Monday, February 9, 2015

Moving Chronicles: Seoul to Bristol: Some Observations

None of these 3 photographs have anything to do with the topic of this post.  They are just an example of what MsCaroline walks past every day and has still not gotten over marveling at.

Bristol Central Library at night.

Row houses in Bath, near MsC's friend's house.  Yes, she is a little jealous. 

Yes, lots is going on.  In the last week, MsC has been to Wales, visited some Very Interesting Historic Places, and had a Job Interview(no word yet, she'll keep you posted), so there is no question that she is Out There Experiencing Life in the UK.

This is why she has not had time to write any sort of comprehensive posts about her experiences and, instead, will resort to a few brief observations with some (empty) promises to catch you up later when she's got more time.

For the moment, here are a few observations about life in the UK in the past week:

  • People in the UK can speak English:  This is actually a difficult thing for MsC to remember.  After so many years of expecting to be entirely on her own and never being able to ask anyone anything, she had completely forgotten that it was possible to communicate freely with nearly everyone around her.  Preparing to go to her job interview, she was bemoaning the fact that the British bus timetables are difficult to read (they don't include all the stops) and that most of the buses in Bristol do not have digital displays or audio announcements telling one what the upcoming stop is anyway.  Everyone just seems to instinctively know that 'The Centre' is the next stop and that's where they want to go. Even if one is aware that one is, say, on Corn Street, this, in itself, means nothing, since Corn Street can be miles long and include any number of stops which may or may not be near one's intended destination. MsC had resorted lately to turning on Google Maps on her phone when she was on the bus, and, when she got near where she wanted to be, hoping she was getting off at the correct stop.  After several weeks of this sort of anxiety-producing travel, she mentioned her concerns to a friend, who asked her why she didn't just tell the bus driver where she was going and ask him/her to tell her when she needed to get off.   Oh, right.  I can do that here. Needless to say, this has changed everything.
  • The opportunity to learn new words presents itself regularly:  For example, at MsC's last choir practice, she was informed that one of the directors would not be there because he had   the 'lurgy.' As it turns out, having the 'lurgy' is a sort of a general term for 'being ill with whatever prevailing bug or virus is going around' similar to what MsC's mother refers to as having 'the crud.' This reminded MsC of her move to Kentucky, when she learned that the word 'puny' could be used to describe someone who wasn't feeling well, as in, "John's puny, he won't be at choir practice tonight.'  Since MsC had only previously used the word 'puny' in its most narrow dictionary definition (small and insignificant) she was charmed by this, adopted it immediately, and continues to use it to this day (although she always has to explain herself if she uses it with anyone but her immediate family or Kentuckians.)  She is similarly charmed by 'lurgy' and has plans to take it back with her and introduce it into North American vernacular.  You're welcome. Other words that have now transitioned from her passive to active vocabulary include:   hob (stovetop), till (cash register/checkout), and take-away (carryout).  
  • Delightful surprise:  driving is mostly polite and orderly: Keeping in mind that the AsiaVus are coming from nearly 4 years of the hurly-burly that is Driving in Seoul, their experience in the UK has been an absolute pleasure.   MsC and MrL rented ('hired') a car last weekend and - once MsC stopped panicking at every.single.roundabout ('traffic circle' or 'rotary' to N.American readers) - were pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to drive here.  No one beeps their horn, no one tailgates aggressively if they feel one is driving too slowly, no one drives aggressively past one and cuts them off.  To the contrary, there is an incredible amount of friendly gesturing, allowing drivers to get into a line across traffic, and extremely orderly merging (even in the parking lot at the mall - the mall, people.) Navigating down a narrow street in a small village with cars parked on either side and not enough room for 2 cars abreast?  No worries, mate.  Your friendly English driver will pull courteously into the nearest space on the side of the street and gesture kindly for you to go on by. And when MrL, upon spotting an oncoming ambulance - siren wailing, lights flashing - pulled compliantly over to the side of the road, the ambulance driver waved a 'thanks' as he passed.  
  • Everyone wants to know your title:  (This could become a very compelling discussion about cultural bias, the notion of social class, and some of the differences between Americans and their English cousins, but MsC is fairly certain she is the only one who would find it interesting, so she will just say that she finds it an intriguing reminder of one of the lingering contrasts between the two cultures.)  From your bank account to your Boots (that's Walgreens to us North Americans) Loyalty card, every form you fill out will start out by asking you what your title is.  In the US, this is almost always an optional frill, mostly for people who have titles which indicate a specialized calling, (Dr., Rev.)  or who have worked for an advanced degree (PhD, JD.)  It is also important if you're in the military, but not in the greater population, since Safeway couldn't care less if you were or a Corporal or a General. While there are certainly plenty of  people with titles floating around  in the US,  in this one small way, American culture remains true (on paper, at least) to the notion that Everyone Is Equal To Everyone Else.  While some Americans do, in fact, have titles, they aren't considered important enough to worry about on a computer form, and are almost always optional: no one really cares if I am 'Ms' or 'Mrs.' anyway. That is not the case in England, at least on forms.  Before they even ask me my name, it is absolutely vital for the computer program to know whether I am a Mrs., a Ms, a Sir, a Lady, a Dr., a Reverend,or an Esquire (I'm sure there are more, I've just never looked at the list beyond 'Ms.") And this is not an option, it's got to be filled out - MsCaroline has personal experience with this - or else the form won't process.  What's even more interesting to MsC is that, while Titles Are Important, not all of them are used in speaking anyway, which means that the person who removes your appendix is called, "Mr. Jekyll" by everyone who addresses him - but MsCaroline assumes that his Boots card reads 'Dr. Jekyll."  Conversely, in the US, one would most certainly address one's doctor as 'Dr. Jekyll' and his Walgreens card probably just reads, 'Robert Jekyll.'  Interesting stuff, culture.