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!

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.