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Friday, November 11, 2011

Becoming British-ified?

Was rather funny this week when I was talking to another American, a man who relocated to London five years ago from Chicago.  He asked if I had become Britishified yet?  I laughed because although I thought I had a vague inclination as to what he meant, I was curious what his thoughts were.  He said on his first visit home his mother was really worried about him because she thought he was depressed because he used to be really smiley but he just explained that he was becoming more British and they just have more somber dispositions.  It's funny because the opposite is also true, most Brits will comment about how 'friendly' Americans are when they talk about their holidays to the US.   He also commented that when he first moved here, he thought the people were really rude but has now come to accept that its just part of the culture in general to keep to yourself and not really talk to others.  So here are some ways that I feel like I have become British-ified and then a list of ways I am holding on to my American self :

British-ified Attributes :
  • I no longer strike up conversations with strangers standing next to me in public settings.  When I first got here, I did but people either looked at my like I was a silly tourist American or worse that I was just plain crazy.  I learned quickly that Brits in public are not looking for casual conversation to pass the time and that the preference is to keep to themselves.  I have gotten more use out of my iPod here then I did the entire time I travelled throughout the US for work.
  • I have begun drinking tea at least twice a day.  I know that 'tea time' is kind of a cliche way that Americans think about the English but it's a cliche for a reason.  They literally do drink hot tea with milk at several intervals throughout the day.  I find that now I drink tea at least twice a day (and sometimes more), once in the morning when I'm starting my day at work and then typically around two in the afternoon.  The kicker was when I was craving tea at home over the weekend and made myself a cup with no peer pressure at all from my co-workers.
  • I started using the word 'quid'.  Quid is to pound as buck is to dollar.  For whatever reason, when I try to say pound I often slip up and say dollar instead.   So to stop my slips, I found myself saying 'quid' instead because for whatever reason it rolled off the tongue a bit better.  My American co-worker made fun of me last week when he heard me refer to a lunch that we could pick up for 'a couple of quid' - he said he's lost all respect for me as a fellow American expat.
  • I know who Take That is now.  I had never heard of this boy band group which is apparently the equivalent to the Backstreet Boys back home.  They had a come back tour this summer and their music was all over the radio and I have to admit I did download one of their songs from iTunes last week - what have I become?  I didn't even listen to American boy band groups before!
  • I have an automatic top up on my Oyster card now.  One of my co-workers once commented that that's how they can tell American tourists apart from Americans living in London.  Oyster cards are the common form to pay for public transports on local buses, trains and tubes.  Public transport is such at the center of everyday life for me now.  I have the tube map, bus schedule, tfl website and the trainline apps all downloaded on my blackberry.  I have to learn what 'zone 1 - 6' mean and before I go anywhere, I have to ask myself what form of transport I'm going to take, what are my available options for transport, will trains/buses still be running when it's time to come back home,  can I carry anything I'm going to buy while I'm out on the bus/train back home?  I do miss jumping in my car without a thought in the world about planning my journey for the day!
  • I think the two most common topics of conversation I have with people is either about the weather or about people's journey on transport.  The conversations are typically short as neither of these two things changes too much from day to day.
  • I now go grocery shopping several times per week.  I typically only shop for a few meals at a time.  The fact that I only have a college dorm room sized refrigerator and no freezer at all really does stop me from buying anything too excessive.  I do think I throw a lot less food away now though so perhaps this is a good thing.
  • I have become a frequent visitor of the local pub.  Pub crawls, pub lunch, pub after work drinks - the pub is a central point for all British social interaction.  These evenings usually consists of several adults binge drinking from 5:30PM until the Pub closes around 11 or midnight.  The only time when the volume of the English voice seems to rise is when there are large amounts of alcohol consumed, which also incidentally many times also leads to flashing - who knew (not on my part so don't worry Mum) !
  • I have started calling 'cookies' by the more common term here of 'biscuits'.
  • I now struggle with what I mean when I say the word 'football' - I mean soccer, no football, no soccer - you get the gist.
Ways I have avoided becoming British-ified:
  • I still can't bring myself to say 'cheers' or 'ta' as a salutation or a thank you.  It just doesn't even sound right rolling off my tongue unless I have a drink in my hand when I do it (or rather several drinks already gone).
  • I have yet to have a Sunday Roast.  Sunday roast is a English tradition of having a meal of roasted meat, veg and potatoes on Sunday afternoon. 
  • I still have a hard time pronouncing something spelled 'Derby' as 'Darby'.
  • I am horrible bad at pub quizzes.  In my defense most of the questions were related to obscure British topics or shows I had never seen or sports I'd never heard of but still I don't think this is something I will ever become any better at no matter how long I stay in the UK.
  • I don't think I'll ever get into the legging fashion trend, just don't have the butt for it!
I'm sure there are lots more that I haven't thought of but these are my observations for tonight :) If you have any to share about cultural differences - any culture - feel free to add! 

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Escaping to paradise ...

So I think most people know that one of the big reasons I moved to London was to give me the opportunity to travel and see more of the world.   I set a goal for myself at the off set of this year that I would travel to at least five countries outside the UK by the end of 20111.   In addition, I sat down and made a list of all the European cities that I'd like to see first.  Most of my travel this year was planned by deciding what weekend I had available to get away and then searching all the cities I was interested in seeing and finding the best deals for the time that I had to go.  The ONE trip that I had planned out from the very beginning was Greece and more specifically the Greek islands.  When I finally had a full week off work, I knew exactly what the destination would be. 

Greece for me held the mystery of ancient gods and cities, the crisp, clean waters of the Aegean Sea, the white washed domed villages, not to mention the amazing food. To be honest, my goal for the holiday was truly just relaxation.  I wanted a slow paced, chilled vacation where I wasn't stressing out or waking up early to rush around and see all the tourist sights.  Having said that, I didn't think I could go to Greece without at least spending some time in Athens.  I settled on 3 days in Athens and 4 days in Santorini for my week long holiday.

I booked at a hotel in Athens that was right in the center of the Plaka with is the old town area within the city.  Most of the key tourist sights are within walking distance and since I was only going to be in Athens a short time, I decided that location was probably the most important factor for this hotel.  It was an amazing location.  The hotel itself had simple, clean rooms and pretty friendly staff but the location was well worth it.  I would recommend it to anyone that really wants to be in the center of the sights as well as having great access to the tavernas and shopping in the old town area (Adrian Hotel  Breakfast is included in the room price and is served each morning on the rooftop terrace, from which you can see the Acropolis and ancient ruins of the Parthenon.

I have found that if I have a limited amount of time in a city, I really do enjoy joining a tour group to hit the key sights.  If I have a lot of time to wander around on my own I enjoy that as well, however, tour groups do allow you to see the most important points and the guides usually will give you tidbits of information or point out specific points of interest that you would have likely missed having seen it on your own.   My tour included entrance into the Acropolis which is in all fairness one of the core sights that everyone sees when visiting the city.  It is amazing to wander around the site of the ancient city and imagine all the different forms that is has taken in its evolution over the centuries.  Each culture, leader, invader putting their own fingerprint on the history found within the ruins.  There is a lot of work to restore parts of the debris so it does take away a bit from the viewing however there is definitely something special about Athens.

The people were really friendly in Athens.  Each night the waiters would take the time to talk to me, asking where I was from and how I was enjoying Greece.  Each meal come out with a complimentary shot of Ouzo at the end (ouch!).  One evening I was even invited out for drinks with a nice Greek gentleman who left me laughing so hard at his cheesy pickup lines, I had to excuse myself and go back to my hotel.  But it's all part of the experience right ? And he did buy me a few drinks and rose so it wasn't a total waste.... Thanks for the story Marco.

Off to Santorini! This has to be one of the most beautiful places in the world!  The unique architecture with the towns built right into the wall of the volcanic caldera make exploring so much fun. Once again, I found hotel paradise.  The B&B I booked at in Oia was in the perfect location for watching the sunset each night and was built in the traditional style of a cave!  I had a terrace right off my room that was the perfect spot for reading, drinking my wine and watching the sun go down.  I intended this part of my holiday to just be a relaxing escape and that was exactly what I got.  I haven't been to the other Greek Islands but I would definitely recommend Santorini to anyone that wants to get away a bit and enjoy some amazing scenery.

Greece was amazing!  The pictures just do not do it justice to be honest.  I'm so thankful for the experiences I have had this year and Greece was definitely a lifelong dream come true and didn't let me down at all!