Tag Archives: British culture

Belated Thanksgiving

We celebrated two amazing Thanksgiving celebrations this year, but I have to say that it was the one that was with our small group from church that will really stick with me.  Between the excitement over candied yams, paper hand turkeys, and a never-ending game of mafia, it was a great night.   There is something about celebrating American holidays with people from other cultures that makes it so fun.  Our small group of British students and young adults was no different.

We celebrated Thanksgiving last year, but I think there was even more of a buzz this year about it.  They knew what to expect and embraced it for the wonderful holiday tradition it is.  Each person who came brought some sort of authentic American dish.  I have to say, they did a great job!  Everything was so delicious.  Especially those candied yams…and I don’t even like sweet potatoes!

Before dinner was ready, everyone took a paper cutout of my hand and drew their own turkey.  The winner would be first in line for dessert.  You can imagine how fierce the competition was.  Once dinner was ready, all 18 of us gathered around a huge table and joined hands as Ben prayed a prayer of Thanksgiving.  Knowing this could be the last time we celebrated Thanksgiving with our small group made me a bit more nostalgic than normal.  I love these kids.  Ok, they aren’t really kids at all, but I just love them all so much.  We each loaded our plates full of Thanksgiving tastiness and sat around talking and laughing together.

My end of the table was practically in tears as Ben regaled us with stories from his childhood.  Everyone seemed to really enjoy themselves and no one left the table hungry!  When dinner had finally come to an end we had everyone hold up their paper turkeys for review. There were a lot of close contenders, but Rosie’s two artistically drawn turkeys stole the show.  The American flag border really put it over the edge!  Rosie led the way through the dessert line and once everyone was seated back around the table we had everyone say something they were thankful for.  It was wonderful hearing everyone share what was on their heart.  I love that sort of thing.

I finished it off by saying how thankful I was that everyone humored me by getting so into one of my favorite American holidays.  That set off everyone chanting “U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!”  Ben and I burst out laughing and I couldn’t help but smile.  It was amazing.  After the chanting died down we all cleared the table and headed to the lounge for an entertaining game of charades.  Let’s just say that I don’t think anyone could even come close to Rosie and Colin…they absolutely dominated.  We are going to have to come up with much harder ones next time…

We sat in a huge circle, drank tea, and played games for the next few hours.  It was a perfect night.  As I looked around the room, I couldn’t have been more thankful.  This time of year it isn’t easy to be away from family, but they make it a bit more bearable.  If nothing else, they keep me laughing.  Thank you to all of you who made the night so great, and an even bigger thank you for allowing us to be so much a part of your lives.  You mean the world to us.

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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.


Hannah’s Hens

A common thing I hear in England is how we do everything bigger in America.  We have huge food portions, larger beds, larger wardrobe sizes, enormous cars, and probably larger waist lines due to point A!  I can’t really deny any of this.  America’s motto is quite simply go big, or go home. We may go big in just about every other area of life, but I have found an exception.  Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce you to,  “The Hen Party.”

Now when people first started talking about hen parties, I had no idea what in the world they were discussing.  It took me a while before I finally asked someone what this term was referring to.  It is quite simply a bachelorette party…on steroids.  I was beyond ecstatic when my friend Hannah (whose wedding I am helping plan) invited me to her hen party.  I didn’t think much of this at first.  Then a few months ago, we went wedding dress shopping with a few of her friends and they started throwing out ideas and I realized this was a BIG deal.  Doing it in Cambridge wasn’t even a consideration.  We spent about ten minutes discussing ideas before we all agreed that the place that she would absolutely love to go, would be Edinburgh (pronounced Edin-burra) Scotland where she went to college and received her master’s degree.  She was beyond thrilled when we told her the plan.

Hannah decided to take me and her friend Rosie a day earlier since neither of us had been.  Rosie picked us up for the weekend in a car covered in balloons and we headed to the airport.  We landed in Edinburgh late on Thursday evening and we headed straight for the flat we had rented out.  The city was absolutely amazing.  I mean amazing.  Between the architecture and the landscape, I found myself just staring out the window with my mouth hanging open.  We arrived at the flat and it was even more amazing.  It was in what used to be an old school-house building and it was just perfect for the weekend.  We had four floors with winding staircases leading further and further up.  I fell in love.

We spent the night in our comfy clothes and munching on pizza.  After a relaxing morning of chatting and getting ready, we headed out into the city.  I trailed the group all morning as I couldn’t stop taking pictures.  Everything was so beautiful.  One of my favorite parts of the city was that you could just about always hear the sound of bagpipes being played.  It was just as I pictured it to be.  We stopped for some of the best hot chocolate I have ever had at a shop called Chocolate Soup, and then popped in for lunch at this amazing bakery.  I just had bread and butter, but literally it was so good.  It just melted in my mouth.  We eventually headed up to the castle and it was magnificent.  It had just closed so we were the only people there which gave it this very surreal feel.  To top it off, the sun had just finished setting over the city.  It was so peaceful.

After posing for a hundred photos we headed back to the apartment where we met all the other girls.  There was Hannah, Anna, Rosie, Hannah (yeah, this made it confusing!), Kirsten, and Laura.  Most of the girls were at Edinburgh University with Hannah, so it made for a pretty fun, nostalgic weekend.  We stayed in Friday night and ordered in Hannah’s favorite Thai dishes.  Before the night got started though, Hannah had to put on her weekend outfit, a pair of ruffly panties with a t-shirt that had a baby photo of Hannah on it.  Let’s just say it wasn’t the most flattering of baby photos.  Then to top it off, a light up wedding veil.  Once she was in her hen apparel, the party really started.  We spent the night wrapping each other in toilet paper, telling embarrassing stories of Hannah (which everyone seemed to really enjoy!), and dancing the night away.  It was such a great start to the weekend.

The next day we all got up and we set off in pairs to go hide in coffee shops around the city.  Hannah had to dress in her hen apparel and come find us based on clues and a map she was given.  What made this particularly fun was that she was in a Kate Middleton mask and all of us were wearing masks of other members of the royal family.  It was pretty hilarious having people walk by us in the coffee shop window.  I was prince William and the other Hannah was Prince Harry.  We got a lot of laughs.  Hannah eventually found all of us and we looked like quite the bunch walking through the streets of Edinburgh, donning the masks, giggling and waving at people.

After she found us all we went to a mad hatter tea party which was too fun.  We then headed back to the flat to rest for a bit and get ready for our big night out.  We did a fashion show of the dresses we had all brought and then helped each other with hair and make up.  Thanks again Rosie for doing my hair all weekend!  Once we were all decked out in our evening attire, we jumped in a couple of taxis and headed to dinner.  We ate at this place called the Outsider, and I have to say, it was some of the best food I have had since moving to the UK.  I had the wood-pigeon and it was absolutely delicious.  Dinner was filled with conversation, laughter, and loads of tasty dishes.

We eventually wrapped up our peaceful meal and then headed out to hotel that had a plush bar and lounge area.  We spent about an hour there, and I have to say, I had the most amazing nonalcoholic drink of my life.  Even now, I find myself craving it.  It was this raspberry, strawberry, mint drink…so scrumptious.  After lounging about for a bit, we headed to a dance club that the girls had selected.  This was my first time in a dance club since I was sixteen, so it was an eye opening experience to say the least.  We stayed for a few hours and then eventually headed home once our feet were beyond sore.  We spent the next few hours chatting and laughing in the living room, but we eventually all headed off to bed.

The next morning was really nice as we all had breakfast together and then did a panty party for Han and included a piece of marital/relationship advice.  It was a really sweet morning.  Before we all headed home, we had decided to do afternoon tea together.  It was at this beautiful hotel and it was simply amazing.  The scones and the chocolate cake were delightful.  We spent a few hours there and then all headed to the flat to grab our things and head to the airport.  It was an amazing weekend.  I absolutely loved all of Hannah’s friends.  We had so much fun together that we decided to do another weekend together this fall!  Thankfully we all get to see each other again in just a few weeks at Hannah’s wedding.  I have been to some pretty amazing bachelorette parties, but this was a weekend I will definitely never forget.  Thank you Hannah for including me in this special weekend, I loved every minute of it.


To Drive or Not to Drive

Today I was asked for the first time in 12 months if I wanted to drive.  My fingers started twitching at the idea of being behind a wheel again.  I could feel the adrenaline course through my body at the idea of my right foot slowly pressing down on the accelerator.  I could practically feel the car picking up speed and I couldn’t help but smile.  I have missed driving so much.  I was in a pretty bad car accident in college and was afraid to drive for several years, but after a few months of driving in California, I was cured.  I am still a far more cautious driver than before, but I love to drive.  I pretty much never pass up an opportunity to drive.  That is, until today.

I have been extremely nervous to drive here in the UK since they not only drive from what I think of as the passenger seat, but they drive on the right hand side of the road.  Double whammy.  I just can’t get my head around it.  Thankfully I haven’t been put the situation where I have needed to drive and I have quite simply avoided all forms of transit that depend on me being in control (ie. cars and bikes).  Today however, my coworker asked if I would like to drive the company car to our induction site.  Me, drive?  You’ve got to be kidding.  At least, that was my first thought.  As we climbed into the car, I watched my coworkers every move.  I sat silently watching him turn the car on, shift the car into drive, and cautiously pull out of the parking spot.  I could do that.  I am sure I could pull out of parking spot from the other side of the car.  Now I wanted to drive.  I wanted to be in the driver’s seat, but it was too late, we were already driving.  Well kind of.

We pulled out of the spot, which took about a full minute, and no, we didn’t even have to reverse.  My coworker was absolutely paranoid about driving a car the size of a small Durango.  He practically panicked when leaving the parking spot.  We drove the .5 miles to the induction site and it literally took about 5 minutes.  I had a hard time not laughing out loud.  You see, one of the crazy things about British citizens is that a lot of them do not get their driving licences until they are adults.  My coworker is nearly 30 years old and he has only driven his car since he began driving which was only a few years ago.  The idea of driving anything else was terrifying to him.  When I got home, I counted how many cars I had driven over the years, and it was at least 20.  Not exaggerating.

I have had so many conversations with my coworkers and other British friends and it never ceases to amaze me at the differences in driving in the UK versus America.  People here are constantly surprised to find out not only that I have a driving licence, but that I have actually been driving for over 11 years.  At my age that is practically unheard of over here.  I have tons of employees who hold driving licences (and have for years) who don’t feel comfortable driving on a highway or for any length of time over about two hours.  This seems absolutely crazy.  When I think about the fact that I drove by myself to and from college which was 11 hours away at the age of 18, I find myself speechless when someone who is 30 who won’t drive 3 hours down a main highway.  It just seems crazy.

Now with that being said, I do admire how serious the British take their driving.  It isn’t something they take lightly and they are for the most part pretty cautious.  It is also comforting to not see so many people who look about 12 driving a vehicle at 70 mph.  As crazy as it seems that they don’t drive until their 20’s, and they rarely ever drive someone else’s car, I guess I find myself happy that they go to such lengths to be safe.

As much as I want to drive and long to be behind the wheel of a car, I know that until I understand the road signs and am confident that I will stay on my side of the road, I will have to continue my journeys as a passenger.  But that won’t keep me from giggling when I think about driving less than 5 mph down a private road, in a car that is half the size of the car I learned to drive in…with someone who is nearly 30.


May Ball…oh baby!

Most young girls grow up dreaming about being the belle of the ball.  Only we don’t really have balls in the states (man that is awkward sentence that I can’t think of how to rephrase).  The closest thing we get is prom which is great, but let’s be honest, it isn’t a ball.  The cheesy themes and tacky decor that is taped to the walls of school gyms and hotel banquet rooms doesn’t exactly scream classy, but hey, we were 18 and we didn’t care!  To be fair, I absolutely loved my school prom and Ben’s was beautiful…though my dreamy state that night could have affected reality…but I don’t think so!

Well, I have had my fair share of proms and even college winter balls…but now I am anxious to for the real deal.  Let me introduce to you the Cambridge May Ball.  Most of the colleges that make up the university host a ball in the week following the last week of the school year, and let me tell you, they are extravagant affairs.  They are all night events that spotlight various musical artists, themed tents, unlimited food and drink, and other various forms of entertainment.  Some of the highlights from the last few years include: huge firework displays, punts (long, flat boats) filled with champagne, war reenactments, full-scale tepees, courtyards flooded to create little Venice boats and all, and probably my favorite, balloon rides and flights to Paris for breakfast.  Now that is how you end a ball!

Ever since we arrived in Cambridge, I have been dreaming of attending the Peterhouse May Ball.  It is one of the only white tie (men’s coat tails) balls and it is only held every three years.   The Peterhouse Ball was announced last week and I have been giddy ever since.  This is the year.  You cannot imagine the delight I have experienced this week as the story gets even better.  I was informed yesterday that I was selected as the Non-Musical Entertainment Officer for the Peterhouse May Ball Committee…AHHH…I AM SO EXCITED!!!!  Imagine me throwing my fists in the air in victory of this momentous occasion.

I, Rachael Wilson, get to plan a BALL!  A real life, go big or go home ball.  Top hats, ball gowns, unlimited food and drinks, and amazing details that I can’t share until the event, but can tell you I am SOO excited about.  This is huge folks.  Two of my dreams are coming true at once.  I not only get to attend a ball, but I get the experience of planning one.  I am beside myself.


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.