Thursday, April 22, 2010

Cultural Observations

Now, you may think that since English is spoken in England there shouldn't be big differences in culture, right?  Well, compared to going to say, Niger, the culture differences are slight.  But there are differences between England and the States.  Of course, most of my observations are on a surface level so I don't claim to be taking this very deep!  And I certainly mean no offense to either the US or to Britain.  Just making observations, that's all.

1.  My Name.....Well, I don't know since only one person has said this to me, but I've been told that "Nancy is a very American name".  I don't know if that's true or not.  There must be some Brits named Nancy....but I haven't met any.  I mean I have met people with names we would say are very British such as ....never mind, I'm not going to get my self in trouble by naming names.  But after he said that I started looking in places where they sell things with people's names on them and I haven't found one thing yet that says "Nancy".  And I've found tons of stuff that says "Natalie" (my sister's name). 
Now, usually in the US it's the other way around....We can find stuff that says "Nancy", but not "Natalie".  (As an aside, I have definitely noticed that all the Nancys I know are in their 50's and they are either American or Canadian.  Obviously it was a very popular 1950's name in North America!)  And by the way, I like my name, American or not.

2.  Food....British food is not bad.    It seems a little bland and not very salty, but that's probably because in general Americans use way too MUCH salt!  Here are some things I really like.  Crumpets spread with lemon curd. 
I know it sounds weird.  Well, the crumpets were in the clearance basket at the store so I decided to try them.  And the lemon curd was sitting on the table since breakfast stuff is provided.  Now, really, I don't like anything lemon except maybe real home-made lemonade on a hot day.  But I decided to bravely give it a try.  I put just a dab on the crumpet and took a bite and it was delicious!  I really don't know what there is about it because it SOUNDS awful.
And Muller yogurt with choco balls.  This is VERY, VERY delicious!  The fruit kind is good too, but this is the best!  I love it.  I could eat it every day.  We've got to get this in the States!


3.  Queues....That's another word for lines.  I think this amazes me more coming from Africa than it does coming from the US.  Brits line up for everything.  Without anybody telling them to.  Behind some kind of invisible line that everybody can see.  In Niger people group up and surge forward as a crowd.  Shopkeepers deal with four or five people at a time.  The concept of the micro-advantage holds sway.  But not here.  Americans are pretty good at forming lines....ahem, queues....but Britain has even the US beat on that one.
I mean we would normally mill around while waiting for the bus to come then queue up when it gets there, but here they queue up even before the bus is in sight.  It's a good thing, really, because it enables other people who aren't getting on the bus to pass by on the sidewalk.  And think how much pushing and shoving it eliminates.
4.  Signs...OK, I don't want anybody to think I'm making fun of anything in the culture.  All I'm saying here is that English in one place isn't English in another.  So if anybody can tell me what these signs mean, I'd appreciate it!  I think I've got the first one, but the second two are totally meaningless to me.

 5.  Privacy...It seems to me that Brits are much more private with their personal lives and in what they say than Americans are (maybe that's a stereo-type?).  But then walking down the street, in the neighborhood where we live anyway, the houses are very close to the sidewalk and people just leave their curtains open and any body can look in.  It's just an interesting contrast because it seems that Americans would be very uncomfortable with their curtains open but they tend to be very public with their private lives, with what they say.  Personally, I think I'd opt for the closed curtains and the personal privacy, taking the best of both worlds!

6.  Grocery Bags...America...listen and learn.  Here you can get a plastic bag at the store to put your groceries in, but you have to pay for it.  And if you bring your own bag, you get points on your store card.  It's a great motivation to cut down on the number of plastic bags leaving the store.

7.  Walking Paths...Oxford is a perfect city for walking.  And I think some American cities have done a good job turning old rail tracks into bike paths and so on.  But in England, if you are walking on a marked path, the path may lead you through a farmer's field.  If there is a stile or a gate that isn't locked, you are allowed to walk through.  Of course, it is assumed that you will be respectful of his land.  Just down the road from us is an area we love to visit.
  There is a meadow where cows are open range and people sit in the same meadow and have picnics (us included).  The canal is near the meadow and you can walk for miles along the canal.  And the Thames River is on the other side and you can walk for miles along the river.  I don't know if Oxford is typical of England or not, but it is very easy to stay in shape here.  I walk at least two miles every day and some days up to six.  One day I did eight, but not all at one time.

8.  Heating...On general, Brits just don't keep their houses as warm as Americans do.  I think it's partly because there are a lot of older houses and they are very drafty.  I've been very cold here, especially the first two weeks we were here when it was still quite wintry weather.  On the other hand, Americans go way overboard on air conditioning in the summer.  Here, restaurants, pubs, and stores just open windows.  I know we get much hotter summers on general in the US, but there's no reason to make public places as cold as they are.

So, those are just some of my observations.  After four weeks I don't claim to be any kind of expert!  


 

3 comments:

podso said...

Good observations and I agree with them all. I think that traffic tooth this is those grizzly metal things in the road that do rise up to keep you out--or ruined tires (tyres). Not sure what why they use them. And I'm glad you like lemon curd--I do as well, on my scones especially! And finally, I remember arriving in London from a year in Ghana and absolutley freezing and asking the hotel keeper how to turn on the heat in our room and she looked at me like I was "daft."

Amanda said...

Thanks for sharing that. It brought back many memories for me.

I would agree with what you've said too. For one thing, as an Aussie the only two Nancy's I know are yourself and Nancy C who's Canadian!! I don't know of any Aussies at all or any British people who are called Nancy.

Have you tried crumpets with butter and honey? Thats the traditional way we eat them here, you have to make sure the butter melts on the top and that you eat them while its all running through. Yuummmmm! Crumpets are common in Australia.

I think we call lemon curd, lemon butter here. Easy to make.

There were quite a few things we found in the UK that stood out like your list. England being our mother country we made too many assumptions that we were the same. We prepared very well for Niger and had no culture shock at all but we had plenty in the UK. In the first few weeks we were worn out by 8pm each night (and we were only 24 yrs old at the time with no kids).

Our biggest differences that I can remember off the top of my head are:

1. Conversational cues - in Australia if someone is talking and you think of a point to add to what they are saying, you just jump right in and butt in. The person speaking generally stops and you say your bit and then they resume. In the UK we automatically did this but we were so embarrassed that our British friends did not stop and let us talk, they kept on talking over us!!

2. The height of the doors and size of the buildings - got a lot to do with history but Michael found it hard and knocked his head on everything!

3. A silly one. In Australia salt and vinegar flavoured anything is indicated by a bright magenta coloured packet. In the UK I think that indicated prawn flavour!! We found that out fast.

I'm with you on the privacy thing, Aussies are much more private that Americans but the British take the cake.

Just had to share, sorry for 'comment hogging'!! LOL

Deborah said...

Hey Nancy! I've been enjoying reading about your time in the UK. The Tooth Traffic-Control Plates are those metal spikey plates that are often at the entrance of airport parking lots . . . they tilt at an angle so that you can drive over them into the lot, but if you try to reverse or drive out of the lot they will pop your tires.

And Rising Bollards are posts in the road that allow pedestrians and bicycles through but not cars. Typically Bollards are stationary, but the "Rising" ones allow for them to be lowered into the ground so that traffic can pass at certain times.

Hope that helps!

Joe mentioned that John may be coming down to Les Cedres some time in May. It will be good to see him. Sorry you won't be around too.