British "stuff" · Entertainment · Life On The Road · Photography · York

Bright Lights

We visited beautiful and historic York on Friday night to catch “Illuminating York“, an annual light and sound festival which alternates among landmarks of the city.  I believe this is the 6th year of the festival.  This year’s son et lumiere piece entitled “Rose” was designed by award winning projection artist Ross Ashton and sound artist Karen Monid.   The lights were played against the South transept of the York Minster where the awesome Rose Window is housed.  I truly enjoyed the visual and audio experience — the loudness of it, the brightness of it, just the hugeness of the experience under clear skies with just-right cool, jacket-hugging weather.  Unfortunately, in our rush to head out to the venue before the rush hour traffic, I’d forgottem to bring my (heavy-duty, literally) tripod.   Which makes taking any nighttime photos a bit of a challenge.  To keep my shots as steady as possible under the circumstances, I had either rested the camera on C’s shoulders or head, or at best, lean one corner of the camera on the ground while tilting the lens upwards.  Many shots came out blurred sadly, but hey.

Below is a collage I’ve put together.  Not all that brilliant, given the limitations.  Caveat:  they’re lightyears away from the beauty of the real deal so it is highly recommended that you catch it next year (or later) if you can.  :)

Illuminating York. York Minster. October 2010.

I’ve shamelessly submitted my pictures to the photography competition of the event.   100 GBP in photography vouchers at stake (you amused?).  Nothing really fancy, but think of the bragging rights for an uber-amateur like me:  yup, priceless.  To my pleasant surprise, I received an email from one of the reps asking for high-res copies of my shots.  I complied with 7 shots, gladly and with all the chutzpah that I can muster.  Even better, the organizers have humored me by putting them up in their official Flickr page, along with seriously beautiful captures.  Now THAT has amused me no end.  Please check it out:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/official_illuminating_york/

Trust me.  It will be worth your while to see the photos.  Not (just) mine.  But those of the others. ;)

Illuminating York  Website : http://www.illuminatingyork.org.uk

Twitter handle:  @illuminateyork

Flickr page :  http://www.flickr.com/photos/official_illuminating_york/

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British "stuff" · British Food · British Traits · Lost In Translation · UK · Uncategorized

Ambivalently Proudly British

“Really rather good”

Originally uploaded by MissChicago

The Brits rarely hardsell anything. They are the masters of underplay and understatement. And even when they must toot their own horn, — what in the cut-throat world of marketing — they seem to be reluctant about going all-out.   I found this packaging on Marks & Spencer’s Rich Team Cream Fingers quite amusing: “Really rather good”. In America, there would be no qualms about something being “ooh oom good” or “finger lickin’ good”. But M&S proudly declare these little sweethearts to be, uhm …. “REALLY RATHER Good”.  “Really rather” sounds like an oxymoronic pair of adjectives that cancel each other out.  But somehow, knowing their British origins, it adds to its charms.  That tendency to false modesty which really translates to “Go on, YOU tell us it’s really good, because we’re not going to!”.

They are proud in their humility.  Proud that they are not proud”.  ~  Robert Burton (British Clergyman) 1574-1640.

"Britishisms" · British "stuff" · Canterbury · Life On The Road · Lost In Translation · Road Signs · Travel · UK

Sign Language

A couple of days ago, while walking down the streets of Canterbury (Kent) towards the center, I found this little sign by the under-serious-renovation St. Mildred’s Church:

Yeah, I too always thought signs best served their purpose when they are very simple notices.  If possible even understandable by older kids.  In the US, this same sign would probably read “Watch Out (or Keep Out).  Falling Debris.”  But this one looked, amusingly, more like a legal document.  “Falling Masonry”?  and “Inclement Weather Conditions”??  As I often tell the hubby, …. “seriously, who talks like that in daily conversation?”  :)

British "stuff" · Christmas · Gifts · Holidays · Shopping

The Hot Water Bottle As Heating System

I first came across it in the Next store in Manchester more than a month ago.  It looked interesting enough — a colorfully knitted, flat-ish, matryoshka-design doll, lying among the “specials” arranged by the entrance to the women’s section.  But when I lifted it, it was heavier than I expected and had a wobbly feel to it.  What on earth is this?  I looked at the tag, and, surprise, surprise …. found out that this knitted “matryoshkha doll” was but a casing that housed a hot water bottle underneath.  Curious, I asked the sales attendant what exactly it was for.  “It’s something you can bring with you to bed to keep your bed warm.”  Oh.  Ok.  How ingenius I thought. 

I would soon find that this in fact is a popular Christmas item in most stores — at least among women and ladies.  (Note:  Hubby didn’t know that these hot water bottles came in “designs”, although he DID confirm that warming beds with hot water bottles was fairly common).  That’s one thing I’ve had to adjust to, coming over to the UK.  I used to gripe a lot about how cold it was/is/can be here in the UK, in response to which the Hubby would often remind me that “It’s not even close to the kind of cold you have in Chicago.”  Which is very true, … and for a while there I couldn’t figure why it just felt colder here in the UK.  THEN IT DAWNED ON ME.  The reason was largely due to the fact that in Chicago, once I get INDOORS of anything — a store, a building, even the bus — there would be heat.  The condo where I live in Chicago has centralized heating (with each condo unit having its own regulator to switch on and off) as part of your monthly association dues.  Over here (UK), you have to knock the heat on and it takes a while for the radiator to get busy.  And you can’t just keep the heat on forever because it is expensive.  So we usually keep it on by the hour and dab to extend the timer if the house isn’t warm enough.  Of course, we DO have a small fireplace which mostly heats just the living room, leaving all other rooms cold.  So the best, most efficient, low-cost and maintenance way to warm your bed?  A water bottle, of course.  :)  Who woulda thunk?   

These loveable little heating systems are found in ALL the major stores.  They come in the guise of dolls, reindeers, cows, — and just as they are, hot water bottles but in their winter coats:

From Next:

From John Lewis:

For a while while searching I had thought TopShop was spared this wonder of a merchandise…. until I looked  underneath at the lower rungs — aha, there you are hiding….

And in that girl-paradise of a store, Accessorize (the stand-alone accessories store of the Monsoon chain):

And even the Charlie-and-Lola series have their own.  I found these in an indie store on Cockburn street in Edinburgh:

There is a  small side story to all this, closer to home:  A few days ago, at the end of an 8-hour overnight flight from Chicago to Manchester, I came home to an house underheated due to the hubby being away on an off-site project.  Extremely tired, I barely made it through the usual post-flight cleaning up routine, and finally dragged myself to bed, ready to plop and bracing myself for the cold bed.  Guess what little surprise I found tucked underneath my blanket, all filled up with hot water? —

AH, THE BRITISH.  UNDERSTATED, BUT NEVER UNDER-ROMANTIC.

British "stuff" · British fashion · Fashion

Hilarious

I read this blog post of an American’s observation on the British gal’s Saturday night attire.  I couldn’t agree with it more, and I just could not stop laughing.  Finally — my sentiments/observations exactly! — and I could not express it as hilariously!

Flashback:  Not too long ago, while in town on Saturday in Manchester (UK), I once commented about how “different” British girls dressed on weekends.  [Note: I was honestly thinking “slutty”, but the diplomatic “different” came out of my mouth.]  My husband (then boyfriend) beamed proudly and said “yeah, women here really fixed themselves nicely when they go out.”  OH.MY.GOD.

"Britishisms" · British "stuff" · Fitting In · Life On The Road · Lost In Translation · Road Signs · UK

Legalese In The Loo

“Separated by a common language” — how often have we heard that screech used to describe the divide between good ol’ Jolly Olde, versus the Colony across the pond.  You know the proverbial usuals —

“MIND THE GAP” instead of “watch your step”;

“TO LET” instead of “For Rent”;

… “TOILET” instead of “rest rooms”


and the list goes on.   I’ve seen a road sign that said —

“BEWARE : These Roads May Tend To Flood During Rain”,


and pointed out to C how “CAUTION – ROADS MAY FLOOD” would’ve made a much smaller signboard.


The uber-nice hotel we stayed in Canterbury brags of “Easy and Quick!” (note exclamation point) access to the Internet. But where’s all that quick-and-easiness that when the textually-challenged guide/instructions tell you this?   —

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Yeah! — “24 hours from 12 to 12 unlimited usage”. (or 11 to 11, 10 to 10…. so on :)). Ok, let’s go through the instructions. Step 1, check. Step 2, check. Now, Step 3 — serious stall. “Select ARGUMENT”? — Hmmm, I had to consult the hubby on that one. Might we even draw swords at some point if the argument gets too heated? [Note: To be fair, the hubby confirmed that he, too, was “a bit confused” by the use of the word “argument” here, and that the usage is somewhat questionable.]


And then just last week, at the women’s restrooms at the lobby of the hotel in Falkirk, Scotland, that we stayed in, THIS sign —

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“Whilst” is still happily used in everyday conversation. “Licensed Premises”? — ok. “Within sight of an accompanying adult at all times” — yes. Just dig it. This is all “PLEASE KEEP AN EYE ON YOUR KIDS” in legalese. or in English. :)
"Britishisms" · British "stuff" · Fitting In · Lost In Translation · UK

Lost In Translation

Over the weekend, C and I had dinner with Charles and Elizabeth at our favorite local Chinese buffet place, creatively named “The Chinese Buffet”.  Charles was C’s classmate from way-back when they were yay high in primary school, and Elizabeth is Charles’s wife.  I first met the couple when C’s friends threw a “welcome and post-wedding congratulations party” for us in late June.  This dinner was our turn to introduce them to one of our eating haunts before they show us theirs next.

As expected, dinner conversation (and bantering) centered on C and Charles’s childhood and growing up antics, their college escapades, and exaggerated stories about their good friends and worst enemies — the usual and expected he-men legends men try to concoct to impress their wives (hmmm….).  They also traded updates on their other passions (read:  sports) :  C’s motorsports, and Charles’s target shooting.  And so it went, until out of the blue, or what seemed to me like out the blue, the conversation went this lane:

Charles (to C):  So, are you now into property?  (the usual silent “r”– thus pronounced “propeh-tee“)

Me (thinking to myself):  Oh, is Charles selling us real estate?

But as the convo progressed, I found myself losing my way — one of those many moments of panic, now becoming common with me, where I hear English words, I know its English, yet somehow can’t really make sense of any word.  It was only when Elizabeth mentioned “silver needle” and its “exceptional, smooth taste” that I suddenly realized that Charles had asked about “proper tea” (since he observed that C and I were drinking Chinese tea), and not “property” as I mistakenly thought.  I found myself silently amused, feeling slightly silly, and made a mental note to tell Craig about how my ears have (again) played tricks on me with the sleight of a British accent (one of many).

So earlier today, I mentioned this to C.  And this is how the conversation continued:

C  :  What?  “Property”?  No, of course not.  I knew very clearly that he was talking about “proper tea”, you know — “real tea”.

Me:  Yeah, But I thought he was talking about “property”, you know — “realty”.

As they say:  “separated by a common language”.

My favorite window at St. Giles in Edinburgh.  All women, representing from upper left:  Spes (Hope), Fides (Faith), Caritas (Charity), then lower left to right, Veritas (Truth), Justitia (Justice) and Misericordia (Mercy).  Thank God for Latin in all that law school.
SHOW AND TELL AGAIN: My favorite window at St. Giles in Edinburgh. All women, representing from upper left: Spes (Hope), Fides (Faith), Caritas (Charity), then lower left to right, Veritas (Truth), Justitia (Justice) and Misericordia (Mercy). Thank God for Latin in all that law school.
British "stuff" · Fitting In · Life

You say “potato”, I say “how’s that again?”

Married 5 months.  Been here in the UK a total of almost half that time.  Although I try to get pass it, I have to admit still being at that stage where I feel like the outsider looking in most of the time.  Not a big deal though.  I was born an expat.   Which means being the one who looks strikingly different from the majority is not an attribute that I am unfamiliar with.  Which also means that noting these differences, and managing to swim along with them, is almost second nature.  After all, I’ve had a lifetime of training.  Here is a sampling of 12 basic variances, I immediately noticed between the UK and that big “colony” across the Atlantic.
1.  Of course, we all know the obvious.  Drive on the right. Fast lane is on the right. Exits are on the left.  American drivers, be careful how you turn, and where you turn onto.  American pedestrians, be careful how you cross.  Just keep that head swinging and busy, and never keep your sight off anything with wheels moving in your direction.
Note: Drivers seem to respect pedestrians less here.  I often wonder if I am the target object of some giant Nintendo game in the sky, — hit the pedestrian and earn 100 bonus points!  Driver tolerance for spaces between vehicles in the UK is higher than in the US.  Tiny cars have no qualms stopping “thisutterclosebehind” huge monster trucks — heaven help me.
2.  You’ll scald your hand if you turned on the right-side tap.  Yup, that too works the other way.

3.  Escalators that go up are on the left.

4.  Upright suitcases have their zippers open on the right side of the case.  Irritating when you realize you’ve unzipped your bag facing the other way.

5.  You pull doors IN to get OUT of a store.  In case of emergency, bulldoze everyone behind you backwards so you can pry the dang door open…..

6.  When a customer comes IN, the owner looks the other way.  Yeah, you get treatment that is the polar opposite of hardsell.

7.  The very same hands that receive and handle your paper money and coins (“Look ma, bare hands, no gloves!”), and punches the cash machine, are the very same ones that will handle your fries or your ice cream and hand them over to you.  This gives a whole new meaning to personalized service. :)  And anyway, where are the germs if you don’t see them anyway?

8.  When someone steps on your foot, YOU say sorry.

9.  The sales people or store attendants will talk, complain, or snicker and laugh about the customer who just left the store (that very one who was in front of you in the line/queue — your fellow customer, yes).  So you can only hope you behaved as blandly as possible so they don’t do the same to YOU when you leave.

10.  While the store attendants are chatting away about their daily lives (or gossiping), you, the customer, must wait quietly until they are done and turn their head to you to acknowledge your presence before you ask your question.  They will not stop their chatter for a customer.  And if you  really must interrupt their chatter, be extremely polite and apologetic.  That’s just the decent way to do things.

11.  Get used to veiled expressions and very restrained reactions/emotions. It’s not that they don’t like you. It’s all part of the “reserve” ( — which they’ve been reserving for centuries. I don’t know for what or who).  And yes you can tell they are mentally sizing you up  — wondering where you’re from, … where you learned to speak English — once they get past the surprise that you speak English at all.  But they cannot be so presumptuous as to ask.

12.  Birthday card designs for a hubby would inevitably involve a picture/drawing of an overflowing beer mug, a champagne bottle, a socceer ball, or a car.   So guess how romantic a card’s message can get with designs like that.  Well, it’s, again, part of the “reserve”).

Amusing. Confusing.  Sometimes frustrating.  But not to be fazed, they too DO thaw somewhat after a pint or two.

In closing, here are a few photos only tangentially related to the topic, but let me try to seam them together —  It IS a beautiful country, lushly packed with history and culture.  I just have to try to fit in, however loosely.  :)
cheshire 1chesire 2cheshire 3cheshire 4cheshire 5 All photos taken of Cheshire, UK.  Serious visual treat.
British "stuff" · Favorites · Food · UK

These Are A Few Of My Favorite (British) Things

This post isn’t exactly original.  Posted similar one in my Facebook.  But, in keeping with the purpose of this blog (documenting my being “Miss Chicago” against my missing Chicago, now that I am all the way across the pond), I am reposting my first list of favorite British things.

My friends and family will tell you I am not a person with a particularly sweet tooth.  I am the one who usually skips desserts, and passes when you offer chips or cakes during breaks.  I eat big main meals and nothing in between.  But there is something about British cakes and sweets that I like.  Perhaps it is because they are really not too sweet to begin with.  But they are creamy and milky — a combination I like.  So here are my faves, but please by no means consider this an exhaustive list ….:

1.  Cream cakes from Tesco :

rich and creamy without being overly sweet
rich and creamy without being overly sweet

2.  Tango — with the “zing”.

Not Fanta, but fantastic!
Not Fanta, but fantastic!

3.  Cadbury “Mini Eggs”.  Crispy shell and milky insides (a bit like M&Ms, but again, not as sweet)

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and best of all, their visually such treats…. dotted like robin’s eggs and in the heavenliest colors!

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4.  Shrimp-Mayo “Jacket Potatoes” (baked potatoes in the US).  They taste heavenly.  But make sure the combo of shrimp and cold mayo is fresh.  I’ve made the mistake of eating the wrong mix and I passed out in a hospital. 

fav 4

I’ve had more and more favorite things added lately.  Will put them up in the coming days.

Art · Books · British "stuff"

Frou Frou for Free Free

Among the first things that struck me about British magazine stands (they call them “news agents” here) are the proliferation of gossipy tabloids (note to self:  is not “gossipy tabloids” a tautologic term?), and — tadah —  the many interesting freebies that come with their lifestyle, fashion and art publications.  Magazines in the US don’t give freebies the way they do here — cookbooks, DVDs, scarves, body butter from Body Shop(!), soaps, notebooks, gift wrapping prints… you name it.  

I decided to go for a walk down the street to the Co-Op at the end of the day yesterday for air and to top up on our groceries.  At the end of the run I thought to treat myself to a magazine — any no-brainer light read that had nothing to do with the practice of Law.  Maury skype’d his suggestion:  get a really trashy tabloid for a dose of cultural exchange.  Hahaha, nice.  I stood in front of the overflowing rack taking the longest time to pick something I would enjoy reading and not just pick out for the fancy freebie.  I ended up with “Easy Living”, a Conde Nast publication which I believe has no US counterpart, although the racks of Barnes&Noble certainly would have them in their foreign mags.  Nicole Kidman on the cover, and a Cath Kidston “washbag” as a freebie, plus a Cath Kidston mag/catalogue.  That looked like a fair enough deal for GBP3.20 ($4.50).

easy-2

Cath Kidston does a lot of floral oilcloth stuff.  Her work is equal parts sweetness and quirk.  The frou-frouness of florals is something I must admit I have yet to get used to, much less appreciate.  But this side of the pond, it is a style/design de rigeur and well entrenched in many places, whether in the bigger cities or the smaller towns.  And, when in Rome….

I made a good choice with Easy Living.  It is a cross between Domino, H&G and a little bit of TheNest, translated to CondeNast-ese.  It entertained me enough as I laid in bed battling the sneezies that night.  Light read, although, as of now, very foreign to me still.  :) 

See anything you like?

easy-43 easy-51

 

I love the butter dish.  So English country cool.
I love the butter dish. So English country cool.