Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Life in the UK: English Lessons

Language:  it can be tricky

I don't think that there are many people left in the world who aren't aware that American English (AmE) and British English (BrE) have some significant differences.  (If you are one of them, just go to Urban Dictionary and type the following words into the search bar:  fanny, rubber, knickers, pants, bonnet.)  

There are plenty of expat blogs written by Americans in the UK who have had to adopt a completely new vocabulary (and vice versa.)  I regularly read this one written by an American linguist who teaches at a British University who specializes in the differences between our two versions of the language (oddly, I started reading it long before we ever moved to England...hmmmmm.)  In fact, before we left Seoul, my sister-in-law even sent me a US/UK dictionary, so, clearly, the information is out there.

In fact, in one of my very first posts written in the UK, I mentioned the word 'lurgy,' which I learned shortly after arriving.  My point is:  the fact that our languages are different should come as a surprise to no one - especially me.

And yet, it continues to surprise me, almost daily, the new words and phrases and uses I run across. Most of those that capture my interest - like, 'lurgy' are not the typical 'you use this word, we use that one' foreign exchange that we think of when we think of the two Englishes. Those are the easy ones:  boot=trunk, courgette=zucchini, post=mail.  But some of them are baffling.  Some are funny. Sometimes, they carry different connotations in each language.  It's these subtle differences that I like to mull over in my free time (let's not get into what that says about how boring my life is at the moment, shall we?)

So...I've decided to blog (occasionally) about the new words and usages I've been running across. Keep in mind, I'm living in Somerset, so I'm sure there's some regional usage involved.  I'll look forward to hearing your impressions, and, without further ado, here are the newest additions to my lexicon:

"Can I stroke your doggie?"  I hear this several times a week from children while I'm out walking Merlot.  An American child would, undoubtedly, ask me if she could 'pet' my doggie.  Mulling this over (we walk at least 3 miles a day - I have ample mulling time, trust me) I've decided that Americans really don't use the word 'stroke' much as a verb - especially not with animals - and, if we do, it would most likely be used with a cat, not a dog.  Why, I do not know.  Or maybe that's just me.

"I'll meet you at half ten."  In AmE, we'd probably just say, "I'll meet you at ten-thirty" or, possibly, "half-past ten."  For me, the waters have been significantly muddied by the fact that, in German, 'half ten' (halb zehn) means 'nine-thirty,' or 'halfway to ten.'  I'd never heard it used in English before, and initially had to ask for clarification.  On the other hand, I have an excuse if I show up places at the wrong time.

"It's so warm, you really don't even need a jumper."  In this context, a jumper (as far as I have been able to deduce) is a garment with long sleeves that you wear on top of another garment (a shirt or blouse or vest ( a vest, fyi, is a tank top or undershirt.)  Where I would probably use the terms sweater, sweatshirt, fleece, pullover (or whatever else came to mind) 'jumper' seems to cover anything with long sleeves - but isn't a jacket (this is still a bit vague, so I'm not sure if jacket is in that category or not. Input much appreciated from BrE readers.)   Whenever we take Merlot out wearing this little hoodie (or is it a jacket? or a fleece?) in England, we always get compliments on her 'smart jumper (aka 'attractive or nice-looking outer garment.)

Merlot in her smart jumper.

"Can I help?"  This is what shop assistants say to you in England when it is your turn for service, for example, if you are waiting in line (in a queue) and it's your turn to approach the register (till) or if you are wandering around the cosmetic section in confusion, looking for a cream that will make you look 10 years younger with a single application (I'm here to tell you, it doesn't exist,) or any other instance in which an American worker would say, "Can I help you?"  It's obvious that they are offering to help you (even if they don't say so) but I find it interesting that, in American English, the phrase, "Can I help?" is something I'd use, for, say, asking permission (I see you're baking cookies.  Can I help?) or offering to assist someone who is clearly in a bit over their heads (I see you're trying to lift that refrigerator alone.  Can I help?) Whereas, in American shops or restaurants, the phrase one usually hears is, "Can I help you?" Why? I don't know.

Note:  It's been a few years since I've spent much time in the US, so maybe these things are not as unusual as I think they are.  Comments, clarifications, questions, or corrections are always welcome! 

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Exploring in the UK: A Day Trip to Wells and Glastonbury Tor

In front of the Wells Cathedral

One of the things I've been observing about the UK is that it is absolutely, chock full of historic stuff.  Duh, MsCaroline, you are saying to yourself,  everyone knows that the UK and Europe are full of historic stuff.  What other glaringly self-evident observations do you have to share with us? Well, let me tell you what.  It may sound pretty self-evident when you are living somewhere else, but when you are surrounded by it every day, constantly finding yourself passing signs telling you that This building was modernised  in 1740  by the 7th Earl of Chesterwickshireham, it puts a new spin on things.

In the UK, everything is just oozing with history, which means that (to use one of my favorite new expressions) a visitor is 'spoilt for choice.'  Will it be the castle, or the Roman ruins? Druid stone circle? Historic mansion? Ship? Cathedral? Village? How to choose?

And that's the problem.  There is so much to see, you almost become paralyzed by all the options.  And I'm just talking about things that are within an hour's drive of home.  We haven't even started to explore the rest of the country yet, except for Cornwall, which is remarkable and which I will blog about eventually soon.

So you can imagine my relief when, shortly after our arrival in January, I got an email from one of my long-time favorite bloggers, Potty Mummy, kindly offering some suggestions for a few day trips around our area.  I was pathetically grateful.  At last! Guidance! Focus! Help!

I picked the first thing on her list, and this is how it came to pass that we headed out the very next Saturday to Wells and Glastonbury Tor.

Weekend market in the city centre in Wells.

Wells is a charming little medieval city in the Somerset district of England.  It is the seat of the Bishop of Bath and Wells (the Bishop's Palace can also be toured) and the location of the Wells Cathedral, built between the 12th and 14th centuries.

The city itself is incredibly picturesque, complete with cobblestone streets and historic buildings, including a fountain in the town square, medieval stone walls, and a Tudor-style historic pub, which is probably why it was chosen as the location for the Simon Pegg film, Hot Fuzz, which concerns a London police officer who is transferred to a (seemingly) idyllic village in Gloucestershire.  It's easy to see why Wells was chosen, since 'idyllic' should be part of its official name:

Kids playing by the fountain in the village courtyard (fountain featured pretty prominently in Hot Fuzz as well!)

National Trust gift shop and archway leading to the Bishop's Palace.

Lots of adorable shops, restaurants, tearooms, and pubs.  Ooooooozing charm!

Since we are huge Hot Fuzz fans, we were probably a little more excited than normal people would have been about visiting Wells, especially when we spotted buildings that had featured prominently in the film, such as 'The Swan' Hotel, and  'The Crown' pub:

This is actually the back of 'The Crown,' which I did not realize when I took this photo.

It goes without saying that we had to stop in for a pint. And a bite to eat.  It was an interesting mix of fancy tourists and down-to-earth locals.  We spent most of our time conversing with a man whose Staffordshire terrier was wearing a very unusual garment which piqued our interest.  The jacket was different from your typical dog outerwear in that it looked like it had been removed directly from the sheep upon its demise and placed immediately on the dog's back with no concern about silly things like fit and size. (In fact, I initially thought it was a sheepdog lying there on the floor until I noticed that the dog's head didn't match its coat.) Imagine, if you will, a dog with a Flokati rug tied on its back and you will understand why we were intrigued.  As you can imagine, the owner was the most interesting person we talked to all day.

After our refreshment, we decided to tour the Cathedral, which, as the historic seat of the Bishops of Bath and Wells, was truly gorgeous.  Since MrL took all the interior photos, you will have to take my word for it, or google 'Wells Cathedral.'

But here are a few shots of the exterior:

We also took a stroll around the grounds of the Bishop's Palace (you can take a tour of the palace itself, but we were heading for Glastonbury at that point,) which featured a moat (our boys would have appreciated this when they were younger) complete with swans:

After a stroll around the moat, we set our sights (and the GPS/SatNav) on the next spot on our itinerary:

Glastonbury Tor.

For those of you aren't interested in don't have time to read up on it, 'Tor' just means 'hill or rocky peak.'  It is also described in other places as a 'prominent hill.'  It is supposed to be a significantly spiritual location, a former place of pilgrimage for Christians as well as a meaningful site for Pagans. Legend also links the Holy Grail of King Arthur to this site.  At its peak today sits nothing but a lone tower, which may have been part of a church that was planned (or built) here in the the 15th century.

Approaching the Tor.

Even if it were not historically and spiritually significant, the Glastonbury Tor would be worth hiking for the views alone.  The view of the countryside is sweeping, and on a clear day (which we, sadly, did not have) you can supposedly see all the way to Bath (miles away.)

Setting our GPS/SatNav, we drove into the countryside and soon found ourselves approaching the Tor.  It turns out that most people enter from the direction of a town called 'Burrow Mump' (I will never get over that name, by the way) which is where you pick up the concrete footpath leading to the top.  However, due to a really annoyingwacky and laughable SatNav glitch, we found ourselves on the other side of the Tor, on a lane backing up to some fields. After seeing a knowledgable-looking party wearing waterproofs and wellingtons striding purposefully in what we thought looked like the right direction, we ended up parking on a side road, following a  public footpath through someone's sheep pasture (I love how you can do that in England) eventually joining the concrete footpath about halfway up with a crowd of other breathless hill-climbers.

We were sure that the Tor was just over this hill (it was)

Almost at the top

Nearly there.


As promised, the views at the top were spectacular, - sort of difficult to tell in this very odd panoramic shot.
Despite a bit of drizzle, there were plenty of people out, and, as with so many outdoor venues in England, there were more than a few dogs along for the adventure, which, in their case, involved chasing rabbits.  The grassy hill area around the Tor is absolutely crawling with wild rabbits - you saw them, their holes, and their poo, everywhere.  (Another good reason to stick to the footpath - both of us came close to breaking an ankle- and wellingtons are a good idea, too.) MrL even suggested that this might have been the inspiration for the cover of Watership Down, and I'd be inclined to agree.

If you go:  Wells is a charming medieval city ('the smallest city in England') about an hour's drive from Bristol or Bath.  Glastonbury Tor is about a 15-20 minute drive from Wells.  There is no National Trust car park, but there are public (fee-paying) car parks at Burrow Mump, Glastonbury Tor, and Collard Hill (if you don't fancy parking on the roadside like we did and hiking cross-country.)  You don't need to be an athlete (trust me, I'm not one), but you need to be fit enough to walk up the steep uphill path.  There are benches halfway up if you need a break. 

Monday, April 20, 2015

Life in the UK: A(n) (quarterly) Update

No, this is not my garden, and no, MsCaroline has not become a Peeping Tom, but it's difficult not to at least glance when this is the sort of thing you walk by all the time.

Spring has sprung here in England, and I've been rejoicing in blue skies, warm days full of brilliant sunshine, and pretty much every single flowering thing in creation exploding into bloom. This has been a lovely contrast to the near-daily rain we experienced between January and March, and I'm hoping it will last for at least a while (although, if the Tesco deliveryman is to be believed, this will all end in a week or so and we'll spend the next 4-5 months slogging around in waterproofs and wellies, because this is what happens every summer now because of the global warming climate change.  Thanks for the encouragement, Mr. Tesco Man.)

Since we last met here in the blogiverse (if that is, in fact, a place,) things have been moving steadily forward in that way things have of doing (you'll note that I have not categorized this post under 'moving chronicles' because we've been here 5 weeks already and, in my book, once you've been somewhere for a month, you're pretty much done moving whether you feel like it or not) specifically:

The Sitting Room:  clearly, there was not going to be room for a 2nd sofa, even if it was a loveseat.

  • We moved into our rental house  Although we had downsized assiduously before moving to Korea, we still found ourselves bursting out of the seams of the new place.  This was compounded by the fact that our house - like many older homes in Europe - had no closets.  The answer to this, of course, was to buy some freestanding wardrobes, which required us to move everything out of the room in question(and let me just say that every room was packed to the gills) in order to assemble the wardrobes (they were too big to carry up the stairs assembled, and, yes, we'll have to disassemble them in order to move them out when we go and we are not even thinking about that right now lalalala) and then carry everything back in to put it away or hang it up.  We also have one sofa too many and a dining room table that is far too large, which means doing a sort of shimmy to slide between it and the sideboard and the sofa is in the garage until we figure out what to do with it, which makes MrL crazy because he can't do garage-y things until there is space to move in there (sidenote:  in the UK, your garage is pronounced 'GEHR-ahj', not 'guh-RAHJ'.  In case you were wondering.) Not that it matters anyway, since we're eating in the kitchen these days. The ever-eloquent MrL has succinctly described our moving-in process as "Stuffing 10 pounds of rubbish in a five-pound bag."  Except he did not use the word 'rubbish.'   

  • Our dog arrived from Korea Long-time readers will recall that we left Merlot (our French Bulldog/Boston Terrier or some combination thereof) in Korea with our petsitter when we moved to the UK, with a reunion being dependent on us finding a rental that permitted dogs - which we (thankfully) were able to do. After almost 2 1/2 months, reams of documentation, and (groan) some hefty financial investment, we collected her at the Animal Reception Centre at Heathrow, to our mutual delight.  She spent most of the ride home demonstrating her pleasure at seeing us again. 
Let's just say she was very excited and continued to demonstrate this for most of the 90-minute ride home from the airport

  • Since then, she has been learning about Living in a House With A Garden in a Country With Tons of Grass and Trees and Many Other Dogs. This is a significant departure from life in an apartment, walks through the concrete jungle, and only very occasional other dog sightings.  She has also experienced squirrels for the first time, never having seen any in the extremely urban landscape that we lived in in Seoul.  We suspect that she may have thought that the first one was a small grey dog, because she did a lot of head-tilting and wagging - initially.  She was thunderstruck when it ran up a tree, and spent quite a lot of time trying to follow it, crying, and circling the tree.  Once it was clear that a friendship wasn't going to develop, the squirrel became her Arch Nemesis, and - in accord with all other dogs in the British Isles - she has come to see it as her responsibility to chase each and every squirrel that crosses her path.  

It's a mathematics problem - see the plus signs?
  • Son#2 Turned 18  It seems absolutely impossible that my youngest child could:  a) be 18, and b) be heading off to Uni in the fall, but somehow, it really did happen. We celebrated with dinner and drinks (legal drinking age is 18 in the UK, an extra bonus) at a local steak house, and had a visit from one of his high school classmates from Seoul who is now attending Uni in London.  While I think I did pretty well in managing to make a cake from scratch less than a week after moving into the new house, I didn't plan so well for the candles and had to improvise at the last minute. 

  • We've been doing a lot of sightseeing.  We joined the National Trust and English Heritage (sort of like joining the National Parks in the US, only these two grant you admission to hundreds of castles, stately homes, and other historic buildings in England, Scotland, and Wales.)  We've hiked up cliffs and wandered through crumbling ruins of castles and mines, marveled at cathedrals and abbeys, tramped through damp fields full of sheep and ancient stone circles (there are more than just Stonehenge, really, and the sheep don't seem to mind) and goggled at incredibly sophisticated Roman ruins.  And all of that has just been in a few hours' drive from home.  And, yes, we did a lot of it in the rain, because if you wait for a nice day before you do things, you may never get anything accomplished.  I really do have every intention of posting about these trips, but they seem to be piling up faster than I can post about them.  

At Wells Cathedral

  • I've been enjoying my new city.  Actually, to be more precise, I've been enjoying walking around the outskirts of my new city.  I really do appreciate that Bath is lovely and historic, its architecture is graceful and classic, and the Roman baths are incredible, but after almost 4 years in an Asian megalopolis of concrete, metal,  glass,  and Jumbotrons, I am less interested in the City Centre (and its shops and tourists) and more interested in what really does my soul good:  sights like this:
Cherry blossoms blooming on my street

View from the bridge over the Avon

Merlot appreciates the rolling hills of Somerset.

Sunset over the park.