Posts tagged Mark Twain

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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“English as She is Spoke” and Written

English as She is Spoke is an old classic book over 150 years recently republished which rivals anything Mr. Barot scripted in his recent movie about cultural leanings of America for make benefit glorious nation.  (I purposely misspelled his name and don’t want to draw any attention with search engines to Barot’s gross errors depicting this wonderful country where I presently teach English.)  


Of course, I’ve read some tortured writing of English done by my Kazakh students that leaves much to be desired, but at least they are trying to get their message across.  I understand they come from minimal learning experiences where writing was not encouraged in Russian, much less English.  Ironically, I’ve also seen some fairly horrific examples of writing from natives speakers of English too.  Let’s have Hollywood produce a movie which graphically shows how American students get away with playing video games for hours on end and how they have no time to do their writing assignments or read the material to show what is expected of them in a composition class.  Now THAT would be a sleeper movie!!!


Apparently Mark Twain loved this little book written by Pedro Carolino who was a hack just like Barot and used Jose Da Fonseca’s name as co-author of this comprehensive phrasebook of the English language.  Da Fonseca was a upstanding scholar who happened to have a phrasebook for Portuguese that was worked over by Carolino to make it purposefully absurd.  It came out as a “masterpiece” in 1869 and had many reprints and other spinoffs such as English as She is Taught or English as She is Wrote which shows funny exam-answer humor that only a teacher can fully appreciate.


Reading through this little book made me squirm simply because it is so obviously hacked.  For Twain to give it the thumbs up brings my estimation of him a bit lower even though I loved reading his Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer stories as I was growing up.  Twain lived later into life and died an unhappy man.  Reading English as She is Spoke would not improve one’s mood.  However, it makes me more determined than ever as a writing teacher to have my students improve their English skills so they don’t get laughed at by quacks similar to Carolino or Barot.


In Part One of this book are vocabulary words supposedly translated from Portuguese to English titled “Index of the Matters:”  The Mankind, Ages, Defects of the Body, Servants, diseases, remedies, parties a town, of the bed, eatings, quadruped’s beasts, fishes and shell-fishes, colours, games, of the altar, chastisements, familiar phrases.  You get the idea that articles and prepositions are put in where they don’t belong, taken out where they DO belong.  On page 22 is a phrase “stop a little” or “Let us go to respire the air.”  Page 24 “At what o’clock is to get up?” p. 26 “dress your hairs” or p. 30 “This girl have a beauty edge.”


My sister lived in Brazil at the tender age of 16 on an AFS student exchange.  She got to know her host family and quickly picked up the language of Portuguese.  I’ll have to give her this book to see if she recollects any of these supposed “familiar phrases.”  Several years later, one of the daughters of her Brazilian host family came to the U.S. on a similar exchange to live with a typical middle class American family.  Somehow I got caught in the middle a family squabble because the rich, young Brazilian girl did NOT know any English.  She kept saying over and over, “I no happy, I no happy.”  That was one thing she made everyone painfully aware of.  I think she was eventually moved to a different family and that resolved her happiness issue.  It didn’t help for her to come off the plane to a cold Minnesota winter with only sandals and a light dress and coat.  Obviously, no one had fully prepared her for the stark weather conditions or the language barrier once she arrived in the U.S.


One phrase that caught my attention was under the section titled “Idiotisms and Proverbs.”  I had asked my ESL students when I taught in Virginia years ago to give me three idioms or proverbs from their country.  One guy from a South American country, I don’t remember which one, gave me “The robe don’t make the monk.” That’s a good proverb.  However, Carolino was up to his tricks with changing “robe” to “dress” so it reads on page 128: “the dress don’t make the monk.”  Funny huh?  The actual saying in Portuguese is: “O habito nao faz o monge.”


Why is “the robe don’t make the monk” a good proverb?  Even though it is not proper English, the point comes across loud and clear. Supposedly there are people in places of authority who may have the title in their respective job but do NOT embrace the work ethic or are NOT skillful enough to fill that particular job and its job description.  Consequently, people under them suffer.  I might add there are perhaps many teachers who are teaching writing who don’t know how to write.  May the land of Kazakhstan have fully educated and talented teachers who know how to write in English.  Thus, they can teach their Kazakh students to write well, especially in a western style university where that is the expectation and the norm.  That is, if Kazakh students should ever leave Kazakhstan on some exchange program to the U.S. or U.K. to find out how miserable they can be if not fully prepared.

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