Saturday, January 31, 2009

Crisp Choices

While Americans like chips that are seasoned with sour cream and chive, barbecue, or cheddar cheese, the Brits like to roll the flavor of a whole dish onto their chip like prawn cocktail or roast chicken or steak and onion. Walkers Crisps which are as prevalent as Lays potato chips in the U.S. have launched a campaign to try out some new flavors. My friend L had sent me an U.S. news article that I first thought was a joke. It said that Walkers was selling a new chip that was called Cajun squirrel. I found them in the store today and bought a bag. All three of us tried them and we gave the flavor a thumbs down. Here’s a link to the website so you can see how crazy the flavors are.

Monday, January 26, 2009


A few questions about healthcare here have come my way and I am glad to say that I haven’t had a lot of experience since we have all been well, but I can tell you about the experience so far. Let me state that I think the American system is flawed. So many people make employment choices based on the availability of health insurance and that doesn’t always seem right. Because healthcare is a given here, a single mom for example could work a part-time job and still have time with their family instead of working full-time just to get the healthcare benefit and have probably a host of other issues like childcare. But there are also some wonderful aspects to the American system that we would lose if we switched to a more socialized approach. There is probably no panacea for this issue unfortunately.

So, what’s the experience so far? Well, one of us needed antibiotics and we actually paid more than we have ever paid for antibiotics in the U.S. Also, I do have private health insurance here and pay for it. I was told by everyone that if I could pay for it, I should get private healthcare as well because if you have an issue, that moves you up in the queue faster. Women in the U.S. are advised to have an exam once a year to check for breast cancer and cervical cancer. Here an individual is responsible for their own breast self-exams because that is not part of a checkup, and the cervical cancer check is only once every three years. And ladies, let me tell you, you think the whole experience can’t get any more embarrassing but try the cervical exam without the paper gown and stirrups! So I would say from my experience, the treatment is more hands off than you get in the U.S. My doctor in St. Louis was very much about preventative care. If I came in with bronchitis she would still give me a thorough check. I don’t get the impression that happens here. But on the other hand, doctors here still make home visits. It really is a mixed bag.

Just as I was getting these questions about the healthcare situation, A was scheduled to do some babysitting for L, my friend from the B&B. The day before, she left a message saying that she needed to cancel because she had fallen and broken her leg and was in the hospital. We visited her this weekend and she told me she was glad that I hadn’t come to see her in the hospital because I would have seen the NHS at its worst. I hope I don’t get to test this for myself!

H made a double batch of butternut squash soup yesterday so I could take L lunch. She has to be off her leg for six weeks which I know will drive her mad.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

N in England

In earlier posts I have mentioned my friend N who also lived at the B&B and relocated back to New Zealand last January after living in England for about nineteen years. We have kept in touch over the past year and he truly loves being back in New Zealand. He was in England over Christmas so we got a chance to visit briefly. Our schedules just weren’t in sync for anything longer unfortunately. I always enjoyed talking to N about cultural differences because he also was a stranger in a strange land and could understand where I was coming from. The week that I saw him, I was feeling very much a foreigner. I was telling him that I had gotten into a discussion with some folks about money and how these people were telling me that people in the UK are not motivated by money, and when I admitted that I was, not 100% but it did motivate me, I got a look like I was a lowlife. N laughed and said “That’s bullocks” of course they are motivated by money. Everyone is motivated by money. He said the difference was probably that they would never admit it. He went on to tell me that he was currently reading a book about a European mathematician that went to work in the U.S. at a university for a time. In the book the mathematician said that when he would be sitting in the faculty lounge having lunch, his American counterparts would stand up after finishing eating and announce that they had to get back because they had a lot of work to do. The author commented that a European would NEVER say that, even if they did have a lot to do. He went on to say that if given a problem that he had to work on all night to finish, the next day he would come in and act very casual about the amount of work it took to complete and would never let on that a lot of effort went into completing it. N has a way of not taking anything too seriously, and it was good to laugh a lot of things off that afternoon. I wish he was still in England.

The Little Store

H frequents the corner shop on our street. The family that owns it has a son who is probably about eleven or twelve and works the counter quite often. He seems to be fascinated with American life and has a question ready every time H comes in. He asked H last week if there were stores in American where you could buy gold televisions. This made us laugh.

L used to tell me that before she visited America last year the image she had in her head was what she saw on the primetime drama Dallas. It seems like this boy might have the same image. The funniest part about this encounter was that he asked H if his daughter was American. He told H that A didn’t sound American. She sounds American to me but maybe the accent is changing a bit.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Lazy Sunday

We had another beautiful sunny day yesterday, around 40 degrees. With the forecast predicting rain all week there was no way I was going to stay in the house. A. was lying on the couch and I was trying to get her to go for a walk with me. She just stayed there whining just quiet enough so I couldn’t understand a thing she was saying. It has the same affect on my nerves as a teething baby who’s screaming their head off. I told her to come on if she was bored, she wouldn’t be any less bored with me. We drove over to the next village and walked through the park, stopping to check out the swans and the geese, stopped at the newsstand and then headed to the coffee shop for a beverage. It was a nice relaxing Sunday and it did wonders for both of us.

I thought I would post this to illustrate one of the narrow country lanes outside of the village. Two cars are supposed to fit but when one passes, inevitably you can hear the exposed branches scraping the side of your car!

I’m also attaching some pics taken at the farm shop we visited on Saturday off this country lane.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

GCSE Night

We’ve got a parent’s night at A’s school at the end of this month and I am anxious to hear how things are going. The amount of feedback that parents get is a bit different than what we are used to.

We had a GCSE night last week at her school. I am still not sure if some of the assumptions I am making between an American education and an English education is the same but in Year 10, which is where A will be next year, your coursework is focused on subjects that you will be tested on in Year 11. Wikipedia has a nice explanation of what GCSEs are. During this information night last week, all of the parents for girls in Year 9 were invited to learn about what courses would be compulsory and what courses the girls had to select from for their two electives. Looking at the elective selections it made me think of starting high school and being able to select a few courses that I might actually enjoy instead of all of the stuff I didn’t like. I remember making that decision with very little fanfare, but at the information session it was depicted as one of the first major decisions in a young woman’s life. I was sitting there thinking okay, is that really how serious it is in the school system in the UK, or is this school just way uptight, OR are the parents just way uptight? We learned that at the end of the month the girls will have to fill out a form which will have their first, second, third and fourth selections for these electives and they will need to submit it to the office. The woman in the office that receives the form gave us parents a twenty to thirty minute stream of consciousness walkthrough on what happens after she receives all these forms and all the obstacles she might face in pleasing everyone and how she will handle them. I had my poker face on while this was happening but I was thinking in my head, Seriously???!!! We need to know this level of detail? I saw a parent sitting in front of us mouth to another parent, “Who cares?” But as soon as the woman finished her speech explaining how she ended up with a final matrix of everyone’s elective selections, a father in the front row raised his hand and asked because she was human and could make a mistake, what was her mechanism for checking her work? H and I looked at each other in disbelief! It dawned on me at that moment, this poor lady was just trying to anticipate and answer all of the concerns of the uptight parents.

When we walked back to our car and we were out of anyone else’s earshot, we both told A to pick what made her happy.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Trip to Borough Market

After our catering shop visit we went over to Borough Market to have some lunch and look around. I had the most delicious lamb burger from the Greek Barbecue. I love the look of the flower shop by the market. It was nice to see such beautifully color on a gray and freezing January day.

We are enjoying having a teenager with a social calendar all her own. It's too new for her to be sneaky yet. She was off doing her own thing with a friend instead of following closely behind us whining through the market, irritating us. Instead we were able to take our time, which made my cup of mulled wine that I bought at one of the stalls so much sweeter!

Trip to the Catering Shop

H needed some supplies for school so we visited a catering store in London. When we walked in I said to H that this was a dangerous shop for people into cooking. He told me that someone on a web forum described it as a sex shop for cooks, hahaha.

When H started cooking school, everything was provided for them except a scale and they were also supposed to buy their own pepper grinder. He said that one of the chefs said that choosing a pepper grinder was a very personal decision. I didn’t get it. So I had to take a picture of this ginormous pepper grinder in the shop. What on earth would this say about the owner???

Filter Coffee

Last weekend we went into London and one of our goals was to leave with a new coffee maker. When looking at the selection, espresso makers dominate and what we call coffee makers in the U.S. are commonly referred to as filter coffee makers. H doesn't really get into the whole espresso thing and I need caffeine in order to work one of the machines which defeats the whole purpose. I thought it was funny that as we looked at the selection for roughly twenty minutes before making a decision that everyone that was looking at the filter coffee pots had American accents.

An Update

I’ve gotten a few emails checking on the status of the blog. I’ve just been in a mood lately and was saving all the readers from it! I’ve written a few posts but they all sound very whiny as I am sure this one will. At the end of last year I had a case of the blues that I just couldn’t shake. It’s lingering still. H asked me if I was missing home and I quickly answered no, but maybe I was. For the past year I have enjoyed being the observer, not really attached to anything or anyone, just taking it all in. But there’s a price to pay for that. I miss being part of a community, being somewhat settled. I could do that here but I feel like this is a temporary move and that probably creates an unconscious barrier. Maybe I need to stop watching Gilmore Girls reruns because I’m pretty sure a tight-knit community like Stars Hollow does not exist!

I HAVE been missing things about American life. For example buying the bottom priced item here seems to get you crap, where that’s not always the case in the U.S. I know that speaks to America’s buying power more than things being quality American made but it is true. I am still wearing socks that I bought from Target five years ago but a pair I bought and wore here were threadbare in a day. Paying for parking everywhere and then trying to fit a car into space that leaves you no room to exit the car is really bringing me down. I’ve been disproportionately angry at our crappy coffee maker that takes over an hour to brew a pot of coffee. It wasn’t cheap either! Even after de-scaling the stupid thing, it still doesn’t brew any faster. But a few things have turned the world around.

1. We bought a new coffee maker I have totally fallen in love with.
2. Our dearest friend B is coming for a visit in February, yeah!
3. H has now started back to culinary school and this section focuses on regional French dishes. He’s already made some amazing things.
4. A has really gathered a nice network of friends.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Just in Time for the First Day Back to Work

Too bad we didn't have snow over Christmas but instead experienced this scene on the 5th of January, the day that most people are heading back to work. As someone from work said, it will look Dickensian for about fifteen minutes until it turns to dirty slush.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

A Visit to Camden

The news outlets have been reporting that with the British Pound’s decline lots of mainland Europeans are visiting the UK. That seemed quite evident yesterday as A. and I hit Camden to go to the markets. A. had her first experience negotiating a price and was ready to leave to go to a traditional store after that experience. The market is always good for people watching.

The Fine Print

We bought a box of black peppercorns and H tore off a coupon that was on the box. Now it’s been a while since I have read the fine print on a coupon in the U.S. but I don’t think it is this polite.

Please do not attempt to redeem this coupon against any other product as refusal may cause embarrassment.

Nothing but Downtime

Mission accomplished. Nothing serious got done over the Christmas holiday except a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle, which H would work on occasionally just to fix my mistakes. I also had a lot of American television on in the background, lots of episodes of Law & Order, Frasier, and Malcolm in the Middle. I also watched all of the episodes of a British comedy called Gavin and Stacey over the holiday as well, thanks to a recommendation from someone at work. I bought the DVDs after Christmas and felt like an addict, waiting for everyone else to go to sleep so I could watch three or four episodes.

The show is a classic tale of two people from different worlds falling in love. Gavin is English and Stacey is Welsh. They meet through telephone conversations at work and decide to meet up in London and a whirlwind romance ensues. They are a sweet couple but the true genius of the show is their family and friends who have to come together with varying degrees of success due to the couples’ romance. I don’t get all of the cultural references but it is still great television. I mention this show because I read recently that it is being developed for American television with Gavin being from New Jersey and Stacey being from South Carolina. While The Office was successfully adapted to U.S. television, I’m afraid the beauty of this one might get lost in the Americanization, so if you have access to the original through BBC America or Netflix, check it out.

I’m attaching a clip from youtube that I hope you can play from America. One of my favorite elements of the show is the relationship between Gavin and his best mate Smithy, who cannot deal with the fact that his friendship is being affected by this relationship. With Gavin and Stacey back from their honeymoon, Smithy acts like the other woman. This scene kills me.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy New Year

Here’s to a happy and healthy New Year! We spent the evening at a gathering at the B&B. It was strange to turn on the television and not see the ball drop in Times Square but to see the London Eye and Big Ben instead. It was a beautiful fireworks display. I have never thought to myself watching the Times Square festivities that I wanted to experience that for myself, but hearing Big Ben chime, and to see that mixture of the old and new between those two iconic structures, that made me think for a minute that braving the crowd might be worth it. That thought didn’t last long!

A. had a friend spend the night last night. We got home from the B&B about 1:00am and A. announced that she was setting her alarm clock so she could wake up in the middle of the night and watch the Times Square coverage. We told her to think again and go to bed. I recorded the Kathy Griffin/Anderson Cooper coverage on CNN which was hilarious for all of the awkward moments. As I watched it this morning over my morning coffee I asked A. if she wanted to watch the countdown. She said that she was not interested to watch the recorded version as if some great injustice had been committed.

A random note on the radio, H gets frustrated on the radio selections here, but I think he is forgetting how much of American radio sucks. Even the classic rock radio stations seem to play the same playlist over and over again, when you would think by definition they would have an almost endless selection. Last night as we drove home from the B&B on one radio station we heard U2’s New Year’s Day, then Elvis Presley’s Suspicious Minds, and then Outkast’s Hey Ya. I can’t think of many radio stations that play that kind of variety. That’s alright with me.

(Picture courtesy of