Friday 25 February 2011

When Pronunciation Matters

I had a meeting in London earlier in the week and as usual found myself surrounded by American accents (are there really that many Americans in London??) and overheard what to me is worse than nails on a chalkboard - "how do we get to lie-shester square?

Oh no they di'int!

Ok so I know you can't really blame them.. How are they to know? But for any new or aspiring expats out there, I thought I'd save you potential future embarrassment with a little pronunciation guide.*

The tourist Mecca that is Leicester Square is pronounced less-ter square.  Same for the county in the north called Leicestershire - it's pronounced Less-ter-sher (do note that the -shire suffix is not pronounced shy-er.) 

Other counties that can sometimes cause confusion are Derbyshire and Berkshire.  In both instances, the second consonant is pronounced as an A rather than an E.  Derbyshire = darby-sher (or actually more like darbeh-sher really) and Berkshire = bark-sher.

Others bound to trip people up:
Southwark = suth-eck
Ruislip = rye-slip
Gloucestershire = glosster-sher

In addition to the -shire suffix, there are a few others which will come up frequently.  If you master these, you will greatly reduce the risk of making an ass out of yourself:
-ham = -em
-mouth = -meth
-wick = -ick
-borough = -bra (kind of)

Still confused?  Lookie here - there's even a website that has sound files of people pronouncing words.

I should mention I had a bit of an argument about pronunciation once - another expat told me she would continue to say these words (including town/city/county names) however she wanted because she claimed it was her accent rather than a blatant mispronunciation, but I disagree strongly.  I'm not saying that you should start saying al-loo-min-ee-um or to-mah-to, but in my opinion, Derbyshire, Berkshire, Southwark, etc are proper names of places in England and therefor should be said the proper way as determined by the people of England, not the way a "foreigner" thinks they should be said.  (Attn: people who say Bear-ick Obama, pay attention to this rule!)

Happy Pronouncing!  (oh and if you are moving to or new to Wales, may the force be with you)

*important to mention these pronunciations may vary slightly depending on the region to which you move. I live in the Home Counties, so keep that in mind.

Monday 21 February 2011

Oh The Places You'll Go: Blenheim Palace

When I first moved, my husband would whisk me away to various places most weekends, showing me the most beautiful stately homes, well manicured parks and gardens, quaint pubs and historical places.  I am convinced that he did this "sell" England to me and convince me I'd made the right choice by moving here.  Kind of like "yes, I know there is no garbage disposal, but there are stately homes on every corner. Does that count for anything?"

Luckily, he hasnt given up on these field trips and with the Spring and Summer months approaching, I thought I'd begin a new series - "Oh The Places You'll Go"  (do kids read Dr. Suess in the UK?) and show you some of the gems (some hidden, some not) in England.

Last weekend, we went on an impromtu day trip to Oxford and our friendly sat-nav informed us that Blenheim Palace, the birthplace of Winston Churchill was not far and could be added to our route.  Why thank you; dont mind if we do...

Blenheim Palace
More of the Palace

The Palace from the Formal Gardens

..and again 

One of many disturbing statues... 

...and another

What We Discovered:

  • You can get married there (yes, please!)
  • The Palace is an example of English Baroque style architecture.  I've never had a favourite architectural style before, so now this is it.  Absolutely beautiful!
  •  The Palace was created to celebrate victory over the French during the Wars of the Spanish Succession and was a gift to the First Duke of Marlborough.
  • Blenheim Natural Mineral Water is bottled on the estate, and is the only water you can buy there, of course.  Tastes just like Aquafina to me.
  • Duke John George Vanderbilt Henry Spencer-Churchill lives in the palace part of the year. In addition to being in the Churchill family, he is also a distant relative of Princess Diana.
  • Scenes from Harry Potter and Gulliver's Travels were filmed here.

Thursday 17 February 2011

The Not-So-Obvious Challenge of a (female) Expat

Whats the hardest thing about being an expat?

Missing your family?  Not having any truly relatable friends?  Constantly having to convert Fahrenheit to Celsius?  Initially having to hold up your left hand in the shape of an L as a reminder to drive on the left?

Yeah, ok, I guess those things are difficult, but they don't measure up the real challenge which slaps most female expats squarely in their face with surprising force...

Finding a hair stylist! 

Walking through a shopping mall today, I quickly caught a glimpse of a dowdy looking girl with the most boring, drab, lame hair in all of the United Kingdom and wondered why she wouldnt put in a little more effort... and you guessed it, "she" was me.   Ugh.

Back in the States, my Aunt (who is a real hair stylist, not like that Aunt who might cut your bangs with kitchen scissors when you could no longer see) used to do my hair for free, whenever I asked and if I didnt like what had been done, she'd fix it.. for free, whenever I asked.  Yeah, I know - what a spoiled brat, eh?

When I moved here I learned how the other half live - they have to pay for hair cuts and make appointments within regular business hours.  Can you believe it?!

Once this had properly sunk in, I made my first appointment at a local salon which came highly recommended and was charged £50 for a haircut that closely resembled the times I decided Barbie was tired of the same ol' same ol' and gave her an "updated" look with my dad's weed trimmers.  Seriously.  My hair was hacked.  I then got two ok cuts at two different places, but they never understood exactly what I wanted and they certainly didnt suggest anything new or different, and then there was the conversation ... so repetitive and predictible at every place:
18 year old hair stylist girl:  "where are you from?"
Me: America.  Colorado, actually.
18 YOHSG: Oh is that near California?
Me: Yeah, kinda.
18 YOHSG: So why did you move here?
Me: My husband is from here.
18 YOHSG: But aren't American boys so much cooler?


So I've given up - I've let my hair grow to where it doesnt need to be cut every four weeks, can be pulled back on really bad days and is so dreadfully boring even on good days. 

What's a girl to do?   Pay £100 instead of the £50 to see the man behind the curtain rather of one of his trainees?  Suffer bad haircuts until you find someone who "gets" you?   Pretend you are mute when you finally do choose a place?

Had I just moved to the next state or even cross country, I'd go home to Aunt Linda every four weeks, but international travel for a hair cut seems a bit excessive, even for me.

Wednesday 16 February 2011

The Great English Pub

The Telegraph's Expat section (mostly for those who have emigrated from the UK not to the UK) has an excellent feature on the History of the English Pub, which I suggest you all take a look at. 

I know I talk a lot about beer and pubs and you probably think I'm an alchy, but honestly, pubs are a part of English culture.  If you're too lazy or busy or dont care enough to read the whole feature (eventhough it isnt that long and does have pictures), I'll give you a quick history lesson...

Ye Old Fighting Cocks
The first establishments that resembeled what we would now call pubs were made possible by people opening up their own homes to the drinking public. There are few pubs in England which claim to be the oldest, but the Ye Old Fighting Cocks in St Albans is recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records and dates back to the 8th century.  

The term Public House came into use in the 17th century and in the 18th century, the populatiry of pubs grew exponentially, but it wasnt the beer pub-goers were after, it was gin. I can't begin to explain to you why anyone would enjoy a drink that tastes like licking a Christmas tree, but it was cheap and strong and the people liked it so much that the 1751 Gin Act was passed which restricted its sale.

The Gin Act was followed by the Beer Act in 1930 which was an attempt to turn people's preference from gin to beer which the authorities found to be a "more wholesome and temperate beverage".  Under this act, any householder was allowed to brew and sell their own beer if they made a one-off payment of two guineas (approximately £2.10).  In the year following the approval of the Beer Act, ober 30,000 new licenses were issued.  The establisments which opened as a result of this began to resemble more closely the pubs we know today, and according to written accounts of the time, mass drunkeness ensued.  One observer wrote in 1831: "Everbody is drunk. Those who are not singing are sprawling."  It wasnt until 1896 that the Wine and Beerhouse Act tightened regulations and pubs began to close.

However, people were still concerned there were too many pubs (what do they know?) and in 1904 further legislation was passed which lead to pubs being forcefully closed down. Ten percent of pubs were closed within a decade of the passage of this new act.  The First World War was a further blow to the pub industry after a feeling that drunkeness was innapropriate swept through the country. 

WWII Soldiers in a pub
Photo: Science and Society Photo Library
 Luckily for publicans, when the Second World War came around, the feeling was much different - pubs became a part of the community which needed holding together and women began to visit pubs (its about time!) which greatly improved business.  

Unfortunately after the Second World War, the number of pubs began to decline once more and even in modern times, according to CAMRA (the Campaign for Real Ale), as many as 56 pubs close down every month.  If you have a pub in your area that's in trouble and you want to help, this site will tell you what you can do to save the great English pub.

Want to learn more about the history of English pubs?  Buy this book.  It's the inspritaion of the Telegraph's feature and will tell you all there is to know. 

Wednesday 9 February 2011

The Many Excuses of National Rail

If you live in England, you most likely have heard jokes about "the wrong type of snow" which was a phrase coined by the Evening Standard after British Rail (now known as National Rail) said "we are having particular problems with the type of snow" when asked for the cause of major service disruptions following heavy snowfall.  The phrase is now humorously used to refer to any lame excuse, implying that one doesn't believe it.

It will therefore come as no surprise that National Rail has received a bit of flack after issuing another hard-to-stomach weather related excuse following disruption in the South East yesterday - get ready for it - dew on the tracks.

Dew?  Yes, like morning dew.  Oy Vey.

Other unlikely weather-related excuses include:

Leaves on the line - It happens every Autumn without fail and National Rail says (and I'm not saying I don't believe them) that "leaves, compressed by passing trains create a thin, black ‘Teflon’ like layer on the rail, which compromises train braking and acceleration. The best way to describe the effect is to compare it to black ice on the road".

Sun - In September 2010, the Office of Rail Regulation and National Rail blamed the balmy temperatures that summer for delays and disruptions saying that a rise in temperature means that some equipment – including cabling, signalling systems and electrical items are subject to overheating when temperatures rise above 30C (86F).  Apparently, overhead power lines can sag and rails buckle, meaning that speed restrictions have to be imposed to prevent a train coming off the track.

Happy Commuting!

Tuesday 8 February 2011

Ready for Rain!

The sun came out today and as I have come to expect of most British people I know, every single one of my colleagues went for a walk during their lunch breaks and upon their return released a moan/sigh noise which sounded somewhere in between post-orgasmic bliss and as if they'd just been treated to a free massage (they are always better if they're free, aren't they?).

Being naturally disagreeable, it got me wishing for rain and thinking of one of the best things about living in what is often considered a rainy place - the ease at which you can justify buying multiple cute umbrellas, even if they are insanely overpriced!

Here are a few that are so cute, you may even join me and wish for rain!

Mademoiselle Young Miss $72.00
Lulu Guinness Birdcage by Fulton £32.00
Lulu Guinesss

Lulu Guiness Cameo Stripe Eliza £35.00
Lulu Guiness
Pasotti Rosa Turquoise £250.00

Monday 7 February 2011

Whats Wrong with the Words You Already Know (Pt. two)

I've mentioned before that one of my biggest pet peeves is when Americans move to the UK and on day two are already injecting British vocabulary into their everyday speech.  One does not wake up from jetlag with an entirely new vocabulary.  We agree on this, yes? 

Ok, lets move on to something more important -

If we believe Delaware University professor, Ben Yagoda, it appears there is an even more cringe worthy group of Americans adopting Britishisms... non-expat Americans.   There are apparently people in America using British vocabulary in place of their perfectly reasonable "American" counterparts.

Professor Yagoda, a man after my own heart, has set up a website* which tracks British words making their way into American speech.  He's grading words on a "pretentiousness level", with advert (instead of commercial or ad) earning a speaker three points, and saying someone "got the sack" when they were really fired hopefully earning the full four points.  

Yagoda seems to object mostly to words which have "perfectly good American equivalents, like 'bits' for 'parts' and 'on holiday' instead of 'on vacation', saying that they are "purely pretentious".  (here here!)

Not surprisingly, the author of the the article which brought this to my attention doesn't really understand why Yagoda is irked by this, claiming that "Americans are angry with us for polluting their language" and even writing "After mangling our language for years, Americans are complaining about their own dialect being polluted by 'Britishisms'".   In typical British fashion, the news is being presented in a way which puts the emphasis on the British side of things and becomes slightly competitive without realizing that Professor Yagoda is not accusing the Brits of brainwashing Americans to use their lingo, he's actually attacking Americans with this website, not Brits or their vocabulary.  He's saying that Americans who are adopting the vocabulary are pretentious twits making a concerted effort to sound "cool" and they are who he is angry with, not the British people.

Keep Calm and Carry On. 

*Sadly, I do have work to do today and have not yet been able to find the website.  I would be incredibly grateful if someone can pass the link if they are able to uncover it.

Friday 4 February 2011

Interesting Survey on British Attitudes Towards Immigrants

I wont go into my thoughts on all of this because it would result in a great deal of unreadable ramblings, but if you are an expat in the UK (and yes, even as an english speaking expat you technically ARE an immigrant) or are thinking of moving to the UK, or just want some good weekend dinner party conversation ammunition you might find this interesting:

Happy Reading and Happy Friday!

Thursday 3 February 2011

..but the actor is British

Sorry to labour the point, but as further proof of the argument presented in my last post... Take a look at this advert airing in the UK for the new season of House...

Seriously?  A trailer which focuses on the actor's nationality rather than the quality of the show itself?  That's what's going to urge Brits to watch the show?

Woe is me.

Tuesday 1 February 2011

In Defense of the American Superhero

A while ago, I made a list of things that annoy me about British people and now, at the risk of being a bit offensive, I'd like to add to that list.

6. They personally piggyback on any British person's international success

Case in point... I am sure you have heard by now that Superman is the latest American superhero to be played by a British actor in a major motion picture. ....Wait, what's that, my non UK readers?  You havent heard about this?  Have you been living under a rock??...  No, you simply have been living anywhere other than in the UK where this has been a major headline on every radio programme, TV station, newspaper and news website I have heard or seen today. 

And why?  Who cares?  

The Brits (or atleast the British media) care.  They care anytime something like this happens, and they act as if it's a victory for the whole country.  Colin Firth (continually refered to as British actor, Colin Firth) winning the Best Actor Golden Globe was top news, delivered with undertones of patriotism and national triumph, but did anyone care which film won Best Picture?  Of course not, because it wasn't British (even though there was one Britsh actor in it).   I dont blame British people for not caring about meaningless American entertainment award shows, but either care or dont care. Why the cherry picking?  Do they actually think it reflects positively on Britian for a British actor who has left traditional "British" arts such as the theatre for the bright lights of Hollywood to win a silly award?

When Natalie Portman won her award, did the American media continually refer to her as "American Natalie" and wave the stars and stripes behind her?  

And back to Superman  - Telegraph journalist Andrew Lowry took this "big news" even futher saying that Henry Cavill (the next Superman) and Andrew Garfield (the next Spiderman), both born in 1983 are young but somehow don't "feel" young - whatever that means - and goes so far to say that Jesse Eisenberg (who he seems to think is the only young American actor around) is "a fine actor, but not a man you’d expect to hit the gym to get some bullet-repelling abs, or swing around on the elaborate rigs needed to simulate Spiderman’s powers, or to wield the authority needed to take all Gotham’s troubles on his shoulders," and continued to ask "what does it say about young American men that the avatars of their iconic heroes need be imported in from the UK?"

And he's not done yet... His article concludes: "Nerd culture has taken root across the Atlantic far deeper than over here, and while fumbling, awkward boy-men are ideal for The Social Network and Scott Pilgrim, when it comes to men of steel, casting agents seem to be forced to cast their net wider, to somewhere where dorkery is not seen as an aspiration for a young man."

So, let me get the straight (and try to act surprised by this predictable response)... a member of the British media has taken the casting of a British born actor in the role of an American superhero to imply that all young American men are "dorks"?  

Nice one, mate, but the truth is that superheros are supposed to be "the boy next door". That's part of their appeal. Lois Lane didnt know that  Clark Kent was superman becuase all she saw was that "dork" in glasses and that whatever-her-name-Kirstin-Dunst-character didnt know Peter Parker was Spiderman cause he was that "dork" that lived with his Grandma.  So, if a well-known American actor like Zac Effron or (my personal mini-crush) Chase Crawford was cast as a superhero, this image of a relatable, everyday, normal young man would be harder to get across.  Very few people will look at Henry Cavill and say "oh yeah, that was that guy from the Tudors".  No one will recognize him without his period costume and, so with a good American accent, he can easily be your (very!) handsome boy next door turned flying superhero.  His British-ness will not even feature and is a non-issue.

You got me? 

Oh, and by the way, there will always only be one real Superman.
American Actor, Christopher Reeve