June 24, 2011

No white eggs.

By way of Lancaster, Columbus, San Juan, Chicago, Cork, Atlanta, Houston, and Boston I find myself living in London. Actually, I'm nearly a Londonder - the official title is dubbed on you after you've lived here for 10 years. But I'm sure true Londoners don't know that, so, alas, I'll never really be one.

In fact, I'm really always on the outside here. Not growing up in a place and being privy to it's social history and cultural nuances is only truly evident when you're the outsider. 

I'll never have watched The Flumps from a Victorian semi-detached house, lived through Thatcher, learned all the kings and queens, suffered punk fashion, taken A levels, nor gone to "Uni". I didn't take holidays in France or Spain. I didn't do a gap year. 

I watched The Cosby show from a 1950s ranch, thought Regan was great because he liked jellybeans, became aware of royalty through Diana's wedding, rocked a banana clip and stirrups, did respectably well on my ACTs (but sucked on my SATs), and went to college. My first international travel was to England, through my employer, when I was 21. (Unless you count Toronto and Cancun. Which, at the time, I did.) I didn't know people could take a year-long vacation and I had no idea jobs in Australia were, apparently, so plentiful. 

I was prepared, confident, tall and assertive (AKA: American Andrea). I am now mild, organized and non-confrontational (British Andrea). In my heart June is still a summer month, but realize the shorts have been replaced by wellies. I have bought wellies. I get heat rash in 80 degree heat and open my windows when it's in the 60s. I can think in Celsius but choose not to, as it really doesn't make sense and even the British public can't seem to firmly convert. I spell words the British way, but let spell check correct them so I'm no longer taunted by my family for extraneous "u"s and misplaced "s"s. I get irritated by people commenting on my accent on either side of the Atlantic. Everyone has an accent. Talking in hushed tones is as comfortable as bellowing across the playground. I eat with my fork upside down and don't switch hands. I make chocolate chip cookies but am unsure as to weather or not to call them biscuits.

I think taking a two week holiday is normal and that every employee should have at least that, plus more. Socialized medicine is wonderful but am glad my family has the cushion of private when things go really wrong. A year's maternity leave, while unnecessary for some parents, should be the employer's standard. My taxes are too high, but I'm glad for the help it provides to those who really need it. It's very irritating that the shops close at 5:00, but I'm sure the employees wouldn't have it any other way. My prescriptions aren't advertised and are probably generic. I don't mind, they hardly cost a thing and I'm not a media-induced hypochondriac. Birth control is free.

London is dirty. It's crowded. It's got shite weather. My sidewalks are covered in dog poo. My local shopping center is riddled with ghetto gold for sale down the middle aisle; it smells like KMart popcorn. My local market smells like dead, rotting fish and sounds like Africa, Turkey, and East London combined. I have three great coffee shops within 5 minutes of my house, none of them are Starbucks, and I know all the owners. The museums are free. There are loads of really great things to do with kids within walking distance. Within a bus ride there's hundreds more. There are fantastic and unbeatable parks. You can buy just about anything you need within a 10 minute walk of where you are, including a full-blown picnic with wine. You can drink wine in public. I can walk to nearly all of my friend's houses; they can walk to mine and often do. 

Conversations are even-keeled. Private lives stay behind closed doors. No one shrieks, no one shouts. Good news is met with a smile and bad news passes with a cup of tea. Social standing can be judged in quantities of sugar. 
Hot tea is tea. Trash goes in the bin. Lay your suitcases in the boot, fill the tank with petrol and check under the bonnet. Paracetamol is Tylenol; Ibuprofen is Advil; Calpol is for kids. We put our groceries in the trolley. My sons learned to do wees in the potty and now go to the loo. Sometimes, when Nana is here, they also spend a penny. Z is zed.

You don't own a van, you own a people carrier. You don't own a station wagon, you own an estate car. You can't find a way to explain what a blimp is. You might have a garden, but never a yard. A school fete is a fair. A hamper is a gift basket. Some children call their teacher "Miss." You push your children in a buggy or pram. They sleep in a cot and suck on a dummy (you try to forget about British orthodontics).

You know more Fiona's than Stephanie's. You've never met a British Brad or Scott. You navigate roundabouts, but rarely see a stop sign. The fast lane is on your right; the gear shift is on your left. You can't pay at the pump. Petrol costs 136p / liter. ($9.08 / gallon) Most cars are hatchbacks. SUVs exist, but the term doesn't translate. A semi truck is a lorry. Fire engines sound like "nee naw". There aren't any yellow school buses. You cross the street at a zebra crossing and walk on the footpath. Your bathroom doesn't have sockets, apart from the one used for shavers. You post your letter; the postman delivers them. Call your friends on their mobile (listen to the dial tone, it's different too). Lots of people wear glasses. Your Doctor is a consultant; they work in a surgery. Get your prescription from the chemist. 

Shite, bollocks, feck, sugar, pants are a few choice words. After revising, you erase your maths mistakes with a rubber. You get pissed at the pub. You wear pants under your trousers. Cricket is not the same thing as baseball, netball isn't the same as basketball and soccer is not just for girls.

If it's hot, cool down with an ice lolly. A stick of butter is not a recognized unit of measurement. Butter comes in blocks. Candy = sweets, Arugula = rocket, Eggplant = aubergine, Chips = crisps; they are not sold in mega-bags. French fries = chips. Father Christmas comes in winter and Boxing Day is Dec. 26. The correct date format is DD/MM/YYYY. I don't own a tumble dryer or garbage disposal. My windows don't have screens. There's no AC. There are no raccoons or chipmunks. I've never seen a white egg for sale.

I'm sure there's more, but I'm struggling and I'm sure you've stopped reading.


  1. Andrea, I love it! Thanks. I feel i'm semi prepared to visit London again, some time... I think the term "people carrier" is more offensive than minivan... But I do like the term "estate car" sounds fancy.


  2. It must be extra difficult because you & Donal have different cultures too. The use of the word 'shite' in this post pretty much makes you as British as apple crumble though. ;)

  3. I absolutely love this post!


    (I put my blog address because I am not sure which google profile I am on at the moment)

  4. Ha ha! Just catching up, and learned so much!