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

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.

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!

Weekend in Lewes

I had the most wonderful weekend in the country town of Lewes with some of my fellow American students studying in the UK.  It was a nice change from the busy city life in London.  That being said, I got far less sleep in Lewes than I have in London!  Since we only had a couple of days, we were determined to pack as much into our time as possible.  We had a walking tour on Friday as soon as we arrived, and our resident director, who lived in Lewes for a while, showed us the town in a nutshell.  We passed by Lewes Castle, through town, past the Priory Ruins, and back around to our hotel.  The weather was really lovely when we got there on Friday, so it was a nice evening for a walk.  We had a great dinner that night, and afterwards a group of us decided to check out the pub scene in Lewes.  We thought we heard salsa music playing down the street, and we followed it to the Lamb of Lewes where, sure enough, they had a salsa band playing.  It was, unfortunately, pretty late when we got there, and we only caught the last few songs.  It was a lot of fun, and we all danced together until the band was finished.  On our way out of the pub, we met a couple guys on the street who suggested we head down to the Lansdown Arms, which was open quite a bit later.  We got a table, and before we even sat down we had already made friends.  One thing about England, really about Europe in general, is the friendliness and openness of people you meet at the pub.  It’s not unusual for a complete stranger to walk right up to you and start talking as if you know each other.  In this case, our new friend bought us all a round of drinks, to, as he put it, “welcome the Americans to England.”  He had already had several rounds himself, and he started dancing on the benches to the music of Beyonce.  Before we knew it, we were all up dancing and singing.  It was such a fun atmosphere.  Our group got back to the hotel around 12:30 and stayed up talking until 2 am.

We got about five hours of sleep that night, since breakfast was at 7:30.  Then we headed out for a full day of exploring.  The first stop was Lewes Castle, pretty much across the street from where we were staying.  The castle is one of the only ones never to have been invaded.  Our resident director explained the multi-step security system of gates, flying arrows, hot sand, and stone walls that successfully kept invaders out.  William de Warenne was granted Lewes by the King of England following the Norman Conquest; the castle was the headquarters of the de Warenne family for nearly 300 years.  The castle was strategically located near the River Ouse, a route used to get from London to the coast.  This gave the de Warenne family great power, since the river was used as a trading route.  The castle is really beautiful, and from the top, one has amazing views of Lewes and the surrounding Downs:

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Next we got on a bus and went to Bodiam Castle, nearby Lewes.  To me, Bodiam Castle gets its beauty from the surrounding moat, which is filled with water, fish, and ducks.  It’s the first castle I’ve seen since I’ve been in England that still has a moat; all the others either had dry moats or did not have a moat at all.  Again, the views from the top of the castle towers was the best part.  It’s absolutely gorgeous to see the land stretching for miles beyond the castle walls.  The land is very hilly in the region, so the rolling hills are obviously a very picturesque location:

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We had lunch at the castle tea room, then got back on the bus and drove to Beachy Head, home to the iconic white chalk cliffs.  Beachy Head is located along the English Channel, and from the top of the cliffs, the water looks very blue.  Contrasted with the greenery on top of the cliffs and the white of the cliffside, the water looks beautiful.  It’s definitely not a place I’d recommend to people who are afraid of heights, as it’s a steep and long drop off the cliff to the water.  It’s really difficult to describe the beauty of the area; there are really no words for it, and pictures simply don’t do it justice.  The view is just breath-taking:

beachy head 1 beachy head 2

We took a quick walk along the cliffs, jumped back on the bus and headed to Monk House, a residence formerly belonging to Virginia and Leonard Woolf.  The location is gorgeous, nestled along a picturesque country road in the village of Rodmell.  The house itself is quite small, and visitors are only allowed to see the ground floor, including the living room, dining room, kitchen, and Virginia’s room.  The living room is the largest room, and even that room could be a problem for claustrophobics, but the colors in the house give it a bright and cheerful feel.  Many paintings and artwork done by Vanessa Bell, Virginia’s sister, adorn the walls of the house.  There are loads of books in the house, but the only ones that actually belonged to Virginia are in the bedroom.  They are a collection of Shakespeare’s works, but what makes them truly special is the fact that Virginia hand-covered each of the books, and the titles are written in her handwriting.  You can really feel the sense of pride the volunteers working at the house feel for that collection.  The lady in the bedroom gave us some information about the house itself, and when she talked about Virginia’s Shakespeare collection, her eyes just lit up.  Underneath the shelf containing those books is a silk shawl that belonged to Virginia; it’s black with pale pink flowers, and it is, as we were told, extremely delicate.  The gardens and the land behind the house are really beautiful, simple and peaceful.  Virginia’s writing house is also located in the garden.  It was a lovely end to a busy day of seeing Lewes.

We went back to the hotel and got ready for dinner.  Again, we decided to go out after dinner to celebrate our second and final night in Lewes together.  We went to a pub just around the corner from the hotel, but we didn’t stay too long.  However, on the way out we had the good fortune of meeting some guys from Lewes.  Like our friends the night before, they’d already had a few rounds, but they were more than willing to take us around.  We had no idea what was in store for us.  Those of us who decided to go with them had the most fun, yet absolutely crazy, night.  We went all around Lewes to places, quite frankly, we’d never have discovered without the… “guidance” of our local friends.  Long story short, we ended up staying out til 5 am, but I think every one of us could say we’d do it again and again if we had the chance.  It was quite an adventure for us.

I got about three hours of sleep last night, as I decided to get up and go for a hike to the Battlefield of Lewes with a small group of us and our resident director.  I can say it was definitely worth it.  The views, again, were spectacular.  There were a lot of black-faced sheep out in the fields, and lots of locals were out walking their dogs on this lovely Sunday morning.  It’s just such a beautiful place, and I sincerely wish we could’ve stayed longer.

lewes

Let me make one thing clear: it’s pronounced “loo-is”, as in the name Lewis, not “looz”, as in lose, a mistake many of us made before getting to town and being corrected.

Also, I thought of some words to add to the list this weekend:

26.) band-aid/bandage- plaster

27.) “you guys” – “you lot”

28.) drunk- pissed

Also, you are typically greeted here with “Are you alright?” which, to Americans, seems to imply that there’s something wrong with you.  Here, it’s used in place of “How are you?”  When I was speaking to some of the other American students this weekend, that seemed like one conversational difference they’d had some trouble getting used to.  So when someone greets you with “Are you alright?” it doesn’t mean that they think you look upset; it’s just an alternative greeting.

Some of us are considering going back for the big bonfire night in Lewes on November 5th, a night the town seems to live for.  Many of the locals we ran into this weekend explained to us that it’s a sort of “commemoration” of Guy Fawkes’s unsuccessful attempt to blow up Parliament, hence the massive fire and the large amount of fireworks.  Everyone dresses up in “costume” and stampedes through town in a huge throng of people.  Lewes has the claim to the biggest bonfire night in the UK, certainly one of the biggest, if not the biggest, worldwide.  It was also described to us as a good excuse to have a massive party and get “pissed.”  It would definitely be an interesting, once-in-a-lifetime experience, and all the locals highly recommended coming back for it.