Care and Maintenance Of Your Brits

Congratulations!

Whether you’ve decided to adopt a Brit, befriend one, or like me, marry and have children with one, I’m confident you’ll benefit immeasurably by the addition.

Having a Brit in your life will enrich it. You’ll learn new words like twee and new uses for old words like fanny. You’ll enjoy hours of endless debate over the edibility of Marmite, and shake your head in wonder at why the Brit in your life can’t just call a line a line and leave Q to rest peacefully between P and R where it belongs. Scrabble is especially fun, like when your husband spells tyre in accepted British English on a triple with a ‘y’.

Jokes aside, you’ll find that proper care and maintenance of your Brits will go much more smoothly if you get used to a few things first.

Bunting

Oh my, do the Brits love bunting, those fabric triangles waving in the Atlantic breeze. A British friend recently asked me how Americans refer to bunting and was gobsmacked when I told her we don’t. Bunting in the US is something that happens in baseball. But in order to keep your Brit happy you must utilize bunting for every occasion deemed out of the ordinary: birthdays, anniversaries, celebrations, royal weddings, and sunny days. Bunting can also be found strung from corner to cornice in twee British villages with names like Mother’s Fat Bottom and Speckled Dick.

Tip: To keep your Brit happy, keep emergency bunting at the ready and whip it out when called for. To avoid disappointment, always err on the side of bunting.

G&Ts

In NYC, G&T refers to ‘gifted and talented’, aka, the program you hope your pre-schooler tests into so you don’t have to shell out 40K a year for private school. But not so in the land of Hope and Glory. Gin and tonic is practically a national pastime in Blighty. A g&t will be appreciated by your Brit at any time of day. After all, it’s five o’clock somewhere in the old empire.

Tip: Don’t confuse g&ts with Pimms, a summer drink made with lemonade (that’s not really lemonade, but Sprite) which will sneak up on you and knock you flat if you’re not careful.

Cuppas, Cossies, and Hols.

Your Brit will feel more at home if you adopt the habit of shortening all your nouns to adverbial sounding nicknames. Football is footy. Cookie is biccy. A bathing suit is a cossie and a television a telly. Umbrella is brolly and when you don’t need one and want to relax in the sun you can chuck a sickie from work. Barry is Bazza, Sharon is Shazza, and Gary is Gazza. Vacations are hols, Bob’s your uncle, Fanny’s your aunt.

Tip: To your Brit, fanny’s a front bottom, not a bum and a bum is not a bum either, but, by process of elimination, a back bottom.

Put the Kettle On

If gin and tonics start at five, every beverage before is tea. There are approximately 500 different types of tea. Lipton is not one of them. There is a right way to make tea and a wrong way to make tea. But…pay attention because tea also refers to dinner, which for your Brit means lunch, which comes slightly after elevenses which seems to nestle between breaky and tea. More than just tea drinking, however, the ritual act of putting the kettle on is a metaphor for community, conversation and problem solving. If Americans stop to smell the roses, Brits put the kettle on.

Tip: Unless you want to send your Brit into fits of unhappiness and risk permanent displeasure, do not microwave tea. Builder’s tea is regular tea with sugar. I do not know why it is not Plumber’s tea or Electrician’s tea except that it is not.

Taking the Piss

Note: this does not mean emptying your bladder. Taking the piss is entirely different from taking a piss. The art of taking the piss, or banter for the posh folks out there, is the British knife-edge between gentle mocking and downright nastiness. Perhaps not surprisingly, most non Brits find the habit peculiar and off-putting, especially as the art is honed on family and friends. There is a complicated value system based upon how much piss one can give and/or take, and after twenty years, I am none the wiser as to how it works.

Tip: None. A twenty year learning curve and nothing.

There you go. If you properly care and maintain your Brits, I’m confident you too will enjoy decades of bunting filled joy!

Now, keep calm and put the kettle on. Unless it’s after five, in which case, crack open the gin.

 

 

 

 

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I’m Grateful to be Living Outside America–And That Breaks My Heart

I’m an American.

I root for Team USA during the Olympics. I get a little misty-eyed when the flag is raised or I hear the first strains of The Star Spangled Banner. I sigh in delight over rockets red glare on the Fourth of July. I wax poetic about the joy of a cheeseburger and a Dunkin’ Donuts iced coffee. I marvel at the expanse of sea to shining sea.

I’m an American.

But I don’t live in America any more.

I live in Europe now. Europe is not free of violence or discrimination, it’s not a perfect utopia where everyone is sitting cross-legged in a circle strumming Kumbayah. It’s not without problems or worries. It’s not even free of guns.

But it is a place without everyday gun violence, without mall rampages and movie theatre massacres. And without school shootings. And while we’re here, let’s stop mincing words, without the frighteningly regular slaughter of innocents.

My teenager gets on his bike every morning and cycles to school. I worry that some distracted driver will clip him. I worry he’ll be distracted and do something stupid. Sometimes I worry that he’ll ride without a helmet, despite my insistence.

I don’t worry about identifying his bullet-ridden body in a cold morgue because someone shot up his school.

I worry my fourth-grader will feel lonely on the playground. I worry he’ll get anxious about a test. I worry that he will come home with head lice because head lice is a pain in the ass.

I don’t worry about him hiding in a corner of his classroom while someone with an assault rifle is roaming the hallway looking for unlocked doors.

I go to parent teacher conferences. I worry that my kids will fall through the cracks because, truth be told, they’re easy kids to teach and sometimes teachers spend a disproportionate amount of their time with kids who have more challenging needs. I worry that they’re not drilling them in their times tables enough, because man, I knew those things backward and forward.

I do not worry about looking those teachers in the eye and trying to figure out if they would take a bullet for my kids.

I worry now that my teen has more independence he’ll make the right choices.

I never worry about those choices including walking into a store and buying a gun.

I worry my sons spend too much time on their computers, their iPads, their phones.

I do not worry when they scamper off to see the latest Marvel movie on the big screen that someone is going to come in and shoot up the theatre.

I worry they might give in to peer pressure.

I don’t worry about them going to other people’s homes where there may be unsecured, loaded weapons.

I worry about drugs. I worry about unprotected sex. I worry my soon to be high schooler isn’t working to his full potential and it might hurt his chances when he applies to college.

I never worry he’s going to get hold of an AR-15 and shoot up his school.

We all live in uncertain times. I sometimes worry about planes being blown out of the sky and trucks plowing into pedestrians.

I don’t worry about my kids living in a state of perpetual lock-down preparation. I don’t worry about whether or not their teacher is getting through to them how to be quiet in an active shooter situation. I don’t worry about their teachers carrying guns.

I’m an American who is sitting somewhere else, wondering if she can ever go home, because though I may bleed red, white, and blue, I am not sure I can stomach the idea of worrying about my children bleeding out on a classroom floor for someone else’s interpretation of a two hundred year old sentence.

I know I’m not the only one in this situation. I talk to dozens of other Americans, mostly mothers, some fathers, who find themselves navigating these same complex feelings. I’m both grateful that I can send my children to school free of these worries, and pounded by guilt that so many people I love have to someone manage them everyday.

I know there are others. So, so many others. I know I’m not the only American abroad who feels this way:

I’m an American who is grateful that right now I do not live in America.

And that breaks my heart into a million tiny pieces.

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This original version of this article first appeared on Medium, a new platform for me. If you like it, head on over to the original (linked right above ↑) and ‘clap’ for it. Thx.
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Keep Calm and Stop Ironing

736477a3650f9966976cb4cf527ededfThere are a lot of similarities between Americans and Brits, but there is one glaring exception.

Ironing.

I didn’t know ironing was a thing until I met my mother-in-law. She told me, with a straight-face, that she liked to put on music and work her way through a pile, nay mountain of ironing which included, but was not limited to: boxer shorts, socks, pillow cases, sheets, duvet covers, tea-towels (that’s dish towels in Yank speak), towels, and the cat. Ok, not the cat, but definitely the towel the cat slept on.

Growing up I remember my mother sometimes ironing my father’s shirts, though more often than not…not. Otherwise she ironed on an as needed basis. I use my iron on an as needed basis too. Mostly I use it to melt those little plastic bead things my kids like to make. Occasionally I iron the two items of clothing I own that are linen. Otherwise my iron comes out approximately ten times a year.

I figured ironing for hours a day was a generational thing. There was less polyester blend in the 50s and 60s. I figured it was something quaint, like ringing your clothes through one of those machines that used to regularly maul people. Maybe it was a hold over from the age when housewifery was an art form. Lest we not forget those were also the days when it was common place to drink martinis, smoke, and pop a few Valium. So imagine my surprise when I found out that some of you Brits still spend huge chunks of your day ironing.

Some claim to enjoy it. They find a peaceful, meditative quality to it. If I try really, really hard and practice some willing suspension of disbelief I can almost understand that. The monotonous action, the fleeting sense of achievement. To you I say this: If you truly find a sense of zen by ironing your pillowcases, go for it. I also say you’re weird, but hey, whatever floats your wrinkle-free boat.

But I suspect that for the majority, it’s not enjoyment of ironing as much as a perceived notion of that’s the way it’s done, a deeply ingrained sense of must-ness which surrounds so many things British.

My table manners must be impeccable lest the Queen pop by for tea.
My house must be show-worthy clean lest the Queen comes by for a visit
My sheets and tea towels must be ironed lest…I don’t know, the Queen comes over and dries your dishes?

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Don’t get me wrong. Your former colonists take the housewife games seriously enough. I mean, we have whole reality television shows devoted to cleaning. We probably out-bleach you by a decent amount. But you guys. You guys! You’ve got the ironing thing down. If there were an Olympic event for ironing, you would be gold medalists every time. Brits are the Usain Bolts of ironing.

Others swear they don’t mind the ironing because they do it while they enjoy a bit of guilty-pleasure television. Somehow the chore justifies the pleasure. The sense of guilt which comes from binge- watching Orange is the New Black on a Thursday afternoon is, in my experience, limited to the female sex. I’ve yet to meet a man who feels remorseful about stretching out on the couch and watching television in the middle of the day.

To you I say: Watch the damn television show anyway. You don’t need to justify it and your kids aren’t going to suffer if their sweat pants aren’t ironed. In fact, I can pretty much guarantee your kids aren’t going to care let alone notice if their creases are sharp. And if they are of an age when they can recognize the sharpness of creases and complain about it? They’re old enough to iron their own damn clothes.

Ask yourself, who are you ironing for? If you get a deep sense of pleasure and satisfaction from ironing a giant mountain of clothes, by all means, keep calm and carry on pressing. But if you loathe it, stop and think about why you’re doing it. There are lots of chores which are necessary evils. But ironing everything? Pretty far down on the list. Maybe it’s nice, but it’s not necessary.

And in the space between nice and necessary, there’s a lot of room for other things.

Consider this a housewifery intervention. For the love of all that is creased, stop ironing everything.

184ab372117617e8a072bba547ef7c20I don’t expect you to go cold turkey. Start with the tea towels. Seriously. No one needs to iron tea towels. Then the kids’ stuff. Tee shirts do not need to be ironed. Your kids are going to look like depression era dust bowl waifs by the time they get to the school gate anyway. Next up? Boxer shorts. It’s highly unlikely the Queen is going to visit and if she does, she’s probably not going to ask your husband to drop trou to make sure his boxers are ironed.

The standards you set yourself, just like the settings on your iron, can be adjusted. Throw off the yoke of must-ness, of that’s the way it’s done. Watch television without justification. Allow yourself the freedom to explore other pursuits which bring you a sense of satisfaction and joy. Reading a book, exercising, binge watching Game of Thrones. Anything. There’s a world of a difference between should and need and that world filled with so many things better than ironing.

Go forth and find them. The Queen would be proud.

Love,

Your wrinkled former colonist

I say tomato, He says tomahto

IMG_0351 My kids got a bit shafted on the mother tongue front.  Although they have dual citizenship, both my husband and I hail from English-speaking backgrounds.  He speaks raisonnable French, enough to roughly translate the menu as “something beef with something something red sauce”.  I can carry on a basic conversation en español después de dos o tres cervezas, but neither one of us has a fluent enough second tongue to pass on.  In this upside down ex-pat world we’ve met kids that waffle between 3 and 4 different languages without a glitch.  It’s beautiful and frankly, intimidating.  In an international school like the one my children attend, they are often required to take instruction in the language of the host country.  For us that means the oldest one has had a few years of Greek (great if we move back to Astoria, Queens) and now Danish (fantastic if we decide to settle in the Faroe Islands).  Not the most useful, marketable languages long-term, but there you go.  They are stuck with English.  American and The Queen’s.

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I will never be a zeb ra.

Before we had children, I had to sign a contract in blood that any progeny would refer to the world’s most popular game as ‘football’ and NOT ‘soccer’.  I wanted kids, so they call it football.  I have relented to a degree.  Parking lot is car park, trunk is boot.  I can tolerate jumper, trainers, rubbish bin, and pavement.  But there are certain words that I cannot exchange without wincing.  Pants will never mean underpants to me, nor do they to my kids.  Trousers summon fancy work type pants and a truck will never be a lorry.  Oregano, tomato, garage and schedule are too ingrained to change.  Aluminum and aluminium are two different words and spelled differently, thank you.   And although my surname is spelled in the English manner with a ‘u’, color is always color and gray is always gray.  Oh, and I will fight to my last breath in maintaining that it is a zee-bra, not a zeb-ra.  It is certainly not w, x, y and zed.  Queen’s English or not, that doesn’t even rhyme.

IMG_0349My very British in-laws claim not to understand what the boys are saying at times because they sound too broadly American.  And granted, after a summer spent with my family on the outskirts of Boston, they come back claiming that everything is “AWEome” and calling people wicked “pah-ty poop-ahs”.  When my kids visit the States, our American friends exclaim over how quaintly English they sound.  And granted, after spending any time in the UK, they often sound like Dick Van Dyke trying to do cockney in Mary Poppins.  I half expect them to click their heels and shout “chim chim cheroo”.   They’re a mixed up bunch.  They use a lot of British verbiage and turns of phrase, but with an American twang.  And they use thoroughly American slang with a weird East London tang.  Throw in a  bit of Greek Cypriot phraseology (παναγια μου!  εντάξει?), a little Danish (tusind tak!) and their little accents are all over the map.  My oldest son has gorgeous Danish pronunciation, no easy feat, which he will never use again once our time in Denmark is up.  The little one used to call out  “Oxi!” in his dreams, (“no!”), but he doesn’t remember it now.

And while the idiosyncracies of speech are fun to note and good fodder for dinner table jokes, more is at stake than how you pronounce tomato.  Language and culture and identity are all tied up together.  My children have parents that come from two different countries, and right now, are growing up in a culture that neither parent hails from, going to school with a group of children, that though homogenous in their educated, middle class-dom, call all four corners of the world ‘home’.  They are oddly state-less.  When asked where they ‘come from’, they don’t hesitate to say New York.  But asked which country they identify with, and they get confused.   IMG_0347The big one was asked to learn his national anthem and came home flummoxed.  The little one had to pick a flag to put his picture on for culture’s day at school and he faltered (though eventually he chose the Union Jack).   At a scout meeting, when asked to start the meeting with The Pledge of Allegiance, having never been to school in the U.S., my oldest son had no clue what the words were.  When asked to ‘choose sides’, more often than not they will choose Dad’s side.  Perhaps it is because we live outside the United States or maybe it is because I have sons and they are starting to identify more with their father.   But for whatever reason, as they grow older, I am becoming increasingly interested in which culture they will identify with, on which shores they will feel more at home.

Eether?  Eyether? Neether? Nyther?

With kids, it isn’t so easy to call the whole thing off.

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Toe-may-to? Toe-mah-toe? Screw it.

post script:   When doing a little background for this piece I learned that the differences in “aluminum” and “aluminium”, a source of never-ending amusement in our extended families, can be traced back some time.  Depending on your sources, the Danish physicist/chemist Hans Christian Ørstead is credited with producing an impure version of the metal two years before Friedrich Wöhler, who usually gets all the glory.  In Copenhagen, the road we live off of is named for HC Ørstead.  A completely random, but somewhat darling coincidence.  You can learn more about the industrious Mr. Ørstead  here, if you are so inclined.

llustration from Hulton Archive/Getty Images
llustration from Hulton Archive/Getty Images