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

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.

Stop Senseless Tragic School Shootings

No more. Enough. Stop senseless tragic school shootings. Since 2013, there have been nearly 300 school shootings in America — an average of about one a week.

Yet in the aftermath of the horrific massacre in Parkland Florida, our leaders still refuse to discuss changing gun control policy to protect our most vulnerable citizens – American youth.

When did sending your child to school become as dangerous as playing Russian roulette?

To Europeans, the solution to America’s gun violence seems like a no-brainer. Fewer guns in circulation equals less gun fatalities.

In hindsight experts analyze the red flags, and suggest school personnel should have recognized the warning signs, which is like passing the responsibility for the crime to the victim.

The students and teachers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School practiced code red lockdown drills, took proper precautions and followed safety measures, but no training can prepare one to intervene at the right instance to prevent another tragedy. Human nature is too unpredictable.

Do we really want to turn our schools into gated fortresses patrolled by armed guards?

We cannot eliminate violence. We cannot eradicate mental illness. We cannot foresee the exact instance when a troubled teen tips to the dark side.

But we can do more to keep guns out of the hands of children.

Other nations have done so successfully. In May 1996, just weeks after a deadly shooting in a shop in Port Aurthur Tasmania, Australia enacted a nationwide gun law reform. Since then mass shootings dropped to zero. Like Australia, Great Britain enacted some of the world’s strictest gun-control measures following mass shootings in the late ‘80s and ‘90s to curtail violence.

Part of the American dichotomy baffling Europeans is our obsession with the 2nd amendment – the right to keep and bear arms. Back in 1791, when the constitution was drawn up, this amendment made sense considering the political situation and risks faced by our young nation. That logic makes no sense today.

What kind of world are we creating when people feel a need to carry a gun to the grocery store, corner cafe, and local school for safety?

As a nation, we need to rethink our deeply ingrained notions of individual rights for the greater good of humanity. We need to set political differences aside and calmly discuss ways in which gun law reforms can curtail violence.

I am not talking about weapons used for hunting. There is a huge difference between inheriting grandpa’s old Winchester for tracking deer in the Wisconsin wilderness and aiming an AR-15 semi automatic rifle at a classroom of children. No one except for military and law enforcement officers needs to own assault weapons.

We have to stop pointing fingers of blame at the school. Coming from a long line of educators, I believe wholeheartedly in value of education. Having taught 30 years in the US and European international schools, I witnessed firsthand societal changes within the school setting in four different countries. Working with troubled teens goes with the territory, but we cannot blame the students, teachers, and other officials for failing to intervene in time to prevent deadly shoot-outs.

Even with the best training, adequate safety measures, and ample information sharing, we will never be able to predict human behavior.

When guns are as readily accessible as candy at the nearest five and dime, when laws defending gun ownership are greater than those protecting individual safety and when school shootings continue to rise at alarming rates, we need make some changes.

When our President blames mental illness for school shootings instead of addressing gun control issues about firearm accessibility and lethality, we have to question our leadership.

When active shooter safety drills become a mandatory part of the curriculum, we are all in deep trouble.

What are we, as a society, teaching our children?

Raclette Party Swiss Favorite Event and Food

When guests arrive at our house for the first time, we always throw a raclette party to give them an authentic taste of Switzerland. Raclette is not only a food; it is an event.

This popular mountain dish, made from the alpine raclette cheese, has been around for centuries. Raclette, recorded in texts from German Swiss convents in 1291, dates back to medieval times. Cow herders used to melt this cheese over campfires when moving cows to and from pastures in the mountains.

Originally for this hearty, peasant meal a large raclette cheese round was heated over the fireplace then poured over potatoes. Hotels and restaurants in the mountains still use this method. Most people living in our area own an electric, tabletop raclette grills, which makes preparing the meal easier.

I love raclette because guests cook their own meal by heating sliced cheese in individual metal trays. The cheese is scraped onto small potatoes. Or it may also be served on bread like we do. Dried meats cured in the mountainous regions, such as beef, Parma hams, and viande des Grisons, can be heated on the grill top and served also. Tiny vinegary pickles and onions always accompany the dish.

The French serve raclette with a Savoy white wine, a Riesling or a pinot gris. According to the locals, one should drink only wine with raclette because water will harden the cheese in the belly creating indigestion. However, I have yet to see someone get sick even from imbibing, bubbly Coca Cola with the raclette meal.

At our house, we never had a guest who disliked raclette; in fact most people love it.

“Oh raclette, love it! Best meal of my life!” said Charlotte, Larissa’s sister who clapped her hands in delight and marveled. “Takes potato skins to a whole new level.”

My family enjoyed this so much on visits to Switzerland that I once hauled a bulky raclette machine across the Atlantic, so they could savor the meal stateside. Fortunately this is no longer necessary. You can order the raclette cheese and the grill from where else but a shop in New Glarus, the mini Switzerland of Wisconsin..

Order from New Glarus.

Imported raclette cheese is expensive. So at our cabin in Wisconsin, we use the excellent local products, the Colby, cheddar, or Swiss from Mueller’s Cheese Factory outlet. Although my French husband would disagree, I find the American cheese also suitable for this dish.

Raclette makes the perfect convivial meal to share on a cold winter night. The piping hot potatoes, heat from the grill and wine will toast your toes and warm your hearts.

Bon appétit!

This Holiday Season Take Time to Play

ChristmasAfter the Black Friday blitz, which surprisingly arrived in Europe, even though Thanksgiving doesn’t exist here, I wonder if anyone else longs for that era when gifts were simpler and often times homemade? Back in the good old days when even adults took time out during the holiday season to play.

Can you remember your favorite childhood Christmas present?

I still cherish Christmas as a six-year-old: my big brother got a stamp collection book, my middle sister a fashion doll, my little sister a Barbie doll case, and I received a pop rifle.

ChristmasThough I may be an anti gun advocate now, back then a toy rifle meant that my family accepted gender equity long before society got around to it. My parents let me be free to play cowboys and kick ball. If I ever wanted I could also play dolls with my younger sisters.

Unlike the electronic games of today, our toys of yesteryear were designed to encourage social interaction, develop creativity and inspire make believe. They taught children how to share, to take turns, to cooperate and to help each other.

How different from the expensive Santa’s wish lists of today with things like Costzon Infrared Remote Controlled Robots, Electric Dog BeatBowWow Interactive Learning Toys, Self Balancing Electric Scooters, Xtremepower Hover boards and LovaBella Baby Dolls that can recite a hundred words and mimic their owners actions.

What does that leave to old-fashioned imagination?

ChristmasIn the 60’s my siblings and I invented games around the Christmas theme. We set up present wrapping stations and cookie baking shops. We enacted mystery stories by pretending to steal “magic” light bulbs from the Christmas tree.

We spent entire days setting up our Lincoln logs, dollhouses or train sets.

We loved it when three generations sat around the kitchen table coloring, drawing or playing cards, especially when Grandpa Mac tried to get our bluff.

Have we lost our ability to play?

Wouldn’t it be more rewarding to engage in a game with a human being instead of an activator?Christmas

As the holiday season arrives with the usual media fueled, materialistic commercialization, find a way to curtail the frenzy, to roll on the floor and wrestle around with your kids.

Take time out to play. Have a pillow fight, a tickle fest, a story swap.

Play an antique game of Twister, Clue, Monopoly, Life or Mouse Trap.

Turn off computers, cell phones, electronic games, tune out social media and focus on family and friends.

 

Have Yourselves a Merry Little Christmas.

Slow down, step back, savor the season. Have fun! I’ll be back in 2 weeks.