Monday, August 31, 2009

Back to our Regularly Scheduled Program

Since both Toni is STILL on holiday, and this post didn't get much air time before I butted in with my BBC interview, we thought we'd move it back to the front page.

A TASTE OF HOME

Toni:

So, I'm here in England once again. I've lived in the States since 1990 and my three children were born there. They have dual nationality and have been to England at least once a year, since they were babies. Inevitably, people ask me, among other questions what it's like coming "home". And I have to say, sometimes it's pretty strange.

Take for instance, the fact that I usually have no idea who the women are on the covers of the gossip mags. Myleen? Fiona? Not that I would take much notice in the States, but I may, at least, have heard of them. And the fact that because none of my credit cards have chip and pin, I am often turned down at cash registers and bureaux de change, as happened yesterday. (In case you're worried about me, I have to drop everything, run to the nearest cash point and come back with a fistful of cash. Very tedious.)

I still don't refer to the States as "home", but more and more, the UK doesn't resemble the one I left. Wandering around Newcastle upon Tyne, (usually lost, these days) I am defeated by the new one-way system, and marvel at the tourist trap that is now the Quayside, with its gleaming Sage, trendy Baltic museum and eye-catching Millennium Bridge. When I lived in the area, the Quayside literally resembled something from a Dickens novel and was just as dangerous.

Although I complain bitterly about the brutal Chicago winters, at least we know there's some guaranteed sunshine every summer. I feel nothing but pity for Brits these days with the gray and rainy summers. Last year we came in July and it rained almost every day; this year we've had a few bright days, but we take rain gear, sweatshirts and sunglasses everywhere we go and if by chance, we plan an outdoor event, you can be sure it will lash down.

My kids however, have embraced sausage rolls, fish and chips (when the fish is good), and the Queenager is up to speed on Emmerdale, Corrie and East Enders. Personally, I will never get over the demise of Brookside.

There is though, one thing to warm the cockles of my heart:




Mike:

America. I'm always thrilled to be there and luxuriate in the wide roads, open spaces and unending options, but after a week I find myself looking forward to the tidy little towns, winding roads and rucked up countryside of Sussex. What stays with me, however, and what I do continue to miss when I return to England, is the food.

I have given up trying to bring any back with me. It is never the same and, more to the point, it is never enough. Instead, I simply gorge on all my old favorites as often as I can while I am back home.

Oddly, the best taste of home came to me just yesterday. My wife had been on an outing with some friends and had stumbled upon a boutique selling American products. She returned with a bag of Cheddar Goldfish and, as a bonus, a little bit of heaven in a box.


We had it for dinner last night; the tiny macaronis smothered in the signature sauce made of butter, milk and a special orange powder that resembles no color found in nature and could only pass as cheese-colored to an American child. She had bought the family sized box, not realizing how much the average American family of a mom, dad and 2.7465 children eats in a single sitting.

It was all I remember; hot, salty and infused with comfort. The quintessential American meal. My wife said it was "okay."

There was a lot left over. I expect we'll have it for lunch today.



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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

We Interrupt This Parley…

… to bring you a special bulletin.

Pond Parleys (well, one of us, anyway) was on the air yet again. This time on BBC Oxford, for a five-minute interview about the different ways the Brits and the Yanks celebrate.

Click the link and move the counter to 32:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/console/p00437cj


If you're looking for A Taste Of Home you can find it here.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

A Taste of home

Since both Toni and I have recently been in (or are currently in) our home country, we thought we'd have a look at the things we missed.

Toni:

So, I'm here in England once again. I've lived in the States since 1990 and my three children were born there. They have dual nationality and have been to England at least once a year, since they were babies. Inevitably, people ask me, among other questions what it's like coming "home". And I have to say, sometimes it's pretty strange.

Take for instance, the fact that I usually have no idea who the women are on the covers of the gossip mags. Myleen? Fiona? Not that I would take much notice in the States, but I may, at least, have heard of them. And the fact that because none of my credit cards have chip and pin, I am often turned down at cash registers and bureaux de change, as happened yesterday. (In case you're worried about me, I have to drop everything, run to the nearest cash point and come back with a fistful of cash. Very tedious.)

I still don't refer to the States as "home", but more and more, the UK doesn't resemble the one I left. Wandering around Newcastle upon Tyne, (usually lost, these days) I am defeated by the new one-way system, and marvel at the tourist trap that is now the Quayside, with its gleaming Sage, trendy Baltic museum and eye-catching Millennium Bridge. When I lived in the area, the Quayside literally resembled something from a Dickens novel and was just as dangerous.

Although I complain bitterly about the brutal Chicago winters, at least we know there's some guaranteed sunshine every summer. I feel nothing but pity for Brits these days with the gray and rainy summers. Last year we came in July and it rained almost every day; this year we've had a few bright days, but we take rain gear, sweatshirts and sunglasses everywhere we go and if by chance, we plan an outdoor event, you can be sure it will lash down.

My kids however, have embraced sausage rolls, fish and chips (when the fish is good), and the Queenager is up to speed on Emmerdale, Corrie and East Enders. Personally, I will never get over the demise of Brookside.

There is though, one thing to warm the cockles of my heart:




Mike:

America. I'm always thrilled to be there and luxuriate in the wide roads, open spaces and unending options, but after a week I find myself looking forward to the tidy little towns, winding roads and rucked up countryside of Sussex. What stays with me, however, and what I do continue to miss when I return to England, is the food.

I have given up trying to bring any back with me. It is never the same and, more to the point, it is never enough. Instead, I simply gorge on all my old favorites as often as I can while I am back home.

Oddly, the best taste of home came to me just yesterday. My wife had been on an outing with some friends and had stumbled upon a boutique selling American products. She returned with a bag of Cheddar Goldfish and, as a bonus, a little bit of heaven in a box.


We had it for dinner last night; the tiny macaronis smothered in the signature sauce made of butter, milk and a special orange powder that resembles no color found in nature and could only pass as cheese-colored to an American child. She had bought the family sized box, not realizing how much the average American family of a mom, dad and 2.7465 children eats in a single sitting.

It was all I remember; hot, salty and infused with comfort. The quintessential American meal. My wife said it was "okay."

There was a lot left over. I expect we'll have it for lunch today.



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Sunday, August 16, 2009

Tommy

Toni is off on her much-deserved holiday, so this week I'll take center stage with a rant about soldiers. Do we Americans coddle them too much, or do the Brits fail to show them due appreciation? What's your view?


During my son's wedding, as his Best Man was roasting him before the wedding banquet—you know, "the groom never learned much in school, he still thinks the capital of Montana is Hannah" and stuff like that—it was noted in passing that the groom had serviced in Iraq, and the room erupted into spontaneous applause. After the applause died down, my son grabbed the mic and said, "Thanks for that, but there's a table of my Marine buddies over there, why don't you give them a shout." The room, once again, exploded in applause, and then we all gave them a standing ovation. I remember thinking to myself, "This would never happen in Britain."

And indeed it would not. A few weeks after my return, I read an article in the paper telling of how three servicemen in uniform were refused entry into a pub. The young men were part of a larger group that had just left the funeral of one of their comrades who had been killed in Afghanistan. The bar manager was willing to let the people dressed in civilian clothes in, "but not the squaddies." The friends of the soldiers were outraged, but the soldiers told them, "Don't worry about it, we get this all the time."

I really find this behavior odd. In America, they would have been invited in and given free drinks. In fact, there were times in America, prior to my move to the UK, when conversation turned to world events in the bar, that I mentioned I had a son serving in Iraq, and my drinks were free.

Now, you can say Americans are jingoistic war-mongers and worship their warrior culture (no, really, go ahead, you won't offend us; if we could find a way to work it into our national motto, we would) but it seems to me that, far from appreciating soldiers, the Brits don't want them around.

Consider this: soldiers coming home from serving overseas were made to change into civilian cloths in Birmingham airport because they were not allowed in the terminal in combat gear. An ex-soldier I met and talked to about this, told me it was common practice to refuse service to soldiers in uniform, and they were, in fact, not allowed off the base unless they were in civilian clothes.

This particular soldier's take on the matter went like this:

"People think of us as trained guard dogs. Everyone wants to be protected by the guard dogs, but they don't want to be around them if they are not on a leash. That's what they see the squaddies as, dogs off their leash."

So why would anyone consider being in the military, I asked him:

"You do it for yourself, because you want to be the best, and to be part of the best. You don't do it for recognition because you know you're not going to get any."

There is no question that Britain, as a country, honors its soldiers; they hold the two-minute silence on Remembrance Day, and cheer them in certain newspapers, but on an individual level, not much as changed in the 119 years since the following poem by Rudyard Kipling was first published:

(By the way, I've made my point; you don't need to read the poem, but I think you should.)


Tommy
by Rudyard Kipling

I went into a public-'ouse to get a pint o' beer,
The publican 'e up an' sez, "We serve no red-coats here."
The girls be'ind the bar they laughed an' giggled fit to die,
I outs into the street again an' to myself sez I:
O it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, go away";
But it's "Thank you, Mister Atkins", when the band begins to play,
The band begins to play, my boys, the band begins to play,
O it's "Thank you, Mister Atkins", when the band begins to play.

I went into a theatre as sober as could be,
They gave a drunk civilian room, but 'adn't none for me;
They sent me to the gallery or round the music-'alls,
But when it comes to fightin', Lord! they'll shove me in the stalls!
For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, wait outside";
But it's "Special train for Atkins" when the trooper's on the tide,
The troopship's on the tide, my boys, the troopship's on the tide,
O it's "Special train for Atkins" when the trooper's on the tide.

Yes, makin' mock o' uniforms that guard you while you sleep
Is cheaper than them uniforms, an' they're starvation cheap;
An' hustlin' drunken soldiers when they're goin' large a bit
Is five times better business than paradin' in full kit.
Then it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, 'ow's yer soul?"
But it's "Thin red line of 'eroes" when the drums begin to roll,
The drums begin to roll, my boys, the drums begin to roll,
O it's "Thin red line of 'eroes" when the drums begin to roll.

We aren't no thin red 'eroes, nor we aren't no blackguards too,
But single men in barricks, most remarkable like you;
An' if sometimes our conduck isn't all your fancy paints,
Why, single men in barricks don't grow into plaster saints;
While it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, fall be'ind",
But it's "Please to walk in front, sir", when there's trouble in the wind,
There's trouble in the wind, my boys, there's trouble in the wind,
O it's "Please to walk in front, sir", when there's trouble in the wind.

You talk o' better food for us, an' schools, an' fires, an' all:
We'll wait for extry rations if you treat us rational.
Don't mess about the cook-room slops, but prove it to our face
The Widow's Uniform is not the soldier-man's disgrace.
For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Chuck him out, the brute!"
But it's "Saviour of 'is country" when the guns begin to shoot;
An' it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' anything you please;
An' Tommy ain't a bloomin' fool -- you bet that Tommy sees!

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Monday, August 10, 2009

You Gonna Eat That?

Something different this week; while Toni is off trotting the globe, our guest poster -- British Daffodilly -- and I are embarking on a trip down culinary lane, to report on the five strangest things we have eaten as a result of moving abroad.


British Daffodilly:

Thank you to Mike & Expat Mum for inviting me to post today.

The 5 Strangest things I have eaten in USA?

1. Artichokes: Who the heck invented this horrible bland, mushy veggie? Yuck. It just seems almost caveman-like picking the leaves off, popping them in melted butter & then (god forbid) sucking the stuff out of the leaf! It reminds me of a “Survivor bug-eating contest!”

2. Pretzels; In the UK they have Twiglets & they are always what are leftover from a cocktail party…the reason is that they taste like crap but are considered kind of posh. When I arrived in USA it was pretzel heaven. Everyone eats pretzels; they even serve them on the planes instead of peanuts. They come in every shape, size and either with or without salt. Now it took me a while to adapt to these however I have to say that covered in chocolate & jimmies (100’s & 1000’s) they are quite delicious. In fact a must as the salt & sweet flavor clash & give you that kind of “ahhh" feeling!

3. Eggplant Parmesan; Or aubergines fried in breadcrumbs & covered in a marinara sauce….why oh why would you do this let alone eat it? Throw the disgusting thing away!

4. Pickles: The Americans are pickle crazy. They come with every dish, sandwich and burger as a garnish where as the Brit’s would use a sprig of parsley. These are big dill cucumbers the size of a man's hand that are pickled. Everyone seems to make their own as it is a family tradition. I guess as I was brought up with Branston Pickle & Piccalilli I lead a sheltered pickle life. I cringe when I see toddlers clutching a pickled cucumber & chomping away on it….god only knows what their diapers are like!

5. Chinese Chow Mein: It took me 8 years of purchasing Chinese food in USA to find the correct equivalent to the English version of Chow Mein. A little history is needed here. Chow Mein in the UK is a noodle & meat or fish dish….very tasty. In America it is a pile of MSG that looks like the thickest nastiest pile of snot you can imagine. We traveled all over USA looking for our noodley Chow Mein & left many a restaurant from posh ones to grubby back street ones with empty bellies. It cost us a fortune. One night some American friends came over for dinner with some Chinese take out…we were flabbergasted when we saw our Chow Mein……..they then taught us the magic word….Low Mein…… 8 years it took!


Mike:

Here's my list.

1. Bubble and Squeak: I had heard much about this dish, even while I lived in America, so I was keen to try it. It's supposed to be the previous day's leftovers fried up in lard, so what's not to like? In reality, it was awful; I've never been tempted again.

2. Dragon's Blood: This doesn't really count as a "British" food experience, other than the fact that I happened to be in Britain when it happened. My wife and I were at the annual Chili Festival and one of the booths there sold something called Dragon's Blood--a supernaturally hot chili sauce. They had samples to try; my wife dared me. (You can already see this coming, can't you?)

She scooped up a blob of the thick red sauce on a cracker and stuffed it in my mouth. The next thing I knew my head exploded, then my chest. I found I couldn't breath, or talk and my throat felt like someone had coated it with lava using barbed wire as a paintbrush.

We didn't buy a bottle.

3. Black Bun: This supposed traditional Scottish fruit bread is supposedly traditionally served at Christmas, but we only have my wife's father's word for that. He made some for us one year; you could build houses out of it.

4. A Kebab: As you weave your way home from the pub on a Saturday night, you're supposed to weave by the Donor Kebab joint for a tasty, late-night snack.

A kebab is a bun containing meat, fried onions and some sort of sauce, but it's best not to think about it too much. The meat is a mysterious amalgamation of processed animal by-products fashioned into a log with a spike through it. This log is rotated upright in a grilling device and the meat is carved off in thin strips as needed.

This is not a food generally consumed by sober people, but I had some time on my hands one afternoon and thought I'd stop by the local kebab shop and try one. I was the only customer. The proprietor seemed confused to be serving someone who wasn't weaving, looking cross-eyed and shouting at pigeons. I took it home, tried a few bites and threw it in the trash; I should have used a haz-mat container.

Now I know why most of them end up on the sidewalk, after they've been eaten.

5. Cullen Skink: In America, I loved clam chowder. In Britain, I couldn't find it. I also couldn't make it (translation difficulties; it's a long story). Then one day, while on holiday in Scotland, I saw "Cullen Skink" on the menu and ordered it just because I couldn't believe the name. It was a type of fish chowder, and it was delicious. Now I always stock a can or two of Cullen Skink in the cupboard. It's almost as good as clam chowder, and a lot easier to find.

That's my offering. Pretty impressive when you consider I didn't even mention haggis, black pudding or the chocolate popcorn cheesecake I had at Harvester one evening.


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Sunday, August 2, 2009

Welcome to Our County! Sort of.

This week we talk of our immigration experiences. What was your experience?

Toni:
I applied for citizenship in 2002 my thought being that after 9/11 they might start chucking every immigrant out who disagreed with George Bush. Typically, the application coincided with my ten-year green card expiring. I didn’t even know it could run out, but since my paperwork had been “mislaid” twice before, I hired a lawyer to keep track of things. Boy was that the wrong thing to do.

Come the day of my interview, we were herded around as usual, then shown into a tiny room where “Officer” what’s-his-name took an instant dislike to me on account of aforementioned lawyer sitting in the corner taking notes. You have to learn 100 questions about the USA, and answer 6 out of 10 correctly. He asked me the hardest questions, and even though I got the first 6 correct, the ba***rd continued to ask four more. He then interrogated me as to why my Texas marriage license didn’t have any witnesses, despite the statement on the certificate that no witnesses were required. I was then reprimanded for not applying sooner for citizenship. At the end of the interview, instead of shaking my hand and congratulating me, he said I would hear in about 6 weeks, because “you never know what the FBI will kick out” at which point everything went a bit dream-like.

What he should have said was that because they were now actually carrying out more thorough FBI background checks, there was of course, a huge backlog. But no. That would’ve been too civil. I then became convinced that the marriage in Dallas was null and void and that I was about to be featured on CNN as the latest tragic deportee. (Not that I minded going back to England, but taking the family would have been the plan.)

Happily, my paperwork came through in about 4 weeks and I was invited to the swearing in ceremony downtown. We were warned, on pain of not being sworn in, to arrive at least an hour beforehand, which of course, I did. We were all herded (again) into a large room, where we sat for about 45 minutes. Very strange. At that time, about ten more people were let into the room and I bristled at the “special people” who were allowed to be late. The judge, himself the son of Mexican immigrants, mentioned something about not everyone “loving this country as much as we do” and I thought he was referring to the events of 9/11.

Leaving the building afterwards, I noticed the place was crawling with press. Surely they don’t make this much fuss every time people are sworn in, I thought as I dodged mike booms and cameras. It was only on watching the news later that I realized some idiot had entered the building with explosives in his backpack/rucksack, intending to blow up the entire place – while I was stuck on the 29th floor.

Typical.


Mike:

I moved to Britain by coming over to visit my fiancée, marrying her and just never going home. We got a bit of stick for it when we went for my Leave To Remain, but mostly no one minded. That was seven years ago, however; try that now and you'll find yourself on the first boat back to where ever you came from.

When my five-year apprenticeship ended, I applied for citizenship, received it with very little fuss and attended a warm and sincere welcoming in ceremony hosted by the local Lord Lieutenant. They even provided snacks.

However, the current trend in immigration rules—be they for spouses, students, workers or Anglophiles—are not something I keep a close eye on (after all it's no longer relevant to me) but I understand it is getting steadily more expensive to get into the United Kingdom no matter how you do it. The last time I did a loose mental calculation was when my wife's cousin married an American, and it was in the thousands.

I don't recall having to pay that much. Truth be told, I don't recall how much I paid at all, so it can't have been a lot. Even my "Can You Speak English Well Enough To Pass This Test?" entry exam was only £40. I paid more than that to get my driver's license. And when you consider that Bill Bryson mentions in one of his many books that his immigration experience basically involved finding England an agreeable place to live and deciding to remain, you can't deny that admission requirements (as well as the cover charge) to club Britain are rising.

Even so, it's still way easier to get into the UK than into the US, and I have to wonder why that is. The US has gangs of room (plus that poem on the Statue of Liberty about sending over your huddled masses yearning to breathe free that I bet they wish they could blank out) whereas the UK is a bit full up. With 640 people per square mile, compared to the US's 80, I don't think it's out of line for them to raise the bar a little.

Besides, immigration over here is a lot different than in the US. Because we belong to the United States of Europe, anyone living in any of the other member states can come over whenever they want to and stay as long as they like, just as if you were moving from Minnesota to Mississippi. It's also just as hard to track them; the government, to stem the rising xenophobia, reports that the number of "non-British" EU citizens living in Britain is around 37, whereas The Daily Mail puts it somewhere nearer to 1.7 billion. So, being unable to keep EU Immigrants out, the government seems to be doing what it can to limit tangible immigration.

But it's still a doddle compared to what you have to do to get into America.


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Sociable