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?

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

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

Humans of the London Underground

I discovered this hilarious summary of the types you meet on the Tube.  I honestly laughed so hard that I started crying.  Pretty funny for anyone who has had to use the London Underground:

http://www.studentbeans.com/mag/en/travel/17-types-of-london-commuter-who-are-literally-the-worst?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=STBFBAds101GAL&%3Futm_source=facebook

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.

“London Weather” Has Arrived At Last

Since arriving in London, I’ve been extremely lucky with the weather.  For the first month I was here, I could only recall maybe two rainy days.  For the most part, it was sunny and rather warm.  I was told time and again that this weather was unusual for Britain and that I should expect to see many cloudy, drizzly days ahead.  I came prepared with my rain jacket and “Wellies” (a.k.a. rainboots), but I haven’t had much use for them… until this week.  It seems fall has finally arrived in London, and we’re having a spell of perpetual clouds this week.  Yesterday, it was quite rainy; today was more just cloudy with a light misty drizzle.  If I had 50p for every time someone said to me, “Welcome to Britain,” this week, I’d have made quite a bit of money.  This is the weather Londoners have been anticipating (and, it seems, dreading), but I have to say I don’t mind it right now.  It is, as my voice teacher said, the “quintessential English weather,” and I really feel like I’m in London now.  Needless to say, I’m getting my money’s worth out of my raincoat and my Wellies, which already took a beating last fall/winter during the seemingly endless wet and snowy winter we experienced in New Jersey.

Today I wore a pink sweater, and one of my classmates said to me, “I like your jumper!”  I was incredibly confused for a good five seconds, until she said, “Do you call it a jumper or a sweater in the U.S.?”  So I’m happy to say I’ve added another British word to my vocabulary today:

25.) sweater- jumper

Funny, because the first thing that came to my mind when I heard the term “jumper” was this scene from That 70’s Show:

jumpsuit

… although technically, these are “jumpsuits,” not “jumpers.”