Thursday, November 19, 2015

Life in England: From my Phone

November has not been particularly sunny in Bath

After breaking the silence of four months the ages, MsCaroline has had a second wind in the blogging department and is absolutely determined that four more months will not pass before she posts again. 

To that end (and because she is, essentially, slothful), MsC has decided to just post some photos that she's taken in the last week or so (with a little commentary, of course, because MsC is nothing if not chatty) and call it a post.  She'll do this once a week (unless she's got something better to post) because, after all, most of her readers know her from some other life and are at least mildly interested in the day-to-day that comprises her life in England now.  

Maybe, at some point, she'll return to the whining witty and cynical observations for which she is known, but at this point, she's going with photos.  

The photo above sums up (more or less) what November has been like here in the South West:  grey.  Although I should point out that the weather in that particular photo is actually fairly nice, all things considered.  (I should also point out that, after living for almost a year in the UK, I now consider any weather that does not include a downpour to be 'fairly nice.'  This means that a drizzle, or mist, or intermittent showers do not count as Actual Rain.)  I will say that we were fairly warned about this, so I'm not complaining, just observing.  And, as I've stated many times in the past - thank God for waterproof clothing.

A few days after the initial injury, with sling to support non-working rear legs.

Quite a bit of my time has been taken up with our wee dog, Merlot, (a Boston Terrier/French bulldog mix known as a 'Frenchton' or 'Frenchbo') who managed to hurt her back with an ill-fated leap onto a bed that was Too High For Her.  She had hurt herself back in May (more leaping: we do our best to prevent it) and had struggled with hindleg weakness, but recovered quite well under a strict rest regime lasting a few long months which was very trying for all involved (try keeping an active 2-year-old dog on Strict Rest and see how well you do.  I dare you.)  This time, she hurt herself enough that her hindlegs were nearly paralyzed (we had to use a sling to hold up her rear legs, during which time MrL callously referred to her as our 'dog marionette') and this involved a week of hospitalization and specialist referrals which were sad and annoying and bloody expensive.  Ultimately, an MRI revealed that she had spinal bruising from a 'low-velocity ruptured disc' and that surgery was not needed (need I say how relieved we were?) She came home on 'Strict Rest' again and has been sequestered in her basket except for potty breaks for weeks, but is now able to take short 15-minute walks around the neighborhood.  She's still a bit wobbly in the caboose, and hunches like Quasimodo, but the main thing is that she's not in pain and can get about under her own steam.

Remembrance Day (Veteran's Day in the USA) was observed on 11th November with a parade (including several WWII veterans!), wreath-laying, many, many poppies, and a church service.  I caught a few shots of the city's dignitaries as they left the Guildhall after the parade on their way to the church service, including the Mayor (he's the one in red):

US Mayors never wear anything interesting at all
and one of his legal counsel, who probably has a glorious title to accompany his wig and excellent robe.

Pretty sure this was a barrister or the Mayor's Counsel, or something legal
What all of this tells me is that the US needs to up their ceremonial robe game significantly. 

In other news, Christmas is coming, which it has been doing for quite some time now in the UK, but since there's no Thanksgiving to squabble about, no one is making statements about how terrible it is that people are decorating before Thanksgiving.  The first sign I noticed was the Invasion of the Mince Pies and Christmas Cakes and Puddings in my local Tesco Express:

 Christmas Cakes (and their near relative, the Christmas Pudding) are baked about 2 months in advance of Christmas (the cakes are 'fed' weekly with liquor whilst they're maturing) contain lots of dried things, and are tightly wrapped, there's no worries about spoiling, even if they're out on the shelves months in advance.  The mince pies seem to be disappearing at a high rate of speed as part of the season.  Note:  mince pies should not be confused in any way with 'mince' which is what the British call 'ground beef'.  They are basically tiny pies full of preserve-y fruity deliciousness, best eaten warm and topped with cream. Once you understand this, everything falls into place.  In other places, decorations are going up:

Christmas tree outside the train station.
Old-world market booths are appearing in the City Centre in advance of the actual Christmas Market

Lights and decorations have been up for weeks
 although we have a week or two to go before the Christmas Market in our own City Centre opens (most of them open the last week in November) so this is all just a warm-up from what I understand.

In the same vein, we went to the mall at Cribb's Causeway in Bristol last week, and I was gobsmacked to see that they'd had snow!

Not real snow

On closer examination, though, I discovered that it was all fake, part of the set of the temporary man-made outdoor skating rink (largest in the South West!) complete with Fairy Tale Ice Castle - conveniently located right outside of John Lewis!

Also included:  a seating area for viewers, and a number of charming little kiosks selling hot drinks, chestnuts, and the like:

Roasted chestnuts and mulled wine 
German-style wurst stand
It's definitely beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Tomayto, Tomahto

(Note:  MsCaroline is well aware that it's been four months a while since she posted anything on her blog, and maybe someday when she's old and retired eventually she'll get around to catching up, but for now, she's just jumping in where she is. Suffice it to say that the 1-year anniversary of the move to England is fast approaching, a certain amount of acclimatization has been accomplished, and time is storming by at its usual breakneck pace.)

Even before MsCaroline moved to the UK, she was a fan of a number of British blogs, including a couple written by British and American expats, so she was well aware that a certain amount of linguistic confusion awaited her on the Other Side of The Pond.  As a moderate Anglophile who had had more than a few dealings with speakers of BE (British English) during the course of her lifetime, she really did feel (wrongly, as it turns out) that she was as well-prepared (as well as anyone could be) for her move to the UK - at least with regard to the language. And, she reasoned, she was still farther along than she'd been in Korea, where her conversation was limited to a stockpile of approximately 25 words and phrases.

MsCaroline already knew about spelling differences and things like cash register being called a till and shopping carts being called trolleys.  She knew about car things:  bonnet and boot instead of hood and trunk;  and she knew that underwear was knickers but that underwear was also pants and that it would result in an embarrassing faux pas if she referred to her pants when she really meant to discuss her trousers (although she did not know until her arrival that pants could also be a British English term of derision as in The film was pants. But she digresses.)

So it was, in this state of blissful ignorance optimism that she moved to the UK not anticipating too many communication issues whatsoever.  And, naturally (as always seems to be the case) she was soon to learn just how wrong she was.

Knowing that at least some of her readers would be keen to enjoy a laugh at her expense learn something new, she decided that an occasional post highlighting a few differences between AE (American English) and BE (British English) might be worthwhile.

Let MsC emphasize that what she is sharing with you is only the merest tip of the linguistic iceberg, but one must start somewhere, mustn't one?

Let's start with a few phrases:

Poor little sausage/dumpling = poor little thing.  Example, "Well, she really is a poor little sausage, isn't she?"  Used by our vet to refer to our dog, miserable due to a back injury.  Highly accurate. Also adorable.

Fit as the butcher's dog = in extremely good shape or physically very attractive, not necessarily to do with actual fitness.  ('Fit' on its own is often used in the same context where an American would say 'hot' or 'good-looking' or even the old-fashioned 'fine' as in, "Oh, wow, (S)He's fit!") A direct quote from a Cornish bartender in regard to a tour group of Russians staying in the hotel shortly before we arrived:  "Every one of 'em had a wife that was as fit as the butcher's dog."  Hmmm.  Right then.

Touch wood:  =  knock on wood.  Close enough.

Other words:

fancy= to like, as in, 'Do you fancy kebabs for dinner?' or 'Do you think he fancies her?' This is surprisingly insidious, is used all the time by everyone, and when it pops out of one's American mouth for the first time, it sounds ridiculous. The feeling quickly passes, though.  In the same vein, we have the word

keen= a) to enjoy or like, or b) to be interested in or passionate about, as in, "We were really keen to see the new James Bond film."  Or, "My husband is a keen cyclist."  This is, if anything, even more insidious than 'fancy' and worms its way into one's vocabulary very quickly as well, and one suddenly finds oneself saying it without meaning to. 

Surname=  family name, last name, as opposed to first name.  Most N.Americans are aware of this word, but rarely (if ever) use it, in contrast to England, where it is used regularly.  Being asked, 'What's your surname?' often takes people like me who aren't expecting itAmericans by surprise and results in a slight processing delay.  Since this inquiry is accompanied by an unfamiliar pronunciation, the puzzled listener may have no idea what is being asked.  The fact that, as an expat, you are constantly signing up for things (utilities, clubs, dentists, warranties) means that you run across the question 'What's your surname?' all the time, and it take some getting used to.
Moral of story:  'Surname'= 'last name';  'Christian name' = first name.  (UK readers:  Most N.Americans would use 'Last name' and 'First name' in those situations)

Stone=  a unit of measurement equalling 14lbs and how people often refer to their weight.  "I weigh 10 stone" = "I weigh 140lbs."  "I weigh 10st 2"= "I weigh 142 lbs."  MsCaroline has nothing against measuring weight in stones vs pounds, especially since stones are smaller numbers.  However, any reasonable person will realize that most stone weights require the non-British listener to do at least
some calculating, which is not always MsCaroline's strong point. Naturally, if you have grown up in the UK and someone tells you they weigh '9 stone,' you have an immediate innate general understanding of what that looks like (126 pounds) but if you are MsCaroline, you have to do the math(s). Fortunately, this is not an issue that crops up too frequently, since the British women I've met seem no less eager to share their weight than women from anywhere else.  

Greengages and damsons and blackcurrants, oh my:  As in so many aspects of daily life, England is full of words that are vaguely - but not actually - familiar, and nowhere does one notice this as much as in the supermarket.  The produce section is full of beetroot (not beets), peppers (not bell peppers), rocket (not arugula), courgettes (not zucchini), chillies (not habanero or serrano peppers),  satsumas (not clementines) and swedes (turnips or rutabagas.) Flour is not just flour, but strong flour or plain flour (and yes, they are different!) Jelly is jam or marmalade, and and jello is jelly.  And there is no grape jam or marmalade. At least, not anywhere I've seen.  But you will find ginger rhubarb conserve, lemon curd, and chutneys in spades.  Also, the best preserves you will ever taste  

During the summer when I mostly stopped blogging due to busyness and sloth but we won't mention that now and spoil this nice time, shall we? when I was walking the dog several miles each day through fields and meadows, I noticed huge swaths of what looked like blackberry bushes and which turned out to be what my English friends all assured me were 'brambles.'  (I would have to see a 'bramble' and a 'blackberry' side-by-side in order to convince myself they were, in fact, different things, but I'm not one to quibble. Tomayto, tomahto.)  The bramble, of course, must not be confused with the blackcurrant, which is something different -but not that different- from the redcurrant, which is pretty much the only kind of currant that Americans recognize and rarely use anyway.   Blackcurrants are used to make slightly tangy jams, preserves, and marmalades as well as a popular juice drink called 'Ribena' which seems to be a favorite with children.  MsC is not a fan, but that probably has to do with not growing up drinking it.  

All this confusion extends to the garden as well:

Actual exchange between myself and neighbor man last spring when the trees were in bloom:
Neighbor Man= That tree is covered with blossoms.  You'll get quite a bit of fruit in October.
Me= Oh, I hope so.  Do you happen to know what sort of a tree it is? We thought it might be a crabapple, but it's a little different from what we have in the USA.  Any ideas?
NM (inspecting a branch closely) No question, they're damsons or greengages, of course.

Me= (racking brain frantically for vocabulary list) Oh. yes.  of course.  I should have realized.  Thank you so much! (note:  damsons and greengages are types of plums.  I learned this from Googling, which I did immediately after this conversation. You're welcome.)

And the list just goes on and on.  Looking for toilet paper or paper towels? You'll be looking for toilet roll and kitchen roll.  Ladies, you'll be looking for sanitary towels, not napkins - although if you're looking for diapers for your baby, you will, in fact, want napkins, or nappies.  Crisps are chips (and chips, of course, are french fries) and biscuits are cookies, except when they're crackers; then, they get to be called savoury biscuits.  

So, yes, it's been a bit of an eye-opener or, as we say in the US, a learning curve.

The best one, though, has been the sign we ran across at the beach a couple of months ago.

We'd gone to a beach which didn't allow dogs off-lead (off-leash), but another dog-walker had told us that, if we walked away from the car park towards the end of the beach that was very sparsely populated, we could let her run with impunity.  Accordingly, we set off for the end of the beach.  As we left the crowds behind us, we passed a sign which stated that 'beyond this point, Naturists may be seen.'  Hmmm, I thought to myself, why are they telling us that? Envisioning a phalanx of safari-hat-wearing birdwatchers in practical shoes tiptoeing through the dunes looking for the nest of the rare green-throated Nuthatch, I mused that it was possible that a really serious naturist might be annoyed or interrupted by loud beachgoers or barking dogs and resolved to keep my voice low and my movements smooth and nonthreatening.

 My, I thought, they really take the whole nature-watching thing seriously here in England.  MrL and I trudged on down the beach, and the crowd continued to thin until the only other person we could see was just a spot in the distance.  Unleashing the dog, we let her frolic in the surf and continued on our way down the beach toward the spot, who, as he came closer, we were able to recognize as a man wearing a sun hat and - based on the amount of bared skin we could see from a distance - a very small, light-colored bathing suit.  Of course, I thought to myself, European men and their little bikini bathing suits.  It's only the Americans who insist on wearing those big swimming trunks all the time.

As you have undoubtedly guessed by now, by the time we approached each other, it became abundantly clear that what we had perceived to be a small, flesh-colored bathing suit was, in fact, no suit at all.  As we learned via awkward experience, the British word naturist is the equivalent of the American English nudist.  

Tomayto, tomahto.