Pie Wars: Battle of the Meat Pies

This week, we are excited to feature our first guest post! And what could be better to start it all off but a real down and dirty battle of the best meat pies?

In one corner, the saucy London parcel, in the other, the cheeky Aussie dish… who will come out on top?

Tom Hoschke of The Raw Prawn give us the play by play.

 

As an Australian, the meat pie is part of my cultural heritage. An ideal hand held snack, these hot pastry parcels filled with anonymous meat and thick, savoury gravy are an integral part of antipodean cuisine.

A pie with sauce is what you eat at half time at any footy game, in celebration or commiseration depending on how your team is going. It’s the working class lunch of choice, bought from the local milk bar or servo. Bakeries in towns across the country are judged almost entirely on the quality of their pies. In the 70s our national car company advertised with a jingle summing up the Australian experience: “Football, meat pies, kangaroos and Holden cars.” It is, unquestionably, as close to a national dish as Australia has.

aussie
via thepolkadotsuitcase.com

Of course, say this within earshot of an English person and they’ll reply with something like, “You know you guys didn’t invent them, right?”

Well, yes, of course I know that the idea of putting meat inside of pastry was not suddenly thought up one day down under. I’m not that naïve. Although, as the practice of eating stewed meat out of some sort of flour-based shell has been around since the time of the Greeks and Romans, and it was the French who made the pastry edible, I’m not sure where the Brits come off taking the high ground on that front. You weren’t the first to deep fry a piece of fish, either, but we’re happy to give you fish’n’chips.

That bit of cultural cringe aside, pies are undoubtedly an important food both in Australia and here in the motherland. As an expat with a soft spot for my homeland’s product, I had to seek out the British version. I decided to try that classic of working class London: pie and mash.

Going in with no real knowledge of the pie shop tradition, I had very little expectation. After I order from the delightful cockney accented woman behind the counter, she places a reasonable looking hot pie on a plate with an ice-cream scoop of mashed potato.

Then she did something that shocked me. She doused the plate with some sort of sauce, vaguely clear with flecks of green. And when I say doused, I mean drowned. It was as though the pie was on fire and she was using the sauce to put it out, a goal she would have achieved many times over.

via www.dailymail.co.uk
via www.dailymail.co.uk

I didn’t get this while I watched her serve, and it made even less sense when I started to eat. The sauce, which had, for me, very little flavour, did two main things to the dish. Firstly, it made the pastry soggy. While it’s possible that the pastry crust wasn’t the crispest to begin with (a reasonable assumption from looking at it), drenching it like this took away any real texture it had.

Secondly, it diluted the meat filling. I would cut into the pie and the meat would spill out, mixing with the liquid, dissipating any flavour of the gravy. The whole concept baffled me. I asked what was in the sauce and was told, “Parsley, and the rest is a trade secret.” If forced to guess any other ingredients, I’d go with cornflour, judging by the texture.

On doing some research, it seems that traditionally the pies were filled with the once plentiful eels of the Thames River, and the sauce was the liquor that the eels had been cooked in. In theory, that is still how they make this liquor, but if so the eels added no discernible flavour.

I’m sorry England, but when it comes to pies, just like the Ashes, Australia wins this one. We may play with the fillings, and we may dollop tomato sauce on top, but at least we maintain the integrity of the pie.

That’s not to say you can’t find good pies here in the UK. In particular, those offered by Pieminister, a company working out of Bristol, are exceptional. With stunning options like steak and stilton, chicken and ham, or classic steak and ale, their stall at Borough markets is one of my essential stops whenever I’m South of the river.

Then again, the owners started the company after visiting Australia and recognising that we made better pies. High praise from an Englishman.

So, sure, we didn’t invent the pie. But strewth, we sure got them right.

 

1044074_10151751894515320_1620965877_nAs an unsatisfied public servant in Australia, Tom Hoschke longed for new adventures. To satisfy this desire he left his job and his homeland, setting out for Old Blighty, where he has spent too much of his working holiday ignoring the “working” part. An enthusiastic devourer of all cuisines, he now writes The Raw Prawn, where he dissects the British food culture in ways only a colonial can.

Top 10 Reasons to Go to Yorkshire, NOW!

It’s easy to pass over Yorkshire. It hasn’t got the pomp and circumstance nor the hustle and bustle of London, and even the locals will admit the weather can be a bit grim. Add that to the common tourist misconception that there are no other cities in England, (Yes, I’m talking to all of you who keep asking me how I’m enjoying London!) and you can see why it’s often left off the old itinerary. But let me tell you, missing out on “God’s Own Country” in the North is a massive mistake! Yorkshire is amazing, and the perfect place to peek in on real English life and history. Let me tell you the top 10 reasons why you ought to go to Yorkshire, NOW!

1.  Yorkshire Cuisine

yorkshire puds

Besides the fact that the best fish & chips are found in the North (trust me), Yorkshire is also home to the king of carveries, the glorious gravy receptacle better known as a Yorkshire pudding. No Sunday roast is complete without it! There’s more where that came from, too… satisfy your sweet tooth with a rich Parkin or Yorkshire curd tart, or taste the perfection of rhubarb grown in Yorkshire’s own Rhubarb Triangle (found between Wakefield, Bradford, and Leeds). You can also get right to the heart of Wallace & Gromit at the Wensleydale Cheese Factory“Gromit, that’s it! Cheese! We’ll go somewhere where there’s cheese!”

2.  Real Ales

Whitelocks Leeds

While we’re on the topic of food, there’s nothing better to wash down a creamy bite of Wensleydale than a pint of real ale. In fact, it’s the reason the New York Times listed Yorkshire as #22 in the Top 52 Places to Go in 2014! You can forget about the bland processed stuff, and instead kick back with a hand-pumped traditional brew in your choice of picturesque pubs. And you won’t have to look too hard, either–there are 57 real ale breweries in West Yorkshire alone!

3.  Stunning Scenery

Yorkshire Dales

The natural beauty of Yorkshire is absolutely astounding, capturing everything from rugged beaches, rolling hills, and all of the goodness in between. Take a drive through any of Yorkshire’s three National Parks and enjoy impressive vistas in the North York Moors, the crags and crannies of Yorkshire Dales, or the rugged lands in part of the Peak District. The  South Pennines also provide spectacular pastures and wooded valleys that aren’t to be missed! If you’re a bit sheep-crazy like me, you’ll also swoon over the springtime lambs literally leaping around you! Seriously, is there anything cuter?

4.  Northern Culture

Yorkshire dialect

People from Yorkshire are proud of where they’re from, and you can’t really blame them! Their rich culture has formed out of a history connected with all sorts of civilizations, including the Vikings, Celts, Romans, and Angles. So join in with the laughs at the local pubs and discover the friendliness of the Northern folk, and if you’re lucky, you might even catch the local costume of a flat cap and tweed! But be sure to bring your decoding skills, because the Yorkshire dialect is thick and difficult to decipher for many outsiders. If you’re wondering what I mean, just check out this Yorkshire saying for an example:  “By ‘eck lad, thi’l look a reet bobby dazzler in thi cap!” 

5.  Big City Buzz

Leeds city centre

While the countryside is amazing, Yorkshire’s still got it’s fair share of cities to keep the urbanite in check. York is obviously the most famous, with its Gothic and Victorian architecture, narrow streets lined with shops, and haunted nighttime walks. Leeds and Sheffield also provide some excellent city locales, dotted with old industrial centers and mills. If you look a bit beyond the bigger cities, you’ll also find a plethora of other appealing spots–whether it’s a Victorian beauty like Halifax or a small traditional country town such as Thirsk.

6.  Epic Shopping

Sweet Shop in Howarth

The options for shopping are about as diverse as they come in Yorkshire. If you want a bit of swank, check out Victoria Quarter in Leeds. Little elegant boutiques with sumptuous tea rooms for breaks? Head to Harrogate! How about an award-winning High Street and castle markets? There’s always Skipton! Yorkshire’s eclectic shopping scene really does have enough to please just about anyone!

7.  Historic Hot Spots

Bolton Abbey

There’s nothing like a bit of castles and ruins to augment a trip into the Old World, and Yorkshire’s got plenty in store! Skipton Castle will really get the medieval side of your imagination pumping, as it is one of the most complete and well-preserved in England. If it’s abbeys you’re after, check out the grand size of Rievaulx Abbey nestled in the moors. Or one of my personal favorites, the gorgeous Bolton Abbey. This is the kind of stuff we just can’t find at home, and walking through a crumbling stone frame just makes me melt with romantic visions of a bygone era! Alternatively, feel like you’ve walked right into an industrial scene from a Dickens’ novel with a visit to UNESCO World Heritage Site, Saltaire Village.

8.  Literary Landmarks

Bronte parsonage

If you’re a literary nerd like me, then Yorkshire’s got some extra-special significance for you. I mean, can you imagine anything much more gratifying than walking in the footsteps of the Brontë sisters in Howarth? You can also search for Sylvia Plath‘s grave in the little village of Heptonstall, or traverse the landscapes that often inspired her husband, Ted Hughes, in Calder Valley. There are loads of other famous authors that have either called Yorkshire home or been moved by the beauty of the area.

9.  Easy-Peasy Transportation

photo credit: North Yorkshire Moors Railway
photo credit: North Yorkshire Moors Railway

I know what you’re thinking… “but it’s so far outside the bounds of the Tube!” True, this ain’t London baby! But if it’s getting around that you’re worried about, put your fears to rest. The train system is fast and easy to use, and if you’re after a cheaper route, the buses work like a charm. Best of all, this is one place where transportation often becomes a tourist destination of its own. Take a ride in a classic steam train, sip on some champagne, and see the countryside in style!

10. Grand Departs & Yorkshire Festival

tour de France

All right. But why is NOW the time to go? Besides that little New York Times mention I already snuck in, and Lonely Planet’s declaration that Yorkshire is the 3rd best region in the world to visit this year, there’s something else that makes this an exceptionally great time to go to Yorkshire–it’s the site of the 2014 Tour de France Grand Departs! The whole area is preparing for what will certainly be an exciting event presented with British class and style. The Yorkshire Festival is in on the game, too, incorporating all things biking with the impressive list of fun events, shows, and galleries. So what are you waiting for? Na’ then, get tha sen t’ Yorkshire, lads and lasses! 

 

Gettin’ Steamy in Tropical World, Leeds

Alright, everyone probably knows by now that the English spring has far from revved my engine, because let’s face it–I’m just cold-hearted or something. Seriously. So imagine my delight when we decided to take a trip over to Tropical World in Leeds! Finally, a chance to step into a steamy tropical hothouse for an hour or two, trading in my chill for a little bit of humidity reminiscent of my former home in Thailand.

Tropical World is not a zoo by any means. It doesn’t take too long to walk through, and isn’t overwhelmed with attractions. However, the brilliant colors of the flowers, birds, and butterflies provide the perfect respite from a typical gloomy English afternoon.

Yellow flowers at Jungle World Leeds

The trek through starts off in the beautiful Butterfly House. If you’re not looking closely, you might just slip by without noticing that silent flutter as it passes by your shoulder! But pay attention, and be rewarded! Somewhere between 30 and 40 varieties hover around the exotic plants.

Butterfly at Tropical World Leeds

As if to rival the pretty butterfly wings, the bird-filled rooms resonate with flashes of vivid colors, loud squawks and caws, and speedy dashes of flight from one end to the other. Among the long-necked ibises and clumsy ducks, my favorite sight was actually this little guy below. I love his bright beak poking out from behind the tree branches!

Little bird at Tropical World Leeds

There were more cute flying friends in my favorite section of Tropical World, the Desert House. These tiny birds are aptly called zebra finches, and have a very chatty, gleeful sounding call. Only the males have cute orange cheeks like the one pictured, but both have the black and white stripes that give them their namesake.

Desert Bird at Tropical World Leeds

Of course, no matter how adorable these creatures may be, the real stars of the Desert House are the meerkats. For all of my non-UK readers, please enlighten yourself with the commercial that created the meerkat craze here! It’s quickly become one of my favorite things, just like everyone else in the country, apparently! The children swarmed around the meerkat exhibit hoping to catch a glimpse at a real-life Aleksander Orlov…

Meerkat at Tropical World Leeds

Better yet, Baby Oleg! Alright, while you’re at it, check out this commercial also to see what I’m talking about. Trust me, it’s worth it! Baby Oleg is the cutest… Steven’s niece even has a little stuffed one. I might steal it one of these days… shhh! Don’t tell!

Baby Oleg at Tropical World Leeds

There were also loads of slimy and scaly critters that I decided not to photograph… snakes, spiders, and crocodiles, oh my! I also really enjoyed a walk through dark corridors checking out the nocturnal animals. Altogether, it’s an entertaining way to break the monotony and get out of the cold! Or, just go for the meerkats. That’s okay, too 🙂

flowers at Tropical World

The Details:

  • Tropical World is just about 3 miles North of Leeds City Centre, at Roundhay Park.
  • Admission prices are reasonable, at £3.40 for adults and free for under 5s (did you read that, parents?).
  • Opening times:  In the winter, Tropical World is open from 10 am until 4 pm, but it’s now the summer season! Enjoy the park any time between 10 am and 6 pm.
  • Stop at the Explorer’s Cafe (just a stone’s throw away) for some yummy lunch or a hot cup of tea on your way out. If you’re still up for some exploration, wander around Roundhay Park–it’s one of the largest in Europe!

A Beautiful Gloom at Ogden Water

The wise Josh Groban once posted to his many Facebook followers:

“God made England gloomy so that people could stay in and watch Come Dine With Me. And the people did rejoice.”

He knows what he’s talking about. But when you can’t watch snarky people cook for each other, there’s always the option of going out into the wilderness and finding beauty in England’s gloomy weather. Ogden Water is the perfect place for doing just that.

Ogden Water, England

Ogden Water is a little country park with trails that wind around a pretty reservoir, a perfect slice of West Yorkshire woods. It’s popular, too, especially when there’s a little window of sunshine. Tons of families flock to Ogden Water for a walk on the weekends, dogs and children alike throwing up their own spattering of muddy drops mixed in with the light drizzle from above.

Paths at Ogden Water

The lacy green fingers of the tree branches block most of the rain and wind, though, like giant ramshackle umbrellas. The skies might be grey, the wind chilling, and the ground wet, but the million hues of green that grace the stone walls and path surrounding the reservoir are downright gorgeous. The lower portion of the tree trunks, blackened from over-saturation, glisten and gleam with an almost neon blanket of soft moss. Such brightness is unusual where I’m from in winter, and for me it’s as if the land itself refuses to succumb to the dreary grey of the skies.

Stone wall at Ogden Water

The stone looks almost haphazard, as if thrown together in a whim, dipping and rising with abandon along the packed paths. I imagine peasants in dungarees and caps, smoking long cigars and pining for a pint stacking these moss-ridden stones… but of course that’s probably more a product of my American romanticism than anything else. Either way, it’s captivating. I stare at this reflective puddle only so long, as a sharp, darting dog whizzes audibly past my thigh.

Visitor Centre Ogden Park

We round the reservoir and cross a gorgeous bridge, decked out with Victorian style lanterns and chic wooden benches. Back to the side is a visitor centre, where I’m told patrons can warm up with tea or coffee, and nibble on flapjacks and gingerbread men. But I am not so lucky, the sun is setting and the shop has already closed for the day.

Fauna at Ogden Water

An Australian study claims that worse weather (and by association, the more depressed an individual) actually allows for a sharper brain. In fact, the psychologists claim that an individual’s memory during bad weather can be as much as 3 times as efficient. Maybe all that’s true, and it certainly gives England something to gloat about… with this many gloomy days, the English must be pretty sharp!

Stones at Ogden Water

But there’s something else that drizzly rain and silvery sky are good for, if you ask me. After living in near-perpetual sunshine in Thailand, the move to England was tough at first. It felt dark and damp every day, dragging me down, and making me feel as dreary as the clouds looked. As I walked around Ogden Water, though, my inner chill was thawed. The grey skies drew out these deep colors of green and emerald, ruby and rust, freckling a gorgeous countryside where I can imagine a robust and adventurous history taking place. Something about the gloominess just emphasized my romanticized visions of England, of beautiful English countryside.

together-at-ogden-water

So you know what? Cheers to a long winter. Cheers to wet days, and misty evenings. Cheers to a lovely stay in England, no matter how dreary she may be. Cheers, Ogden Water.

The Details

  • Ogden Water Country Park & Nature Reserve is just off the Halifax-to-Keighley road, and there is parking just at the top. Be prepared to scrap over space on a busy weekend, though, and remember it closes at 4 p.m. during the height of winter.
  • Taking the bus? The 502 or 504 will both take you from Halifax to Ogden Water. If you’re further afield in Bradford or Denholme, take the 696 or 697 to connect.
  • Yes, it will be muddy, so keep it in mind. Bring your inner child, hop in some puddles, and enjoy!

Tip Top Chip Shop Fish and Chips

Ahh… fish and chips. Let me start with a little story:
I was watching reruns of Frasier this morning (don’t judge). Frasier and his brother Niles are discussing opening a restaurant, when their father muses about the difficulties of keeping a restaurant running. He tells a story about this one little corner place:

“In ten years, it must have changed hands twenty times. First it was Ling Fun’s Lichi Palace, then it was Tony’s Meatball Hutch, then it was A Little Taste of Yorkshire–English food. Huh. Big surprise, that lasted about five minutes.”

That joke might not have sat well with Daphne (or my boyfriend!), but let’s be honest… the English haven’t got the best reputation when it comes to food. There are a few things I’ve yet to grasp, and some I just can’t stomach, but it would be unfair to slate it all as rubbish when you’ve got a few glorious things like Fish and Chips. The holy grail of greasy goodness, all conveniently wrapped in soppy newspaper. Delicious.

English Fish

So maybe I had a few tastes of fish and chips before, but I made a massive mistake. I ordered from a well-to-do fancy pub in Central London. I now know the secret to a good batch:  find a tiny spot on a small street, and you’ll know you’ve struck gold by following your sniffing nose.. and by the winding queue at the door. London ain’t got nothin’ on Yorkshire.

Here, the duo is brought together in holy matrimony–succulent white, flaky fish covered in a crispy golden batter with hot, fluffy chips. Gahhhh. (Remember, Yanks, fries are chips, chips are crisps, cookies are biscuits, and biscuits don’t exist. …lost yet?)

So fried fish came from the Jewish and glorious fried potatoes from Belgium/France, but exactly which Brit put them all together is up for debate. I’m not even bothering with that North versus South scandal. Whatever. It’s delicious. And the old duo actually helped win World War I by keeping the English minds and stomachs happy. That’s why it was one of the few foods not to be rationed during World War II!

You can douse it in salt and vinegar, order it with extra scraps, put it in a butty, or (a new one for me) cover it in curry sauce.

But whatever you do, don’t take the advice of the handsome Yorkshire bloke next to you and pair the already perfect meal with a can of Dandelion & Burdock. The only way I know how to describe the taste of this odd soda is that it’s like a combination of root beer and black licorice all stewed up together. And carbonated. I’m doing okay without it. But thanks.

Fish and Chips and Dandelion & Burdoch

But please DO embrace your inner Wallace and Gromit and head to the nearest chippy shop for some deep-fried amazingness. Alternatively, sit at home and drool over mine. This is one of those things that makes a trip to England successful. Huzzah!

The Details

  • Fish and Chips brought to you by:
    Beacon Road Fisheries
    47 Beacon Road
    Wibsey
    West Yorkshire
  • Please, my American counterparts, do embrace the vinegar. Become a true convert like me.

 

Chinese New Year in Manchester, UK: Ushering in the Year of the Horse

So, I guess you could say that my first time out exploring in Northern England was to celebrate something not particularly English… and that would be true. Instead, I celebrated Chinese New Year. But you know what? I think Asia has captured my heart in an inescapable way, and I’m okay with that! Besides, this is the year of the horse, and I’m a rat. Do you have any idea what horses do to rats? That’s right, they terrify them with their giant, heavy hooves, and sometimes they trample them. I’d like to survive this year with dignity, so I figure paying homage to the dear old horse is probably a good way to bring in this Chinese New Year!

It was also a great chance to see a bit of the city. Amazingly enough, the constant gloom and doom of a very rainy winter season took a break to let the sun shine warmly during my trip to Manchester, allowing for a gorgeous day on top of it. Before getting into the whole celebratory mode, we ambled around the city centre and sipped on hot lattes.

We walked along shopping streets, past pubs, and turned the corner into Albert Square. The gloriously gothic Manchester Town Hall, opened 1877, was decorated with a slew of bright red Chinese paper lanterns. The crowd hadn’t yet filled the space since we were there early, so we were able to sit with some egg rolls from Buddha Belly food stall and enjoy the sight of the sun glinting off of the characteristic reds and yellows of the lunar new year.

Manchester Town Hall

The real party was just a few streets away, though, right in the center of Manchester’s Chinatown. Here’s a fun fact I didn’t know:  Manchester’s Chinatown is the second largest in the United Kingdom, and THIRD largest in Europe! The area is full of bakeries, craft shops, groceries, and restaurants serving up all things Asian. I specifically noted that there is a strong presence of Southeast Asian nationalities around, and I really enjoyed getting to walk around a Thai grocery, feeling a bit like I was back ‘home’ in Thailand. Of the many food stalls open, we found one with Thai noodle dishes and I even got to have a little exchange all in Thai with the lady working there! That brought a big smile to my face 🙂

Thai food Stall Manchester

There were also tons of shops with good luck charms and other knick-knacks for celebrating the new year. A few shops were handing out the characteristic red envelopes filled with little goodies and coupons. And of course, no Chinese New Year celebration is complete without dragons. Lots of dragons.

Dragon in Manchester

Speaking of dragons, probably my favorite stall at the new year party was this tiny table serving up little cups of hot dragon juice for charity. These steaming cups were filled with fruit juices and spices, warming the heart and my hands! I was squealing right along with the little kids, begging for my own little drink of the dragon…

Dragon's Juice

We also checked out the beautiful Chinese Arch over Faulkner Street. In fact, this arch was the first Imperial Chinese arch erected in Europe, in 1987. It may not be that old, but it stands strong to represent the likewise strong presence of Asian nations in Manchester and the North of England, really. Many people from other Asian communities around the North gather in this spot on their days off to visit the many medicine shops and groceries available here.

Chinese Gate Manchester

Before the big parade event, we followed the sound of drums and singing to find this lovely little boy all decked out in his dragon gear providing the crowd an enthusiastic dragon dance. They say that the longer the dragon dances, the more luck it will bring the community. I think this little guy did a pretty good job, showing off for the cameras, jumping and shaking around the circle, and even having fun with the younger toddlers captivated by the dragon scales. Even better, he danced to the harmonious sound of a live Chinese choir singing above the hum of the crowd.

Dragon Dance Manchester

And then, there was the dragon parade. Oh yes. The big parade was headlined by a 175-foot long dragon–that’s a big dragon, alright! Around 75,000 people lined the streets to watch the display, as the dragons danced down from Albert Square to the centre of Chinatown. Long before I could even make out the approaching colorful dragon, the pounding of the traditional Tanggu drums brought my heartbeat in line, giving the feeling of suspense and excitement worthy of a real dragon. Finally, they came snaking down Princess Street where we were waiting…

Chinese New Year Parade

Chinese New Year Parade 2

Chinese New Year Parade 3

It was exhilarating. The kind of fun that makes you wish you were 4 years old again. I wanted to run around and shriek and eat cotton candy. Nice.

After the parade, we were sufficiently frozen into blocks of ice after walking outside for hours. We took off to enjoy a little rugby with a pint or two at a good English pub as we waited for the fireworks at 6 p.m. I was so excited for the fireworks. I mean, isn’t everyone excited by fireworks? But I kept wondering where they were planning to set them off. At home in the US, we always do them in a field or over a river, or somewhere where there’s plenty of space away from the spectators. This is an English city, though, where everything is kind of close and cramped. Well, the answer was a little disappointing.

We arrived right on time in the midst of a big crowd as the fireworks were set off in the middle of the small Chinatown square. As we looked up to watch, people slowly started yelping, holding their face, and retreating. I soon found out why, as some massive, burning fuselage fell directly into my eyes… We ended up turning around to watch the fireworks by reflection, and left soon after.

Chinatown at night

Regardless, it was an excellent day and an awesome way to bring in the Chinese New Year! I got to see a bit of Manchester, enjoy a bit of English culture and celebrate Asian culture at the same time. I can’t complain.

So here’s to a happy year of the horse, to all of you out there, and here’s to hoping that I don’t get trampled in 2014, okay?! 🙂

And Now for Something Completely Different: Back in England

Once upon a time, I lived and studied in London. I did many things while I was there, I mean, some regular things, some touristy things, and some just plain dumb “I’m-American-and-think-it’s-funny-to-mock-the-English” things…

tower-bridge-london

I went to Tesco and bought really cheap, crappy tea just so I could drink it at home and pretend I was somehow all of a sudden posh, simply because I was doing it in London.

I took the ‘tube’ and for about two weeks tried to make friends with the random people I rubbed shoulders with, until I learned that I wasn’t doing anything but marking myself as really obviously American. I learned to look everywhere or anywhere without making eye contact and to glare at anyone so much as making a peep while on my ride.

I got off at Paddington just because I really liked Paddington bear when I was small. I also spent ages getting to Drury Street because Drury is my mother’s maiden name.

I paraded through Notting Hill Carnival with my rum-filled coconut in tow, feasting on jerk chicken and eyes enlarging at the sight of the sheer number of people in the streets.

notting-hill-carnival

I took pictures with beefeaters, and posed in telephone booths. I toured and toured and toured some more until I thought I couldn’t tour anymore. I mean, I even went to Stonehenge.

I laughed along with satirical comedies and sang along with the tunes of Chicago in the big theatres. I cried over the dramatization of Truth & Reconciliation in a small black box venue.

I drank room temperature beer and pretended to like it. Once.

I drank too much of that room temperature beer and got caught on tape shouting in a terrible British accent at Baker Street.

I roamed around Chinatown, and even ran with a paper dragon during Chinese New Year.

chinese-new-year-london

I hung with the cool kids at Camden market, and dined at BYOB curry kitchens with style.

I loved London. I loved it in a sort of distant way, though, because for all the things I did experience, I never felt like I really got to understand English culture in a deeper sense. I never made any actual English friends (although my friends from London were amazing!),didn’t know where to find good fish and chips (gasp!), and just generally never experienced the ins and outs of normal life in the UK. Not to fret.

Look out England, I’m BACK! 

A couple of weeks ago, I flew back to the UK. Not in grand old London this time. Nope, I flew in through Manchester and then made my way to the quaint village of Wibsey, on the outskirts of Bradford. The circumstances are pretty different this time around, as now I’m the guest of my British boyfriend and his gracious family. I couldn’t be happier!

Maybe some things haven’t changed (like my terrible attempt at a British accent), but at any rate I’m super excited to have another go at real ales, eating too many fish and chips, and more generally enjoying regular English life with a terrific English family. Most of all, I’m finally getting to take a peek at the place my boyfriend calls home.

So although I haven’t nearly caught up with all of our adventures in Thailand and the US yet on the blog, we’re already beginning new adventures together. Here’s to seeing a whole new side to the Old country I once called home!

Cheers!

me & ste

 

3 Things I’ve Learned about Being American from My English Boyfriend

Of course, when dating someone outside your own culture, you expect cultural differences to arise. But to be honest, when I first started dating my English boyfriend, I didn’t really think about American and English differences being an issue. I mean, we (sort of) have a common language, share a lot of history, and in general are somewhat similar. But over time, I’ve realized that things are not always as similar as they seem!

Here are the top 3 things I’ve learned about my own American behavior in contrast to his very Yorkshire self.

english-and-american dating

Countdown of American and English Differences… Begin!

1. I am seriously super duper excited! About everything!

I express my feelings openly, especially when I’m really happy. Most of the time those feelings are admittedly slightly exaggerated.  But my boyfriend, well…

I never really noticed this until one day I was getting ready for an event and asked Steven how my dress looked. He replied, “Yeah, it looks okay.” So of course, I went and changed. When I came back into the room, he looked at me oddly and asked why I changed. “I thought you didn’t think it looked very good.” “Yeah, I did, I said it looked okay.” After a bit of clearing up, it turned out that he really did think I looked beautiful. THAT got my head spinning a bit!

Now I’ve sort of figured it out. Here’s the Rosetta Stone of translating emotions… In answer to the question “how are you?”

ME:  I’m so great!       TRANSLATION I’m okay.

STE:  Oh yeah, not bad.         TRANSLATION:  I’m so incredibly amazing I can hardly hold it in!! 🙂 !! 🙂 !!

Steven noted how during a trip to Vegas, he and his friends thought it hilarious that they could just walk up to anyone and high five or whoop! and the strangers would join right in. I think I’ve started converting him over to the sunny side of things, though, because lately everything is all, “Wow!” and “Awesome!” Know what I think of that? It’s soooo awesome!

2. Passive aggressive much?

I knew that Americans were pretty passive aggressive (you know the ubiquitous I’m fine which most certainly means you are not fine), but I honestly thought I wasn’t that bad. Oh, how wrong I was! For instance, the other day Ste told me he would run downstairs and get some water. I said, “aww, that’s okay.” About an hour later, I asked him if he was still going to get water. I had to explain that when I said it was okay, I meant that would be great! He was just shaking his head at me like, WHAT??

Really, it comes down to the idea that we don’t like to sound demanding. Even when we are being demanding. “You know, I don’t know if it’s possible or if it can work out, but if it’s okay with you, could you just . . . “

lumbergh meme

I admit it’s not one of the finer qualities of Americans, but hey, old habits die hard!

3. Yes! I’m alright. I mean, maybe. Do I not seem alright?

Every time Ste comes home, walks in the room, or calls, the first thing he often says is “You alright?” I used to get a bit offended, like, do I look like something is wrong? Was I rude? But actually, the phrase is more like saying “hey.”

In general, English (Yorkshire) slang is like a completely foreign language to me! The one I still struggle with is “tea.” Each time Ste asks what’s for tea, I have the unbearable urge to blurt out, “Oolong? Ceylon? English breakfast?” But no. Tea = dinner. Incomprehensibly.

Don’t even get me started on “ote” and “note”!

Sometimes our little cultural quirks can cause some communication problems, but in general, it’s kind of fun figuring out the real American and English differences. But I think I’ve definitely learned a lot about myself in the process. The worst part? He’s slowly drawing me in! I don’t know how he does it!

Seriously, though, we both figure out the parts about our cultures that we like, and which parts we like less, and I think we’ve both become better for it.

Tha nos!

Travel Theme: Through

Through the eyes of children, places take on a peculiar light–whether fantastical, frightening, or anything in between. Sometimes, when I’m exploring a place, I am caught off guard by the whimsy of children, reminding me to look deeper.

At Bayon Temple in Angkor Wat complex, Cambodia, two children peek through a window as they play hide-and-seek. The ancient stone walls, with endless doorways and seemingly secret paths, become a marvelous playground. Tourists provide the odd obstacle as they shimmy through bright courtyards only to disappear again in dark corners.

through-camden-market

Across the globe in London, a child passes through a dark passage to a bright world of technicolor cloth. Like Alice about to embark down the rabbit hole into her own personal Wonderland, she steps gingerly into the sari-domed shop.

through-bayon-temple-cambodia

This post is a part of the Travel Theme of the Week.