Goodbye, London <3

My time in England is quickly coming to an end, much to my dismay.  Over the last three months, I’ve compiled a list of things I’ve learned here in London, which I will share with you now:

1.) Learn to appreciate your natural hair. Even if I were to spend all morning straightening my hair, it would no longer be straight by the time I walk outside. The British weather is not conducive to hair styling. I’ve learned to go with more of a wind-swept, somewhat wavy look 😀

2.) Most Brits have excellent manners. I’m impressed, in general, by the politeness and courtesy they all seem to possess.  That is… unless they’re drunk.

3.) That being said, middle-aged British men you pass on the street have an odd way of making you feel both attractive and really uncomfortable at the same time. They’ll beep their car horns, whistle at you, and go out of their way to look you up and down as you’re walking by. They have absolutely no shame in checking you out and remarking, “Lovely…” as you walk down the street.  I have to say that this is not limited to the UK but applies to Europe in general. Kind of an interesting cultural difference to experience as an American.

4.) Afternoon tea. It should be a thing everywhere.

5.) It’s not a line, it’s a queue.  There’s a much simpler word for waiting in line: it’s called queuing.

6.) Americans, do refer to my list of words throughout this blog if you don’t want to sound like a tourist while you’re in the UK.  In general, it seems the British find it endearing when you use an “American” word, but just be prepared for a laugh. They’re not really laughing at you, more just at your “Americanness.”  I don’t think that’s a bad thing!

7.) There is such thing as an American accent.  We don’t think so as Americans, but we apparently have an accent.  However, most non-Americans think that the “American accent” is what we know as the “Southern accent.”  I’ve been told many times that I don’t sound American because I don’t have what they call an “American” accent.  Be prepared to explain that there are MANY American accents, depending on what region of the country you live in.

8.) The British, and Europeans in general, are mesmerized by the size of the United States. Quite frankly, they’re intimidated by the size and by the fact that laws vary by state. People here have actually said that to me, that they wouldn’t be able to handle the different laws state-by-state. I reassure them that the laws are more or less the same, with a few weird ones here and there. Generally, if you’re sticking to one region of the country, the laws will be very similar, and most of them should be common sense.

9.) Tesco is the best supermarket chain… besides the Piggly Wiggly.  As far as price goes, I’m pretty sure Tesco might even be cheaper than ShopRite, which is the cheapest I know in the States. The main thing is that the food is of good quality, so between price and quality, Tesco is the best supermarket I’ve found here.  It’s also the most similar to American supermarkets, as far as the layout.

10.) Smoked salmon and cream cheese should be a much more popular combination in the U.S.  Almost everywhere I’ve eaten, as well as all the supermarket ready-meals sections, have this heavenly combination on a sandwich. I’m sorry, but peanut butter and jelly is far inferior to smoked salmon and cream cheese.

I’m sure there are many other things I can add to this list, but for now, this is what I’ve actually written down.  Also to make a couple of additions to the vocabulary list:

45.) asphalt/blacktop- tarmac

46.) mischievous/naughty-cheeky

47.) Santa- Father Christmas

48.) “Merry Christmas” – “Happy Christmas”

Doesn’t that last one just sound awkward?

Advertisements

Buzzfeed Pretty Much Nails It

Some really great articles anyone living and/or studying in London will appreciate:

http://www.buzzfeed.com/floperry/reasons-living-in-london-ruins-you-for-life

http://www.buzzfeed.com/tabathaleggett/philosophical-quotes-adapted-for-londoners

http://www.buzzfeed.com/robinedds/helpful-charts-every-londoner-to-live-their-life-by

http://www.buzzfeed.com/lukebailey/london-not-calling-anymore

http://www.buzzfeed.com/robinedds/the-55-commandments-of-living-in-london

http://www.buzzfeed.com/elliewoodward/things-people-who-live-in-london-are-tired-of-hearing

Also, this is a fun little quiz:

http://www.buzzfeed.com/robinedds/where-in-london-should-you-actually-live

Apparently I should be living in Fulham:

fulham

Mickey D’s: British-style

So I finally had my first taste of McDonald’s in London this morning. To be honest, I actually can’t remember the last time I had anything from McDonald’s, but I’ve been warned many times that the portion size is much smaller here than in the States (I don’t think that’s a bad thing, actually…).  I got a toffee latte and a bacon and egg McMuffin, and though, yes, the portion size is much smaller than I remember, it had a good flavor. The latte was absolutely perfect. I’m not a big coffee person, but I thoroughly enjoyed this one. On the rare occasion that I got a coffee, tea, or hot chocolate from McDonald’s in the U.S., I’ve always burnt my tongue on it, as it’s always served hotter than the fiery depths of hell. I’m not sure if I was just lucky or if it’s a regular thing here, but my coffee was the perfect temperature, still hot but able to be consumed without burning myself. So anyway, there’s my American review of McDonald’s breakfast here in the UK.

Some Additions to The List

Today’s additions to the American-British dictionary that have come up in conversation:

41.) acne- spots

42.) arranged/taken care of- sorted

43.) suspicious/sketchy- dodgy

44.) pharmacist- chemist

And also this:

http://www.buzzfeed.com/mackenziekruvant/british-slang-americans-should-start-using

Christmastime in London

It’s the most wonderful time of the year… especially if you’re in London!  The lights are all coming out, and the stores are decorated with festive trees, wreaths, and Christmas ornaments.  I’m loving the general feel of it all; you can smell winter in the air, although some trees are still clinging to their leaves.  I took a walk down Regent Street the other night, and it’s absolutely magical.  Harrods is always fabulous, but in its Christmas best it’s better than being at the North Pole itself.  I’m just loving everything about Christmastime in London, and I’ve been learning a couple of things about Christmas in England.  First of all, how could I not try some mince pies?  I was actually surprised to learn that “mincemeat” does not necessarily have meat in it!  For those of you who don’t know, it’s mostly dried fruit, spices, and distilled spirits.  It can have meat in it, but the variety I tried did not.  The idea of meat and berries in the same pie is not an appetizing idea to me, but then again I haven’t had the opportunity to try it.  In general, I liked the mince pie.  It does have a very distinct flavor, not like anything else I’ve ever eaten (I mean that in a good way).

Another Christmas tradition I’ve observed, being sold in every supermarket, is Christmas crackers.  For the Americans reading this, no, it doesn’t mean snowflake-shaped Ritz crackers.  Christmas crackers are these things:

Christmas-crackers1

Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about this Christmas tradition: “A cracker consists of a cardboard tube wrapped in a brightly decorated twist of paper, making it resemble an over-sized sweet-wrapper. The cracker is pulled by two people, often with arms crossed, and, much in the manner of a wishbone, the cracker splits unevenly. The split is accompanied by a mild bang or snapping sound produced by the effect of friction on a shock-sensitive, chemically-impregnated card strip (similar to that used in a cap gun).”  Why don’t we have these in the States??? We need to make this a thing.  Imagine being around the dinner table on Christmas night like this:

Crackers 13

So the lights, the mince pies, the crackers… everything is heading in the direction of December 25th (or as it would be written here, 25 December).  Obviously, Thanksgiving is not an obstacle the marketers of Christmas goods have to overcome here in the UK, so Christmas shopping is in full swing.  I’ll admit, I’ll very much miss the huge Thanksgiving feast with my family and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on TV, but I’m planning to have a little Thanksgiving feast of my own with both my American and British friends this Thursday.  Some American traditions absolutely must be observed, no matter where in the world you are.

In addition, I hear the Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park is pretty great!  Something I’ll be checking out later this week…

To expand on what I’ve just mentioned, here’s a good BBC article on the differences between an English Christmas and a good old-fashioned American Christmas: http://www.bbcamerica.com/mind-the-gap/2013/12/04/christmas-traditions-britain-vs-america/

One funny little difference is the use of “Happy Christmas” here in the UK instead of “Merry Christmas,” which we’re used to hearing in the States.  It seems like it should be the other way around, as “merry” isn’t a very common word in the American vocabulary…

Also, I was speaking to my British friend this week and found some more words to add to the list:

33.) turn signals (of a car)- indicators

34.) trunk (of a car)- boot

35.) hood (of a car)- bonnet

36.) windshield- windscreen

37.) RV/trailer- caravan

38.) bangs- fringe

39.) gasoline- petrol

40.) diaper- nappy

I’m so excited to see what other exciting Christmas markets and events I discover in London!

Clicking and Commercials

I was very quickly corrected yesterday when during a performance assessment I said “snapping” instead of “clicking.”  To keep time and demonstrate rhythmic understanding of the songs we were performing, we were supposed to snap our fingers while singing.  When I said “snapping,” however, fifteen pairs of eyes looked at me like I had three heads.  After a few awkward seconds and a couple mutters of “what…?” my professor finally said, “Oh, you mean clicking.”  Therefore, today’s addition to the list is:

33.) snapping- clicking

The big news in British pop culture this week is the release of the John Lewis Christmas advert, apparently a much-anticipated moment in the UK around Christmastime.  There is really no equivalent to this commercial in the U.S.; the closest I can think to equate are perhaps the Hess truck or USPS commercials.  It’s quite a touching advert:

Judging by the response to the commercial, I’d say it was a success. Good thing, too; the advert would’ve been an anticlimactic disappointment following the enormous hype preceding its release.  Everyone anticipated an emotional response to the John Lewis commercial, and it seems they were right:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/retailandconsumer/11214534/Is-this-the-best-John-Lewis-Christmas-advert-yet.html

Of course, one of my all-time favorite Christmas commercials is this incredibly simple, but nevertheless adorable, Hershey’s ad:

It’s apparently also the longest-running Hershey’s commercial, having been aired every year since 1989.  Perhaps it’s the continuity of the commercial that explains its appeal.  All I know is that it’s not officially Christmastime until I see the Hershey bells on TV.  Anyway, I must admit that I’ve been really impressed by the British Christmas commercials I’ve seen.  Most Brits and Americans agree that American TV and movies are the best in entertainment worldwide.  However, when it comes to Christmas commercials, they might just have us beat.  Here’s a few more of my favorites I’ve seen this year:

And then, of course, this happened:

Now who could’ve predicted that “Let It Go” would be used in at least one Christmas commercial?

Festival of Remembrance 2014

Well I’ve just finished watching the Festival of Remembrance streamed live from Royal Albert Hall on BBC, and I have to say it brought tears to my eyes more than once throughout the ceremony.  The whole thing was just a stunning tribute to all those lost in the many wars this world has endured.  There were representatives from all branches of the British armed forces, as well as many war widows, mothers, fathers, and siblings.  What hit me the hardest was the music; those were the most emotional moments for me.  The chorus and band were outstanding, and there were some wonderful moments when the audience joined in with the popular hymns “Guide Me, Ever Great Redeemer” and “Abide With Me.”  One of the most touching moments for me was the performance by New Zealand opera trio SOL3 MIO of “Invictus.”  I’ll admit there were tears literally streaming down my face during that song.  The trio, two tenors and a baritone, were absolutely spot-on with every harmony.  I will try to find the video of the performance from tonight, but here’s a clip of the trio in rehearsal:

remember 6

For me, their performance was the highlight of the night.  The song was the official anthem of the Invictus Games, held earlier this fall, which brought together disabled soldiers from all over the world to compete in sporting events, altered to accommodate their injuries.  “Invictus” was taken from the poem of William Ernest Henley:

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.

remember 1

There was also a spectacular performance from the musical “War Horse,” which included the iconic life-sized horse puppets used in the play.  It was amazing watching the puppet move alongside the boy, and it’s honestly hard to tell at moments that the puppet isn’t a real horse!  The natural movement given to the puppet by its puppeteers is absolutely mind-blowing.

remember 7

Jeff Beck and Joss Stone performed the official anthem of the Poppy Appeal, “No Man’s Land.”  Read the lyrics, and you’ll find it difficult to hold back tears; the imagery is just phenomenal:

Well, how do you do, young Willie McBride?
Do you mind if I sit down here by your graveside?
And rest for awhile in the warm summer sun,
I’ve been walking all day, and I’m nearly done.
And I see by your gravestone you were only 19
When you joined the great fallen in 1916.
Well I hope you died well and I hope you died clean
Or, young Willie McBride, was it slow and obscene?

Did they beat the drum slowly, did they play the fife lowly?
Did they sound the Death March as they lowered you down?
Did the band play the Last Post in chorus?
Did the pipes play the Flowers of the Forest?

Did you leave a wife or a sweetheart behind?
In some loyal heart is your memory enshrined?
And, though you died back in 1916,
In that loyal heart you’re forever 19.

Did they beat the drum slowly, did they play the fife lowly?
Did they sound the Death March as they lowered you down?
Did the band play the Last Post in chorus?
Did the pipes play the Flowers of the Forest?

I see by your gravestone you were only 19
When you joined the great fallen in 1916,
Well I hope you died well and I hope you died clean
Or, young Willie McBride, was it slow and obscene?

Did they beat the drum slowly, did they play the fife lowly?
Did they sound the Death March as they lowered you to the ground?
Did the band play the Last Post in chorus?
Did the pipes play the Flowers of the Forest?

remember 4

The official video is here:   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t5gTOcoD0c0

Apparently, there’s some controversy about the omission of some original verses.  Scottish singer-songwriter Eric Bogle is evidently displeased that they took out the following lyrics:

Or are you a stranger without even a name,
Forever enshrined behind some glass pane,
In an old photograph, torn and tattered and stained,
And fading to yellow in a brown leather frame?

The sun’s shining down on these green fields of France;
The warm wind blows gently, and the red poppies dance.
The trenches have vanished long under the plow;
No gas and no barbed wire, no guns firing now.
But here in this graveyard that’s still no man’s land
The countless white crosses in mute witness stand
To man’s blind indifference to his fellow man.
And a whole generation who were butchered and damned.

And I can’t help but wonder, now Willie McBride,
Do all those who lie here know why they died?
Did you really believe them when they told you “The Cause?”
Did you really believe that this war would end wars?
Well the suffering, the sorrow, the glory, the shame
The killing, the dying, it was all done in vain,
For Willie McBride, it all happened again,
And again, and again, and again, and again.

Of course, the final anthem of “God Save the Queen” was moving, especially when they showed Her Majesty standing in her box waving to her people.  She’s always struck me as a very classy and elegant lady, a wonderful role model for her country and for people around the world.  Her sense of composure is second-to-none; she always acts with the utmost grace and dignity.  I really admire her, and I’m quite envious of the British when it comes to the monarchy.  Not that I don’t appreciate my own government back home in the U.S.  It’s just that the idea of a monarchy is so foreign and exciting to me, coming from a country who has never had anything even remotely resembling a queen.

remember 5

The music, as I’ve said, was the best part of this incredible ceremony, and without it I don’t think I would’ve experienced the emotions that I did.  Maybe this is because I’m a musician, but I think that it’s more than that.  Music touches musicians and non-musicians alike; it stirs something in our hearts and digs deeply into our souls to bring out the genuine feelings we hold there.  That being said, musicians have as deep a regard for silence as they do for sound.  Some go so far as to say that silence is music.  Indeed, there are many times in a piece of music where no sound is being sung or played.  These moments of silence further evoke the emotions intended by the composer.  So naturally, another poignant moment of the evening was the complete silence that filled Royal Albert Hall as the red poppy petals streamed down from above.  It was certainly a moment of reflection and peace, even for those of us not physically present at the ceremony.

remember 8

The Festival of Remembrance was certainly a night to remember, especially because this year marks the centennial of the start of the First World War.  The Royal British Legion did a wonderful job with the event; it truly told the story of the horrors and pain of war, as well as the heartbreak it leaves behind.  It was a beautiful way to remember all the brave men and women who died defending the freedom and liberty of the Western World, those who brought relief and hope to people held captive by tyrants.  The words of the priests and speakers touched the crowd and gave them something to remember as they go home tonight.  I’m sure the message they heard this evening will not be forgotten by tomorrow.

All images taken from:   http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2826774/Lest-forget-Royal-British-Legion-s-Festival-Remembrance-takes-place-Royal-Albert-Hall-performances-Jeff-Beck-Joss-Stone.html