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.  


Lurgy is a great word. I had no idea it wasn't used in America until I once asked a mother at a birthday party in the US if her family had had the "lurgy" that was going around, and she looked horrified. "What's that?" she asked with a disgusted look on her face.

Regarding the doctor who removes your appendix, once a surgeon is fully qualified he becomes Mr. So he doesn't have Dr. on his Boots card (unless he got the card earlier on in his career). Other doctors remain "Dr." You are right, it's confusing. Mind you, I always find it strange that in Italy, anyone with a professional degree calls themsself "Dr" so it usually doesn't denote anything medical.
MsCaroline said…
Ah, so that's how you spell it! I wasn't quite sure. And, no, it hasn't made it to the US yet - at least not the parts where I've lived! I think the closest thing we have is 'bug,' as in, "My kids have that stomach bug that's going around.' Thanks for clarifying the Dr/Mr thing: I didn't realize that the difference had to do with qualified surgeons. What about women: do they become 'Ms.'? 'Mrs."? Just curious. ; )
Wilma said…
The title thing in our country is a sore-point with me. I spent all my life waiting to be Mrs. Somebody and the year I got married was apparently the year it was somehow decided that it is appropriate for everyone to first-name everyone else. Forgive me if I sound like a snob but I don't want to be called Wilma by bank-tellers or whomever. I am Mrs. Mack, thank you very much. Here in AZ (at least in our part) we also do the Miss Wilma thing as well and that is okay too. For example, I call our apartment manager Miss Megan but she calls me Mrs. Mack. Sounds like the titles can get interesting over there though. I think I would like that.
Expat mum said…
I studied there (as did Nappy Valley Girl) and don't remember that library. However, that is not so much a reflection on my non-studying but because us lawyers had our own law library in the Wills Building so I never went to the regular library.
MsCaroline said…
Wilma - I'm with you and prefer to be on a last-name basis with people I've just met, especially given the fact that I have a job where I am 'Mrs.' all day long anyway and am used to it. 'Miss Whatever' works for me, too, and my boys grew up calling a number of our close friends 'Ms. + First Name' as well, although I didn't use it growing up. I have always disliked the chummy-chummy 'first name as soon as I meet you' thing, especially with salespeople, who seem to think it endears me to them. Grrr. As you can imagine, though, going from the title-averse (or, perhaps, neutral) US system to the title-required UK system was a bit of a surprise. Especially since it does not matter one whit to me how my mail is addressed since that seems to be the main purpose of the title.
MsCaroline said…
Expat Mum: The reason you don't remember it is because it is not part of the University; it is, in fact, the Bristol Central Library on College Green. I went back and looked at the map and realized that all the university buildings don't start for a few more streets.
Nance said…
All fascinating stuff. Titles are such a holdover, aren't they? At least you don't have to provide acreage as proof for your Mister or Missus.

"Lurgy" threw me because I assumed it was referring to "allergies", but it seems that it is not derivative of that at all. My mother was also a big fan of the generic "crud", also termed "The Creeping Crud" at times if we all passed it around and it was known to be from an outward source of unknown origin.

You have some incredible sight-seeing to take advantage of. I am so glad that you continue to do so with unceasing amazement. Good for you.

MsCaroline said…
Nance - yes, you're right: 'lurgy' seems to be exactly the same as the (creeping) crud - even in the way it seems to be preceded by 'the.' My parents always used the term, 'crud' or 'creeping crud' but I think that may no longer be part of American vernacular (maybe it's regional, as well.) I think most of us these days would just say something along the lines of, "I've got whatever's going around/I've got the bug that's going around." 'Crud' was certainly more colorful and descriptive, though. Just curious - have you ever heard 'puny' used referring to sickness? I know that there is a sizable Appalachian population in NEO, and am curious to know if they brought that usage with them.
Nance said…
RE: puny. No, I have not heard that particular application. I'm from NEO, but my grandparents, termed "Pennsylvania Dutch", had a great deal of odd dialectical sampling in their speech, and they never used it either.

We do have a lot of West VA influx here. They have not introduced that terminology. Perhaps it is more of a Western-leaning word. KY? That area?
BavarianSojourn said…
I dread to think what the driving must be like in Korea if you think the driving in the UK is polite and orderly! :D Good good luck with the job Emma xx
Trish said…
It's so funny to hear your take on things that seem normal to me but which would confuse a visitor. Lurgy, asking the bus driver to tell you when to get off, British forms requiring titles...
Very entertaining as always, MsCaroline...or is that Mrs?
MsCaroline said…
Nance - Could well be. There is a huge amount of WVA influence in that part of KY, where many people are from E. KY. I love little things like that!

Emma - I think it must be much nicer in Bristol and Bath than it is in London. There's a lot of friendly waving and letting people in and almost no honking of horns. It's surprisingly peaceful!

Trish - hahaha, I suppose technically it's 'Mrs.' - but Americans tend to be so incredibly informal, almost no one ever calls me that in the US except my students anyway. I am still struggling with 'You alright?' - have never worked out just how to respond adequately and comfortably to this (seemingly) very common Bristolian greeting. I keep meaning to say, "Great! You?' but I'm still so taken aback by it that I never respond fast enough anyway..sigh.
you are right about the response to the "All right?" question. Pretty much always, unless on the point of death, it's "Great thanks. You?"
And titles, yes. People do still use them but only in fairly formal settings. My doctor's surgery uses them which I approve of really.
MsCaroline said…
Elizabeth - I'm getting better at responding, but it still takes me aback. We walked into a pasty shop yesterday and the 2 blokes behind the counter greeted us with, "Alright?" I am used to it in some situations, but that one took me off guard. #2 has picked it up and now greets me with it whenever he rings, so I'm getting practice. As far as titles go, I agree - I would much rather be 'Mrs. Suchandso' than be addressed familiarly as 'Caroline' by everyone from the checkout lady to the gas man. Definitely a US practice that I can happily live without! Oh, and I have been thinking of you so much lately - everything in my garden is blooming and I can't identify half of it. It's quite a detective story. ; )

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