Sunday, August 31, 2008

Bugger this for a game of soldiers, take two

Britsh words and phrases of frustration, resignation, condemnation and disappointment. Some are obvious to an American, some not. There may even be another 2 or 3 that are not on the list...can you come up with any more. This time, let's add some American expressions as well. None on the list yet.

Can't be arsed
Browned off
Cheesed off
Pig's ear
Make a total bollocks of
Pull your finger out
Sweet F.A.
Cock up
Jack in

Friday, August 29, 2008

Surprise VP pick

John McCain this afternoon stunned Washington insiders by unexpectedly choosing a self-styled "soccer mom" to be his running mate in the November Presidential election. His selection came one day after the end of the Democratic Convention which nominated Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois and Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware as that party's team.

McCain's choice was totally unexpected, and completely passed over the more well-known political names in the Republican party. Sarah Palin is a 44 year old mother of 5. She is the first female in history to be a Republican Vice-Presidential candidate. Her politial record is almost as scant as Senator Obama's is on the Dem side. She is a grass-roots conservative.

Palin is the Governor of the State of Alaska. Her selection by McCain obviously changes the dynamic of the Presidential race, as polls are already showing moderate Democratic women (especially the former supporters of Hillary Clinton) now shifting their support to the Republican side, in support of the female candidate.

She will face closer than usual scrutiny: due to John McCains age, there is a much greater chance she would actually be called upon to become president. Senator McCain just turned 72.

She is the mother of five children. Her oldest son is in the U.S. Army and is scheduled to be deployed to Iraq later this year. She has 3 daughters. Her youngest child, a son, born just this past April, was born with Down's Syndrome.

Above: Gov. Palin's father holds photo of his daughter the beauty queen.
Above: Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, shown with some of her children at Philadelphia Zoo in July.
Above: Governor Palin talks to troops in Nome Alaska.

Senator John McCain announces his Vice-Presidential running mate will be Alaska Governer Sarah Palin, Friday. She is the first female Republican Vice-Presidential candidate ever.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Natives of...

I remember one of the places the adventurer Gulliver stopped in his mythical satirical travels was a place called Lilliput, where the people were only a few inches high.

So, you can imagine my amazement when I was researching BritishSpeak to discover that a person who lived in Liverpool was known as a Liverpudlian. I don't know why, but I connected that name with a person who lived in Lilliput.

I have since found several other very interesting names for people who live in other (UK) places. Here are a few, below. Can you name the cities? Ok, so I've already given you the first one. Also, please add any other interesting ones you think of.

Manc, Mancunian

What is a Taffy?
What is a Soap Dodger?
What is a Sassenach?

Some of these are starting to get derogatory, so I will stop here. Answers below.

Taffy = Welsh
Soap Dodger = (derogatory) Edinburgh term for Glaswegians
Sessenach = (derogatory) Scotish term for the English.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

What we need....

In his ongoing efforts to keep his paw on the pulse of all things British, Relax Max subscribes to the email updates on world affairs which emanate with considerable regularity from within the cloistered walls of Her Majesty's foreign mission in Washington. Lately, her government has been greatly pleased (which is to say exceedingly chuffed) to issue regular stern warnings and outright condemnations to the fine fellows in Moscow in re their recent invasion of the country of Georgia. These statements always seem to follow within minutes of strikingly similar condemnations and non-specific yet dire-sounding warnings from the Bushites in the White House. Only the Zees have been changed to Esses, and a few unnecessary Us (Yous) added to make it seem more British.

Today, Relax Max received the following news release from your Washington embassy. I share:

Foreign Secretary David Miliband: Ukraine, Russia and European Security
FCO, London, August 27, 2008

Foreign Secretary David Miliband made an important speech in Kiev today on Ukraine, Russia and European Security.

In the speech, David Miliband reflects on the changed situation in Europe after Russia's invasion of Georgia, and the implications both for the West and Russia. He reaffirms that we do not want a new Cold War, and stresses that President Medvedev has a big responsibility not to start one, and that Russia needs to change course if she wants respect and influence and the benefits which flow from them. He underlines the economic costs of Russia's action to a Russian economy which is increasingly enmeshed in the global economy.

At the same time, he notes that isolation of Russia would be counter-productive.
What we need is hard-headed engagement, bolstering our allies, rebalancing the energy relationship with Russia, defending the rules of international institutions and renewing efforts to tackle unresolved conflicts.

[emphasis by Relax Max]

No, Mr. Secretary. What we NEED is for my country to get the frig out of Eastern Europe and come home, and to stop spending my tax dollars on some idiot "missile shield" which only makes Iran laugh and greatly pisses off Russia.

If I may say so.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

More word differences and more book excerpts

First I want to thank a new commentator, The Plastic Mancunian (of Manchester) for leaving the following interesting words and observations on my "New Words" post today:

There are many British slang terms and most of them are regional. For example there are words used in Liverpool that a cockney wouldn't understand (and vice versa).

For example - some gems from Liverpool (the land of the Scousers):

"Don't get a cob on" - don't lose your temper.

"Where's me keks?" - Where are my trousers?

"Bizzies" - Police

There is a tangible rivalry between Manchester and Liverpool (the cities are roughly 40 miles apart). Locals here call Liverpudlians "Mickey Mousers" (i.e. "Scousers"). Other gems from Manchester:

"Angin" - Ugly

"Nowt" - nothing

"Bobbins" - Rubbish

Of course there are millions more ...


Also thanks to CharmaineZoe (of Warwickshire) for leaving an amusing anecdote about our confusing language(s), on the same post. I would like to share it with you here:

"When my husbands firm was taken over by an American company based in Houston they had to order any equipment they needed through Houston. He put in a requisition for a router (connects a computer to a network - pronounced rooter). Imagine their surprise when a large parcel turned up and on opening it they discovered a router (large drill that puts ridges in wood - pronounced router)this was for a computer software company mark you. It was then they realised that, in those immortal words 'Houston, we got us a problem!' Lets just say its been an interesting learning experience over the last couple of years, on both sides :-)"


Ok, CharmaineZoe. Now I have to tell you that, in many parts of the U.S., (including, apparently, Houston) that computer thingy is indeed pronounced with an "ow" sound instead of "oo" as you do. (So it is really even worse than you thought!). And most Americans will say "paper rowt" rather than "paper root". But not all. Heh. So that makes it even more confusing. I am so happy that you stopped by and left that little story. You sound like someone we all would like to get to know better. (And I hope we do. :)


Well, it looks like this post is already long enough, so I won't post any book excerpt today. Maybe next time.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Old Ads from Max's old mag collection

Yummy: Leave him alone, sister. This bloke's bowels are bound up solid!
Max: Why don't you go buy some titties, mama?
Yummy: Hello! It's roughage, by gad!
Max: He said "nad" heh heh.
Yummy: Did not, cornholer. heh heh.
Yummy: Hell yes! Whoopie! Don't get too far from the loo, though!
Max: What the hell's that floating in the water? Seaweed? Brown seaweed?
Yummy: Yeah! Brown seaweed! Heh heh. Splash him with it sister!
Yummy: No. No better way than to eat shovelfuls of Kellogg's overpriced bran chaff! Eat our crap and crap!
Max: He said "crap" heh heh. Just like Butthead and Beavis. Heh heh.
Yummy: Did not, butt munch. Heh heh.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

2-level circular definitions

In the process of editing "The Book" that this blog has given birth to (and publication is now close enough that the actual title will not appear here) it has amused me to see certain words mean something in one country and something completely different in the other, but STILL have a secondary meaning in one country which has still a second meaning in the other country. Clear, right? It has almost become a game with me. Let me give you a few examples of what I am talking about. See if you can think of any more of these "circular definitions."

crisps chips
chips fries

[get it?]

scone biscuit
biscuit cookie

poof fag
fag cigarette

ground floor first floor
first floor second floor

waistcoat vest
vest undershirt

van pickup
pickup hooker

I was going to ask you to add some more of your own in comments to this post, but I suppose you would have to be fluent in both languages to do that. So never mind. Just tell me how clever I am for noticing these things. 

Monday, August 18, 2008

Scientists: The UK continues to grow.

For a long time now, there have been reports of the growth of the UK. Most of us have simply assumed this referred to population growth. Today, this myth was set to rest as scientists confirmed that the UK land mass was actually growing at an alarming rate, now completly covering Iceland. There is talk of a UK-USA superbridge, using Greenland as a mid-point, but engineers say it would be best to wait for a few years, as a bridge may not even be needed before long.

One happy side-effect of this tremendous growth: the British government is currently giving away large quantities of land to political supporters currently in favor.

Friday, August 15, 2008

My British Connection

(Click on picture to see larger image)

Many of you who follow this blog know that I vacationed in Massachusetts and Rhode Island this past July. One of the reasons for my trip to Cape Cod was that is the site where one of my ancestors landed in America long ago. This ancestor (my many-great-grandfather William Nickerson) Arrived at Salem in 1637 with his wife Anne and his older children. More children were to be born in this wild country.

They had sailed from Yarmouth, England, and he soon settled on the Cape, with some other families. They called that place Yarmouth as well. A few years later he moved his family a little further East, to the "elbow" of Cape Cod and eventually owned most of the land in the area that is now the city of Chatham. His original house has been rehabilitated and still stands (picture below). The above monument is in the yard.

William was my 8th-great-grandfather (I think - it's hard to keep it counted right that far back). One of his decendents, a girl by the name of Chloe Nickerson (1782-1861), met one Sturgis Osburn (1773-1837) in New York and the rest is history.

I mean me. I am Sturgis' and Chloe's (several greats) grandson.

I am also descended from British stock through the above Sturgis Osburn, whose first American ancestor was one Capt. Richard Osborn, who landed in Connecticut in 1636, from London, England, (embarking from Southhampton) by way of Barbados. The bones of his descendent Capt. John Osborn rest in Fairfield, Connecticut.

Okay - so I have never set foot in England. But don't tell me I'm not FROM there!
Click on picture to see larger image

(Both photos by my cousin Carl Osburn.)

Thursday, August 14, 2008

An introduction to not-so-obscure music

Don't believe what you hear
Don't believe what you see
If you just close your eyes
You can feel the enemy
When I first met you girl
You had fire in your soul
What happened your face of melting in snow?
Now it looks like this
And you can swallow
Or you can spit
You can throw it up
Or choke on it
And you can dream
So dream out loud
You know that your time is coming 'round
So don't let the bastards grind you down

No, nothing makes sense
Nothing seems to fit
I know you'd hit out
If you only knew who to hit
And I'd join the movement
If there was one I could believe in
Yeah I'd break bread and wine
If there was a church I could receive in
'Cause I need it now

To take the cup
To fill it up
To drink it slow
I can't let you go
I must be an acrobat
To talk like this
And act like that
And you can dream
So dream out loud
And don't let the bastards grind you down

Oh, it hurts baby
What are we going to do? Now it's all been said
No new ideas in the house and every book has been read

And I must be an acrobat
To talk like this
And act like that
And you can dream
So dream out loud
And you can find
Your own way out
And you can build
And I can will
And you can call
I can't wait until
You can stash
And you can seize
In dreams begin
And I can love
And I can love
And I know that the tide is turning 'round
So don't let the bastards grind you down

[Notes from Max: Lyrics stolen from a Flikr site I forgot to write down. Sorry dude. They are probably wrong. That would be the fault of the guy I stole them from, so please don't bother calling errors to my attention. You will be hard-pressed to find anyone who would care less. Also, I DO realize that this post has shit to do with British Culture that Americans might care about. But the book is almost finished, so wtf, right? Finally, I realize that the picture is not from U-2. So don't bother bringing that up either. If at all possible, just make your comments generally about pub food. Primarily Bangers and Mash, if you don't mind. Or chips with onion gravy. This is because I HATE this kind of music, but I LOVE pub food. Just sayin'.]

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Law of the Jungle: Lies, Damned Lies, and Misdirections.

Bernard Shaw was Irish. A playwright. But he wrote other things besides plays.

"Now this is the Law of the Jungle -- as old and as true as the sky;
And the Wolf that shall keep it may prosper, but the Wolf that shall break it must die.
As the creeper that girdles the tree-trunk the Law runneth forward and back --
For the strength of the Pack is the Wolf, and the strength of the Wolf is the Pack."

I have long been an admirer  of British poets. This is not unusual; a large number of Americans dote on all things British. With good reason.

"Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light."

George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) was born in Dublin, but moved to London at the age of 20, and lived in England the rest of his life.

"GIVE me a golden pen, and let me lean
On heap’d up flowers, in regions clear, and far;
Bring me a tablet whiter than a star,
Or hand of hymning angel, when ’tis seen
The silver strings of heavenly harp atween:
And let there glide by many a pearly car,
Pink robes, and wavy hair, and diamond jar,
And half discovered wings, and glances keen.
The while let music wander round my ears,
And as it reaches each delicious ending,
Let me write down a line of glorious tone,
And full of many wonders of the spheres:
For what a height my spirit is contending!
’Tis not content so soon to be alone."

Isn't it amazing how the truth can be tortured without actually telling an outright lie? Can you find even one outright lie in this entire post? And yet the entire piece is a lie from start to finish, isn't it? Tell me about it. Unless you have to Google to tell me about it. As usual, I don't want to listen to you if you Google answers. Anyone can Google things and never bother to educate themselves at all. Tell me what YOU know, please.

Winston Churchill: "I am a simple man, easily satisfied with the best."

So is Max.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Frog Pond

Children take a break from the summer heat with a splash in the Frog Pond at the Boston Common. The Common is the oldest city park in the U.S., dating from 1634.

My main recollection of this picture? The lifeguard lady constantly droning over the sound system, about every 90 seconds or so, "No running! No running! I said STOP RUNNING! I mean it! I will clear the pond if you don't stop running!" And the 5-8 year olds, and perhaps even older, paying her absolutely no mind whatsoever. Ah, to be that age again.

Below photo: Wikipedia. Above photos: Tom Osburn

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Prince Harry's new mission: building a new school in Africa

HRH Prince Henry of Wales
As most Brits know, Americans simply DOTE on your Royal Family, secretly longing for a monarch of their own, just GAGGING to have some special people to honor and cherish. And support. Well, we have politicians that we support, but it just isn't the same, is it?

So, you will forgive me, I hope, if I report to my fellow Americans about a GREAT DEED OF COMPASSION AND CARING which one of our American idols - and yours as well, of course - HRH Prince Henry of Wales, is currently undertaking.

His Royal Highness, incidentally, although he is too modest to brag, is a lieutenant in the Household Cavalry's Blues and Royals regiment, and fully trained to lead 12 men and 4 vehicles, according to an army news release. His war record speaks for itself.

The feeble powers of this humble writer are too inadequate to describe what this beloved royal has currently taken upon his shoulders to accomplish, and so the following is excerpted from news reports of his mission's progress:
Prince Harry is once again raising a hand to help the AIDS-stricken African nation of Lesotho, this time building a special-needs school with his army buddies from the Household Cavalry's Blues and Royals regiment.

Harry, 23, says he hopes the facility in the northern town of Butha Buthe will be the first of many that can be provided by his Sentebale charitable foundation, reports Britain's Telegraph.

**"At Sentebale, as long as we can keep funding the projects, we can make a massive, massive difference," the newspaper quotes Harry as saying – as he was building a ramp to help disabled students get to school.

In 2004, the then-19-year-old produced a TV documentary, The Forgotten Kingdom: Prince Harry in Lesotho, about the plight of the nation.

Once completed, the Thuso Centre will welcome more than 40 children with severe physical and mental disabilities – the first such school of its kind in the small kingdom.

"Everything here is just so positive and fantastic," says the royal. "Once the project is finished, we hope to make another in the center [of the nation] and one in the south. The children of Lesotho, the vulnerable children of Lesotho, that's what we're working towards."

At right is a photo which I have procured for my special friend A. - a staunch supporter of this blog and of the royal family. In the picture we can clearly see His Royal Highness actually building a ramp to help disabled students get to school. Please note the simple workman's shirt and rumpled pants, and work-scuffed shoes, silently portraying the prince's deep connection to the common people. See how he casually leans on a shovel as he carefully contemplates his next move. Can you not FEEL the calluses beginning to grow on his hands? Can you not, if you look closely, SEE the tiny beads of perspiration that are beginning to form on the royal forehead? Note how the regal head is thrust forward with determination to complete the task at hand, a trait ingrained from so many generations of pure royal breeding. How very proud must the British citizens be right now as they read these words! And how unfulfilled and envious the Americans.

[**Denotes actual words spoken by the prince.]

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Character Assassination!

I tried to make this post a couple of days ago and it seemed to mess up the page somehow. I will try it again now and see what happens. I hope I haven't used too many font colors for my friend Descartes. I know it is much too long for Claire to read, but I hope the rest of you will enjoy finding more about these little people of mine. I will post this as Relax Max since Tom isn't a contributor to this blog. And I can't bring myself to call it a "guest post." Even I am not quite that schizoid. No. Truly. I'm not.
May I introduce some people to you that you already know?
Over the past several months I have received quite a few comments and questions about all the "characters" I play on BritishSpeak (and elsewhere.) It is a natural curiosity, but one I have avoided answering, as many of you know. But, since I am obviously rapidly coming to the close of this particular happy segment of my blogging career, I thought it might be fun to at least show you all the characters that I have used (on these particular blogs), and explain their origins and purposes a little bit. If you don't know what I am talking about, or if you have no interest in the various characters which I am the "puppeteer" for, this post is not for you.

First of all, let me say that when I say "I" it means "Tom Osburn", my real name, and that I have never, to my knowledge, made a post as Tom Osburn on these particular blogs. This is necessary to say, because if I am to name and explain the characters, I can't very well do it as one of the characters. For example, I can't do this post REALLY as "Relax Max" or any of the others. If you have been a long-time reader of my blogs, you will have seen most of the characters, perhaps not all.

First, the reasons for the characters. Some of you (such as Claire, for example) have personal blogs. Journals. Of course, those kinds of blogs should be about yourself and talk about yourself. None of my blogs (I mean the ones you are aware of) are personal blogs. They are not personal journals. They are each for a specific purpose and have specific objectives. My blogs here are either for the purpose of gathering information for some commercial enterprise (one of the things I do to earn money is to write books and articles) or to display essays I write about subjects that I care about.

Other blogs that I have, that you do NOT know about or visit, are investigative in nature, specialized store-site funnels, or funnels to my photography and print sites. I also have two "teaching" web sites.

This is only to give you a little background that will help me explain the characters I use here, and why I use them.

I use the characters to give me more appeal to more people in the gathering of information. For example, "Relax Max" is a very naughty boy sometimes. Tom is not. Tom is very shy and would never say the things (or use the words) that Relax Max says. At least not on a public blog. So you can see why a character such as Max can be helpful in certain projects. This is true for just about all the other "characters". Only a couple have been created on a lark, to entertain some particular person, or to illustrate a single blog post. The others are all ongoing and very specifically assigned. One will, sadly, be killed off after this post.

Although a photo of the puppeteer is shown in this post, this post is not at all about Tom - only the characters. Any desire you have to know about Tom personally will be unsatisfied, in the main. Tom is still a blogger elsewhere, and needs to remain rather fuzzy and obscure so that he doesn't get personally identified (and therefore limited) to a particular project or set of blogs. Also, you should know that Tom does not make his main income as an author or a blogger, and that is yet another reason for him to remain behind the scenes. I'm quite sure you don't care that much about the puppeteer anyway, so on with the puppets!

First, because it really is hard to keep them all straight, here is a "storyboard" which shows all the characters on this blog-set.

Above, clockwise, from top left: Floo Z., Tom, Candy Girl, Relax Max, Yummy Biscuits.
Below, clockwise from top left: Vicar Ezra Likely, Max Da Tung, Tal E. Wacker, Tanisha Watkins, Karen Price, Lolly
Finally, let me give a BRIEF rundown of each character, what it is for, and it's origin.

1. Floo Z.: Floo Z. is the original header graphic for BritishSpeak. This takes a little explaining, unfortunately. When BritishSpeak was conceived, as a word collection device for a book project, it was assumed that most of the contributors would be male. Why I made this sexist assumption, I have no idea. It didn't turn out that way at all. As a result, the Entrecard widget was set up for the blatant purpose of catching men's eyes from among many widgets. It worked. The men came in droves and dropped. And left. But I have never changed the widget, mostly because of nostalgia. I did change the huge picture of Floo Z. (Complete with the lower half of her body, which I originally used as a header. The ladies weren't fond of her a bit. Floo Z. is used only as a support character.

2. Candy Girl: Candy is a very expensive good hearted party girl. Some crasser souls than I would perhaps call her a Call Girl. But she is really just a party girl who charges a lot of money to go to parties. Candy's first role was in the "Canucklehead Wars" and was expertly played by my friend Marmelade, who is no longer with our group. Candy appears only as a publicity ploy now, making comments on various blogs to arouse curiosity.

3. Relax Max: The second oldest character I have. He was originally a serious financial commentator on NetMax Systems (hence the name Max). The "relax" part came from an ancient Dinah Washington song that was last year being used as a music bed for a TV commercial for Doubletree Hotels in the U.S. If you are not from the U.S., "Relax Max" will mean nothing to you. If you ARE from the U.S. and you have a TV, you will have heard that song so much it makes your ears bleed. So... the name Relax Max means nothing to Brits. Relax Max is a contributor to all my blogs in this blog-set.

4. Yummy Biscuits: My oldest character. Taken from my earliest website. Yummy is a good-natured dog who cares about serious causes, although he started life as a political and social satirist. Yummy can fly and can appear instantly anywhere in the world. He had a major crush on Marmelade. He currently is the main voice on the blog that bears his name.

5. Vicar Ezra Likely: Slap & Tickle pub chaplain. Remote descendent of blogger Lord Likely. Original role was in "The Canucklehead Wars."

6. Max Da Tung: Created as a more vulgar version of Relax Max, as a result of the ladies on BritishSpeak wanting the original edition of Relax Max toned down. He briefly appeared as lead character of "Relax Max Unleashed" which is no longer a blog. Max Da Tung is rarely used now, and then only for shock value.

7. Tal E. Wacker: A rather crude anti-social hippy type who doesn't like politicians or the establishment at large. He contributes to the blog "Wayharsh", a satire blog. For those with both eyes and a long memory, he is obviously the late Frank Zappa, and pretty much mimics Frank's personality.

8. Tanisha Watkins: Tanisha is purely a stealth character and is almost certainly not known to any of you. Her only purpose is to infiltrate competing blogs, make misdirecting comments on forums, work facebook and myspace, and generally make people think that the author of BritishSpeak is not a white male. Obviously, this post blows Tanisha's cover, and she will be killed off tonight. You will never see her replacement.

9. Karen Price: Karen Price existed as simply an ugly but nice young woman, but was not really used until I was trying to amuse my friend Chica. Karen is not likely to be used again. But never say never.

10. Lolly: Lolly is a special character who actually belongs to one of my best friends on the internet. Lolly was not invented by me, nor has she ever been played by me. She appeared in "The Canucklehead Wars" and is still available to me (I think) by this friend. So I wanted to show her here. Up until now she has been sort of a sidekick to Candy Girl.

There you have it! Those are all the characters TOMO uses on this entire blog-set. When I get tired of blogging, you will then finally find out all about me (Tom) as well. But I am not yet ready to quit.

I DO want to thank you for becoming my friends and for reading my stuff, much of which is admittedly nonsense. Since late 2005, I have made over 1200 posts on these and other blogs. Since it was started, March 11, almost 5 months ago, there have been 120 posts on BritishSpeak. In it's heyday, BritishSpeak broke into Alexa's top 200,000 blogs in the world (not an especially huge feat, but a feat done in only 9 weeks from inception) and for a brief period was in the top 20,000 blogs read in the United Kingdom. It was recognized by BBC London presenter Jeremy Jacobs, and even briefly commented by him once. During that same 4 and a half month time span, the BritishSpeak blog has entertained 11,151 visitors. I stay up late nightly and write. I love to write. Someday I will learn to write well.

Monday, August 4, 2008

A little taste of BritishSpeak: the book

BritishSpeak the web site has been up and running since March. The purpose was to gather information about the cultural differences between the U.S. and the United Kingdom (and some other British-influenced countries around the world.) The idea was to organize this information into a book which would be both interesting and useful to Americans, especially those Americans contemplating travel there. 

You have told me many things and at the same time I have been digging up information behind the scenes. It occurred to me that it might be fun to share some of the things I've found out. The editing of the book is far from over, but what follows is a sampling of some of the facts and tidbits taken at random from various sections of the book. There is much more, and I will share more over the coming weeks. We'll start with some of the top questions Americans seem to have about the UK.

1. Can I work in Britain?
2. Is my U.S. driver's license valid in the UK?
3. What is Britain's most popular meal?
4. I have a British friend who's done something really extraordinary. How does one go about getting a congratulatory message from The Queen?
5. How do the British celebrate Christmas?
6. What is Burns Night?
7. Can I get married in Britain?
8. Can I buy or rent real estate in Britain?

Step right up and get your answers right here!

The book contains answers that are much more in-depth than the ones shown here, but the shortened versions are:

1. Why yes! But you must acquire a work permit. And you must acquire it BEFORE you enter the country for the purpose of working there. And you may not apply for the permit yourself — only the British company you intend to work for can apply for the permit. It's not quite so easy as I'm making it sound. Hint: before the process is over you will get to know and love something called the "UK Border Agency." It is ever so much fun. It will take more than a couple of hours.

2. Yes. You can drive cars and light trucks in the UK for up to 12 months. If you stay longer, you must test for and obtain a British license during that first 12 months. Remember that all the details and stipulations are not given in these short answers.

3. Curry is the most popular dish as this is being written. Fish and Chips is still very popular and has been since the end of the 19th century. Perhaps the most popular traditional British dish is roast beef (with roast potatoes and gravy) - and is also frequently accompanied by Yorkshire Pudding, of course.  Curry is available at specialty (Indian) restaurants in the U.S., although it is hardly the most popular dish in the country.

4. Just like in the U.S. where you can get a congratulatory card/message from the White House for certain anniversaries and the like, so too can you get congratulations from The Queen in the UK. In both cases the list of qualifying things is pretty limited, to such things as a 100th birthday or a 75th wedding anniversary, etc. The Palace will require proof of age of the recipient, or whatever. Request the Queen's message by sending a letter to the Palace. I have always suspected that the President's signature is done by a machine. Don't know about the Queen's signature. Suspect the same.

5. Christmas is the most popular holiday in both countries and is celebrated basically the same, with Christmas trees and presents and so forth. But there are some things commonly done in the UK that are not part of the U.S. Christmas customs. For example, something called pantomimes are popular around Christmas time in Britain, featuring the children. Of course there are Christmas "plays" or "pageants" in the U.S., but today, in the U.S. Public Schools, one doesn't celebrate Christmas. Jesus' name must never be mentioned. It is now a "Winter Festival". Oi.

6. Burns Night is not something you see in the U.S. It is a celebration of the famous poet Robert Burns' birthday. It has been celebrated for more than 200 years. It is a special dinner, held in homes, halls, and pubs. A prayer written by Burns is recited and haggis is served. In the full ceremony, a piper will lead the chef in. Other traditional foods are served. The ceremony is very ritualized, with other works of Burns being recited by the chairman at specific times. I can't think of anything at all like that in the U.S., save fraternity rituals.

7. Anyone can get married just about anywhere in the world — as long as they meet the requirements. In the UK, it's pretty much the same as in the U.S. — age, proof of identity, no sons marrying their mothers. Things like that. They are not really concerned with your citizenship. So sure. Why not?

8. Americans are permitted to rent or purchase property in the United Kingdom.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Educational differences

One large (I think) cultural difference between the U.S. and the UK is the educational systems. It occurs to me that, although I have heard you speak of differences in your various comments, I have never really delved into it that deeply. Maybe someone can clarify. Don't worry about comparisons right now - I just want an over view of the British general system. Let me give you an overview of the U.S. system, as I know it anyway, and someone can then do the same thing with the British system.

In the U.S. (and here I am talking about the public schools, not private schools) a child goes through 12 "grades", one per year. Often the school year is 9 months long, with summers off. I think this is a throwback to days when children were needed to do farm work in the summertime. Many school systems also offer Kindergarten, frequently only half days. In that case, the child would begin school at age 5 rather than age 6. Of course, there is also "pre-school" in some communities as well. But, basically, before University, one is talking about a 12-grade/12-year course of instruction.

Generally, the children attend different schools, depending on how old they are. For example, grades 1-6 are most often called "Elementary School." Some cities (notably New York) call them "Primary schools" and name their school buildings simply "PS #23", etc. Elsewhere, it is common to name the Elementary school after some important person's name, often a U.S. President, for example. A child begins to learn how to read immediately, in first grade or even before. Parents are, of course, encouraged to teach the child letters and letter sounds before he enters school.

Probably this is would be similar to your schools, but perhaps you don't call them Elementary Schools. And perhaps you don't number the grades, or even call them grades.

Since this is a pretty large area I want to try to learn about, I'm going to stop right here for the first post, and get whatever feedback and descriptions you care to give. After Elemenatry School (or "Grade School") the child advances to Junior High School and then on to High School. Sometimes Junior High School is replaced by something called a "Middle School" where grades 6, 7, and 8 are taught (rather than simply grades 7 and 8 as in a traditional Junior High School.) After High School comes University or a trade school or nothing more.

Of course I also seek comments from Americans and others as well. You may enlarge upon what I have said about the American system. But please, if you are British, tell me about your school system, starting with the younger children. Thanks.


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