Thursday, July 28, 2016

Life in England: Takeaway in the UK

Deliveroo:  Fast food, Bath-style. via source 
(Note;  For those of you who are curious about the photo above, Deliveroo is a delivery service in the UK (and, I believe, other parts of Europe and Asia) which provides delivery service from a number of different restaurants, some of which normally don't even provide delivery service. Here in Bath, the delivery people are usually seen on bicycles, which is impressive, given that the hills around here are pretty brutal. Apparently they use motorized vehicles in other cities in the UK, but around here the sight of one of these ultra-fit young people toiling up a hill with a Deliveroo box strapped to their back (or the bike) is quite common.  MsC does not know for sure, but can only assume that there is something like this in North America as well.  Or not.)

Along with all of you, MsCaroline has been observing with abject horror great concern the political madness going on at home and abroad.

Here in Great Britain, people are still getting over the post-Brexit shock (whether you were for or against leaving, no one can deny it's rarely a good thing when all the people who led a campaign for something jump ship once they realise it's actually going to happen. But -I digress.) Over there in the USA, the ever-present spectre of gun violence, now mixed in with the whirling vortex of presidential nominations and the party conventions are providing escalating speculation as to the End Of Times and countless FaceBook feuds.  And of course, the situation in Europe is not exactly encouraging.

MsCaroline, who is an anxious worrier by nature, has done all she can to affect the outcome of world events within her small sphere of influence by volunteering, donating, voting, and sharing (within reason) her opinions and any information that seems unbiased and useful with anyone who seems inclined to listen with an open mind.  But ultimately, the final outcomes of these things are beyond her control, and this -if one thinks about them too much - can make a person insane with fear.

So this is why MsCaroline has decided that it is time for her to discuss a topic we can all get behind, feel good about, and appreciate - namely, food.  In this case, specifically, takeaway food (what we call 'carry out' in the US.  Unless that's changed and I don't know it.)

Let me start off by saying that we are not huge fast food/delivery/takeout fans. When we lived in the US, we would order the occasional pizza or Chinese food, but it was certainly not a regular thing.  Maybe once a month, or less frequently, say, if the boys had friends over or a bunch of us started drinking early on Friday afternoon and suddenly discovered it was 7pm and there was no dinner I was busy and needed a break from cooking.

When we moved to Korea, we initially didn't order much at all - mostly because we didn't speak any Korean, but also because we had dozens of restaurants within a very short walk of our apartment. Eventually, we learned how to order things online (or  we had a Korean friend with us to do the talking.)  Again - it was far from a regular occurrence.

Then, we moved to the UK, and MsCaroline found herself back in a land where she could (theoretically) speak the language (at least enough to order takeaway,) and it was glorious.  One could get anything from Ethiopian to Thai to the more mundane pizza or chicken.  In fact, your typical takeaway/delivery place in the UK offers a huge variety of foods, from pizza to burgers to fried chicken to fish and chips to kebabs. Really.

This is just one of two full pages of possibilities

While MsCaroline can take or leave the pizza, the burgers, and the fish and chips, it was soon evident that  she had met her downfall when she saw the kebab menu.  Why? Because the Doner Kebab is one of her all-time favourite foods.

The Doner Kebab (or just, "Doner" for aficionados) is of Turkish origin - it's sort of like a Greek gyro, although it tends to look and taste differently depending on where you find it.  Back when MsC lived in Germany, the Doner was a bit spicier and could feature shaved meat or more traditional kebab-type chunks.  But the basic recipe remained the same:  some sort of flatbread stuffed with delicious spicy meat (lamb is traditional, but chicken and beef are options), salad (usually lettuce, cucumbers, onions, tomatoes, red cabbage and banana peppers) and a tzaztiki-type yoghurt sauce. It is spicy, crunchy, creamy, and delicious all at once. It is (mostly) healthy:  meat and veg and a yoghurt sauce (yoghurt's healthy, right?) And if you are worried about carbs, you can even ditch the bread and feel moderately virtuous.

The Doner Kebab:   beautiful.

It is, in short, a Beautiful Thing, but not a Thing that MsCaroline ran across very frequently when living in the US.  In Korea, there was a "Mr Kebab" not far from her home, but there was always a huge queue in the shop, and on top of that, they didn't deliver (in retrospect, probably a good thing.)

Imagine then, if you will, MsC's delight upon moving to the UK and discovering that practically every takeaway restaurant in the UK has, as a matter of course, Doner kebabs on their menu, along with Pizza, chips (that's fries to you and me) garlic bread, burgers, and pretty much anything else you can think of - and they'll even deliver if you can't be bothered to get yourself there to pick it up.

Of course, MsCaroline is no fool.  While she would love to eat Doner kebabs every single day, she knows better.  So she and MrL limit themselves to the occasional Doner.  Say, once every couple of weeks - not really that often, right?

Well, those calls add up, and, after 18 months in the UK, MsC has begun to realise she might have a bit of a problem.  Not just because her jeans were tight (although that's certainly an indicator.)

Maybe it was when she entered her favourite takeaway's number into her mobile's 'contacts' list, instead of looking it up every time.

Maybe it was when she no longer bothered to even look at the menu.

Maybe it was when she knew the total of her order without having to be told.

More likely, it was the last time she called, when the conversation went like this:

Takeaway Guy:  Hello, Megabite, how can I help?
MsCaroline:  Yes, I'd like to place an order for delivery.
Takeaway Guy:  Yes my love, is this Number 15 Wordsworth Ave? (*not our real address) 
MsCaroline:  It is.
Takeaway Guy:  And will that be the normal, my love?
MsCaroline:  The...normal?
Takeaway Guy:  Yes, my love.  2 medium Doners with salad and yoghurt sauce?
MsCaroline:  Oh, sure...of course...the normal...yes, please.
Takeaway Guy:  Very good, my love, they'll be there in about 40 minutes

MsCaroline is not saying she has a problem.  But she understands that admitting it is, after all, the first step.

(Note:  MsCaroline would like to point out that 'my love' in British English is roughly the equivalent of 'hon'  or 'darlin'' in the (southern) USA and in no way indicates anything but a strictly professional relationship between her and the Takeaway Guy.)

Monday, July 4, 2016

Life in England: The 4th July in England or Hot dogs and Fancy Dress

Old Glory
If you are in the US at the moment (as most of my readers are,) you are probably engaging in/getting ready to engage in/have already engaged in some typically American 4th of July behavior, which probably includes sunscreen, drinking beer, eating food cooked outdoors and accompanied by some sort of red-white-and-blue dessert that contrives to look vaguely like Old Glory and probably features Cool Whip and/or strawberries.  If you are lucky, a pool, a lake, or a beach is involved. If there are little kids around, there may be sparklers, and if you are really lucky, you will be somewhere that you can see the professional fireworks easily when it gets dark without having to sit in traffic forever on the way there or back.  Or, if you are in Texas somewhere large and rural, with benign fireworks regulations, you will shoot some off yourself.  There will be mosquito bites and sunburns, and someone will have a child that is so worn out after a day of sun and fun that he will fall asleep on his Daddy's shoulder and stay there for the rest of the evening, sleeping peacefully, a little sweaty and smelling of sunscreen, while Daddy deftly drinks beer with the other hand and continues his conversation.

However, we are not in the US, which means that MrL had to get up and go to work this morning just like everyone else in the UK, because (of course) it is not a holiday here.  And while it may be sunny and warm somewhere in England at the moment, here in the South West, where we live, it is overcast and 66 deg Fahrenheit and threatening rain.

In other words, it is just a regular day.

Last year on the 4th (a Sunday) MrL and I 'celebrated' by doing The Bath Skyline walk. While it wasn't a traditional picnic/party/cookout, it did include sunshine, beer, and being outdoors, which ticks the important boxes in our books.  As it happens, the Walk goes through woods and meadows and past a sham castle and gives you breathtaking views of Bath in addition to steering you right past the The American Museum in Britain, which we did not know in advance, but which we found suitable to the occasion.  It was gloriously hot and sunny, and we ended up walking about 9 miles all told (the Walk itself is about 6) with a lovely refreshment stop at a pub along the canal on our way home.
The Skyline is marked intermittently with these little signs, which are helpful - when you can find them.

MrL, carrying the Dog whilst crossing a stile (yes, that's what a stile looks like.)

Last year at this time, we hadn't even known there was an American Museum in Bath. The Skyline walk takes you right by it.
This should have been my first clue that the 4th of July is well-known in the UK. It's a good excuse for a party, if nothing else, right?
A brief rest and a photo op at the Sham Castle before heading to the pub.  
This year,  we ended up celebrating not once, but twice, which - if the truth is told - is more celebrating than we usually did when we lived in the US.  The truth is, the 4th always came as a bit of a shock to me, usually right about the time when I would get an invitation to someone else's  4th of July cookout/pool party/lake house and realize that it was once again upon us. (Honesty compels me to admit that is the way I approach most holidays, but I digress.)  So we always did something, but it wasn't usually a very big deal. (I could write a whole series of posts on why this is the fault of my expat upbringing or my Canadian mother, but the truth is that I am just poorly organized in the summer.)

This year we were invited to a gathering of some of the American expatriates in MrL's company; we'd done the same sort of thing in Korea, and even been able to watch fireworks at the American army post in Seoul. So there was no question that we'd be observing the holiday in at least a small way. But that wasn't our only 4th of July option.

As it turns out, the neighborhood we live in now is adjacent to a small local park which puts on a 'Picnic in the Park' every July, with live music, food, a bar, games, contests, and even a children's Fancy Dress Parade (that's 'Costume Parade' to the Yanks in the group.)

Notice the stars-n-stripes theme they have going in the font? Yep.  And (in case you can't expand the photo) the wording was very specific:  "As it's very close to 4th July this year's event will have an American theme. Children are invited to dress up in US-inspired fancy dress to take part in a parade."  Before I saw this flyer, I would have estimated that roughly the same number of my English neighbors were aware of the 4th of July as most Americans are of November 5th in England (Guy Fawkes/Bonfire Night).

Clearly, I was mistaken, because it was obvious that every single British person reading that flyer was expected to know all about the 4th of July without even a little asterisk to clarify things.  (I'm assuming all of my US readers know about Guy Fawkes, but I don't know that I'd feel safe applying that assumption to the entire US population in general.) 

Needless to say, MrL and I were intrigued and had decided to stop in at this event before heading to our next social engagement (my, aren't we in demand?) if for no other reason than to see what the children were wearing for costumes.  After all, we Americans don't have any traditional costumes like so many other countries in the world. My mind ran through the various costumes that I, as an American, would think of as 'US-inspired:'  Pilgrims.  Cowboys. Southern Belles, maybe? Army guys?  NFL football players? Baseball players? Baseball's American, right? Like apple pie and Chevrolet? Wait, they play it everywhere now and it's really bigger in Japan than it is in the USA now, anyway.  Wait, maybe American football? Nah, they have a European League now. Hell, what do they wear?

I had a bad moment there, envisioning the angelic British children of my neighbors parading themselves round the Park dressed as Honey Boo Boo, the Kardashians, and Donald Trump, but logic prevailed, and I went back to my original guess of Cowboys and Pilgrims augmented with, possibly, a few Native Americans.

We wandered up to the park, listened to the band, bought some raffle tickets, enthusiastically supported the bar, and talked to our neighbors, keeping one eye out for Cowboys and Pilgrims in the crowd, since we had to leave for our next engagement before the Parade, but were intensely curious as to what this 'US-inspired' theme would produce.

So - what were they all dressed as?


Mostly Spiderman and a few Batmen.  We also saw a couple of nonspecific princesses and something that looked like Tron.  But mostly - superheroes.

We were a bit surprised.  Honestly, I'd not made the connection at all, but after some thought, I realized they do all have American accents in all of their movies, so the connection was reasonable - even if MrL and I wouldn't have made it ourselves.

For the rest of the day, I asked every Brit I ran across about this;  what did they think of if you said 'Fancy dress' and 'American.'? All of them responded with, "Superheroes."  None of the Americans I talked to came up with anything similar, though.

I'll never tire of new perspective and new ways of looking at my own culture.

And I'm glad none of them came dressed as Honey Boo Boo.