Sunday, September 28, 2008

So different, so very different. And yet...

Just when I begin to think it is totally hopeless, that we really no longer have anything at all in common anymore, I begin to come across things here and there in my research that remind me we were once countrymen long ago after all.

I see, on the one hand, so many differences in our customs and manner of speaking. And then I recall how my uneducated Tennessee mother used to tell me stories when I was a child, stories her own mother had told her - about a marvelous warrior who fought and killed giants, a warrior named Beowulf. And I suddenly feel the bond returning somehow over the centuries. I remember that same woman singing me to sleep with a gentle lullaby that I assumed was from the hills of Tennessee, but later learned it was Welsh through and through.

So many things are superficially different, yet even more things remain solidly the same over the years. If I learned anything at all from my research for my near-completed book it is that, in spite of our obvious differences, there remains this eerie undercurrent of sameness that I can't seem to shake.
This is the story of how we begin to remember
This is the powerful pulsing of love in the vein
After the dream of falling and calling your name out
These are the roots of rhythm
And the roots of rhythm remain
—Paul Simon (Graceland: African Skies)

Sleep, my child, and peace attend thee
All through the night
Guardian angels God will send thee
All through the night
Soft the drowsy hours are creeping
Hill and dale in slumber sleeping
I my loving vigil keeping
All through the night

While the moon her watch is keeping
All through the night
While the weary world is sleeping
All through the night
O'er thy spirit gently stealing
Visions of delight revealing
Breathes a pure and holy feeling
All through the night

Though I roam a minstrel lonely
All through the night
My true harp shall praise sing only
All through the night
Love's young dream, alas, is over
Yet my strains of love shall hover
Near the presence of my lover
All through the night

Hark, a solemn bell is ringing
Clear through the night
Thou, my love, art heavenward winging
Home through the night
Earthly dust from off thee shaken
By good angels art thou taken
Soul immortal shalt thou awaken
With thy last dim journey taken
Home through the night
Holl amrantau'r sêr ddywedant
Ar hyd y nos
'Dyma'r ffordd i fro gogoniant
Ar hyd y nos.
Golau arall yw tywyllwch
I arddangos gwir brydferthwch
Teulu'r nefoedd mewn tawelwch
Ar hyd y nos.
O mor siriol gwen a seren
Ar hyd y nos
I oleuo'i chwaer ddae ar en
Ar hyd y nos.
Nos yw henaint pan ddaw cystudd
Ond i harddu dyn a'i hwyr dydd
Rhown ein goleu gwan i'n gilydd
Ar hyd y nos.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

R.I.P. Cool Hand Luke

Paul Newman 1925-2008

Friday, September 26, 2008

Clarifications on Pub etiquette

In my previous post, I left some statements in a rather ambiguous condition, because of my own paraphrasing, which invited some comments to set me straight. Thank you. What follows are the actual words used in the book I referenced. See if you agree now. (Although the spelling and terminology are American, the author is British.)

“... if you’re only there for a drink, always go to the bar when trying to order. Bars in the UK don’t have wandering waitresses ...

“A warning here: While the bar may be the only place where the Brits don’t seem to be “queuing,” customers will definitely know who got there first, second, and so on. If you try to jump this invisible queue, the barman will probably ignore you and serve the person who is really next. To ensure getting served, simply rest your elbow on the bar (if you can get near it) and hold out your empty glass or money. This must be done very casually, though. The barman will let you know when you are about to be served by looking at you as he’s serving the current customer. You should then indicate that you’ve seen this with a slight nod of the head, a smile, or any other subtle gesture. Pushing and shoving is allowed, if it’s a really busy bar...

“... you are not expected to leave a tip on the bar; indeed, you will receive some very strange looks if you do. Sometimes patrons offer to buy the bar staff a drink (“And one for yourself”) but this is not expected. If you do, the bar staffer (who may not be permitted to drink while on duty) will thank you, tell you what they like, and charge you accordingly...”
I still maintain that it is much easier (and desirable) to simply sit at your table and nod at the waitress when she asks you "if you are ready for another one" every 5 minutes or so. Even having to tip her is better than getting up and walking to the bar and standing "amongst" a "non-queue." (Queue: a word Americans would seldom use, btw. Here we stand in "lines". In New York, you stand "on" line.)

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Foreign language skills needed

When visiting the UK, Americans will undoubtedly want to experience an "Authentic British Pub". Of course. Why else would you even go? Never mind. The point is that if you think it is going to be just like an American Bar, you are in for a surprise.

I just read a section of a book written by a British author, and got much of the information for this post from this book. (I tried to change a few words here and there.) I mention this so that you don't attack me in case what follows turns out to be a pack of lies. Here's what to expect.

1. The first thing you will notice if you are simply wanting to go for a pint is that you can sit at a table until hell freezes over and never get a pint. This is because, in the main, British pubs don't have wandering waitresses in skimpy outfits who constantly hustle drinks. Don't know why. The Brits would sell a zillion more drinks if they didn't make you line up at the bar and plead with them to give them your money. So, one must assume the first difference between a pub and an American bar is that the Bar knows it is there primarily to take a lot of your money and to push drinks at you as fast as humanly possible. Admittedly, this story may just be a cruel hoax, perpetrated by said British author as an attempt at humor. It certainly doesn't seem logical to make your customers wait on themselves like that. If only because they won't want to do it very often.

2. Conversely, because you have no waitress, there is no waitress to tip everytime she brings a round of beer. (Although, in the UK, that would be called lager, probably.) You don't tip the bartender either. I know, I know. At those dry bars set up in the corner of wedding receptions, you are used to stuffing money in the big jar as you wait for him to hand you a bottle. Like he deserves a buck for taking the cap off for you, right? But in the UK, apparently there is no such tip jar. Very strange. And very cool indeed.

3. Don't be looking for frozen strawberry daiquiris.  Pub barmen, as a rule, are not into mixing up exotic drinks. Nor are they likely to have a huge recipe book behind the bar as you find in the U.S. Beer. Wine. Vodka. Gin. Tequila. Whiskey (which they will spell whisky). And take it with a minimum of stuff in it, ok? Orange juice. Tonic water. A few other things. Not many.

4. Don't expect to be able to run a tab automatically. You pay as you go in Britain, unless you are known. Although, oddly, they will often take checks. But they will spell it ...... never mind.

5. Good news! Many pubs serve food. Actual real food, not just chicken wings in hot sauce or little beenie weenie sausages. No. Sandwiches. Hearty sandwiches. Yo! And pasties and OF COURSE....Fish and Chips. The bad news: it ain't free. Just as you would have to pay for a real meal in an American bar. But the Brits don't set out a bunch of free stuff for you pig out on, either.

Here are some words you had better learn if you are going to a pub or fast food place in the UK:

1. Bevvy (absolutely nothing to do with quail.)
2. Chippy (not a cheap whore.)
3. "My Shout" (actually, Americans don't have to learn this term since they would never do it.)
4. Scrumpy (hint: cider in the UK is never, or hardly ever, non-alcoholic. Definitely not what you think it is. And Scrumpy is the worst/best of the lot.
5. Starter (nothing to do with automobile parts or foot races.)
6. Take-away (not related to subtraction exercises)

And, of course, there are a few words that you as an American need to refrain from using. They won't know what you mean:

1. Appetizer (it simply isn't)
2. Bus Boy/bussing (simply not known)
3. Doggy bag (simply not used)
4. Tailgate party (simply not done)
5. Wet bar (a bar is a bar is a bar to a Brit)
6. 86 it (That will draw you some quizzical looks.)

But, holy hot tamales, is it ever fun. Worth the flight over there.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Lord Likely Recognized

Congratulations to Lord Likely, sometime contributor to this blog, for being recognized by The Guardian as a "Best Of The Web" website pick. Congratulations from all of us, Andy. Toodle Pip!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The best and the worst

Here are some much better pictures of Whitby than the one, above, that I had found. Check them out - they will give you a MUCH better idea of the flavor of this fun place to visit! [Photos by, and courtesy of our good friend Soubriquet]

The post before this one was the 200th for BritishSpeak. If I had known, I would have tried to make it more interesting. Or at least make it about Britain. Too late now.

Food for thought.

One of the subjects we have definitely NOT neglected, either here or over at the pub, is the subject of food. In looking back over some of the food posts for both blogs, I discover that the best fish and chips in the UK (and thus the whole world) can be found in Lincolnshire at the late Mrs. Longden's in Upton village. At least they were when she was still alive. And the worst (assuming you don't count Scotland at all) are to be found also in Lincolnshire, along the east coast in the tourist eateries there.

As an investigative American, I soon found that the above was only a subjective opinion, and one or two of you had other ideas as to the winners at both ends of the scale. But, then, Americans are not really qualified to advance an opinion anyway, since (number one) they don't ever eat fish and chips in the UK, and (number two) they have been raised on Fish 'N More at Long John Silver's all their lives.

Despite the above authoritative opinion from expert British sources, I find that an award for the best fish 'n chips this year went to, generally, the town of Whitby in North Yorkshire. This, according to the online version of the Mail. I'm guessing that is a newspaper in the UK. Should you not be in the mood for delcious fish 'n chips, Whitby also offers delightful coastal walks and donkey rides. Hmmmm.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Your turn: 6 American questions

See how many of the following questions about the USA you can answer (or guess) without looking a map or googling. These are difficult enough that Americans are also encouraged to play/guess.

1. American cities and their citizens:

Angelenos are from: (what city?)
Phoenicians are from: (what city?)

2. Here is a list of 32 selected states, along with their largest cities:

New York: New York City
California: Los Angeles
Illinois: Chicago
Nevada: Las Vegas
Washington: Seattle
Florida: Miami
Texas: Houston
Minnesota: Minneapolis
Louisiana: New Orleans
Missouri: Kansas City
Kansas: Wichita
Michigan: Detroit
Wisconsin: Milwaukee
Pennsylvania: Philadelphia
New Jersey: Newark
Alabama: Birmingham
Oregon: Portland
Nebraska: Omaha
New Mexico: Albuquerque
Montana: Billings
North Dakota: Fargo
Kentucky: Louisville
Connecticut: Bridgeport
Virginia: Virginia Beach
South Dakota: Sioux Falls
Maine: Portland
New Hampshire: Manchester
Vermont: Burlington
Delaware: Wilmington
Maryland: Baltimore
North Carolina: Charlotte
Alaska: Anchorage

Question: of the above states, how many of the largest cities are also that state's capital city? Put a tick by each one that qualifies. (Don't use ink, as the tick mark will be difficult to remove from your monitor screen later.)

3. At it's absolute closest point, how many miles separate Russia and the United States?

4. True or false: the USA has no territories or possessions in the Southern Hemisphere.

5. True or false: no British reigning monarch ever visited the USA before the current one.

6. All states have nicknames. Oklahoma is known as the Sooner state, and it's citizens are called Sooners. The University of Oklahoma sports teams are also called Sooners. Where did the name come from?


1. Anglenos are from Los Angeles. Phoenicians are from Phoenix.

2. None of the cities shown are state capitals.

3. Zero. Russia and the USA share a common border.

4. False. American Samoa is in the Southern Hemisphere.

5. False. King George VI briefly visited the NY World's Fair in 1939 during a visit to Canada.

6. People who illegally entered the new territories of Oklahoma ahead of the lawful time in order to stake claims to choice land were referred to as Sooners. The term no longer carries a derogatory connotation.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Leodensians and Cantabrians

Not too long ago I did a post about names of cities and what the citizens of those cities were called. For example, people from Manchester are called Mancunians; people from Liverpool are called Liverpudlians; people from Brimingham are called Brummies; people from Newcastle are called Geordies, etc.

I was challenged in a comment of that post by my friend Catherine to see if I could find out where Leodensians and Cantabrians are from. At first I thought she meant Cantabrigians, one that I actually had heard before. But no, she had it right.

I am pretty sure I have the answers (finally!), but only after I was perusing the names of Rugby teams and their nicknames (I know Catherine is an avid rugby fan.) I'm sure this was just lucky, because of course she was only talking about the cities, since that was the subject of the original post.

It won't be fair to let you guess if you are British, so I will just go ahead and tell what I think the two cities are. Incidentally, just going by the Rugby logos, one of these would have been from New Zealand. But I'm sure she was talking only about the UK.

And so, I guess:

1. Leodensians are people from Leeds, and
2. Cantabrians are people from Canterbury.

Am I right, Catherine?

Oh, and Cantabrigians are from .... ?

And I just LOVE that Catherine is a Taffy, born and bred.

Ok, I won't make you look that one up either. Catherine was born on the banks of the River Taff in Cardiff.

In America, btw, we PULL taffy. Do you?

Never mind.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Charlie starts primary school

I'm taking you through the education of a little English boy by the name of Charlie. He is an ordinary little boy whose parents have decided to put him through the state system, which will be free until the age of 18/19.

He will very probably have gone to play school, nursery school or kindergarten before starting at a "real" school. There is provision for 12.5 hours free early learning for 3 and 4 year olds but this is optional. It isn't compulsory that he attends any school at all as long as he receives "education otherwise". The local authority has the responsibility to ensure that other appropriate provision is being made.

Charlie has to wear a uniform of a grey or white shirt, grey shorts or trousers, black shoes and a school jumper. He chose to have a grey jumper but he could have chosen red. Although he worries that he has the same as all the other children he will find that people interpret the uniform in all sorts of ways, to the head teacher's despair.

The legal age to start formal education is the term after Charlie reaches his fifth birthday. In practice though, most schools will take rising fives, so off Charlie goes to the local primary school the term after his fourth birthday. The school, although it goes right up to the age of eleven, is divided into infant (4-7) and junior (7-11) sections.

Charlie will start off in the reception class where he will stay until the following September when he will transfer to year 1, ages 5-6. Depending on when children's birthdays fall, they will have one, two or three terms in the reception class. Generally children who have had three full terms find the transition easier.

I should explain at this point there are generally speaking three terms a year, September to December, January to whenever Easter falls, Easter to July, with half-term breaks of about a week each term. The Christmas (we still tend to use the word although not always) and Easter holidays last two weeks. The summer holiday lasts six weeks.

Each year Charlie's teacher will change, but the same teacher with or without a teaching assistant will stay with the class for the whole of that year. In this primary school the teacher will almost always be a woman in spite of efforts to encourage men into teaching. There may be more than one class per year group, depending on the size of the school. On the other hand, in a very small, usually rural, schools, there could be more than one year group per class. The average class size is roughly 27.

The National Curriculum determines the subjects taught:
English, maths, science, design and technology, information and communication technology, history, geography, art and design, music, physical education. Schools must also teach religious education but parents have the right to withdraw their children from this subject. Personal, social and health education, citizenship and a foreign language are advised.

At the age of seven, at the end of infant school, Charlie will start being tested using Standard Assessment Tests. Emphasis at this stage is on teacher assessment but there are tests for reading, writing and maths.

The school day generally lasts from 9:00 in the morning until 3:00 in the afternoon, and that is every day from Monday to Friday. There is a morning and afternoon playtime with a break at midday for lunch. Charlie can choose whether to have a cooked lunch at school, or to take a packed lunch, or go home. If Charlie's parents don't earn very much, he can have free school meals. Many schools also run Breakfast Clubs and after school groups to help parents who work.

Now Charlie enters Junior School. This may be physically separate from the infant school he has been attending, either a separate building on the same site, or on a different site. In some schools there is no noticeable differentiation. He is now in Key Stage 2 and year 3. He will be tested again at the end of this key stage, in year 6, but there will be less teacher assessment and more national testing. He will, as last time, be tested on English and maths, with the addition of science. These tests are not pass/fail tests. They are used for national statistics and to assess the child's progress.

The results of these tests will usually determine which stream Charlie will be entering at his new secondary school. Charlie's parents will have chosen which school they would like him to attend, but schools can reject an application if they are full. In practice, most children go to the school in their catchment area. Charlie's time at secondary school until the end of compulsory education will be covered in a future post. This year students starting secondary education will be the first to be legally required to stay until the age of 17. The change will not mean that pupils have to stay in the classroom, but they will have to continue to receive training.

The UK has one of the earliest school starting ages in Europe, along with Malta and the Netherlands. Northern Ireland has four as the age to start compulsory schooling, and in practice, this is the same in the rest of the UK. It was first determined in 1870 merely to enable an early leaving age. There has been a lot of debate on the subject, but no firm evidence to support either early or late starts.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Have you been paying attention?

This is a good exercise for either Brits or Americans. Can you give the American equivalents for these British words? Many have been discussed on this blog. A few are new.

Candy Floss
Cling Film
Ice Lolly

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Susie's American Education, Part One

Susie is an imaginary American young woman who has just graduated from college. Susie has received her new degree from the University of Michigan. Susie has attended only public schools all her life. Public means "free" at first, and "subsidized" at the college level. Public also means, in the USA, that anyone can attend without regard to religion, race, or other social status. There is a "right" to education in the U.S. This "right" is compulsary until the student reaches an age set by the individual state, usually age 16, at which the student can decide not to continue in school.

Susie was born in a small rural town in Michigan and went through the entire educational system there. She would have begun school in the fall at age five, graduated from high school at age 18, entered college that same fall, still age 18, and taken 5 years to graduate college, at age 23. It is almost rare to complete college in 4 years now, although 4 years was the norm not long ago. Susie will likely continue her college education until she has enough credits for her Masters Degree, but it is unlikely she will continue to go to school full time. It is much more likely that she will now enter the work force and work on her Masters little by little by taking courses in the evenings or once a week at the university. Susie has not chosen a profession which will require a doctorate.

In her rural town of 5,000, there would have been only one high school, one junior high school, and probably two elementary schools. Susie would have entered Kindergarten - perhaps only half-days, but not necessarily - at age 5. In times past, this would have been a time of socialization and getting used to being around other children; of listening to stories and music; of snacks and rest periods; of practicing motor skills by drawing pictures and coloring, and perhaps learning how to tie her shoes. Not quite so easy in today's world where actual learning would be taking place from day one, and Susie would have been expected to already know her ABCs and recognize many word sounds. In some schools, the youngsters are reading simple things before being passed on to first grade.

Susie will proceed through six grades (after Kindergarten) in elementary school. At the end of the sixth grade, she will be 12 years old. Then she will move on to Junior High School. During those six grades she will grow and get used to the other children who live in her town that are in her age group. If she stays in her home town, she will know many of the people on a personal basis from having grown up with them and gone through long years of schooling together.

In elementary school, there will be probably 3 classes for each grade, even though her town is small. Three third grade classrooms, for example. But each year she will have some of the other children in her class, and will get to know all her contemporaries by the time sixth grade is finished. Each year she will take the same basic courses, and more will be added as she grows older. For example each year she will study reading, penmanship, English, Spelling, Arithmetic. Each of these subjects will get more difficult as she progresses, but none of them will be "finished" in elementary school.

Susie is lucky that she is in a small rural school system. The school buildings will be modern and the teachers will be very good indeed. She will have the opportunity to broaden her life with music and sports. Very good equiment and supplies will be at her disposal. She will come to take this for granted, as she takes for granted the personal attention and nurturing she receives from her teachers and school administrators. This is not always the case in large inner city schools.

In the USA, schools are run by local boards of education. Community leaders serve voluntarily on the school board. They establish the school curriculum and oversee the students progress. They are responsible for making changes to insure success. The school system superintendent and top administrators are hired by, and serve at the pleasure of, this local school board. The school board will consist of farmers, business owners, and involved parents. Their word is law when it comes to what the children will learn and the environment in which they will learn. There are other school boards at the regional level and state level, but these serve larger concerns and act as sources of information for the local school boards. Membership in the state school board will consist of representatives who have served, usually on local school boards, and the membership is rotated over time. At the state level, these people will constantly evaluate needs and materials and chart overall directions. They will, for example, review new textbooks and make suggestions to the local school boards. They will gather information about what schools in other states are doing that is successful, and make that information available to the local boards.

I give this information for two reasons. First, to explain that in the USA, much more is done at a state level rather than federal level than foreigners perhaps assume. And, second. that the real power is at the extreme local level. For example, if parents don't like a certain text book, the local board will heed their wishes and the text will disappear from the schools.

There is indeed very general input from a federal level, but that is beyond the scope of this post. Susie will take tests from time to time throughout her school career because of this federal input, but she will probably not even think of these tests as being special. They will simply be one more tests among many for her.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Public schools? Not really.

Schools and schooling are a little different in the UK than in the U.S. 

For example (as has been stated before in other posts) what the U.S. would call "private schools" are in the UK public schools. This rather odd situation came about long ago when the private schools there were mostly run by religious organizations. Later, anyone who could afford the tuition fees were allowed to go to school there, even if not affiliated with that particular religion. That is, the "public" could now attend. The school was still private.

Speaking of religion, in the "true" (by the American definition) public schools, there is not in the UK  separation of church and state: Religious things - including actual prayer - are allowed in the classroom there. At least this is what I read. I am depending on my readers to correct this if wrong. This has not been allowed in U.S. since the 1950s of course. So elevated is our thinking.

If this situation has changed, or is changing, in the UK, I would appreciate your input.

In the U.S., the trend is now toward private schools (in the true sense of the word "private") and to home-schooling of children. This has been the case for many years now. Public schools are still by far the most prevalent. Private schools are mostly run by religious organizations. Prayer and religious teaching are allowed in private schools (and of course in home schools.) Prayer and religious instruction (other than the teaching of comparative religions as an actual class) is not allowed in the U.S. in public schools any more.

Many changes have been effected in public schools in the U.S. in the past decade. Uniforms are becoming more and more the norm in many high schools. This to fight gang "colors" mainly, but also is an attempt to instill a little pride in the students, by being dressed neatly and non-competitively. In all public schools one will usually find official rules against bringing drugs (even aspirin) to school, or weapons of any kind. Inner city schools will find metal detectors and city police patrolling the hallways commonplace. Certain constitutional rights have been suspended for students in public schools, primarily search and seizure and privacy of personal papers and belongings.

In the U.S., high schools are often referred to as prep schools, meaning preparation for college after high school graduation. But in the UK, I believe prep refers to a more elementary school level.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Randolf? Don't use your nickname.

RANDY is not a name in the UK. I'm pretty sure about that. It is a state of mind.

Are you traveling to Britain soon? Is your name Randy? Change it. Better yet, don't even go.

Willy is a name.

But they will giggle when you introduce yourself.

Not going to tell you why, Willy. Heh Heh Heh.

On the other hand, nobody in the entire USA is named Nigel.

Or Sian.

Some hints to Brits traveling in the U.S. as well:

Ladies, if you are staying in a hotel and you want to make sure you don't oversleep, don't ask the man at the desk to come and knock you up at 6 am.

Just don't.

But it's ok to ask your misbehaving child if she is looking for a swat on the fanny.

Also, it has been reported that beauty contestants frequently spray their fanny with glue in order to keep the swim suit in place as they parade in front of the judges. Honest.

"Bugger" is not even a word in the U.S. In fact, bugger isn't even dried snot. That's a boooger.

Americans say "freakin'" all the time. Freakin' this, freakin' that. We don't know it makes you uneasy. Really. We don't have a clue that it sounds too much like friggin'. Or why that would bother you anyway. Just smile when you hear it.

To an American, shag doesn't mean what it means to you. If you tell your hotel deskman that you are looking to shag something tonight, wink wink, he will probably hand you a baseball glove.
Back to Americans visiting Britain.

In England, a rubber is an eraser. Just keep that in mind.

If you have an urge to flash the "V for victory" sign with your fingers, be sure your palm is pointed outward. Just because I said so.

If you don't want no agro, that is.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it... Just give me plain, common, ordinary words which mean something entirely different to an American than that same exact word (or phrase) means to a person living in the UK.

Just do it. Please.


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