Archive for February 20, 2010

British “Village” Life from an American’s point of view

We have really everything in common with America nowadays except, of course, language.” Oscar Wilde (1854 – 1900),The Canterville Ghost, 1882

“An Englishman is a person who does things because they have been done before.  An American is a person who does things because they haven’t been done before.” Mark Twain (1835 – 1910)

I like the above quotes from Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, contemporaries in their wit and insights. What does the following excerpt from some American friends of mine, who just moved to U.K., have to do with my present reality in Astana?  We just went through the slow and deliberate process of signing a contract with a London university to work with their established English teaching programme for the first year Kazakh students starting this fall semester.  Enjoy the following from my friends Jim and Carroll:

Hello from Henley-in-Arden! Our new English acquaintances here ask us how we’re “settling in”.  We are settling into English village life just fine. We think of Henley as a village (4000 people) but we can’t use that word to locals who would be offended since it achieved market town status by the 1200’s, when the king gave the town a charter. There’s still the stone cross dating from then on High St. This ancient market exists even now. On Wednesdays farmers bring chickens, pheasants, and rabbits (both dead and alive) to auction as well as eggs, produce, meat and flea market items to sell.

Nearby is an interesting, tiny village (wide spot in the road)–Wooten Wawen.  It was five times as big as Birmingham (20 miles north) when the Doomsday Book was compiled in the 11th century.  The Doomsday Book was a census ordered by the Norman conquerors so they could tax the local Anglo-Saxons.

We had our first guests for dinner on Friday night in our tiny living room (no dining area in our little house)—we invited them for a New Mexico style dinner.  They warned us that they didn’t like spicy food, so we served avocado dip and tortilla chips, chicken enchiladas, tacos, pinto beans and rice without any hot peppers. They seemed to enjoy it—a definite change from their typical British roasted meat, potatoes, parsnips, carrots, and rutabagas.

Cultural Observations about Small Town Life in England.

1.      Towns and villages seem neat, tidy and well kept.  We rarely see trash in the streets or houses in disrepair.

2.      Farms and pastureland surrounds the towns. We see sheep grazing within less than a mile from Henley..  High well-trimmed hedges instead of fences border each farm.

3.      People usually walk rather than drive in town. Henley is only one mile long. We see many elderly people out with their trolley’s (a combination of a walker and shopping cart) doing their errands.  Rain doesn’t slow anyone down including moms (mums) wheeling baby strollers draped with water proof plastic. A big reason for walking must be the high cost of gas ($9 a gallon) as well as the lack of parking. These towns were built ten centuries ago—who foresaw a need for parking? People say they retired here in Henley of its convenience. All  the necessities are within walking distance—doctor, dentist, a pharmacy, banks, small grocery stores, etc. plus it is a low-crime area.

4.      Public transportation is excellent. Henley has both bus and train lines with a stop here every hour on the Birmingham (20 miles north and Stratford upon Avon (8 miles south) routes.  U.K. citizens over 60 get free public transportation to cities within 20 miles or so. And they use it.  Every coffee morning we meet seniors from both Stratford and Birmingham who get off at Henley for our church coffee time and perhaps the outdoor market!

In closing, we wanted to share some new British vocabulary to illustrate our common language that sometimes divides British and Americans.

In the U.K.:

A publican is a pub operator.

To nick or pinch means to steal

A misery is a complaining person

A diary is an appointment calendar (Everyone carries a diary!).

A decorator is a house painter

A receipt is a recipe

To hoover means to vacuum

Mean or “tight as a tick” refers to someone who is stingy

A mutton dressed in lamb’s clothing refers to an older woman who dresses like

a much younger lady

Knackered means totally exhausted.

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