Category Archives: Language

Full-on Fall

I could sit here for thirty minutes trying to organize my thoughts, but am trying to minimize the time I spend in front of a screen when I get home. I’ve been taking breaks at work just to sit outside for a few minutes– luckily the weather is still nice enough for that. I just thought about this in relation to my previous job, because I was just as busy but didn’t need that “nature break.” Probably because it involved lots of paperwork, and this job has none of that. I almost miss that feeling of rustling through program commitment and trip reservation forms. Actually, I do miss it.

We are still settling in here in Oxford. 2 weeks ago, we finally got a real dresser for our clothes. Two, actually. It’s nice knowing where to find socks, and t-shirts, and it’s also a good feeling when your clothes have a home. It means this is home now, and I’m enjoying every minute of it. Except maybe the minutes spent vacuuming cat hair.

In cat-related news, we’ve reluctantly allowed them to become indoor/outdoor creatures. Ikky would whine all the time in this little flat, and Zora would sneak outside any chance she got. As of today, they now have collars with bells, so we feel a little better letting them roam free. If they get hit by a car, at least they’ll die happy, right? That’s a morbid thought, but I’m okay with it.

Yesterday I was insulted with just about the worst remark I could imagine. Poor grammar. Even criticizing my appearance doesn’t cut as deeply as that. I’m chalking it up to American vs. British English, but the wound stings and I worry that I’m not actually the strong writer that I think I am. I’m debating the grammar in that last sentence. And now I’m convincing myself to get over it, embrace my flawed sentence structure, and take comfort in being a linguistic outsider, a foreigner, in any language I speak. Being a foreigner isn’t a bad thing. It means I have many homes, and an interesting, traveled life.

An interesting, traveled, married life. Today marks 1 month since becoming a Mrs., and it feels pretty awesome. I still think it’s weird to be congratulated for it, because it’s different from the usual things that call for congratulations. Degrees, promotions, that sort of thing. Congratulations for a relationship? I’ll interpret these well wishes to simply mean others are happy for me, and in that case, I’ll take it. Or maybe people are congratulating me for landing the best husband ever, in which case I’ll also take it, because it’s true.

P.S. we had these for dinner, and they were amazing. Skip the oven part and use two pans, one for the pork and one for the apples. Use butter, not this “vegetable oil” nonsense. Up the cinnamon. Serve with rocket salad, and a lovely miso-tahini-apple cider vinaigrette. Eat the fat off your picky husband’s plate. Enjoy.

Words that amuse me

This post is going to be a short one. I have something extremely important to do (catching up on Mad Men). I did have something deep and insightful in mind– something that probably would have turned into a long-winded rant, about “the business of blogging” and creating/losing identity. But that will have to wait.

Instead, you get my official list of hilarious Britishisms (and confirmation that I have an 8-year-old’s sense of humor).

  • Nappies. “Soiled” nappies, in particular, just cracks me up. (That’s American for “makes me laugh.” I hope it doesn’t translate to something inappropriate, like this next one…)
  • Helmet. My neighbor was shocked when John told me I could borrow his helmet to ride my bike (I have one of my own now). Apparently helmet means something quite different here. And that’s all I’ll say about that.
  • Wind. As in, a strong gust of wind. John’s colleague said the other day that one downside to dogs is that they can be rather…windy! The pharmacy sells medicine to combat “wind” as well. Ever since we learned about this one, John and I can’t stop laughing at our own snide remarks about hurricanes and drafts in the house.
  • Brilliant. Everything is brilliant. “Brill,” for short. Seriously? Maybe it just means “good” here. Or “okay.” 
  • Clever. That person is not smart, they’re clever. I don’t know about you, but whenever I hear “clever,” I picture someone being up to no good. Devious. Sneaky!
  • “Getting on.” How are you getting on with that? What do you mean, climbing on top of some unsurmountable obstacle? Or Let’s Get it On? The day I start using this one will be the day I officially relinquish my semi-American identity.

What’s that? Sorry, Mad Men’s calling.

Curse of the Middle Class

So, I left you with that nail-biting cliffhanger, an unfinished list of cultural differences between the U.S. and U.K. You can stop holding your breath now, because here’s Part 2. However, you may want to stock up on caffeine, because what I intended to write in a sentence or two has (again) become a 800+ word essay. And I think each observation will take the same tangential spin into disjointed rambling. Or, we could say that each point is worthy of its own post, worthy of attention and feedback and discourse. However you see it, let’s launch into Observation #2: Stay Class(y), UK.

(Observation #1: Clothes, and Cleanliness)

It’s Friday, and the city is bustling– a word that annoys me, but is fitting in this case– with tourists and Oxfordians alike. I’m sitting in a Starbucks, eating slices of roast beef and strawberries with my hands. Ladylike, I know.

John and I just killed a few hours in his warm office, where we chatted with his officemate about all sorts of things. Well, he and John did most of the chatting; I just interjected occasionally. His officemate made some interesting points about the class system:

  • Rich people are not necessarily upper-class.
  • Royalty are usually considered upper-class.
  • The more upper-class you are, the less you are likely to act polite or appear well-groomed, because you don’t give a $#*! what others think of you.
  • Middle-class people will use “fancier” words, dress neatly, and otherwise do their best to impress everyone around them.

This led into a conversation about “u” (upper-class) and “not-u” words. Wikipedia dates it to the 1950s, but apparently people still follow the concepts.

So, middle-class folks will use “not-u” words because they want to give a good impression. Upper-class people don’t really need to rise any higher in social status, so they can get away with slang, commoner-speak, and looking like a filthy hippie.

This raises so many questions and points out so many parallels against the social class structure in the U.S. I’m not a sociologist, obviously, so take this with a grain of salt.

  • The U.S. places less emphasis on royalty on the social totem pole, but more emphasis on money (and therefore, power). People who go to fancy restaurants and don’t think twice about $300 bills are upper class. In the UK, they’d be considered middle-class. You’re middle-class, I’m middle-class, Bill Gates is middle-class, Bill Clinton is middle-class.
  • It’s tough to compare the U.S. middle-class to that of the UK. I feel like we have so many levels of middle-class. Lower, middle, upper –middle classes exist and separate us neatly into economic tiers. It seems more blended here.
  • In my experience, it’s more likely that a middle-class person will speak using informal language and… maybe not be as uptight about maintaining a pristine physical appearance (guilty). Upper-class Americans will pay more attention to how they sound, look, act, because slipping down the social ladder hurts them more. Politicians, celebrities, sports stars: all eyes are on them, waiting for the slightest misstep to feed the gossip machine, or to open a spot for the next-in-line (not by heredity, but by the size of your wallet) player to enter the game.

I could make more casual observations and point out differences, but what actually stuck with me is a similarity between the middle and upper –class, that I don’t think quite exists here in the UK. It’s not that American middle-class people don’t care about impressing others—on the contrary, I think it’s something all social classes have in common. We are constantly trying to out-Jones the Joneses, buy more shiny things, and beat ourselves into a pulp at gyms that rank your stats against those of your fellow cardio rats (sorry, Dad and Carol; I’m still not a fan of the concept).

Apparently, John and I are exempt from all of this as outsiders. Which is a good thing, because we were starting to sound awfully upper-class, with John’s penchant for four-letter words and my slovenly uniform of oversized sweatpants and sneakers. More than anything, though, I just feel this deep sadness for the UK middle-classers, because it just seems like you’re set up for a life of desperation for approval—the desire to be liked, which is different from the desire to be respected. You will always be part of the self-conscious middle-class, even if you get Bill Gates-rich.

I’ve been there. I’ve spent too much time caring about what others think of me, for the wrong reasons; I’ve spent too much time being ashamed for being “different.” Listening to John’s officemate describe all of this, I realized that I’ve finally managed to stop that and embrace who I am, with all of my quirks and oddities (or, most of them—it’s a work in progress). So it’s nice to be “exempt” from these silly cultural expectations. I don’t know where I fit in, and it doesn’t really matter in the end, as long as I’m myself and surrounded by people I love.

Cue the sappy music.

Speaking of people I love, there are developments ahead. In September, to be exact. September 8th, to be precise. And no, I’m not pregnant. More on the next post! 

Long weekends and languages

I guess any weekend’s a long one when you don’t really need to be at a certain place at a certain time on Monday mornings. I took advantage of that and slept in. For once, I was up late on A Sunday night, because John and I were in the middle of Django Unchained. Tarantino movies might be a rare exception to the multitasking bad habit I have. We’re finishing the movie now, and it’s taking me forever to write this post, because it’s quite the captivating film. I can normally pause whatever I’m doing in order to meet my old lady bedtime, but last night the clock struck 12:30 before John reminded me how late it was.

See, this is already a really poorly organized post. Where was I?

Oh, the weekend. We rode our new bikes around different neighborhoods, stopping in Cowley to get some soup and hummus. We made our way through center city, stopping in Primark and Poundland for essential things like throw pillows, hardware and peanut butter, and finally, to check out Aldi in Botley. We lugged £35 of cheese, milk, coffee and a huge kitchen rug back home, covering around 8-10 miles overall. The weather could have been warmer, but at least the skies were dry.

On Sunday, I woke up with a stomach ache (which actually started Friday night, and has just been a persistent stabbing pain since then. It comes and goes but I’m hoping it goes for good soon). It was even colder that day, so we passed on the bikes and bundled up for a walk into Headington, after a hearty “streaky bacon” (that’s “regular” bacon for Americans– British bacon is less marbled and cut wider), eggs and “soft cheese” on naan. I worked on my CV (Brits never call it a resume, for whatever reason) and tried to eavesdrop on the conversation of the French guys next to us.

And that brings me to the second part of this post’s title: languages. I thought I’d hear more American English here, but the language I’ve heard most often (aside from English, obviously) is French. I sat in Starbucks for a good two hours today, and at least 3 groups of people around me were parlez-ing francais. Unfortunately, my grasp of it has slipped so much since I graduated with that pointless BA in French 5 years ago, that I couldn’t understand any of it. But hey, if its the norm here to hear copious amounts of French in every Starbucks, maybe it’ll come back to me in a few weeks.