Archive for the 'Life in the United States' Category
According to international surveys (questionnaires), including a much cited (referred to by other people) 2004 poll (research where many people are asked the same question(s)) by the Gallup organization, the United States has one of the highest percentages of church attendance (percentage of people going to church) in the world. At about 43%, the figure is much higher than many other so-called (what is called; what is often referred to as) “developed” (industrialized) countries.
While church attendance for some Christian denominations (branches or separate groups of Christians) have held steady (remained the same) over time, some have had steady (continuing) and steep (very sharp or large) declines. To combat (fight; slow or stop) this decline, some churches have tried to lure (attract) churchgoers (people who attend or go to church) in creative ways.
Do you like beer? Would you like to worship (do things to feel closer to and to honor God) at a bar instead of a church? If you do, you’re in luck (fortunate).
Some churches are holding services (performing the rituals and actions normally done in church) in bars and other more informal places, inviting people to enjoy beer as they listen to sermons (talks, usually given by a priest or minister, about religious subjects), sing hymns (religious songs), and even take communion (participate in a religious ritual involving bread and wine).
These services have names such as “Church-in-a Pub” (bar) and “Beer & Hymns,” and tend to attract young people who don’t usually go to church on Sundays. Some church leaders are skeptical (not convinced; have doubts) about these types of services, but others are optimistic (feel encouraged) about the number and types of people choosing to attend.
Is church attendance common where you live? If you don’t go to church but consider yourself religious, would a more relaxed atmosphere like this tempt you (make you want) to attend?
Photo Credit: Edouard Manet from Wikipedia
In the United States, you can get a driver’s license (official permission to drive) when you are sixteen years old. Of course, you don’t have to get a driver’s license when you turn (reach the age of) sixteen. That’s just the minimum age you must be in order to get your license.
Getting a driver’s license in the U.S. requires two steps. First, you have to pass a written examination (test) about the laws of driving in the state where you live. I should mention that driver’s licenses are issued (officially given) by the state or territory where you live; there is no “national” driver’s license in the U.S. Every state has its own license, although you can drive in any state once you get a driver’s license in one of them.
Second, you have to take what’s called a behind the wheel or road test. Exams that are behind the wheel are exams where you are actually out in a car driving with someone from the government who determines (decides) if you can drive well enough to be given a license.
When I was sixteen, like most sixteen-year-olds, I really wanted to get a driver’s license, even though I knew I could not afford (didn’t have the money for) a car. My parents had a car, so I thought, “Well, I could use that car.” My father, however, had different ideas. He wasn’t really interested in teaching me how to drive, and he didn’t want to pay money for me to take driving classes. So, no driver’s license for me.
Finally, towards the end of my senior (fourth and final) year in high school, when I was seventeen and a half, I guess, I had a friend of mine help me learn how to drive. The first time he tried to teach me to drive, he took me in his car to drive on a busy street in St. Paul called University Avenue. He was my age (the same age as I was), but he had been driving for year and a half, and so had some experience in driving.
We started driving down the street and within about two minutes another car came right in front of my car. The verb we would use in this situation is to cut (someone) off. When someone drives right in front of your car causing you to have to slow down, you can say, “That guy cut me off!” (You might also say a few other words we can’t put here on the blog.)
Well, somebody cut me off, probably because I was driving very slowly, and I immediately slammed on the breaks. To slam on the brakes means to press on the brake pedals (see photo) very fast in order to stop the car. My friend was scared out of his wits, meaning he was really scared, really frightened.
Fortunately, I learned more about driving in the next month or two after that first, rather terrifying (scary; frightening) experience. And I was able to pass the behind the wheel test on my first try (the first time I attempted it). I don’t think my friend, however, drove with me again for at least a year or two. It took him a long time to recover from the experience. Come to think of it (now that I am thinking about it more), I don’t think he’s driven with me since 1981.
Do you have any stories about learning to drive? For those of you outside the U.S., how old do you have to be in your country to get a driver’s license?
*The title of this post is a take on (a variation of) the movie, Driving Miss Daisy, which, I’m told, is a very good movie and much less scary than my story.
Image Credit: Fotolia
Happy Thanksgiving! I want to echo (repeat) what Lucy wrote Tuesday and say how thankful I am for all of you who are a part of the great ESL Podcast family.
This year, while many in the U.S. were thinking about slices (a piece of food cut from a larger piece) of Thanksgiving turkey and pumpkin pie, a small slice (piece) of early American history was sold for millions of dollars.
The Pilgrims – who celebrated the “First Thanksgiving” in America – came from England in 1620. The Puritans, a similar group, followed them in 1630. Both groups were very religious (believed in God) and believed in personal religious freedom and responsibility (doing what is right). They were both dissatisfied with the Church of England, which was the official and only church in England at that time, so they left England and came to America.
Singing was an important part of Puritan worship (praying and singing together to show respect for God). And the Puritans wanted a new translation of the Book of Psalms (songs or poems used in Jewish and Christian worship) to use. Thirty religious leaders translated the psalms from Hebrew, their original language, into English verse (with lines like a song). And in 1640, 1700 copies of the Bay Psalm Book were printed.
Tuesday, one of the original (first or earliest) Bay Psalm Books was sold for more than 14 million dollars, the most anyone has ever paid for a printed book. It was sold to an American businessman and philanthropist (wealthy person who gives money to help other people) who plans to loan it to libraries around the U.S. so many people can see it.
Why would someone pay so much for one of these little books? What is so significant (great or important) about it? There are several answers. First, it was the first book printed in America. And it’s rare – only eleven copies have survived (continue to exist).
David Redden, who organized the sale, says the Bay Psalm Book is significant for another reason. He says it reminds us how independent (not controlled by someone else) the early colonists were. They left their homes in England, came to America, set up (organized) their own society (organized group of people) with their own religious practices, and later – in 1776 – declared (stated) their independence from England and created a new country.
The Bay Psalm Book was sold by the Old South Church in Boston to help pay the church’s expenses. The church owned two copies of the Psalm Book, so members of the church decided it would be okay to sell one of them.
Old South played an important part in (influenced, had an effect on) American history. Benjamin Franklin’s family were members of the church. And so was Samuel Adams. Both men were important early American leaders. Many of the early leaders met at the church to plan activities, like the Boston Tea Party, that helped America become independent.
~ Warren Ediger – ESL tutor/coach and creator of the Successful English web site.
Photo of the Bay Psalm Book courtesy of the BBC
When the housing market is hot (very active, with many buyers and sellers), people line up (wait, ready to act) eagerly for new construction (newly built) homes. These homes are often built in large numbers in one location (called a housing development) with many of the homes looking alike (the same). Housing developments crop up (appear suddenly) all around medium and large cities to accommodate (house) people moving there for jobs and other opportunities.
In a slow (not active or busy) housing market, housing developments are still being built, but buyers aren’t as eager to buy, and that’s why home builders offer incentives — extra good things — to entice (attract) buyers. These incentives include cash (money) and upgrades (more or better than the basic).
For example, builders may offer to pay some of the closing costs associated with buying a home. In the U.S., when you purchase any property, there are taxes and fees that the buyer and seller have to pay as part of the transaction (exchange or purchase). They include fees for inspecting (closely examining, looking for problems or whether laws have been followed) the home, for the costs of registering the sale, and for insurance. These closing costs are approximate 2 to 5% of the price of the home. That’s a lot of money! Some builders are offering to pay some of those closing costs as an incentive to get people to buy their houses.
In terms of upgrades, builders are offering many things to make homes more attractive to buyers. These include free appliances, such as refrigerators, ovens, and washers and dryers. They offer better flooring (material that covers the floors), so that, for example, instead of carpet, you get hardwood floors. They may offer more expensive window coverings, such as wood shutters (wood panels to block out light on the inside of a window) and blinds (window covering that can be pulled up or down for more or less light, or that has moveable slats (small sections) to let in light).
Are incentives commonly used in real estate (the business of buying and selling homes and other property) where you live? If so, what kind?
Photo Credit: Ranch style home in Salinas, California from Wikipedia
Imagine living in a place where no cell phones are allowed, no Wi-Fi is allowed, and no radio stations broadcast. To you, is this a nightmare (bad dream) or a dream come true (something very good or desirable)?
If this appeals (sounds good) to you, you may want to move to a 13,000 square mile (34,000 square kilometer) area in eastern West Virginia.
This area has been designated as (officially named) the United States National Radio Quiet Zone since 1958. That means communication signals (electronic waves used to transmit or send information through the air) are severely (very much) limited.
The reason this Zone is needed is because the world’s largest fully steerable (movable) radio telescope is located there — the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope. This radio telescope is very large and it tracks (looks for and follows) energy waves that come from outer space (area beyond the Earth) coming from stars and gases. Because these energy waves are very faint (weak; barely able to be noticed), the telescope has to be in an area that is very quiet. That’s the reason cell phones, Wi-Fi, radio stations (with one exception, because it broadcasts at a very low frequency), and other similar types of communications are largely banned (not allowed by law).
Not all types of radio transmissions are banned, of course. For example, police, fire department, and ambulance (emergency vehicle used to take hurt people to the hospital) radios are allowed.
I’m not sure how many people live in this Zone. This recent article mentions residents (people who live there) and businesses that have to contend with (deal with) these limitations. But if you visit this area, expect to use landline telephones (telephone service connected by wires) or pay phones.
Are there areas you’re familiar with where cell phone and Internet services are not available or not allowed? Would you ever consider moving to a place where there are these types of restrictions?
Photo Credit: Green Bank 100m Diameter Radio Telescope from Wikipedia
Part of living in an Internet world is dealing with (taking care of) security. Sure, you have to have good passwords, but for many websites, that is no longer good enough. In addition to a password, you often need to answer “security questions,” the answers to which only you would know.
The purpose of these security questions is to give the company that owns the website a way of verifying (making sure) that you are you, and not someone else trying to hack (enter illegally) into your account. If you lose your password or are logging in from a new device (computer, phone, tablet, etc.), the website may ask you one of these “secret” questions. And that’s where the problem begins.
For several years now, the questions asked have been pretty easy, such as:
- What was your mother’s maiden name (her last name before she married)?
- What’s your paternal grandfather‘s (your father’s father’s) middle name?
- What was the name of your first pet as a child?
These and similarly easy-to-remember answers have been used for many years by banks and other institutions. In fact, the “maiden name” question was used by banks in Baltimore way back in 1906.
But the Internet provides many sources of information that can make it easy for other people to learn the answers to these “private” questions, especially when people post their personal information on Facebook and other social media websites. So government and business websites have begun to develop more difficult questions. And a lot of people have a hard time finding (and later, remembering) the answers to them.
For example, the government in many U.S. states now asks you to answer three security questions to sign up for the new health care plans. Even when given lots of options (in California, there are 30 possible questions!), people are having difficulty giving answers to them. Some people don’t know the answer to the question, and others have never been in the situation imagined (thought of) by the question.
Here are some that people have had problems with:
- What was the color of your first bicycle?
- Who was your favorite childhood (when you were very young) superhero (fictional character with special powers, like Wonder Woman or Superman)?
- What was the name of the manager at the first job where you worked?
- What is your significant other’s (wife’s, husband’s, girlfriend’s, or boyfriend’s) favorite color?
- What is your youngest child’s birth weight?
- Where were you when you had your first kiss?
- What is your favorite vegetable?
- What was the color of your first cat? (!)
Even worse than these are hypothetical questions, questions about things that aren’t even “real.” Here are some more examples from business and government websites:
- If you could control (determine) your height (how tall you are), how tall would you be?
- If you needed a new first name, what would it be?
Even if you can come up with (think of) answers to these hypothetical questions, will you be able to remember your answer a month from now? A year from now? In one study, more than 20% of the people forgot their answers to their security questions within three months – and that was with factual (real) questions and answers.
Have you ever seen any security questions that either you could not answer or (later) could not remember the answer to?
Image credit: Security Questions by Janet McKnight, CC
If you drive through New Braunfels, Texas, on Highway 46 and go through the Chick-fil-a drive-through (a restaurant where you can be served without getting out of your car), be prepared for a surprise. It’s not unusual, when you stop at the window to pay for your order, to have the cashier (the person who takes your money) smile at you, hand you your food, and say, “The people ahead of you paid it forward (paying for the food ordered by the people in the car behind you).”
Some might say that such an experience is the result of small-town Southern hospitality (friendly behavior toward strangers). But a recent article in the New York Times says you could easily experience the same thing at a Dunkin’ Donuts drive-through in Detroit, Michigan, or a McDonald’s drive-through in Fargo, North Dakota. According to the Times, “Drive-through generosity (giving more than necessary) is happening across America and parts of Canada, sometimes resulting in unbroken chains (lines, queues) of hundreds of cars paying in turn for the person behind them.” It used to happen a couple of times a year. Now, fast-food operators say, it might happen several times a day.
Paying forward is an example of a random act of kindness – something that you do, without being asked or paid, to help someone or make them happy. Happily, the practice (doing) of random acts of kindness has been growing in North America. There’s even a web site.
Paying forward is not a new idea. According to a Wikipedia article, Benjamin Franklin, a well-known early American writer and diplomat, did it and called it “a trick of mine for doing … good with a little money.” Near the end of World War II, a representative of Alcoholics (people who drink too much and have trouble stopping) Anonymous, an organization that helps people stop drinking, said that “You can’t pay anyone back for what has happened to you, so you try to find someone you can pay forward.”
According to the Times article, the idea of paying forward became popular recently as the result of the best-selling novel, Paying It Forward, by Catherine Hyde Ryan. In the novel, and the movie that followed, the main character does three good deeds and asks the people who received the good deeds to do the same.
I like the way Ray Bradbury, well-known and best-selling science fiction author, writes about paying it forward. In his novel Dandelion Wine, one of the characters wonders how to pay someone back for saving his life:
How do I thank Mr. Jonas, he wondered, for what he’s done? How do I thank him, how to pay him back? No way, no way at all. You just can’t pay. What then? What? Pass it on somehow, he thought, pass it on to someone else. Keep the chain moving. Look around, find someone, and pass it on. That was the only way….
What a great idea – finding someone and paying forward!
~ Warren Ediger – English tutor/coach and creator of Successful English, where you’ll find clear explanations and practical suggestions for better English.
Photo credit: observer.com.
We’ve all known songs, maybe songs we’ve known for a long time, with lyrics (words) that we thought we understood. Later we find out that what we thought were the lyrics were all wrong.
I don’t remember when I first heard the song “Lucille” by Kenny Rogers, but people used to sing it to me a lot because Lucille is a form of my name, Lucy. The chorus (part of the song that is repeated) begins like this:
“You picked a fine time to leave me, Lucille
With four hungry children
And a crop (plants on a farm grown for food) in the field”
For over 15 years, I thought that the second line of that chorus was, “With four hundred children…” There’s a small difference between four and four hundred. In my defense (my excuse is), I thought the songwriter was being poetic (imaginative and figurative (not literal, not saying the exact truth)), trying to say that the singer has a heavy burden (a lot of troubles and responsibilities).
If you listen to American rap music, this may help you. Rap music, as you probably know, is a type of music where the lines are said rather than sung, with a clear pattern, and many of the words at the end of each phrase or sentence rhyme (have the same sound), similar to a poem. Rap lyrics are notoriously (famous in a bad way) difficult to understand, partly because they are said so quickly, but also because they often refer to African American culture and to street slang (informal language used on the streets in cities) that listeners may not be familiar with.
Now there is help. There is a website called Rap Genius that uses crowd sourcing — the practice of allow anyone to comment or give information, similar to how Wikipedia works. Anyone can select and highlight words (make text look brighter or special to call attention to it) in a song and give their interpretation or opinion about what that lyric means. Like any crowd-sourced website, you have to take those comments with a grain of salt (be careful what you believe and don’t believe, what you accept and don’t accept), but it may be useful for some rap fans who want more information or some explanation of what they hear.
We often get emails from listeners with questions about song lyrics. If you have a question about a rap song, you may want to check out (look at) Rap Genius to see if it can help you unravel (solve; answer) your question. No doubt both you and I will be heading there (going there) looking for answers.
Have you experienced any interesting or funny cases of misheard lyrics (words of a song that you got wrong)?
Photo Credit: Bilbao BUM Chuck dedo Flavor from Wikipedia
The naming of bridges (see photo) after notable (important; remarkable) people is a common practice (something often done) in many countries. On the East Coast (part of the U.S. on the Atlantic Ocean), you’ll find the Walt Whitman Bridge, spanning (reaching from one side to the other) the Delaware River separating the states of Pennsylvania and New Jersey, and named after the American poet Walt Whitman (1818-1892). Quite often, you’ll find bridges named after politicians, such as presidents. One example is the Woodrow Wilson Memorial Bridge, which connects the states of Virginia and Maryland, and which is named after our 28th president, who served (was in an elected or appointed job) from 1913 to 1921.
While the naming of some landmarks (important locations or structures) is simple and occurs following a unanimous (without anyone disagreeing) decision, others are more contentious (causing argument or disagreement). One recent example is the new span (length) of the Bay Bridge in San Francisco connecting the cities of San Francisco and Oakland.
Some people want to name it after (use the name) Willie Brown, a former mayor (highest elected leader) of San Francisco and assembly member (member of the state government). The state legislature (law-making group of politicians) approved this 68 to 0, but now people are voicing their disagreement, including the current State of California Governor Jerry Brown (no relation (Jerry Brown and Willie Brown are not related by blood)). For some people, Willie Brown was a political enemy and naming the bridge after him doesn’t sit right (doesn’t feel right; isn’t acceptable) with them.
These kinds of naming controversies are not new, of course. A recent National Public Radio article mentioned this and other examples. According to the author of the NPR article, this is why most of the bridges in the U.S. are unnamed, or not named.
Are bridges and landmarks (important places easily seen from a distance) normally named where you live? Have there been similar types of controversy? Have any had name changes for political or other similar reasons?
Photo Credit: Oakland Bay Bridge from Yerba Buena Island from Wikipedia
This time of the year friends in the U.S. often gather (come together) at someone’s house or in a sports bar to watch Sunday afternoon (American) football and cheer on (encourage) their favorite teams. In a new Bud Light beer commercial, we see these people clapping and waving their hands (moving them back and forth above their heads) or stamping their feet (putting them down loudly) in unison (at the same time). We see them waving towels the color of their favorite team or touching a copy of their favorite team’s helmet (hard protective cap).
While you watch the fans (someone who likes a sport or team) in the commercial, you’ll hear the narrator (the person who tells the story or describes what is happening) say:
We’ll never know if somehow, in some way,
we can affect (influence or change) the outcome (result) of a game.
But when the clock’s winding down (the game’s almost over)
and everything’s on the line (there’s a possibility of losing),
we all believe.
At the end of the commercial, a bottle of Bud Light appears on the screen with the words “It’s only weird (strange, unusual) if it doesn’t work.”
What we see in the commercial are a few of the rituals (something you do regularly in the same way) performed by many sports fans to try to bring good luck (make good things happen) to their favorite team. And sports fans aren’t the only ones. Many people do or wear things to try to bring themselves good luck or to avoid bad luck.
Do these things work? Do they bring us good luck? Or help us avoid bad luck? Some people insist they do. But many say no. If they don’t work, why do them?
Two scientists tried to answer that question recently. They asked a group of students to make a statement – “I will not have a car accident this winter” – out loud (so other people could hear it). Later, they compared (to see how they were the same or different) that group with a group of students that did not make that statement. The students who made the statement believed they were more likely (there was a greater possibility) to have an accident than the second group. In other words, they believed they had jinxed themselves (invited bad luck) by making that statement.
Part of the first group was then asked to “knock on wood” – to hit the top of a wooden table like you would knock on someone’s door when you visit them. Many people believe that knocking on wood will help you avoid bad luck. And that’s what happened for many of the students who did it: at the beginning they feared they would have an accident; but after knocking on wood, the fear disappeared.
Do actions, or rituals, change our luck? Does making a statement invite bad luck? And does knocking on wood change the bad luck to good luck? Maybe; maybe not. But, according to the scientists, they change they way people feel about their luck. One writer calls them “comfort mechanisms” – little habits (something you often do without thinking) to ease our minds (to make us worry less) and reassure (make someone feel calmer and less worried or frightened) ourselves.
What about you? Do you practice any rituals or wear something special to help bring you good luck or avoid bad luck? Many people do.
~ Warren Ediger – English tutor/coach and creator of Successful English, where you can learn how to “Turbocharge your reading and listening” for better English.
Scene from Bud Light commercial via YouTube.