Today in America
I realised that I can’t get used to calling ‘kitchen roll‘ paper towel.
I learned that whilst we Brits call this thing -1 ‘minus 1’, Americans call it ‘negative 1’.
I learned that American Fall can be 80 degrees (today) or it can be 45 degrees with snow flurries (Saturday).
I realised that very few Americans have heard of Boxing Day.
I assured an American that, yes, we do have Christmas Eve.
I also explained that we don’t have Thanksgiving in the UK.
Reflections on visiting the UK
This is the second installment from American blog reader Rebecca Cataldi, who took a recent trip to Britain. (Read the first part here.)
I am a little shy about my American accent. I like the American accent. But like many Americans, I adore the British accent. Yes, I know there are in fact many different British accents. But it really doesn’t matter to us—from the most elite to the most uneducated, most all British accents sound so cool, so intelligent, cultured, sophisticated. I think a British accent is one of the most beautiful sounds in the world. (Eventually, this will likely get me in trouble. ‘Hmmm, that guy beckoning me into that dark alley is holding a bloody knife. But he has a British accent, so he must be trustworthy.’ But I will enjoy the melodiousness in the meantime.) I’m not sure what an American accent sounds like to the average Brit, but somehow I’m guessing it doesn’t have quite the same effect. My friend in London says it was really hard for her to get a job here at first because of her American accent, and that while she now has a job she loves and most of the people are wonderful, there are still a few elite clientele who talk down to her or treat her as less intelligent when they find out she’s American. On the other hand, a British friend in the States has gotten out of speeding tickets when he was clearly in the wrong at least three times, as the cop became enchanted upon hearing his British accent. (Brits in the States, you possess a superpower when you open your mouth—use it wisely!)
The next morning, I go to wash up (oops, scratch that, in Britain washing up means to wash dishes, not wash your face), and discover that there really is a separate spigot in the sink for hot water and one for cold, so that you may choose between freezing or scalding yourself. I’m not sure what the reason for this is, but since the Brits sound so intelligent when they talk there must be a good one.
I start off my day in London by taking care of a top priority—getting a pasty. Oh, how l love the taste of British pasties. Before the week is over, I will try many new delightful British foods for the first time as well—steak and ale pie, poacher’s pie, Lancashire hotpot, Sunday roast, Lancashire toad (for some reason this is a name for something with sausage in it), and a Whitby (Yorkshire) pudding (a most confusing term to an American whose mental image of pudding is a chocolate mousse-like substance eaten from a plastic Jello container). And a favorite, the sausage rolls. (These are amazingly wonderful. Why don’t I ever see these in the States? I resolve that this must be rectified somehow.) Also, a dessert called Eaton Mess, which gives me a wickedly wonderful sugar high. I will probably have to hyper-exercise for the rest of my natural life to make up for whatever weight I’m gaining, but it’s totally worth it.
On previous visits to London, I have gotten to see many cool famous places, like the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, and Trafalgar Square. (Trafalgar Square still brings forth two age-old questions which I have not yet been able to find the answers to: (1) Why is there a statue of a giant blue chicken? And (2) Why is there a statue of George Washington? Of course, I think he’s a pretty great guy, but I just didn’t think he’d be someone the Brits would give a place of honor to. I remarked on this once to a British friend in the States, and he suggested that maybe there should be a statue of King George III put up next to the White House. Wonder how the Tea Party would react to that…)
Anyway, this time I’m ready for something different, so I set off for the London Dungeon. It is close to the London Eye — the big Ferris Wheel by the river — so I set off in that direction. Along the way, I try my best to practice using proper British English. I ask for lifts instead of elevators, look for car parks instead of parking lots. I even fight the temptation to seek out a garbage can and ask for a rubbish bin instead (though that term sounds sooo odd in an American accent). However, my valiant attempts at linguistic savy-ness are thwarted when I arrive at the Dungeon and ask the creepily-dressed staff person, “Is this the line here?” “Yes, that’s the London Eye,” she says politely, pointing across the walkway. Oops, guess I was supposed to ask for the queue (which, by the way, is pronounced “Q” and not “kway”, as I used to think.)
In American terms, the London Dungeon is something like a cross between a Disney World attraction and a Halloween haunted house, except that it’s designed to let you experience London’s history at its creepy best. Upon entering, we are all declared traitors to King Henry the 8th and taken through the site of Guy Fawkes’s execution, a medieval torture chamber, a hospital where Plague patients are treated, Sweeney Todd’s barbershop, the site of one of Jack the Ripper’s murders, and a few other places, culminating in a courtroom where we are all sentenced to death and ‘hanged’ via a freefall ride. Being someone who both loves the creepiness of Halloween and is interested in history, I absolutely love it. The one thing that impresses me most that I haven’t generally come across in similar attractions in the States is that they have somehow managed to infuse parts of the dungeon with the smell of decaying rat carcasses. It is the kind of smell that gets up into your nostrils and is actually a little stomach turning. Well played, London Dungeon.
When I get out, I find myself by the river’s edge, staring up at Big Ben and Parliament and the bridge and the Union Jack overlooking them all, to me the quintessential symbols of Britain, looking so grand and majestic, and think, “Great” Britain indeed.
Part 3 to follow!