Observations of an American in England.

As most of you know, we just came back from England visiting family. It was wonderful to see everyone and be back in the land of curries English roasts.  I loved that the kids were able to make memories there with their extended family. It was the second trip for them, although this was first trip that Jacob will remember. We have always wanted England to become normal and familiar to them.  A place that they associate with family and warm fuzzy memories, like eating dessert (or “pudding”) at their grandparents’ house or going somewhere random like Wookey Hole.

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This is Wookey Hole.  A place that British adults would call “cheesy,” and American adults would call “fun.”

Now I have been to England seven times since meeting Richard.  I’ve noticed that, as a result, England has become somewhat familiar to me as well.  The things that were a “novelty” to me back in the day are no longer novelties.  I remember at one point being fascinated with riding in the front seat on the left side without driving, and once having my face stuck to the window the entire drive back to Redditch from London because I couldn’t get enough of the scenery. I have lost a lot of the initial feelings of wonder that come with visiting somewhere different, which is both a good and a bad thing I think.  Good in the way that I can now go into Boots and know what paracetemol is.  Bad in the way that rolling hills now all look the same to me.

I was thinking about all of this on the plane ride home (when I had a lot of time to think).  On the one hand, I’m happy that my kids will have visited England so often that they can become familiar with it.  It’s great that they can be a citizen of two countries, that they can understand the “code” of both, and be able to juggle two different vocabularies without skipping a beat.  They have a literal and cultural door open to them with both.  But on the other hand I think it’s kind of sad that they’ll never see England as I saw it that first time, as an adult that had never been to any country that actually had a queen, black taxis that look like hearses, police officers with fake guns, villages made out of STONE, and an entire store filled with candy I didn’t recognize and had yet to try.  

So, in an attempt to recreate my initial feelings regarding England, I’ve made a list of things that wigged me out back in 2000.  And some continue to wig me out to this day.  Do people still say “wig out?”  Whatever, I do.

So, to my future teenage/adult children.  I know that England is about as different to you as turkey is to an American on Thanksgiving, but just when you start thinking “the two countries are not that different,”  here is proof that they are. Here is mom’s top 25 list (in no particular order) of things in England that have, at some point, completely freaked me out.

Observations of an American in England

  1. The size of things.  And we’re not just talking houses, cars or roads, although that is true, but just the concept of distance.  I can’t even tell you how many times I have heard people complain about something being “too far,” only to realize that their “too far” is my trip to the mall.  This was honestly the first thing about England that I noticed.
  2. The scenery. Remember, England is smaller than Georgia, which means that there is a specific look that most of the country shares.  I had heard the term “green, rolling hills” used to describe England before I went many times.  But I was surprised at the sheer amount of green, rolling hills.  They are gorgeous. And there’s a lot of them.  Like, a butt load.  Image
  3. Villages. The fact that a “village” really exists and is not just what it takes to bring up children.
  4. Game/panel shows. Oh. my. word.  So many of them.  All hosted by middle aged/older men who have shaggy hair and very loud button down shirts.                   Image
  5. A hot water tap and a cold water tap.  I don’t even know, guys. Image
  6.  Sunday roast and “bubble and squeak.”   For my American friends, every Sunday British people will eat essentially the same meal but swap out the meat. The leftovers eaten the next day are called “bubble and squeak.”  It is the British version of comfort food, and for those that don’t know, that bread thing is called a “yorkshire pudding” and is served with every roast you will ever have.                           .Image
  7.  Eating out and what you can expect from a restaurant.  This is really too complicated to make a short list about. But here is a good summary. Click here to see what I mean.
  8. Using a knife and fork. Constantly. When I first went to England this was a major source of stress for me.  Everyone seemed to have this very specific set of rules regarding eating, and they eat in such a precise way.  Seriously, watching my mother-in-law put food on her fork is mesmerizing.  Now I don’t allow it to stress me out, although I will hold a knife in my hand while I’m eating in England just to fit in a little bit. But I never hold it in the “correct way.”  This is one of the first things an American will notice when eating out with English people.
  9.  An insane amount of saying “please.” This is not to say that Americans don’t say please, but leaving out a please or two is not the cultural faux pas that it would be in Britain. An example being…In America you can get away with saying, “excuse me, do you have the time?”  That would be considered perfectly polite. Many times, in America, the “please” is implied through the tone of voice and the smile on your face, but in England that’s not going to cut it. Just warning you.  And they won’t accept this cultural difference. When in Rome, you better do what the Romans do, America.  When you ask for the time you better tack on a please for good measure…because just asking in a nice voice is going to get you labeled as rude. Below is a really good TEDtalk about this cultural difference                                                                                                                                                           
  10. Public Transportation.  I think this was more of a shock coming from a state where, if you’re a woman taking a bus, you better have some pepper spray.  Saying that, if your car breaks down, it’s REALLY convenient.
  11. Walking. This is a nice change. And contrary to what many people in England might think, Americans do not drive because we’re lazy. It’s just our cities aren’t built for pedestrians. Want to walk to the grocery store from my parents house? Go ahead! I’ll see you in 8 hours.
  12. No ceiling fans. And many times no AC in houses. When I first came over in the summer this was a big shock to me. And that particular summer it was about 92 degrees. So needless to say the difference was noted.
  13. Bubble bath. And baths in general. I think the Romans started something there.
  14.  On a sidewalk, people walk the way they drive- they will move to the left to get out of your way. I will run into them. Every time.
  15. Sales tax is included. And while I get why Americans do not include it, it’s so nice to not have to do the math.
  16. Lack of salt. It’s typical to not find a salt and pepper shaker on the table, even at a restaurant. If you want it, you have to ask for it. Which always makes me feel rude for asking.
  17. Everything is super old.  There are old things in America as well. Case in point, the Anasazi Indian ruins.   Image                                                                                                                                   The difference is their stuff is “white people old.”
  18. I might get in trouble for this one.  But complaining about America’s politics happens a lot in England, particularly in newspapers.  You hear a lot about America’s “aggressive foreign policies.”  I always tell Richard, “well, if it weren’t for England’s aggressive foreign policy, America wouldn’t be here.”  :-D
  19. Heaters attached to the wall.
  20. Signs like this.

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Okay, then.

21.   Not talking at dinner. I noticed that when the English sit down to eat, they seriously sit down to eat. If kids start talking at the table during dinner time, they are quickly reminded to “eat their food.”  And you better eat it. Like, all of it.

22.  Sarcasm. Another thing that was difficult for a Southerner to get used to.

23. Puns. Richard tries to use them in American company, and crickets chirp. But he’s English so he gets a “get out of jail free card.”

24. A certain amount of cynicism. This is very obvious when you are from another culture. I don’t think Richard realized it about himself until he moved here. It does give them their wonderful dry wit, though.

25. A hatred for all things “tacky.”  If you want to watch someone in England squirm, suggest a game of mini golf next to the Guinness Book of World Records Museum and then go buy a cheap souvenir made in China to remember the occasion.  Suggest the same thing to an American?  Um,YES. And let’s go get ice cream when we’re done.

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