American Struggles to Understand English in England

You would think that after living in non English speaking European countries for so long, I would feel at home in England, but I felt more foreign there than anywhere. Though technically Americans speak the same language, I had no clue what the Brits were saying. Times are tough when you resort to asking your Frenchman to interpret your native tongue.

“Pot, this is ridiculous!” Gerald said. “They are speaking your language not mine.”

True but in my language potatoes don’t wear jackets, children don’t wear jumpers and no one wears Wellies.

American Struggles to Understand English in EnglandTo clarify the vocabulary, English waiters will ask if you want a jacket (skin) on your potato. Seriously, do say yes because no one does jacket potatoes better than the English. Mine was stuffed with melted Brie, British bacon and cranberry sauce.

Sweaters are what British refer to as jumpers. Sweatshirts are hoodies. Uniforms are kits. And everyone owns a pair of Wellies.

Popularized by British aristocracy for hunting in the early 19th century the Wellington boot, fashioned after the Hessian boot and made of leather, was named after Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington. With the advent of Charles Goodyear’s vulcanization process for natural rubber in the mid 1800s, waterproof rubber Wellies became standard even for the common class and replaced the farmers’ wooden American Struggles to Understand English in Englandclogs.

Ah, Wellies, those ill-fitting, formless, round-toed galoshes you hated wearing in grade school. I would give my right arm for a pair now. In England, it rains cats and dogs and puddles proliferate like rabbits. To be prepared like the English who carry Wellies in the boot of their cars, tourists should pack a pair of Wellies and a brellie (umbrella)on any visit to the UK.

I used to think my British colleagues in Switzerland were dumbing down their language with baby talk to help me understand. Apparently another idiosyncrasy is their tendency to chop off words by ending in ie.

Fortunately, my dear friend now living in Australia explained, “Pressie, (present) brekkie, (breakfast) and ciggie (cigarette) are all just lazy British ways of shortening words.”

It could be worse.

“The Aussies use the same abbreviations, and more besides!” she said. “My fave one is ‘arvo’ for afternoon. I use it all the time now, but with a British accent, which amuses the locals.”

American Struggles to Understand English in EnglandNo one does humor better than the British. The language is full of expressions that make me laugh out loud.

Who else says things like “have a nosy” for a look around or “don’t get your knickers in a knot” when someone is upset?

And can’t you picture a group of gossipy old women having a “chin wag”or a bunch of teens throwing their “knees up” (to party) on the weekend.

But my all time favorite is “fall arse over tit” meaning to tumble head over heels.

Now you understand why an American might need a French interpreter. Visiting England leaves me feeling totally discombobulated and stuck in one giant kerfuffle.

I am so disorientated I may never get home to Switzerland. With all those cars whizzing by on the “wrong” side of the road, I am afraid to cross the street.

Living on Old English Workhouse Grounds

Living on Old English Workhouse GroundsWhen I visited my son and his girlfriend in Ampthill England, I felt like I was stepping into a storybook. The crooked narrow, cobblestone streets lined with thatched huts, red brick homes and tiny walk up shops looked like pages out of a Charles Dickens novel. Even their home, a former caretaker’s cottage, was on the grounds of a stately 2-story brick building, which once served as the Ampthill Union Workhouse. Built in 1835, the old “poorhouse,” where penniless paupers worked for porridge, was laid out in an octagonal hub. The rows ended in 3 story blocks with observational windows over the work yards. Renovated into an expensive apartment complex today residents can relax in an inviting, Living on Old English Workhouse Groundspicture perfect English back garden.

In the past, poorhouses often looked and felt like prisons. Funded by the local parish able-bodied inmates toiled in exchange for food and shelter. Workhouses filled with orphans, unmarried mothers, widows, sick, elderly and vagrants who endured the harsh regime, Spartan conditions, and slept in communal dormitories

Behind the wrought iron entry gate, Nic and Larissa’s brick cottage, the size and shape of a shoe box sits at the front of the grounds. It was divided into a small living area, a kitchen galley, a bedroom, bathroom and a dining room with just enough space for a table of four. Apartments in the main Living on Old English Workhouse Groundsbuilding today would cost a pretty penny, but the cottage rental was a steal.

At night spotlights illuminated ancient trees casting shadows and as I wandered the grounds, my imagination ran wild. I expected to see Oliver Twist dart across the courtyard.

As the wind moaned in the treetops, I could hear echoes of the old nursery rhyme that even American children were weaned on. We grew up listening to our mothers’ lament, “oh no, we will be driven to poor house.”

Anonymous verse from Yorkshire.

Many old workhouse buildings became public assistance institutions and continued to provide accommodation for the ill and elderly. In 1942 The Ampthill Workhouse became St. Georges Hospital, and then later the Cedars Old Peoples Home.

But Larissa and Nic’s new abode, filled with light, laughter and good cheer, showed no sign of its grim past. Warm and cozy, we squeezed around the table enjoying the lovely meal they prepared. I gazed out the window and felt grateful that my family members had steady jobs, roofs over their heads and food on their tables.

In the UK the workhouse era ended officially on April 1, 1930. Fortunately poor houses became a thing of the past, but poverty is not. Many homeless people everywhere in the world sleep in the streets under cardboard boxes, rummage through trash bins for scraps and struggle to survive.

Everyone can offer aid. Volunteer at a soup kitchen. Work at a food pantry. Contribute to the local charities.

How do you help the poor in your own communities?

downtown Ampthill

La Maison Cailler -Switzerland Synonymous with Chocolate

Cailler chocolateSwitzerland is synonymous with chocolate and it comes as no surprise that the world’s oldest chocolate maker Cailler is arguably also the world’s best. In ancient times, chocolate, once considered the “elixir of the Gods,” was believed to have magical properties. I agree.

No trip to Switzerland is complete without sampling one the nation’s finest offerings, yet I never toured a chocolate factory until my niece came for a visit. Boy, was I missing out. A trip to a chocolate museum entertains all ages. It is worth it just for the free samples.

The most well known of Swiss chocolates, Cailler claims to be the oldest brand. Cailler produced chocolate in Vevey as far back as 1819 and since 1889 in neighboring Broc where today millions of tourists visit the La Maison Cailler du Chocolat. In 1929 Cailler became part of the Nestle group, but it still functions independently.

The Swiss consume the most chocolate in the world. 5% prefer white, 20% prefer dark and 80% prefer milk chocolate, which is made from treasured 200 year old Swiss secret recipe. In my opinion the darker the chocolate the better and apparently experts agree the higher the cocoa content the better it is for your health.

Cailler chocolateIn 1911 Alexandre-Louis Cailler developed a different process to manufacture a creamier, milky flavored chocolate. Instead of using powdered milk, he took condensed milk from Alpine milk in the Gruyère region to create a milk chocolate with an incomparably smooth, rich milky flavor. To this day, Cailler is the only Swiss chocolate manufacturer to use this method.

While you wait your turn to enter the museum, you can watch through windows where on the floor below the chef leads a class of visitors in making 5 different kinds of chocolate in the chocolate workshop.

For 12 Swiss francs, visitors enter the museum’s historical journey of chocolate’s development through time in multi sensory audiovisual tours. Chocolate originated in antiquity from Mexico’s cocoa bean. In the 1500s, Spanish conquistadors brought chocolate to Europe where it was considered taboo until the pope declared it a wholesome drink. In the last century, the French considered it an aphrodisiac and savored tiny cups of divine chocolate silk while in bed.

As part of the Cailler chocolateMaison Cailler experience, you are allowed to touch the cocoa beans, butter, nuts and raw material used to make chocolate. A replica of the conveyor belt used in the factory shows the process of how Cailler’s signature Mini Branches – hazel nut filled logs – are made, cut and wrapped.

The highlight for any sweet tooth is the free sampling at the end. Just like at a chocolate shop, every sort of bar and cream filled chocolate align the glass counters for free sampling from the sweetest to the most bitter. I skipped the white and milk chocolate varieties and made a beeline for the end of the row to savor the dark chocolates. My niece and her friend tasted a piece of every kind of chocolate except the dark ones.

After the tour, you can savor chocolate-based drinks and desserts in the Cailler chocolatecafé. You can also shop for brand souvenirs and Cailler chocolate bars, pralines and famous brands of Femina, Ambassador, and Frigor.

The only problem with unlimited sampling, a gourmet may suffer from what the French call a “crise de fois,” a liver crisis brought on by too much rich food.

European International Schools March Madness

March MadnessAs a basketball aficionado, I miss being in America during the frenzy of the NCAA tournament, but we also have  March Madness during basketball season in European international schools. Every time we hit the road, we enjoy our own form of madness.

Traveling with teens between countries by bus, train, plane and even gondolas in Venice gets crazy. Inevitably someone will forget a passport, misplace a plane ticket, lose a piece of luggage, arrive late for departure or forget a uniform.

For coaches, the journey to and from venues becomes more stressful than coaching those nail-biting basketball games in the tournament itself.

During one trip years ago, my starting point guard left her passport in the pouch at the back of seat in front of her on the plane.March Madness

Another time, due to an electronic glitch, our bus door would not open or close completely. The athletic director in Zurich gave us jump ropes from their PE department and we tied the door closed, crawled over the seats from the driver’s side and rode home shivering as wind and snow blew in from the gap in the door.

Traveling with a group of kids anytime is challenging. They are like those Tamagotchi electronic pets that need to pee, eat and sleep at regular intervals. Wherever we go, someone needs to find a toilet, get a drink or buy a smoothie at the most inopportune moments.

March MadnessOn our trip last weekend, before landing, one middle school girl said, “Every time I land in the Brussels airport, I have to get a smoothie.”

When she asked for permission, Gerald, unaccustomed to travel with teens, said, “Okay.”

Anyone who has ever worked with kids knows that if one student gets a smoothie then everybody gets a smoothie. Sixteen smoothies later, we finally pulled our bags off the conveyor belt in baggage claims. We were ready to be picked up by buses from the host school when another girl cries out, “Oh no, I left my purse at the smoothie stand.”

Once you have exited the arrival terminal, you can’t go back, so she and Gerald ran to the front of the airport’s departure gate. There, security staff insisted you could not re-enter the terminal without a plane ticket. By the time they were finally allowed to access, the purse was long gone.

By far the worst incident happened years ago when I coached in Paris where we often traveled with 4 teams – JV and varsity girls and boys. One time on our return train trip from Vienna, an exhausted guard moved away from his noisy teammates to another car to sleep. However, at some stops on long haul trips, the trains may split off to different destinations. Only after we arrived home in Paris did the coach realize he was missing a player. That poor boy fell asleep in Austria and woke up in Italy.March Madness

Every time we arrived home safely with our teams, I breathe a sigh of relief. We never remember who blew a lay up, shot an air ball or missed a free throw, but we never forget the time we almost missed our flight, lost our passport, rode a broken bus, bought a smoothie in Brussels and all the other hilarious incidents –though not funny at the time – in retrospect made our international travels during European March Madness so memorable.

Chippendales For Breakfast ? Heard of the Full Monty ?

Chippendales For Breakfast ? Heard About the Full Monty ? A few months ago in a British pub, a handsome waiter approached my table and asked, “What do ya fancy, love? How about the Full Monty?”

I nearly fell off my chair. Images of muscular, male strippers danced before my eyes reminding me of the 1997 British comedy, The Full Monty.

Chippendales for breakfast?

Here? In a 16th century pub in tucked in the tiny village of Houghton Conquest in the Bedfordshire countryside?Chippendales For Breakfast ? Heard About the Full Monty ?

I never knew that The Full Monty, a British slang term similar to our American phrase for the whole kit and caboodle, describes a full English breakfast, which means filled with the works.

The English are known for their tasty, copious breakfasts. The Full Monty can be made up of over 30 different foods with meat such as fried sausages also known as bangers and bacon cured from pig loin as staples. Add baked beans, 2 or 3 eggs (usually sunny side up) fried bread and fried mushrooms. The acidity in fried tomatoes, also a must, will help cut the grease.

Apparently for this meal, also called a Fry Up, they sauté everything but the kitchen sink. Their popular bubble and squeak consists of Sunday roast and vegetable leftovers mixed with potatoes forming a cake, and then fried in butter until it sizzles and pops. This concoction may be served in homes on Mondays, but usually full breakfasts are saved for brunch on weekends or to cater to tourists in hotels.

Chippendales For Breakfast ? Heard About the Full Monty ?When our waiter brought our plates to the table, I struggled to distinguish a few ingredients, like black pudding – crispy slices of sausage made of oatmeal pork fat and blood – and kippers, flakes of smoked herring. But I didn’t need a medical degree to identify body parts such as the kidneys  rolled in flour and fried in butter.

Potatoes – hash, chips, mashed or fried – remain the mainstay of the Full English breakfast. Coffee or tea usually accompanies the meal, although some hearty mates may prefer to wash it down with a pint. Other diners like to add a dash of ketchup, vinegary brown HP sauce, or Worcestershire sauce to the mix.

So go on, head to the pub for your favorite brew on Saturday night, but you may also want to return on Sunday morning to enjoy the Full Monty. Oh là là les anglais.

Flying Uneasy on Low Cost British Easy Jet

Easy Jet planeNothing easy about so called “Easy” Jet the low cost British carrier, which offers services on over 820 routes in more than 30 countries. For years my UK colleagues raved about the simplicity and affordability of Easy Jet. We wanted a quick, cheap ride across the English Channel from Geneva to London Luton Airport to visit our son who moved to the Bedfordshire area. After 4 decades of globetrotting, I have never had a worse flight. If all goes well the flight takes about an hour and 20 minutes. Alas if all goes wrong it can takes days.

Before leaving our house we saw on-line that the 20:15 flight was delayed an hour and 15 minutes, which for Easy Jet seems fairly standard. Nevertheless, the message from Easy Jet stated that we must come at the normal time to the airport to check-in.

Our family’s previous experience with Easy Jet made me shudder. One time our son’s flight was delayed twice, then finally cancelled at midnight. The Easy Jet personal told him, “So sorry mate. Can’t help. Give the airlines a call and they’ll sort you out in the morning.”

Eventually they stuck him on a flight from Zurich, which is two hours away by train. Then on his return flight he was stranded in Luton, which is ranked as the UKs worst airport in the city considered the “armpit of England.” When Easy Jet changed his booking, they canceled his return by mistake, so his ticket was no longer valid. He had to fight to get another ticket issued for free for the same day, but 10 hours later!

flight information boardBack to our own saga. By the time we arrived at the Geneva airport, our flight had been delayed another 25 minutes. Finally around 9:30 they announced our boarding gate, a bit earlier than the expected delayed time. From the gate they herded us into a bus like cattle off to slaughter. The bus lurched forward and backed into a terminal parking space a hundred yards from where we left. We stood in the bus waiting for another 15 minutes, then re-entered the terminal again to finally proceed to the boarding ramp. The plane finally took off 15 minutes later than the delayed time. Are you still following?

Departure from our home in Geneva – 6:45 pm; arrival hotel outside of Luton using the unreliable train system – 2 am. Travel time 7 hours. With a good tailwind, it would have been faster to fly to Chicago.

For our 6:15 am return flight on Monday morning, we left our hotel at 4:15 to arrive on time. A sign said that the boarding gate would be posted at 5:40. It was and they simultaneously announced “Last call boarding call Easy Jet Flight 2049 to Geneva; we will be closing the gate”

One minute we were sitting in Starbucks stalling and starring at the departure screen and the next instance we were racing through the terminal knocking over other frantic passengers rushing to catch the Geneva flight before it took off, which by the way left 5 minutes ahead of schedule.

Ah Easy Jet, the single class, high-density layout airbus, guarantees discomfort.

Imagine squeezing into an egg carton. You must fold your body into an egg shape for the duration of the journey. Seats, which feel like benches, won’t lean back even a centimeter; if you are tall tray tables rest on your knees.

To further curtail costs, Easy Jet discourages checked baggage by charging as much for a bag as you pay for your ticket. Nor does it offer complimentary food or beverages not even water. Purchases from Easy Jet Bistro buy on board will be expensive.

In spite of the inconveniences, Easy Jet fills 92% of its flights, so your plane will be packed even at 6:15 am. Oh those poor souls commuting to work via Easy Jet.

The cabin crew, the only saving grace, will be kind as if they spent a lifetime calming irate passengers who have missed connecting flights, important business meeting and special family occasions.

Saving money may not be worth the trade off due to the toll an Easy Jet flight takes on your body.

My recommendation: if you see bright orange Easy Jet label – run.

Unfortunately I cannot heed my own advice. If we want to visit our son and Larissa we have to fly Easy Jet. London Luton, 35 miles north-west of Central London, is Easy Jet headquarters and the airline is the only one offering a direct flight from Geneva.

Before I go back for another visit, I will consult my British friends and find out the insider secrets on the most painless way to survive a flight on the so called Easy Jet.