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?

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?

British Keyboards

Today I went to the library to do some work for class.  I was accessing my email address when I noticed that I had typed “”gmail.com” instead of “@gmail.com.”  I retyped it, and again ” showed up in place of @.  I looked down at the keyboard and noticed the most peculiar thing: that the quotation symbol was above the number 2 instead of the symbol for “at.”  For you Americans reading this, here’s a visual:

british keyboard

If you click on the image, you’ll notice the subtle (but bothersome when you’re trying to type quickly) differences between our American keyboards and the keyboards most computers here have.  It seems rather strange that two English-speaking countries have different keyboards.  Who knew?

Also, British words of the day and today’s addition to The List:

29.) sneakers- trainers

30.) French fries- chips

31.) flashlight-torch

32.) eraser- rubber

More “Britishisms”

In theory, it takes 21 days to form a habit.  If this is the case, then it’s safe to say that I’ve solidly programmed myself to look right before left when crossing the street.  I’ve lived my whole life looking left before right, and now I’ve noticed that I look right before left without giving it a second thought.  Yes, the famous “Brits drive on the wrong side of the road” issue has become the new normal for me.  I only hope that when I get back to the States that I remember to drive on the “right” side of the road… see what I did there?

I did a little research into why this is, and I found the following information on http://www.2pass.co.uk/goodluck.htm#.VD6UAPldX9Y:

“Up to the late 1700’s, everybody travelled on the left side of the road because it’s the sensible option for feudal, violent societies of mostly right-handed people. Jousting knights with their lances under their right arm naturally passed on each other’s right, and if you passed a stranger on the road you walked on the left to ensure that your protective sword arm was between yourself and him. Revolutionary France, however, overturned this practice as part of its sweeping social rethink. A change was carried out all over continental Europe by Napoleon.The reason it changed under Napoleon was because he was left handed; his armies had to march on the right so he could keep his sword arm between him and any opponent. From then on, any part of the world which was at some time part of the British Empire was thus left hand and any part colonised by the French was right hand… The drive-on-the-right policy was adopted by the USA, which was anxious to cast off all remaining links with its British colonial past. Once America drove on the right, left-side driving was ultimately doomed.  If you wanted a good reliable vehicle, you bought American.”

So there you have it.

Also, the traffic lights here turn yellow not only before a red light but also before a green light.  I actually laughed the first time I saw that.  It gives you the option to accelerate gradually, as opposed to the American method of taking off as fast as you can when the light changes from red to green.

Another “Britishism” I’ve noticed, particularly on trips to the grocery store, is the use of “re” at the end of a word, as opposed to “er.”  “Fiber”, for instance is spelled “fibre” here in the UK.  Or “theater” is spelled “theatre.”  It’s a subtle difference, but it’s something you begin to notice all over the place when you become aware of it.

One of my very first memories of London was made upon arriving at Heathrow and meeting up with my cab driver to go to my house.  As he was loading my suitcase into the trunk, I instinctively went to the left side door to sit in the passenger seat.  “No, no,” the driver said to me, “I’m driving.”  I was puzzled for a few seconds before I looked in the window and saw the steering wheel on what I know as the “passenger side.”  I said, “Oh, right, of course,” and looked back at the cab driver.  He was laughing at me.

This Looks Familiar…

Every day for a month, I have walked past the potato chip stand in the student lounge, taking little notice of the brand.  Yellow sun, red ribbon.  They’re Lay’s Potato Chips, right?

lays

WRONG! As I was sitting across from the stand the other day, I discovered that they were, in fact, not Lay’s, but WALKER’S!

temp

I did some research and found out that Lay’s and Walker’s are, as predicted, both owned by the American multinational company PepsiCo, which accounts for the same logo.  I also discovered that the logo is, in fact, derived from the Walker’s brand!  They have, more or less, the same flavors as Lay’s does, but they are not Lay’s… they are “Walker’s.”

Which brings me to another point: Brits do not call thinly-sliced fried potatoes “potato chips”; here, they are called “crisps.”  So today’s addition to my list of British vocabulary is “crisp.”