Here is a brief summary of the law governing American adolescence. You're allowed to drive a car at 15. You may join the military, die for your country, and learn to kill foreign people at 17. But you can't smoke cigarettes unless you're at least 18, and drinking beer is strictly verboten until 21.
Think that sounds bizarre? Then don't even try to understand the logic regarding attitudes towards sex. Even liberal California doesn't force schools to offer comprehensive sex education. Our age of consent is 18. Abstinence is rammed down teenage throats.
This week, a case in point: The Los Angeles Times revealed that local high schools are obliging students to sign legal contracts in which they promise not to make "sexually suggestive" gestures on the dancefloor, before they are allowed entry to school discos.
These documents, laughably intended to combat teenage pregnancy and the spread of STDs, differ from school to school. Some insist: "No straddling legs, both feet on the floor." Others proclaim, bafflingly: "When dancing back-to-front, all dancers must remain upright."
Others govern clothing. One place, in San Diego, forbids "immodest" dresses that "expose cleavage." In Orange County, boys may not wear "hats and chains" that make them look like rappers, who are presumably deemed sexually predatory.
Schools, bizarrely, say the documents are a legal necessity. If they are to be able to remove over-frisky students from events, without being sued, they must be able to prove a breach of contract.
But behind this ludicrous legalese, I fear they are missing a salient point: very few teenagers ever got pregnant, or even caught STDs, from taking part in a "suggestive" dance.
A dodgy lesson in protocol
Baseball fans are keenly watching Dodger Stadium this close season, as the club's owners, Frank and Jamie McCourt, go through an acrimonious divorce that could eventually see the team sold. It's already providing terrific entertainment. This week, Mrs McCourt was photographed with a new man. His name is Jeff Fuller, and he also works for the Dodgers. His job title, splendidly, is: "Director of Protocol."
Is this what we sound like?
At a screening of Disney's new A Christmas Carol, I was handed a sheet of "fun facts" telling American viewers about the various British regional accents Jim Carrey uses in the film.
It described "the Queen's English" as "a middle tone," Irish accents as "very light," and a Yorkshire accent as: "a strong and dependable working-class sound, deep in register".
George Bernard Shaw once described the US and UK as two nations divided by a common language. I fear this "fun fact sheet" may prove his point.Reuse content