An expat confession...

>> Monday, 3 June 2013

Bless me, Interweb, for I have sinned.

I recently read a post on Buzzfeed which promised to tell me 'The 17 Best Ways to Annoy a British Person' expecting to chuckle my way through it.  Because we're easily annoyed, we Brits, aren't we?  Not in a 'stamping around, throwing our tennis racquet on the ground over losing matchpoint like MacEnroe did all those years ago' kind of a way*, but in a 'Tut.  Well, that's quite disappointing...' way, which is how we react to virtually everything from a mildly rainy day when we were promised blazing sunshine, to a traffic jam on our way to the airport causing us to miss our plane, to an empty biscuit tin, to being knocked out of the Football World Cup at the quarter final stage, or to bidding farewell to large parts of what were formerly outposts of the British Empire**.

But then I read #1 on the list; 'Make them a cup of tea without properly boiling the water first.'

And I thought - god help me - 'But I don't boil the water properly first, any more'...  I used to, you understand. And in the UK, I still do.  But here, I just go to the water cooler, which also gives out piping hot water (though it must be said, it's not boiling) and - oh, the horror - I just fill my cup straight up from there.  And then put a tea bag into it, wave it around a little, and I - I call that tea.

*hangs head in shame*

This got me thinking.  What else do I do now, as an expat, that I never used to do when I was living in Blighty?

I call pavements 'sidewalks'.  Because frankly if I said anything else, no-one here would understand what on earth I was talking about, but still...  Ditto (see that?  'Ditto'?  What's happening to me?) 'recess' for playtime, 'highway' for dual carriageway, and 'cookie' for biscuit to name but a few linguistic infractions.

If a traffic jam doesn't have more than 7 lines of traffic trying to squeeze into two marked lanes, I don't consider it worth remarking on.  It's just a normal intersection (Jesus, I meant 'junction'.  JUNCTION!).

I listen to Crap FM in the car.  Easy listening.  Smooooth music.  Because if I listened to anything like I used to in London (xfm, out of choice), I would be a nervous wreck in the afore-mentioned traffic jams.

I am capable of going to a dinner party or spending time with friends and not once mentioning my children's school, their next school, their previous school, or how any and all of these are fitting our children for their futures.  Which is quite refreshing, if you think about it.

I am also capable of spotting a new arrival from the UK at 20 paces at any social gathering, because they will be the one fretting about education and not understanding how the rest of us are so chilled out about it.  (Note: I am saving my fretting for the school year prior to our return to Britain, and since I don't know when that will be, why for now I just consider myself on sabbatical from the UK education system.  Shortsighted, I know...)

I make fantasy lists.  Not lists of what I would do if I were to win the lottery, oh no.  These lists are of what I would buy if I were to find myself magicked to the aisles of Sainsbury's or Waitrose on the Cromwell Road. Highlights include Marigold Organic Vegetable and - of course - Green & Black's chocolate, if you must know.

And, heaven help me, I encourage my kids to make fantasy lists too; 'We're going to England in a few weeks, boys; what shall we eat?'  (The answers to this one are many and varied and span the culinary gamut from Cornish pasties through roast lamb to sushi, with a quick stop on the way for Gran's lasagne and Oma's indonesian food).

I make scones.  Scones, god help me.  And what's worse - I like them and think to myself, 'Oh, that would be LOVELY with a cup of tea'.  Now, obviously scones have their place - smothered in clotted cream and strawberry jam (in that order, obviously), in a sea-front cafe in Devon or Cornwall, but in Moscow?  Really?

I make my own chutney.  A friend from the UK came to visit last summer and on discovering this fact her face said it all.  'Who are you, and what have you done with PM?'

If you are - or have been - an expat, what's your confession?

* which event, I am sure, still ranks highly in the  most embarassing incidents British people ever saw on tv because, really, for chrissake man, show a little decorum...

** I have it on good authority that this has been royalty's reaction to minor setbacks throughout the history of the British Empire, like losing America.  Or India.  Or - need I go on?


Anonymous,  3 June 2013 at 19:28  

This definitely rang a bell with me - we mentally walk through the aisles of Sainsburys, picking out all the food we lust after: custard creams, hummous, sausage rolls, magners cider...the list goes on and on!

Expat mum 3 June 2013 at 19:41  

Ha ha. I have my own similar blog post up at the moment - Things not to do when I get back to the UK. And I'm looking forward to a ham and pease pudding sandwich for God's sake.

Metropolitan Mum 3 June 2013 at 20:11  

It's jam first, than cream. Or so I heard on the radio the other day. And lukewarm tea? Tut tut!!

Melissa 3 June 2013 at 20:24  

Well I will have to do this in reverse given I am not British.

But my fellow South Africans would be horrified to know that I now called roundabouts exactly that rather than traffic circles. I call traffic lights, well traffic lights, rather than robots as we do in SA. I have stopped using the plethora of meanings for the word 'Now' (in SA Now means now, but just now means later and now now means soon....oh it's complicated).

I have to remind myself to call a BBQ a braai. I have gone off eating boerewors (SA sausage) and this is the worst crime of them all.....if SA and England are playing rugby against each other, I support England.

It's official, I am now more English than South African (I even tut and pass remarks on the weather)

Melissa 3 June 2013 at 22:01  

you have inspired me to write my own related blog....

MsCaroline 3 June 2013 at 23:35  

I'll have to give this some more thought, but I think my situation here in Korea is a bit different: partly because I'm American and have fewer linguistic adjustments to make in the expat community, partly because the majority of my days are spent speaking German anyway, and partly because it sounds like we can get more things here - including Green & Black's. What are the restaurants like? Is it that you really can't get sushi/roast lamb/scones there, or are they just terrible? Restaurants here abound, and the international ones are owned by expats, which means the cuisine is usually quite authentic. Naturally, you can't get a decent burger, margarita, or nachos, but otherwise, you can take your pick and it's (mostly) all good.
In a neat turnabout, Son#2's school seems to be split about 50/50 between American and British English (with tons/tonnes of Canadians thrown in for good measure to mix things up) and he has developed quite a hybrid vocabulary. 'Math' has become 'Maths,' 'Study' has become 'Revise' (and let me tell you, in the US, 'revise' just means 'edit' or 'rewrite' - not 'study for an exam.' #2 learned this the hard way after assuming that - since he'd not written anything that needed revision - he didn't have anything to do. Lesson learned.) He no longer 'takes' exams, he 'sits' them, and so on. One thing that has definitely changed for me is my attitude toward crowds. I have always hated them, but living in Seoul, I have had to learn to live with them, and they really don't phase me a bit now!

nappy valley girl 4 June 2013 at 01:09  

I'm guilty of all the same Americanisms but there are some I just can't bring myself to say - for example, "full stop" rather than "period" when doing homework with the boys.

It's going to take me a while to adjust once we get back...

Iota 4 June 2013 at 07:32  

I'm sorry, Potty, I just couldn't get past the "teabag in a mug with water that isn't quite boiling" bit of this post. I'm still hyperventilating.

Clare Taylor 4 June 2013 at 09:14  

BarbedWords, thanks for commenting and yes, the list DOES go on & on, doesn't it? Am in the UK for only 2 days in a couple of weeks and already have a list as long as my arm...

EPM - ham & pease pudding sandwich? I'm sure it's delicious, but...

MM, I think it's personal preference - but then, I don't have butter as well, so maybe I use the cream to replace that... And it's NOT lukewarm - it is hot. Just not boiling... ;)

Melissa - loved your post, but admitting to the rugby thing? You are BRAVE, woman...

MsC, many restaurants are very good but there are some regional dishes that just taste better at the point of origin. And you can get sushi here but OH has had too many upset stomachs in Russia after eating it for me to be happy about the Boys eating it. As for roast lamb, it just doesn't taste the same - too fatty - and scones, you must be joking!

NVG, yes, that 'period' thing freaks me out, too. What do Americans call what we call a period? Anyone?

Iota, I promise if I ever make you a cuppa I will always boil the kettle. It just doesn't seem worth it when it's just me (and I don't tend to make 'tea' tea, for myself - I mostly drink chamomile... No? Not helping?)

Emma C 4 June 2013 at 20:42  

LOVE this blog post, and it's all so true.
Ps. Don't mention the hot water tea thing, customs may rip up your passport@

Harriet 4 June 2013 at 21:28  

Come on, 'fess up...

You *actually* listened to magic fm like everyone else, didn't you?

And I lust after Waitrose. And I live in Scotland...

DD's Diary 4 June 2013 at 23:17  

Yes, but do you call biscuits 'cookies'? I sincerely hope not .... it's when you start feeling nostalgic about tins of beans *with sausages in* that you need to book a one-way ticket home x

Was Living Down Under,  5 June 2013 at 16:00  

To answer your question, in North America, (I'm in Canada), a period is a full stop AND the monthly visit :) I definitely prefer full stop...

I also prefer "spot" when referring to what people here will call a "zit". And "swot" rather than "nerd/geek". And "revise" is what you say when you talk about studying for a test as opposed to rewrite or edit.

Over here, a park can refer to the playground as well as the field around it.

As for the tea making, I didn't realise it was a thing. We boil the kettle for our tea (must be a colony thing!). I remember being on holidays with my parents in Sarajevo. We'd rented a room from a family while we were there and they served breakfast as part of the deal. My mum was incredulous when they served tea from the hot water tap. She asked that they boil the water first please. You don't mess with the woman's tea!

Steph @MisplacedBrit 9 February 2014 at 21:18  

It's so interesting to see the small misdemeanours/ adjustments that start it all - because you're fed up of explaining what you mean all the time... and you can't really not take the tea someone else just made for you...
I'm sorry to say that mine's the tea one :-( It's not that I don't start with boiling water - I do - but after having my 3rd child I've joined the swedes and put my half cup of cold tea into the microwave and heat it up again instead of making another :-( (VERY SAD SORRY FACE) ...I would never offer to reheat someone else's... but often Swedes will go over to the microwave themselves and re-heat there tea instead of causing me the (apparent) inconvenience of putting the kettle on again!!! You see what I mean - I think I've 'adjusted' ??

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