
In terms of culture, although we speak the same language, we don’t necessarily think in the same way and this can cause some problems in communication. For example, Brits tend to be more indirect in their use of language as a way of being polite, diplomatic, tactful etc. It can seem to be a more complicated message, but we see it as being more respectful and considerate. We don’t want to seem bossy or aggressive, but the Americans might take it as weak, unclear and even unsincere (not just the Americans) E.g. “I was wondering if you could…” or “I think there might be an issue…” instead of “Could you…?” or “There’s a problem”. I’m not saying all Americans are direct all the time, but in my experience I think there is truth in what I’m saying. If you want more evidence, read this article written by a Brit who’s done a lot of business communication in America www.forbes.com/sites/sungardas/2014/08/14/lost-in-translation-overcoming-the-language-barrier-as-a-brit-in-america/ So, there is a bit of a difference in communication style and culture, despite the fact that we speak the same language. The old saying goes “Britain and America are two nations separated by a common language” (which I think was said originally by George Bernard Shaw, an Irish playwright and one of the founders of the LSE – not the London School of English, but the London School of Economics).
Accent or dialect can cause problems, particularly stronger regional accents. To be honest I think this is more of a problem for Americans understanding Brits (and other forms of English like Australians, South Africans, Irish etc) I think the average Brit would probably understand most American dialects and accents, but the average American might have trouble with some local British dialects. For example, in the USA they often require subtitles on TV when someone with a strong non-American accent is speaking (e.g. a local Brit from Liverpool, Glasgow or Newcastle). I’ve seen interviews on US television with actor Colin Farrell that had subtitles to help the Americans to understand what he was saying. He’s Irish and has a fairly strong accent, but it’s not extraordinarily difficult to understand in my opinion but apparently it was necessary to provide subtitles for the American viewers, even though he was speaking English. However, I doubt that a UK audience would need subtitles for an American, even if they have a strong accent from pretty much anywhere in the country. I think this is because in the UK we are exposed to lots of American English from TV and films – even the really colloquial stuff, but British English is comparatively less known in the USA due to lack of exposure.
The Brits and Americans do spell some words differently as I’m sure you’re aware (famous differences are things like colour/color and theatre/theater) and there are some differences in grammatical usage, but that’s less obvious and as a result less problematic.
Anyway, the point is – there are differences between British and American English but the vast majority of the time we can understand each other without any problems at all. If you’re wondering what kind of English you should learn (which you’re probably not wondering to be honest, because if you’re listening to this then you’ve probably decided that you like British English, and you’re right of course – you are wise wise people indeed) But seriously, you can choose to learn British or American English, or a bit of both. In fact, I personally think it’s ok to mix it up a bit as long as people understand what you’re saying.
For your learning of English, I’d say the main things are that you’re able to identify the difference between a British and American accent, and that you know the main differences in vocabulary. For more information about the differences between UK and USA pronunciation, listen to a previous episode I did on this subject – Episode 14 “British and American Pronunciation” teacherluke.co.uk/2009/10/19/episode-10-british-and-american-pronunciation/.
The subject of British and American English is really interesting and very relevant so I’d love to come back to it in the future but for now, here are some different British and American words. I’ve chosen ones that are related to driving.
Let’s see how many you know. I’ll define the word first – try to guess it. Did you come up with the British or American version, or both? Let’s see…
British Word – American Word
Petrol – Gas (gasoline)
Petrol/fuel tank – gas tank
Caravan – Trailer
Lorry – Truck
Junction – Intersection
Tyre – Tire
High street – Main street
Windscreen – Windshield
Motorway – Freeway/Highway
Number plate – License plate
Bonnet – Hood
Pavement – Sidewalk
Boot – Trunk
End of part 3. Part 4 coming soon!