For as long as I can remember, I have had a love for things British. I’m not actually sure if it started when my father first introduced me to Dr. Who or if it was after seeing my first episode of The Tomorrow People on Nickelodeon. At that point I’m pretty sure all I knew about the Brits were that they had cool accents and supernatural powers. I was hooked.
At different periods of my childhood, I became obsessed with different British things. For awhile it was tea and crumpets (although I usually just ate English muffins and called them crumpets since I wasn’t quite sure what a crumpet was. I had one for the first time in college–yummy). Then it was British stories like Mary Poppins (read the series), Alice in Wonderland and every Dr. Who novel my dad had. Then I went through a stage where I refused to speak unless I did it with a British accent. I’m sure my folks loved that one. When people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I told them very frankly: British.
So when I first had the chance to take students on an international trip, it’s no real shock I decided on London. It’s also probably no real shock given my love for speaking in accents of any sort (and my habit of picking them up fairly quickly) that after only a few days I found myself drifting into old habits and pronouncing things in a very British way (I snapped out of it the second I got back on American soil).
However, despite my longing to be British as a child (and let’s face it, well into my adult years), after my recent trip across the pond, I was once again reminded that I am definitely not British and no amount of tube mastery, accent mimickery or cute semi-trendy t-shirts can mask this fact. Not that I did anything horribly touristy to give myself away. I was fairly good about blending in (see my last post where I got asked directions), but after a week, I realized London is just quirky enough that I might not be able to be British after all.
In many ways, London is like any big American city (LA, Chicago, NY). The lack of a real language barier makes it easier to forget you are in a foreign country. Even their currency is similar…they have penny, 5, 10, 20 and 50 cent pieces, which is pretty close. They eat a lot of the same foods. They have many of the same stores. However, there are lots of little things, that make London (and probably all of England) just a little “quirky” to my American sensibilities.
-After our first attempt to find a cinema (we found it, but it only had one movie playing and it wasn’t one we’d even heard of), we were tired. We found a “farmer’s market” and took a look. No produce was being sold, but there were three different places to eat. We decided to stop for a drink at one, only to be turned away because they could only serve drinks with food. Since I’m from a country that introduced me to drinking without eating (thank you Chi Chi’s half price margarita Tuesday), this was quirky to me.
-When we went to the cinema (they don’t say movies or theater), the ticket seller asked us where we wanted to sit. We didn’t quite know what he meant. He offered us “premium seats” for a few pounds more, but as the movie was already 20 pounds (about $35), we said no and took the standard seats. Then he rattled off what seemed to be a row number. We said “sure” and took our tickets. Turns out, that the British cinema takes its cue from the actual theatres: you get assigned seats. Now, this might not be too bad, except that in a theater of probably a dozen people, he sat us directly next to someone else. Why? I wanted to get up and move, but didn’t know if that would be rude or I might get in trouble for moving my seat, so I stayed. It was awkward. And, well, quirky.
-One really positive quirk (in my opinion) is that theatres allow not only ice cream, candy and soda to be consumed in your seat as the play is unfolding, but also liquor. It’s nice at intermission to see the ushers get out big tubs of ice cream and offer up tiny tubs of mint chocolate chip (even if it isn’t irredescent green).
-Hotels often have separate hot and cold faucets. Now, that doesn’t sound too bad when you first hear it. In practice though, there are not only two different faucets to turn on, but two separate streams of water. It is impossible to get warm water unless you fill the sink and actually mix up your own warm water. This meant that every time I wanted to wash my hands, I either froze them or burned them. Kind of makes one not want to wash, which makes me wonder how many don’t.
-Bacon is ham. Sure, they have two different foods that they call bacon and ham, but they are basically the same thing. Anytime you order bacon, you get ham, even on a BLT.
-Which leads to another quirk, mayonnaise. They put the stuff on EVERYTHING. They have pizzas with mayonnaise on them. Baked potatoes with tuna and mayonnaise (they call them jacket potatoes). The Greek place we had lunch one day didn’t offer tzatziki sauce to dip the souvlaki in, but it did offer a lemon mayonnaise, which by the way, tasted like, well mayonnaise. The only thing they did not put mayonnaise on was my BLT, which, oddly, is the one thing I really love mayonnaise on. Of course, I also like it as BLT, not an HLT.
-The ketchup, despite coming in a bottle that looks identical to the ones in America, is sweet, not salty. Now, I didn’t get fries (called chips) often while in London, but the few times I did, I couldn’t figure out why they tasted odd to me. It wasn’t until my husband pointed it out that I realized the problem. My fries tasted sweet and while I adore most of my foods sweet, it turns out I don’t like my ketchup that way.
-Just like in the states, McDonald’s has specialty burgers. I remember once when I was a kid and lived in the Chicagoland area, they offered a McJordan burger. While I never ate one, my dad liked them and would get them from time to time. While in London, we noticed McDonald’s also had specialty burgers, only they were based on big American cities. There were four burgers running throughout the summer: Chicago, LA, New York and Atlanta. Though I lived outside of Chicago for nearly 10 years of my life, I cannot for the life of me, figure out what made the burger a “Chicago” burger. While I didn’t eat one (I refused to eat fast food over there), it simply looked like a bacon cheeseburger on a cheesybun. Last time I checked, Chicago wasn’t known for it’s famous cheeses.
-Finally, it seems the Brits don’t care much about copyright infringement. I saw these ice cream/hot dog trucks all over the city. Now, while I was growing up in Southern California, Disney sued a local preschool for using its characters on the classroom walls. Here are vans with poorly drawn characters covering them all over one of the largest cities in the world, and no one bats an eye. Not that I care. I like Disney and all, but don’t care if ice cream vendors use them to hawk their wares. It’s just, well, quirky.
So while I feel pretty at home in London in a lot of ways, it’s just quirky enough that I realize I am not home. It did make me very happy to get home, and I certainly loved my McDonald’s fries with salty ketchup on the LONG car ride back to my place.