Sunday, January 31, 2010

After All This Time

This week, Nicola from Some Mothers Do 'ave 'em is our guest poster, discussing things we still have not quite gotten the hang of:

Mike:

I’ve lived in England for nearly eight years now, and I still cannot properly turn on an appliance or crack an egg.

The electrical sockets here are 220 volt. Yes, even for a night light or a Glade Room Freshener. This makes the Brits very cautious around electricity and practically eliminates amusing anecdotes about the time you convinced your little brother to stick a bobbie pin into an outlet. As a safety precaution, wall plugs have switches on them, so you can turn the power off “at the mains.”

This is all well and good, as long as you remember to turn it on at the mains. I wish I had a 5 pence piece for every time my laptop ran out of power or I turned a light off and on half a dozen times wondering what was wrong with it or I returned to the kitchen after 20 minutes to see why I didn’t smell dinner cooking only to find the stove stone cold and the mains power still switched off.

As for eggs, I spent 46 years developing the perfect tapping technique for cracking an American egg and then found out—to my bitter disappointment—that the skill is non-transferable le. The problem, in my opinion, is they don’t feed their chickens enough DDT or whatever it is we feed them in the States because the shells here (on their brown, not white, eggs) are hard as walnuts.

Since it is my privilege to make breakfast on weekend mornings, and since my vegetarian wife and I have a limited selection of foods in common, a typical morning meal inevitably includes eggs. A favourite of mine is eggs over easy, and my wife likes fried eggs (they are the same thing, by the way) but the odds of me getting a yolk out of an eggshell in one piece are about the same as the Labour government sweeping to victory at the polls in the next general election.

Now, I know from experience that I have to hit the egg harder than I am used to, so I steel myself and give it a good whack. Generally, the first blow glances off the armour plating leaving hardly a nick. The second blow, delivered with more determination, adds a dent and a few cracks. So the third blow is practically guaranteed to end up with me holding a dripping mass of canary yellow goo, splintered eggshell and a good deal of something that unnervingly resembles snot in my hand.

We eat a lot of scrambled eggs.

But only if I remember to turn the stove on at the mains.


Nicola:

So, Mike has thrown down the gauntlet in terms of sockets and switches I feel. For many years, both in our first rented apartment and then in the condo we owned, I was totally frustrated by how many electrical sockets dotted around various rooms simply did not work. I'd plug in a lamp (or a clock radio/coffee maker...take your pick of appliances) and would be totally mystified as to why it wouldn't turn on. There seemed to be a countless number of sockets that were completely useless. It drove me nuts and resulted in appliances being placed in the strangest and most inconvenient of places (a bedside lamp on the other side of the room to the bed for example - which made the sole purpose of its practicality questionable).

On the other hand, there were several 'light' switches on the wall which didn't appear to operate a single ceiling bulb or light fixture anywhere. I would wander around rooms, casually flicking switches up and down, thinking that one day something would happen to illuminate the case for their existence. Despite my increasingly OCD tendencies, nothing ever did.

After several years of enduring inconveniently placed electrical devices and only being able to use two thirds of the sockets at my disposal (the other third mockingly refusing to cooperate to any 2 or 3-pin insertion that came their way) and aimlessly toying with wall switches that served no apparent purpose, I finally mentioned my frustration to one of the builders refitting my bathroom. (The whole topic of having multiple 'live' sockets in the bathroom, directly next to all sources of running water, is another conversation all together...)

He looked at me as if I was an idiot (an experience that was not new to me) and very patiently took a lamp and plugged it into one of my 'faulty' sockets. "See!", I said triumphantly, "it doesn't work...I have loads of them just like that around the whole house." Without saying a word he walked over to one of my 'there for decorative purposes only' wall switches and flicked it on. Instant illumination. For both me and the lamp plugged into the wall socket, several metres away. Aaah. So not redundant then. I hadn't been the victim of temperamental power supply for all these years after all. Good to know.

Now it's just a case of working out which switch accompanies which socket (and believe me, it's not always patently obvious - they don't always bear any relation to each other in terms of proximity). However, I still have two wall switches in my living room and two by the back door which appear to serve no purpose whatsoever. After over a year of living in this house I still have no idea what they are there for and what they are designed to operate. So my OCD tendencies continue. You never know, with persistence and tenacity, one day there may very well be light.

Now there is one more thing that, even after nearly 10 years in America, I will never be able to get used to. As far as I am concerned it contravenes all Health and Sanitation Regulations and is something that I have NEVER encountered in the UK (and nor would I ever wish to).

That is the standard practice of placing the down stairs loo. In. The. Kitchen.

Yes, you read me correctly. And no, of course I don't mean that there is free-standing toilet adjacent to the obligatory marble kitchen island, with the loo roll stashed conveniently next to the kitchen roll holder. But in many houses (including my own) it is not unusual to have the 'powder room' situated directly off the kitchen.

Now if everyone simply entered the loo to powder their noses, it wouldn't present much of a problem in my book. But no. I have lost count of the number of 'guests' who have frequented the toilet, performed their necessary ablutions (amplified with an acoustic precision that only a bathroom is able to provide) and then exited LEAVING THE DOOR OPEN when I am within spitting distance stirring bolognese sauce. It honestly feels at times that these people may as well have just taken a huge dump in my kitchen sink.

And of course my 'sensitivities' over this issue are magnified whenever visiting friends and I become the one having to answer a call of nature, typically not even a stone's throw away from where everyone is congregating. (It speaks volumes about how polite Americans can be—that they can continue to dutifully chug back beer whilst I am doing my damnedest not to rupture anyone's ear drums with a mortifyingly loud fart just 3 feet away - and then have the good grace to accept me back into the conversation when I have finished without missing a beat or raising a sardonic eyebrow.)

I guess I should just be grateful that all the 'kitchen toilets' I have encountered so far have a proper door on them at least. After all, it could be worse. They could be fitted with the shrunken door that you find on all public cubicles, where complete strangers get to watch you relieving your bladder (or worse) due to the huge gaps between the door and the door frame. But best not to get me started on that little bug bear...


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Sunday, January 24, 2010

Who You Callin' Feisty?

This week we are addressing the question posed last week by Maggie May

Are American women feistier than their British cousins?

Toni:

First of all, in the interest of decent debating, we should define “feisty". The American Heritage dictionary has touchy, quarrelsome, spirited and frisky; while Dictionary.com gives full of animation, energy or courage; spirited; spunky; plucky, as well as ill-tempered, pugnacious, troublesome, and difficult. Interestingly, the Cambridge Online dictionary has the most favo(u)rable meaning with “active, forceful and full of determination”. Over here in the States I’d say it’s definitely a positive attribute to which many American women aspire.

Hmmm. In my experience, American women definitely think of themselves as being very feisty, able to stand up for themselves and generally “spunky”, but having been brought up as one of their British counterparts, I have to say I see myself in a similar vein. I’m not sure where the idea comes from the British women are in the least bit meek or mild. In fact, I would go so far as to say that British women hold back far less than my American friends. I have a great group of English girlfriends who come to the States for a long weekend every year. They often stay with me, and my American friends think they are almost shocking in their openness and willingness to “go there” in conversations. However, a quick Internet search on “Feisty American women” brings up a slew of articles and blogs in which American women call themselves “feisty”.

So personally, no, I don’t think American women are feistier, it’s just that “feisty” is the word of choice in the States. I’m trying to think of the British equivalent?


Mike:

Like Toni said, a lot of it comes down to what you mean by "feisty." I tend to think of it as straightforward, not taking any guff and not the more disparaging connotations of the word. So when I call someone feisty, it is a compliment, not a criticism.

That said, I have to agree with Toni here, too. While I can point to any number of American women who fit the "feisty" bill, I have to admit that they are edged out by the women I have met here in Britain. They seem less willing to suffer fools and are quick to let you know where you stand with them.

So on the scale of feistiness, American women are feisty, but British women are just that bit more so.

Your mileage may vary.



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Sunday, January 17, 2010

It's Only Words

This week we look at words and phrases:

Toni:

I picked up an interesting book the other day. “Let’s Talk Turkey; The Stories behind America’s Favorite Expressions”, by Rosemarie Ostler. You’d think, since I’ve lived in the States for almost twenty years I’d know most of them. Hmmm, it appears not.

Until a few days ago I had no idea what “being behind the eight ball” meant, even though it’s quite a common American phrase. I’d have guessed it was a good position to be in, but no, in fact it means quite the opposite. If you’re behind the eight ball, you’re in serious trouble, or a tricky situation.

OK, what about a “bum’s rush? No – get your minds out of the gutter, it means to be forcibly ejected from somewhere or told to leave in a hurry. Remember, the American word “bum” means a tramp rather than a posterior, so the bum’s rush derives from wanting to rid a place of undesirable characters.

And Brit’s, what do you think you’d be being asked for if someone requested your John Hancock? It hardly bears thinking about really does it? John Hancock was one of the founders of the United States and the first man to sign the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Apparently from the late nineteenth century onwards, John Hancock has been slang for one’s signature. A bit like Cockney rhyming slang without the rhyming.

And finally, the one that I still have to think about although I probably hear it at least once a week, “crying Uncle”. That’s the verb “crying” rather than the adjective. Apparently Mike couldn’t believe that his English wife had never heard this, so common is it in the US. And there’s absolutely no guessing what it could mean. Similar to “crying wolf” perhaps? No – not even warm. It means to surrender or ask for mercy. I would give you the origin but there are so many versions I’d be over my word count.


Mike:

Toni skated up to the edge of some smutty words but in this half, we’re going to dive right in:

Twat.

This word is an amazement to me over here for a number of reasons. First, although it is not something you’d hear at a royal banquet, unless Prince Philip was there, it is definitely used more in conversation here than it is in The States. It doesn’t have quite the same sting here; it’s a more friendly pejorative than its colonial cousin.

Also, there’s the matter of pronunciation. Typically, the Brits use softer versions of words and leave the sharpened consonants to us Americans. Bahth is a typical example, which I pronounce bath, with a shortened, sharper “a”. In the case of Twat, however, the Americans pronounce it Twot, with a rounded vowel, giving it the weight of seriousness, whereas the Brits use the more playful, but typically American, “at” sound.

The use is different, as well. While it is used as a euphemism for a woman’s “bottom front” in both countries, in Britain, it also means a disagreeable or silly person, irrespective of gender. It’s the type of jibe a friend might throw at you if you’re acting up: “Stop being such a twat!”

You don’t call a woman a twat in The States unless you want her to introduce her high heels to your groin area.

And I won’t even go into the “C” word.


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Sunday, January 10, 2010

Tea in London Guest Post

This week we welcome Denise LeCroy former blogger and founder of Tea in London.



Denise:

Do you have a passion for something, or perhaps a passion for several something’s? Hello! My name is Denise LeCroy and I have several passions – tea, travel and London.
Several years ago, I married a man from London and left the United States to live with him in that most glorious of cities. I had visited London before with friends, but living there was a dream of a lifetime. I think I dragged my poor husband to every tearoom, tea shop and tea event in London during those years!
When we returned to the states, I settled into married life on this side of the pond and the days and weeks proceeded smoothly until a routine mammogram showed an abnormality that turned out to be breast cancer. Early detection saves lives. Surgery and radiation followed immediately, all went well, and today I celebrate being four years cancer free.

Throughout those soul-searching months of recovery my illness forced upon me a new perspective on many things…life, relationships, what matters and what doesn’t matter. I was given a second chance and was reminded that it was time to dust off my dreams and goals and aspirations that had been neglected for far too long.

I thought about my passions and how I wanted to further pursue them. I already had been a local tea educator for quite some time and although I was also a seasoned traveler, I studied to become a London Destination Specialist. I realized that London’s rich tea history was being virtually neglected by the travel industry, and so I started Tea in London tours - the perfect combination of my love for tea, travel and London.

English Afternoon Tea at traditional and non-traditional venues is a daily event on our tours, together with a combination of other unique activities that include guided walks through areas in London where the tea trade once ruled England’s commerce; visits to museums and galleries to discover old and new tea treasures; journeys to gardens and ancestral homes of early English tea drinkers; and much more. (I can assure you that if one digs deep enough - and I have - one can find a tea-connection to almost anything in London!)
We use a charming hotel in Bloomsbury as our base. It’s a great, quiet location. All of our transport is on a private, comfortable air-conditioned coach and my favorite London Blue Badge Guide, Sarah, accompanies us every day. She loves tea, and you will love her.
But Tea in London is not strictly for tea lovers as we encounter many of London’s famous places and landmarks. Opportunities for shopping are built-in, as well as a free day to privately experience London.
The next Tea in London tour is scheduled for September 13-18, 2010 and I am happy to announce that it will include an optional full-day Tea Masterclass with tea expert Jane Pettigrew. I invite you to visit our website TeaInLondon for more information about the Masterclass and about the tour.
I hope 2010 will be the year that you have Tea in London!
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If you would like more information about this topic, or to schedule an interview with Denise LeCroy, ring 843.901.0642 or send an email to admin@teainlondon.com

Sociable