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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What to Expect when You’re Expecting….an Expat Move to the States

usa-flag-300x195As an American living abroad, I often wish that someone had sat me down and given me the low down on what to expect. Not about the big stuff like currency conversion rates and voltage, you can Google that stuff.  What I really wanted was the Cliff Notes*version. A cheat sheet. A list of some of the cultural knick-knacks that make your time abroad slightly less befuddling.

I could write about what to expect if you are an American moving to Denmark or an American moving to Cyprus, but that knowledge is limited by my own time and experience. What I know a lot about though, oodles and oodles and cheese doodles about, is life in the United States.

I don’t want to brag, but I’m sort of an expert about what it’s like to be an American…

So I thought I’d reverse the trend and let you know what to expect if you’re an expat expecting a move (or even a vacation) to the U.S. Y’all might already know the difference between New York and New York or be able to correctly identify half or more of the U.S. states. Hell, you might even know some stuff about The War of 1812 (which would give you a step up on most Americans), but that’s not the stuff I’m talking about. I’m talking the everyday. Stuff like….

It's not the end of the world, I promise
It’s not the end of the world, I promise

Utensil Etiquette

Most Americans eat in the American Style, which involves cutting one or more pieces of food, putting down their knife and transferring the fork to the dominant hand. Though my very English friends and family seem to think this is one step short of barbaric, in reality, it’s simply a variation on the way most western Europeans eat.

What not to do: Liken it to eating with your feet or refer to it as a tragedy.

What to do: Keep calm and cut your meat.

Aluminum

Hear that? A-loo-min-um. I’m not mispronouncing or misspelling it. In the US (and Canada) it is a different word. There’s a whole history behind why, but I’m not going to go into it. Asking an American to say ‘aluminium’  is like asking an American to say ‘air-o-plane’ instead of ‘airplane’ or zed instead of zee when they’re singing the Alphabet Song. Ain’t gonna happen.

What not to do: Poke fun at or assume syllabic superiority.

What to do: Say tin foil instead.

Hi, how are you?

What can I say? It’s just a thing Americans say; a phrase, a stopgap, a conversational greeting filler. Variations include “How ya doing?” “How’s it going?” “You doing okay?” and “Alright?”  Non-Americans are correct in their assumption that we are not saying these things in attempt to find out how you are.

What not to do: Launch into the story about how your Aunt Mary’s dog just died or your suspicion that the guy at the deli counter shortchanged you on the ham.

What to do: Simply say ‘Fine, and you?’ and keep walking.

You can thank me later
You can thank me later

Miles and Cups and Pounds, Oh MY!

You are right. It is slightly ridiculous that Americans cling to their outdated, non-metric measuring system which includes mysterious units like cups and quarter-pounds. Yes, it’s laughable that the United States is practically the only country left using miles instead of kilometers and Fahrenheit instead of Celsius. (I will not go gently into the kilo vs. pound debate though. Hello? The UK still uses stones!). There is no reason or excuse for it. I will just say that there are 350 million Americans and er…less than that number of you.

What not to do: Harp on about it. We know. We can’t figure it out ourselves.

What to do: Get yourself a nifty little conversion app for you phone.

Tipping

Unlike the rest of the first world, the US does not have a federally mandated living wage. (There is a minimum wage, but I would argue it’s not the same as a living wage). Most service workers in the US rely on tips as the bulk of their income. Tipping is not only encouraged, but expected. There is also a cultural expectation for tipping in other service industries, including hair and beauty salons, taxi/cab drivers, doormen, skycaps, food delivery, etc. There are whole bookshelves of books dedicated to the sub-culture of tipping if you want to get into the niggly details about it.

What not to do: Scoff at the little line on the bill that says, ‘tip’ or frequent the same Starbucks without leaving something in the tip jar and still expect that you’ll get the correct drink at a temperature above 32 degrees. (Fahrenheit, remember? Start converting now.)

What to do: Err on the side of tipping. When in doubt, tip.

Oh Beautiful, for Spacious Skies

The US is big. I mean, really big. Unless you’re coming from Russia or Brazil or Canada, it’s hard to get a good feel of just how big it is. As I’ve mentioned before, driving times are often calculated in hours rather than miles. Sometimes days.

What not to do: Assume you can see the Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls and Bourbon Street in the space of a week.

What to do: Enjoy. Breathing room is the one thing we’ve got covered. Take a road trip.

drive in

Different Strokes for Different Folks

Because of the geographical size of the place, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that traveling from region of the U.S. to another is not unlike crossing borders in the EU. While you won’t need a passport, sometimes you’ll be flummoxed by the dialogue, the accent, the slang, the cuisine and the local habits.

What not to do: Steer clear of talk about Yanks and Rebels, the Confederate Flag or Gone with the Wind.

What to do: Marinate in the melting pot that is the U.S. then buy a fridge magnet or a bumper sticker and head back to where you feel more at home.

Excuse me, Pardon Me

Generally speaking, Americans are a polite, mannered lot. Most people will hold the door open for you or let you go ahead of them in the super market check out line if you are only buying a pack of gum. Sometimes, if the moon is in Aquarius, they may even let you merge into traffic from a busy intersection. Most people say, “excuse me” if trying to elbow past you.

What not to do: Forget to acknowledge the person who held the door or let you out into traffic. If you do forget, do not be surprised if you are flipped the bird. That is American speak for ‘the middle finger”.

What to do: Thank them after the first of the double doors or they will let the second one slam shut in your face. You may also get a sarcastic, “you’re welcome” hissed at you and possibly a middle finger.

Disney world vs. Disneyland

They are two different places. In two different states, which happen to be 3,000 miles or so apart.

What not to do: Plan a vacation to one of them thinking you’re going to the other

What do to: Go to the one in Paris instead, they probably have crepes.

****************

Take my advice and you’ll be singing Yankee Doodle Dandy before you know it. You can thank me later, when you’re trying to figure out the right oven temperature to bake your cookies. Try wrapping them in tin foil, it helps keep them fresh.

*Cliff Notes are a heavily abridged version of a book or other text. As in, what American high schoolers turn to when they have trouble with  A Tale of Two Cities

** New York is most often heard when referring to the city. Usually when referring to the state you will hear New York State.