Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Fumbling with the Queen's English and customs...

We're almost four months into this British adventure, and different bits of the local culture have been seeping into our lives.


We eat cottage pies and sticky toffee pudding.  We actually have soft spots for both.  Spotted dick is on my list.

There's quite a bit these days that feels normal.  We know that a "surgery" is a doctor's office.  "Pudding" means dessert.  And a "lift" is another (better?) word for elevator.  And we're completely comfortable using those words.

For one thing, it's just inevitable that we start using British terms instead of their American counterparts.  When we have to interact with the outside world, it's nice to avoid blank stares.  Why make things more difficult than they have to be, when we can just as easily discuss "car parks," "cots," and "holidays" (parking lots, cribs, and vacations)?

More than that, however, we make a conscious effort to use British words when we're talking to Caroline.  She'll probably go off to school in the next 6 months, and we don't want her to be completely clueless about "ice lollies," "nappies," and "rubbish bins" (popsicles, diapers, and trash cans).  In fact, she would tell you that she rides around in her "buggy" (stroller) and that Juliet sucks on a "dummy" (pacifier).   And "Mummy"?  Yes, it's what I hear when she's whiny.  Mummy-mummy-mummy-mummy.  Just as fun as you might think.

And when we send her to school?  The terms are all different.  Instead of preschool she'll go to "nursery."  But when she plays with the other young kids while Josh and I are sitting in church?  It's call "creche."    

All of that feels normal.  But we're still getting used to a few things.

The spelling trips me up all the time.  Typing "water color paints" into the search field at doesn't turn up much.  Because of course, they're "water colours."  And then there's "fertiliser."  And "tyres" (as in car tires). Since Josh operates within the professional world, he has to deal with this a lot more.  Not too many people care about what goes into my email correspondence.

I learned yesterday via Wikipedia that the "rocket" I'm always eating on sandwiches and in salads is actually arugula.  Good to know. Thank goodness for the Internet.  I recently had to Google what my English friends meant when they would sign off emails and texts with an "x" or "xx."  Like I figured, it just means "kiss." 

And there is quite a bit that's just completely beyond us.

The catch-all word of "cheers," for instance.  It's a bit of a cross between goodbye, thanks, catch-you-later, etc.  Heard all the time.  And it's a common email sign-off as well.  Maybe it's a little too British for us?  There's no way we can pull it off.

Saying "half seven" instead of "seven thirty" to describe the time of day?  We can't pull that one off either.

I also have some vague notion that there are a few definitions of the word "tea," including the beverage, the mid-afternoon snack that involves scones, and an early dinner.  And I'm fairly confident that the context of the conversation gives hints as to which someone might be speaking of.  But at this point, I'm fairly clueless.

And the European double-kiss?  One kiss for each cheek.  Neither of us have mastered it yet.  Which cheek do you start on?  Are there times when you just kiss one side?  Are they always back to back kisses or can you stop in-between for a bit of conversation?  Can you see what all this adds up to?  AWKWARD.  And it's one thing when my girlfriends do it.  Completely different when my OB (called a "consultant") greets me that way.

I'm sure we'll continue to try - and mostly fail - in our dealings with the intricacies of the language and culture of our current home.  It's mostly a fun experiment.  Here's hoping the double kiss thing gets more comfortable with time.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Christmas in London

So we're well into January.  How 'bout a (mostly boring!) Christmas recap?  It's more for me than for anyone who cares to read this.  But since it was Christmas, and Christmas in a foreign country, no less, I know I'll want to remember how we celebrated the birth of Jesus.

Get ready for some awful iPhone pics as well.

So London gets gussied up for the holiday.  Everywhere you look you can find huge trees, lights strung up over shopping districts, and Salvation Army bands playing carols on street corners.  And lots of craft fairs.  I was quite charmed by the whole thing!  And you know what?  Everyone says "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Christmas" here... no PC "Happy Holidays" for the Brits!  Of course, Christmas here in the UK focuses more on "Father Christmas" (A.K.A. Santa) and the commericalization of the holiday more than the birth of Jesus... not unlike the US. But hey, I still enjoy the lights and hustle & bustle and overall merriment of the season.

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Above: Sloane Square, Chelsea, Left: Jubilee Market Hall, Covent Garden, Right: The Jack Daniel's take on a Christmas tree, Covent Garden

The Christmas Market
From what I understand, these are a major wintertime attractions in Germany.  And copycat markets seem to have creeped over to the British Isles as well (although I understand the ones in the UK have got nothing on the ones you can find on the continent!)  Sweet little stands selling everything from mulled wine to knit hats to fake snow.  Caroline and I met some friends at one in early December at the Southbank Centre, and it did not disappoint.  It's a really pretty spot just down the river from the London Eye, with the Houses of Parliament just across, and boasts a carousel to boot.  And the fair-style food?  YES PLEASE.  I'm already looking forward to going back next year for the warm doughy cinnamon cyclone thing we enjoyed this past year.


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Winter Wonderland
Hyde Park ramps it up a notch with some pretty intense festivities.  Christmas market shops and treats plus all manner carnival rides and ice skating and even a German "biergarten".  We made the mistake of taking Josh's parents on a Saturday afternoon.  WALL TO WALL people.  But fun nonetheless.

Carol Service at St. Paul's Cathedral
This was high on my priority list for the season.  I mean, how many times do you get to go to a Christmas service in a gorgeous historic cathedral?  Not to mention you usually have to pay to get into St. Paul's, and this event was free.  The Saturday before Christmas they offered a family friendly option, so along with my in-laws we loaded up the kids (including 10-day-old Juliet) and took the Tube downtown for the service.  We even saw our friends, the Floods, there!  And the service was beautiful.  Not too long or short, with fantastic music and even a little Christmas message which was preached by someone wearing a donkey costume.  Worth standing in line in the rain, to be sure.
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1222_0962 1222_0959 At Home
Decorations were admittedly basic.  A cheap fake tree that stood about three foot high.  Homemade (by both me and Caroline) garland.  Candles and holly and felt stockings with the kids' initials appliqued on them.  But for the first time Caroline was old enough to teach her about Christmas.  We read books about the story of Jesus' birth every night.  Josh's parents brought her a toy nativity set to play with.  And we opened the boxes of an Advent calendar each night.  Obviously her understanding of the magnitude of the event is very much limited, but it was fun to hear her point out Mary and baby Jesus as we were reading the stories. I'm looking forward to establishing even more Christ-focused Christmas traditions with the girls as they grow up. 

Caroline drew on her recent birthday experience and was an old pro at opening gifts.

PRESENTS!  She yelled on Christmas morning as she ran to her stash.

But we quickly found out that with her, at this age, LESS IS MORE.  We opened presents with both Josh's parents (Christmas Day) and my parents (Boxing Day) and learned that she was only interested in the first couple of gifts.  And was completely content and excited to play with those first few, leaving the rest in a gift-wrapped heap next to her.

Notable favorites: a Peppa Pig stuff and an Abby Cadabby (not to mention utterly obnoxious) tea set.1224_1526

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Oh, and a three-wheeled scooter.  Here in London you find toddlers on them everywhere.  Here's hoping Caroline learns how to use it soon.
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Juliet?  She got a stuffed animal.
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Okay, and an outfit, and a couple of ornaments.  She was super excited.

But I'll just count her as one of MY favorite Christmas gifts of 2012.  She's such a treasure to us and we LOVED having her in our arms on Christmas day.

I tried - and mostly failed - to get a couple of family-ish pictures of us on Christmas.  I even dressed the girls in matching outfits two days in a row.  Can you tell?  Nope, me neither.  Such is life with two very small kids!  And even though I have yet to achieve that "perfect sister picture" that I have in mind, these shots still make me smile.
1225_1461 1226_1401 And my personal favorite: 1225_1471 Squinty me, who had taken off her festive red sweater to cook and forgot to put it back on for picture time.   Yawning Juliet who was apparently "over" picture taking to such a degree that she put her hand in front of her face.  And tired/overstimulated/not interested in sitting still Caroline.  Yes, folks, this is real life.

A VERY late Merry Christmas to you all.  

Monday, January 7, 2013

Which baby am I: Answered

Remember this post?  I first tried it on Josh, who only was able to figure out which of our babies was which due to external clues like furniture and car seats.  Juliet also has a stork bite on one eyelid, which is a bit of a give away.

But if you're curious, here are the answers:

A. Juliet

B. Caroline

C. Juliet

D. Caroline

E. Caroline

F. Juliet

G.  Caroline

H.  Juliet

I.  Juliet

J.  Caroline