Category Archives: Culture

Attention Lover

I am going to be really honest here, I love being the center of attention.  I have to work really hard to be a good listener, not interrupt others, and be intentional about asking questions of those I am talking to.  I try not to seek out attention, but in my heart of hearts, I love it when it happens.  That isn’t easy to admit, but it’s true.  With that being said, anyone who loves attention has to love being a foreigner.

Everybody knows that most Americans absolutely love a British accent.  If you have an accent, the world is your oyster.  The doors of friendship, jobs, and smiles open wide and you are welcomed with open arms.  Growing up, I was no different.  I loved the British the accent.  When I found out we were moving to England I started talking to myself in the car with a British accent (mind you, not a good one) and Ben had to ask me numerous times to stop talking like that.  I wanted to be British.  I wanted to have that lovely accent.  What never occurred to me was that the English would love our accent just as much as we love theirs.

The kids at our church love our accent and pretty much every Sunday I get asked how I say certain things, and can I just talk for a while.  At work I often have people say they love the American accent and today I had at least four different people comment on my voice.  One woman said she would stop calling everyone else in HR because she wanted to listen to my voice all day from now on.  One man exclaimed in surprise, “Oh! Why that is the loveliest voice I have heard pick up the phone!”  Others just say they like my accent and ask questions about where I am from.  I don’t normally have it happen that many times in a day, but at least once a day I get some sort of compliment.

I would have never guessed that I would feel so exotic in England, but on days like today when it seems like just about every other phone call is telling me I have the loveliest voice, I can’t help but smile.  I am going to soak this up because I know when I go home next year, no one is going to stop me in the middle of a sentence and say, “my what a lovely voice you have!”


Fire Safety…Arrgh!?!

England has never gotten over the great fire of London in 1666.  Nearly 450 years later, the Brits still obsess over fire safety.  You might remember that one of our first experiences in this country involved a communal humiliation over a fire alarm.

Well, now I’m getting drafted into the battle against fire’s destruction.  I’ve been appointed as the Fire Warden for my building, and on Monday I have to attend a two hour fire safety course.

I’m flattered that I have been counted worthy of this important role, but I feel like they must not have looked too closely into my track record with these things.  Rachael and I have an unfortunate history of setting of smoke alarms with our cooking.  I accidentally set a dumpster on fire with charcoal when we lived in California, and I had to frantically put it out with buckets of water.  I’m just not too confident in my fire wardening abilities.

UK Mythbusters #2 – Etiquette, Culture, and Manners

American exposure to British culture is for the most part limited to history class discussions about England’s illustrious past, required readings in high school English, and hollywood adaptations of Jane Austin romances.  So, many of us naturally have it in our heads that the typical British person is well-mannered, eloquent, sophisticated, and refined.  They drink their tea with an up-turned pinky and only speak in the politest of tones.  Their children are mild-mannered and always on their best behavior.

Well, our experience hasn’t been quite like that.  Of course in Cambridge there is a heightened sense of pageantry and sophistication, but even here I would say that one of the most immediately recognizable differences between British and American culture is the crassness of everyday life in England.  I’m not saying this as a criticism.  I’m just pointing out a definite difference between the two societies.

Now, my perception is that there remains a greater awareness of class and social status within English society.  People make off-handed class-related comments here that would be shocking to hear in the US, where the democratic impulse is more deeply rooted.

However, this consciousness of class doesn’t translate into a refinement of society along Victorian lines.  From language to clothing to matters of common courtesy, life on the street in Cambridge is a lot more like hanging around in the Bronx than shooting the breeze in Mayberry.

This is a trivial example, but it reflects the fundamental difference in culture:  People here seem genuinely surprised and slightly unsettled whenever I hold the door open for them.  After a year and a half, I’ve yet to have the favor reciprocated.  Certainly this is a more common gesture of hospitality in some parts of the US than in others, but still, as an American it is surprising how foreign such simple expressions of courtesy seem in Cambridge.

Also, what about the legendary British regard for orderliness and waiting one’s turn?  As Americans we’re taught to believe that in England everyone patiently waits in line, and jumping to the front of the queue is a big taboo.  Simply false.  Lines are a free for all here.  It’s worse in continental Europe, but in comparison to the US, there’s much less of a concern for orderliness in English culture.

I hope that our readers from the UK don’t take this blog post the wrong way.  It’s just a light hearted reflection on the gap between perception and reality in the American view of English society.  Really these differences are a part of what makes it so fun for us to live here.

No Thieves in England?

One thing I learned in my job in the states was that nothing was too little to be stolen.  Every month we had a meeting where everyone in our head office would meet to discuss how we had done the previous month and any relevant topics for the current month.  These meetings were always professional until the very end where we would all be chided on how unkempt the bathrooms were, and how certain individuals needed to stop stealing people’s lunches out of the fridge.  As I knew that neither of these areas applied to me I typically zoned out, but after these meetings me and my coworkers would all have a good laugh at the idea of catching the lunch thieves in action.

We regularly heard about ipods, cellphones, computers, cash, lunches, and even birthday cakes getting stolen.  Yes, birthday cakes.  Some people clearly have no conscience.  When I first started working in my office, they stocked the kitchen with paper plates, plastic silverware, napkins, salt & pepper, and random things like that.  The basics.  Apparently this was too tempting for many people in the office though.  Within a few hours of it being deposited in the kitchen, it would be gone.  The same went for things like reams of paper, highlighters, brightly colored post-it notes, and of course, the most coveted of all office supplies, kleenex and Clorox wipes.  You might think I am exaggerating, but it was so bad at one point, that we eventually had to have the receptionists lock away all the office materials and employees would have to come and request what they needed.  Finally the stealing came to an abrupt halt.

You can imagine my surprise then, when I came to work here in the UK and found that there were shelves in the kitchen stocked with all sorts of cups, mugs, plates, bowls, and utensils.  Real ones…made of glass.  It isn’t fine china by any means, by it is real dishware.  We have huge 5lb bags of tea, sugar, and hot chocolate constantly stocked along with rolls of paper towels, loads of glass jars filled with milk, dish soap, tea towels, and various specialty teas.  I am still surprised every now and then when I walk in the kitchen and everything is still stocked.  And no one has to label their lunches.  It’s incredible.

When I first got there, I found myself stowing my lunch in the very back of the fridge on the bottom shelf so no one would take it.  Then I realized that no one cared to steal my lunch (and not only because my American pb&j disgusts them).  It just simply doesn’t happen here.  Every few weeks, we have these book sales where the seller brings in loads of books and leaves them in the kitchen for anyone who wants to place an order.  The first time I walked in and saw 30 books lying by themselves on the counter, I kind of panicked.  I didn’t want someone’s books getting stolen and I didn’t know who in their right mind would leave hundreds of pounds worth of books just lying around.  But to my utter surprise, not one was stolen.  I just don’t get it.

How is it that my nasty, fat-free yogurt wasn’t safe, but all the appliances, food, dishes, and books to fill a house sit safely everyday?  It just doesn’t make sense.  Maybe the British are just far more civilized than Americans.  Or maybe there truly are no thieves in England.  Whatever the case, I am just glad I can stop labelling my lunch.

The Best Blog Post in the World

Marketing in the UK is slightly different than in the US.  Companies are hesitant to make the sorts of absolute claims that are typical in American advertisements.  For example, several shops in town make the following type of claim:  “Probably the best…”  Probably the best coffee in town.  Probably the best ice cream in Cambridge.  Apparently they haven’t been to every coffee shop in Cambridge, so they can’t quite be sure.  In America, you go big or go home – no nuances, no qualifications:

The strangest marketing phrase that I see all the time in the UK is ‘Why not…?’  The back of my cereal box has a description of a couple other cereals produced by the same company, and beneath the descriptions, the box says something to the effect, ‘Why not try these other Coco Pops products?’  At the doctor’s office today, there was a sign asking, why not come to some sort of training that the office was offering?

Why not???  It’s one of the most common phrases on advertisements in this country, and I can’t think of anything crazier from a marketing perspective…You are literally asking the customer to think of reasons not to purchase your product!  Why not use phraseology that encourages positive thoughts of your product?  Why not promote an active response to your advertisement?  Why not use bold assertions instead of reflective questions?  Why not shorten your slogans so that they are memorable?  Why not…why not?

Check Please!

We have spent the last two days eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner with friends in California.  We are trying to see as many people as we can while we are here and that means eating more meals and sipping more coffee than we would ever normally do.  I am definitely going to be about 10 pounds heavier when I return to Cambridge.  Oh well…I will work out when I get back!

In all the meals that we have shared I have found myself blissfully happy when it comes to the bill.  Yes, you heard me correctly.  I am happy when the bill comes.  Why is this you ask?  Well let me tell you.  In Cambridge I have eaten with several British people (Hannah don’t worry, you aren’t one of them!) and to my great consternation they insist on splitting the bill.  This would not normally aggravate me, and I have split the bill a hundred times in the States, but the thing is, this only happens when both people have eaten about the same amount of food and drink.  You don’t split the bill when one person eats steak and consumes five alcoholic beverages while the other person eats a side salad and water.  That just isn’t how it is done.

I have gone to multiple dinners in Cambridge where I purposefully order a cheaper dinner because Ben and I really have to watch our money.  I can do dinners out occasionally as long as I don’t go crazy.  So I skip the appetizers and dessert and get a smaller but tasty dinner and maybe a coke.  I think I am going to come out pretty good until someone at the end of the meal says, “why don’t we just split the bill?”  Why not split the bill?  Let me tell you why.  You ordered an appetizer, one of the most expensive entrees on the menu with all the additional costs of sautéed mushrooms and grilled onions, dessert, and of course, a drink for every stage of this meal.  Is it really so shocking that I wouldn’t want to split the bill?  Apparently yes.

These dinners with groups of people are breaking our bank and only mean less dinners out.  I have tried to casually offer that we each just pay for our own meal but that instantly gets shot down.  I don’t want to break any sort of social norms or offend British sensibilities, but I think this is just crazy.  After this week of splitting bills and ordering what I can pay for, I have gained confidence and next time, I will only be paying for my meal.  I just can’t bear to spend 20 odd pounds on a dinner that should have only cost me 10.  Once in a blue moon yes, but it has become a regular occurrence and I just can’t allow this kind of habit to be formed.  So get ready England, I am coming back and I am not splitting bills unless it makes sense…or the bullying continues in which case my confidence will crumble.  Let’s hope not though…our bank account can’t afford my timidity.

A Belated Royal Wedding

I know this is a bit delayed but I just couldn’t resist writing about the Royal Wedding, even if it is a week late!  Anyone who knows me isn’t going to be surprised to hear that I was prett-y excited about the Royal Wedding.  What can I say, I love a good wedding.  I wasn’t the only one getting excited though.  I know this will surprise some of you, but Ben asked me multiple times what time the wedding would be on.  Seriously.  Ok, so that didn’t happen, but Ben was literally the only person we have talked to that didn’t watch the wedding!  Can you believe that?  If you had seen Cambridge before the wedding you would believe me.  For weeks leading up to the wedding, anything that could bear the image of Will and Kate or their initials was out on display.  Flags, coffee cups, keepsake plates, t-shirts, pillows, tea sets, blankets, playing cards, and chocolates all had their turn at promoting the Royal Wedding.  Truly is was a wedding extravaganza.

Some of you may know that the Royal Wedding was declared a national holiday this year, so thankfully I didn’t have to go to work (do you hear angels singing?)!!  Since all my girlfriends had the day off, we decided to eat breakfast together and watch the wedding together (so as not to torment our husbands).  The morning of the wedding, I strolled through the emptiest streets of Cambridge I have experienced.  I couldn’t believe how desolate the place was.  This was a stark contrast to my Royal Wedding party!

I arrived about half an hour before the wedding and everything was already in full swing.  Breakfast was ready, juice was out, and the television was broadcasting who was getting out of what cars and what they were wearing.  It was incredible.  I couldn’t believe how festive the atmosphere was!  All of us girls had come dressed up (I always love a good opportunity to be girly), and ready for some romance.  We loaded our plates with yummy breakfast foods and then plopped down in front of the television.  I have to tell you, the experience reminded me of the adrenaline surge I get before an OU game starts.  I know that sounds crazy, but seriously, I was pumped!  When Kate Middleton made her way through London and the crowd went crazy, I was overflowing with joy.  She was positively beaming.  As she neared the church we all sat forward in our chairs and eagerly awaited the moment where we would see her dress in all its delicate glory.  When she stepped out of the car, the crowds erupted and each of us girls smiled like school girls.  She was every bit the princess that we had always dreamed of being.

She looked graceful and really, just sweet, as she stood waiting to enter the church.  All of the sudden, I had tears in my eyes.  I couldn’t help it, weddings just do that to me.  I heard someone else sniffle and looked up to see my friend Alice also had tears shining in her eyes!  Everyone got a good laugh out of that, and we just giggled along over how silly we felt!  We turned back to the TV as the wedding procession began.  By the way, I will never, ever forget what an impression Kate’s sister (the MOH) made.  The first words uttered among my girlfriends was, “Wow, now she is sexy!”  We all laughed pretty hard at that.  But truth be told, it was the talk of town.  Pippa knocked everyone’s socks off.  As great as she looked though, Kate stole the show.

The moment Kate walked into the church, the room fell silent.   We had already discussed previously that there would be no talking during the wedding.  Everyone was in agreement that we wanted to actually watch the wedding.  Amazingly we did stay pretty quite.  Minus the ‘ooh’s’ and ‘ah’s’ of course.  Every little look that passed between Kate and Will did not escape our eyes.  We were entranced.  The sermon was actually quite beautiful.  One of the best I have heard.  In regards to the church, Westminster has probably never looked so lovely.  It was filled with flowers and trees, and hats.  Oh the hats!  Why don’t we wear hats in America?  They are so, so fun!  Hats of every color, style, and size filled the seats along the aisle.  Some women had flawless taste while others, well, seem to have closed their eyes and picked randomly.  That’s ok though, these pictures will only be around for all the world to see until Will and Kate bear a son and he is of age to get married.  Twenty to thirty years of humiliation will go by in a snap.

We watched the entire wedding and most of us even stayed around for the long-awaited kiss that didn’t occur for another two hours!  We had to wait for what seemed an eternity while practically all of Britain was pushed into the mall outside Buckingham Palace.  Finally, Will and Kate stepped out onto the terrace to look out onto a sea of well wishers who had all come for one thing, the first kiss (ok, at least as a married couple)!  Will leaned down and in an instant, it was over!  If you had blinked you would have missed it!  Talk about two people who are nervous in front of two million of their closest friends.  The moment came and went but the crowds lingered long after the couple had left for their wedding brunch.

The day was so fun.  It was exactly what every little girl dreams about when they see themselves getting married.  Ok, maybe not thousands of people lining the streets to cheer for you, but you know what I mean.  The beautiful princess marries her prince. How much better does it get than that?  I have to say, I was thrilled to be here for the wedding.  It really was quite fun to be a part of all the hoopla.  As the Brits have so repeatedly stated, it was Britain at its best.

Me and Candice

Yummy breakfast 🙂

Jackie, Candice, Alice, and Nicki

Me in my friend Michelle's fastenater...I loved it!!

Jackie, Alice, and Michelle

Jackie, Alice, and Michelle

Me and Sarah

The whole gang...what a fun, fun day!