Who Gets Taken By This?

Who does this?  I guess an idiot is born every day, but really, who does this?  Someone must.  These guys are everywhere.  We’ve seen them all over Europe (usually with too many people crowding around to get  a decent picture).  Now that the weather is better, they are all over the boardwalk in Geneva.

These shell games (also known as ThimblerigThree shells and a peathe old army game) function, more or less, the same way.  The shuffler (aka the tosser) takes bets on the location of the pea or ball.  If a better guesses correctly, they supposedly win double their bet.  If they don’t, they lose it.  Although it’s known as a confidence game, it seems more of a swindle, con or fraud.  It’s hard to catch because The shell game set-up and lay-out is quick and simple, so that in the event of trouble, they pull up the rug, removing all traces of the game in a matter of seconds.

If the shuffler is halfway decent, they can remove the object undetected at will and it is useless to watch the shells or the operator’s hands.  You can’t win unless the operator wants you to.  Usually, most of the players in this shell game  are shills who are all part of the confidence trick.  They have different roles that include: lookout for the police; “muscle” to intimidate marks, and pretending to play the game, enticing the mark into betting.   When someone enters the circle of players, they surround them to discourage an easy exit and keep other pedestrians from interfering.  This crowd also makes it difficult to get pictures.  Sorry I don’t have better ones.

How do they get the money?  You can’t make enough for the several involved to split with bets of a dollar or two.  They try to elicit anger or greed to create heightened situation.  A shill then “discloses” a winning strategy, getting the mark to place a large bet.  It probably doesn’t hurt to have someone distracted and revealing the location of their money either.

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Baby, Baby, Baby, Oh

Our friends are having a baby so a bunch of us got together for a baby shower.

Baby showers in Europe are not like in the US in that, well, they don’t have them. People may send or give a gift after the baby is born, but don’t get together to celebrate of give presents before the baby.  Since you can’t go to the stores here and purchase baby shower invitations, I made the invitations.

It was a couples shower so we focused less on games, decorations and incredible cuteness.  Instead, we had food and drinks.  I made and individually wrapped Rice Krispie Treats for favors.  Some of our European guests had never tasted them before.  We were proud to introduce them to a new guilty pleasure.

Since we are American and can only adapt so much, we had one anyway.  In deference to the multicultural nature of this shower, we did not play any of the following games:

  • Guessing the circumference of the expectant mother’s tummy
  • Smearing melted candy bars in diapers and have people sniff to guess the brand
  • Tasting jars of baby food to guess the flavors
  • Collecting baby pictures of guests, putting them in a slide show and have guests guess whose picture it is
  • Making guess drink from baby bottles. Yes, I realize this is technically not a game.  They may have drunk from other types of bottles.
  • Have guests guess how much an assortment of baby supplies costs.  In Switzerland, I think this would only scare the parents to be…and everyone else.

In fact, we didn’t play any games (unless you count the impromptu Chartreuse tasting as a game).

The parents-to-be opened presents, many of which had an adorable Swiss theme.

Congratulations and best wishes guys.  We can’t wait to meet her.

How To You And Your Mate Can Suss Out A Good London Pub

This was touristy, but fun and full of charm

Every country has pubs, cafes, bars or restaurants.  English pubs have become part of international culture and a tourist attraction in their own right.  At their best, they are a sort of communal home away from home.

We’d been dreaming about settling into a cute place on a rainy day for a pint with fish and chips.   Some of London’s pubs look as though Disney had dressed up bad sports bars to look typically English.  Here are some of the issues:

  • Mediocre mass market beer – Why was there such a lack of variety in a country that produces so many wonderful beers?  Why put Heineken on tap?   We even saw Kronnenberg 1664 on tap!  I was even disappointed with some of his cask ales.
  • The wine is rubbish – Although to be fair, I didn’t actually taste any.  They looked so bad that I couldn’t bring myself to do it.
  • Video poker machines – They kill the ambiance.  I get that this might make the owner money, but people should not be bored enough to need them for entertainment.
  • Poor service – I always ask for advice to try to taste something new and yummy.  If I am going to have one, I want it to be something I can’t have at home and very good.  Therefore, I consider knowing what you have to offer a basic part of the job.  Often, they couldn’t give advice and didn’t seem to want to engage in conversation of any sort.  Oh yeah, and a counter was sticky.  Yuck.  I think that definitely counts as bad service (and it’s very unappetizing).
How can you tell the good ones from the bad or soulless ones?  I put on my thinking cap and here’s what I came up with:
  • If they try to make it look too historic with a giant sign out front detailing it’s history, be suspicious.
  • If there is video poker, or any other highly visible electronic game, run.
  • Ditto if no one smile at or greets you.
  • If you do not hear British accents anywhere inside, exit immediately.  You would be surprised at how many contained not a single Brit (including the staff).

Even if it was a tad bit cheesy, as a fan of Sherlock Holmes, I loved the Sherlock Holmes Pub with a “recreation” of his rooms.  There were tons of veterans there having a drink after Armistice Day festivities.

Here It Is, Your Moment of Zen…A Cat Drinking Out Of A Toilet!

Our friends over at Bull Trekkings had the coolest cat ever.  His name is Poof.  Doesn’t he look nice in his party hat?  Poof has a drinking problem.

He drinks from toilets!

He can also wear the heck out of a sweater and is a good napping buddy.

 

 

Our Wider World Of Sports

All Blacks Haka Richie McCaw 2011 - Getty Images
Photo courtesy of Getty Images
In the US, we are pretty narrow in terms of the sports that are “mainstream”.  ESPN only covers football (American Football), baseball and basketball in any real depth on a regular basis.  Okay, I guess you can add hockey, golf, maybe tennis and soccer too.  If you are older and remember life pre-cable, you may remember ABC’s Wide World of Sports, the one with the ski-jumper who crashed in the opening credits.  They went around the world, found interesting sporting events and made fantastic programs about them.  
 
Vinko_bogataj_medium
Image courtesy of ABC
In the US, I complain about the narrow range of sports covered by ESPN.*  He always reminds me “supply and demand”.  It has been a pleasant surprise here to see the large variety of sports covered well on TV.  This, ironically, does not include TV France’s coverage of cycling.  It’s horrible, very disappointing and perplexing.  How can the French be such fans of cycling when they have the worst announcers known to mankind.  Okay, maybe that was a bit extreme.  How can the French be such fans of cycling when they hear someone announce it in monotone, in the decibel level of a golf announcer at the green with NO interesting anecdotes?
 
The awesome Versus cycling announcers…worth emulating.
We’ve been watching a the Rugby World Cup.  The both the games and the coverage have been outstanding.  New Zealand’s All Blacks got past Australia in a fast and spirited game yesterday.  Next weekend, they will face France in the final.  

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Scrolling through our TV, here are some of the sporting events we will be able to see in the next week (coverage is somewhat limited this week due to the large coverage of the Rugby World Cup):

  • Pro surfing from Portugal
  • Ten million different soccer leagues and games, seriously, there are too many to list
  • Boxing (not pay per view)
  • ATP tennis from Russia (played indoors)
  • Vintage WWE?!?
  • Pro wrestling (hilarious when dubbed in French)
  • A marathon from Poland (Poznan Marathon?)
  • Motorcycle racing
  • Formula One
  • Polo from Spain
  • Equestrian competition from Norway
  • Several different golf events
  • A martial arts competition from Romania
  • Horse racing
  • Ski competition from Austria
  • Figure skating from the US
  • British Touring Car Championships
  • One football game (the American kind)
Even with all this, American football is still his favorite.
*Other family members complain about ESPN’s apparent pro-U of M bias.