About 4blogssake

New Yorker that transplanted to Rome then to Brighton. Think I might've found home. I do funny stuff. Serious stuff, too. Bikram yoga. Break ribs. Ride my bike to get around.

He Played with Her Hair

blonde
I was atop the bus guiding on the last tour of the day and there was a middle-aged guy who raised his hand and asked, “Hey, are we gonna go by that changing-of-the-guards place?”

I couldn’t stifle my giggle and said, “You mean Buckingham Palace,”

and he said, “Yea! That!”

I loved that he wasn’t the least bit embarrassed that he didn’t know the name of the most famous palace in the world. Why should he? He needed to know because he, his wife and daughter were staying at a hotel near there so wanted to be sure they could get off there at tour’s end.

They were from Long Island (“Lawn Gyland,”is how he said it). He was very attentive to my commentary and asked a question or two which is always encouraging for a tour guide. Toward the end of the tour when it got rather chilly, the three of them went into the covered part of the upper deck. We were driving on the north side of the River Thames, on Victoria Embankment heading towards Big Ben. The lights of the London Eye shone red, the Country Hall blue and the sky dark. October in London.

Then the guy leaned forward and started playing with his wife’s hair – she was seated right in front of him. He was still looking at the view and just playing with her hair. She leaned into his hand. They continued doing that for a while. It was so touchingly beautiful. And I thought, Why isn’t anyone playing with my hair? Why don’t I have someone to do that?

I don’t quite know how it happened — or didn’t happen — but I don’t have a partner and haven’t in a very long time. It’s like I forgot. Children,too. Just forgot. And when I see a man playing with his wife’s hair, I remember and I get a pang. And my mind takes a photo of the moment and it stays with me for a bit.

blonde i-forgot

You’re Quite the Wanker, Aren’t You?

I taught English in Italy for a long time. You don’t even know your language has structure until you teach it. Present tense vs present continuous, past vs present perfect blah blah blah. 

Well there’s something called a “question tag.” The idea being you think something’s a certain way but you wanna be sure. Or, you think something’s not a certain way and you want to be sure. In either case, you want to be sure — you want confirmation.

To teach the Italians the idea of confirmation, I use the example of checking in on what we’re having for dinner: if I think we’re making spaghetti tonight but I want to make sure, what do I say?

  • We’re having spaghetti tonight, no?

See that little “no” at the end — that is a “question tag”. It’s called a “tag” because it’s at the end.

In the States, if I am confirming that Trump still hasn’t been impeached I say,

  • The orange creature is still in the White House, right?

So in conversational language, Italians say no? at the end of the sentence and instead Americans say right?

But not the Brits. No, these are complicated people, our British friends. They are not interested in being direct, are they? They would say:

  • We’re having spaghetti tonight, aren’t we?
  • The orange creature is still in the White House, isn’t he?
  • You are quite the wanker, aren’t you?

Now, which is “correct” English? The British way of course. Hands down. I mean, c’mon, get real. We Americans say gonna, wanna and all that stuff. We cut to the chase whenever we can! The Brits instead have more reverence for the language, innit?

 

 

 

Hardcore

When I first moved to uk, being the cheapskate I am, I used websites where people want to offer stuff for free that they don’t need anymore. Websites like Freecyle and Freegle.

I remember the first time I saw an ad for “hardcore”. They were giving it away! And I thought, “Those quirky Brits! They’re supposedly so uptight and yet they are just letting the entire world know they’ve finished ‘reading’ their porn magazines and want TO GIVE THEM AWAY!” Then again, I thought, why should they discard two large black bags of the stuff when someone else might want it?  Who am I to judge? Two bags though. But you never know what’s going on with people. Lost his wife? Got fired? Horny bastard? None of my business.

Then i saw this ad:

And I was like… what? TEN BAGS? Jesus Christ!! What the fuck kind of country have I moved to? Then the telephone rang or I got hungry or the pope died and I got distracted and forgot all about it.

Then, later that week:

TWENTY????? WITH MORE TO FUCKING FOLLOW???? What the hell is going on? Is this like a porn sect? What the fuck with these people? Are you fucking kidding me?

Then the telephone rang or I got hungry or the pope died and I got distracted and forgot all about it.

A few weeks later, I saw the following and the the clouds cleared and I saw the goddamn “hardcore” flipping light:

“Hardcore” in this mothereffing drive-on-the-wrong-side-of-the-road country can also mean RUBBLE.

As the Brits would say FOR FUCKS SAKE!

 

 

 

Everything’s a Roundabout

Note to reader. I don’t know how to put footnotes in so I used * and ** and ***. Footnotes at end of post.

+++

While studying for my driving theory test, I noticed that there’s lots of material about the darn roundabouts.* This is a very roundabout-oriented country.

Then I started to notice that in general Brits like round things. They love that London Eye thing. Lots of buildings in London are round.

“round building london” google search

And they go crazy over doughnuts.**

No hole brit donut

The busses have rounded edges, so do the taxis.

And because they drink a lot of beer, a number of British people have round bellies.

And of course they prefer the “s” to the “z”, i.e. organise not organize. Why? Because the “s” is rounder. They don’t like sharp corners. A “z” has not one, but TWO sharp corners.

Speaking of corners, even the streets tend to round. In London, that last bit of Regent Street heading into Piccadilly Circus is called The Quadrant because it’s like the quadrant of a circle, i.e. rounded. And there are so many streets that are “crescents”, i.e. in the shape of a crescent. I.e. round! Even the River Thames is curvy for crying out loud. These people like round stuff, folks, I’m telling ya.

And of course, there’s Spotted Dick Pudding.***  Not Striped or Paisley Dick Pudding. And I’ll tell you why: because SPOTS ARE ROUND.

They’ll go “roundabout” in their speaking, as well, if it’s necessary to criticise or even just make a request. They’ll get lots of extra words in there to soften the blow. They wouldn’t simply say “Move over” or even “Could you move over” but “Would you mind terribly just moving over .. just a bit? If that’s alright…?”

Even the floor of a building: they say it’s on the fifth storey of a building, rather than fifth story. They throw that “e” in there to delay getting to the “y”. (Ok, so maybe that’s going too far.)

So, why is there still a monarch in this modern country? Because it’s the Crown and a crown is ROUND.

 

HOWEVER, my sister came to visit and she found quite the exception in the hotel’s WC:

 

 

Footnotes:

*Getting your license here is a big deal. Lots of conversations about it, people spend lots of money of driving lesson.  Growing up in the states, everyone I knew was taught by their dad. We’d argue a lot but I learned to drive. Maybe American’s have a higher tolerance for arguments.

**But I think it’s weird that they don’t put a hole in the middle of their doughnut. I mean, isn’t the hole what makes it a doughnut?

***Yes, that really is the name of a dessert here.

The Steak is So Nice

happy steak

 

If you ask a Brit if they are enjoying their meal, they might say:

“Oh it’s lovely!”

Hmm. Lovely?

Food is “lovely”? Really? Is it wearing a pink bow?

Or they might say it’s “delightful”. Huh. Did the pudding tell a good story?

Or even, “nice”. Did the ribeye pick itself off the plate and open the door for you?

Well, then, my hamburger was a bit awkward. It didn’t want to come out from the bun.

sn,210x230-pad,210x230,f8f8f8.lite-1u3

And my spaghetti was furious! It threw itself right against the wall and refused to come down. And when it did, well, see for yourself:

spaghetti boxer

upsetti spaghetti

Ok, I am being a bit naughty — a bit “cheeky”! (I do love that Brit word.)

As an American, those words — nice, lovely, delightful – are words we use to describe a friend, a colleague or even someone we are pretending to like, but NOT what’s sitting in a dish in front of us.

I’m not saying American English is better than British England. (I mean, it is, but that’s NOT what I am SAYING.) But some things just make me giggle. It’s like, Brits are so nice, they’re even nice to their food. And to be honest, it makes me like them even more.

— Miss T signing off

 

 

 

 

PS. Similarly with the expression “hire a car”, another Brit anthropomorphism. (Fancy word, I know.) To an American that sounds like you are employing someone,  “Excuse me Mr Fiat, are you available Tuesday next?”

 

***

 

carwash thinking

 

 

 

 

 

“Tower” of London

So I put it in quotes because, well, it doesn’t “tower” very high.

First time I saw it I was like, oh, that’s it?  There had been such a build up: “Oh, the Tower of London, you gotta go to the Tower of London.” “There are great tours at the Tower of London.” “Anne Boleyn was executed at Tower of London.” “Gotta see the Crown Jewels at the Tower of London.” Yadda yada yada. Tower of London, Tower of London, Tower of London.

I don’t know what I was expecting but it didn’t seem like much of a tower. It’s not a tower that towers, if you get my drift. (Wow, haven’t used that expression in years.)

I mean, it’s just not that big. Like, not that tall. Compared to other stuff around. Look: 

See what I mean? That so-called “Walkie Talkie” building that’s pretty far away is taller than the Tower that’s in the darn foreground.

So, looking at it now, no it’s not much of a tower compared to the other buildings in London. Then I got to talking to a tour guide (the Beefeater guys at the Tower are hilarious! Check them out on youtube) and he explained: it might not seem very tall now, BUT when William the Conqueror built it in the 11th century it was like an alien space ship that had landed.

People were just living in wooden shacks and this monster of a structure erupts from the ground. His motivation was to intimidate people (they didn’t call him “Conqueror” for nothing!) and boy, did he! Imagine you’re living in a wooden shack and that space ship rocks up? I mean, that IS a bit intimidating. Well, ok, that’s not what rocked up, the Tower did, but it’s still pretty scary. Look:

It’s been used as a royal palace, the crown jewels are stored there, there’s an armory, it’s been used as a mint, an observatory. Yadda, yadda, yadda. But did you know it had been used as an impromptu zoo? 

Ok, so in the 11th century, there was some monarch in Finland — maybe it was Norway — yea it was Norway — ok so this Norweigan king wants to give our King a present. Now what do you give to a guy who’s got everything? (Same problem people have trying to find a gift for Dad at Christmas.) The Norwegian king dude gives our king dude a POLAR BEAR. Yes, a polar bear. Google it if you don’t believe me.

See, even Perry is pondering.

 

Well, what the hell do you do with a polar bear in London? Yep, you put it in the Tower. But it was so expensive to feed the creature that they started letting him out daily (chained up) to catch his own fish in the Thames. And people miles away would delight in watching it. There are still pubs called the White Bear– that’s where the name comes from.

There’s also been lots of lions, leopards and even an elephant. Always gifts from other monarchs. One of the Louie’s in France (Louie the Fourteenth, Fifteenth, Sixteenth – i dunno, how the heck do people keep them straight?) gave our king a creature that the Brits had never seen before; it had a very long snout, was huge, no fur, grey. Like I said, an elephant. But they had no concept, “elephant.” So it must have been a very “wow” kind of moment. But, get this: the French told the Brits that the only thing the creature should drink is WINE!!! (perhaps the inspiration for this)

This is “Whimsical Elephant Tabletop Wine Bottle Holder – By Hilarious Home” avail from Amazon for $39.99. Doesn’t ship to the UK. Sorry, peeps.

Oh, by the way regarding the guy that originally built the Tower of London,  “William the Conqueror”: remember, these names are after the fact. It’s not like Bill’s mom went into labor, popped him out and said, “Oh this one ‘ere, e’s gonna be a CONQUEROR.”

Well, ok, so you can’t talk about the Tower without mentioning the beheadings. There were “only” seven. (If it were my head rolling, even one would be a lot.)  British school children learn the following ditty to recall what happened to each of the six wives of Henry the VIII.

Divorced, beheaded, died
Divorced, beheaded, survived.

So two of his wives — Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard — were beheaded at the Tower on trumped up charges of treason or whatever Henry could cook up. So let’s do the math: two wives out of six so… if you married Henry VIII, you had a one in three chance of losing your head over him. Not a bad king, but… terrible husband.

****

PS. Me and the Beefeater tour guide guy. He wouldn’t accept a tip!

 

You Know You’re Becoming British When…

1.You not only start queuing for the bus, but you know how to spell it. (queue, not bus, smarty pants.)

_39306883_commutelong

 

2. Even if you have only one square inch of dirt, you want to make a garden.

2.a (corollary to the above) The term allotment starts to make more sense than the American community garden.

Flipping brits – even have a MUSEUM about it.

 

and:

3.You stop obsessing about the weak chins. They’re everywhere.

4v81e865p5lx

 

Ps. Weak chins not just reserved for Brits:

mitch-mcconnell-09081-1

Mitch McConnel: weak brain, weak character and yes, weak chin. Whole lotta chin going on.

 

This will be added to in future posts!

I Meet a Nice Family From Saudi Arabia

“There are 32 pods to represent the 32 boroughs of Greater London, up to 25 people to a pod and it takes 30 minutes to make a full rotation. They thought they’d keep it around only a few years but here we are 18 years later, and 10,000 people ride the London Eye every day. Last year, 4 million!” I was atop a double decker tour bus on a gorgeous sunny day, getting ready for the mini chaos that occurs at the Westminster Bridge stop, where lots of customers get on and off.

Down on the pavement, I see people waving. One of my colleagues, a ticket-seller, is with them. It’s a family, it seems. Mom, dad, two children. The mother is wearing a headscarf; it’s an Arab family. We get lots of Arab families on the busses. I look behind me to see who they are waving at — oh! they are waving at me! They are grinning so wide, they are so happy to see me and I have to squint to see their faces and I suddenly recognize the father. Once they see that I know who they are, they all start laughing and the little girl starts jumping up and down. I meet hundreds of people so it’s not easy and also I am very new in this job so it’s all been a bit overwhelming. So my memory of them is not precise but it is a tender one.

The dad is gesturing writing a note and pretending to give it to my colleague. He is trying to tell me something but I don’t understand at all and the bus is taking off and I need to handle the 20 or so people who have just gotten on so I smile and give a thumbs up.

I run into the ticket-seller colleague the next day and all becomes clear: the family had done a tour with me a couple of weeks ago and had been trying to track me down because they wanted to take me out to dinner to show their appreciation for whatever it was that I had done for them on the tour. Like I said, I meet hundreds of people and I just try to be as helpful as I can but no, I don’t remember details.

I get in touch with them and we arrange to meet outside the Covent Garden station. It turns out that I do remember them, especially when the mom, Maha, reminds me that her 7 year old daughter’s name is Latifah, “like Queen Latifah”. We had shared that joke on the bus. Latifah smiles and tosses back her head giggling, leaning onto her mother’s side. But it is her older brother, Hamad, that can speak some English and he states very proudly, “It is very nice to see you,” after which the children and parents get lost in fits of giggles. Apparently, he’d been practicing that sentence since we’d made plans to meet. The children’s skin is dark as mahogany as are their pupils so that the whites of their eyes and their teeth shine brightly. Smiling and so happy to seem me, they are beautiful. Abdul the dad, seems especially pleased that I have come — he is touched I have taken time to spend with them.

“Wherever you want to go, we go!” Says Addul.  I tell them I want meat because I live with vegans and never get to eat meat! They all laugh.

“Latifah is a vegetarian,” says Meha the mom. “But is no problem, there be things to eat for her.” (Although I do find out she does make an exception for hamburgers.)

Abdul tells me there’s an area of London where you can get all kinds of Arab food but he says they haven’t eaten there. “We are here for the experience, not to do what we know!”

The maitre de asks if they want a Halal menu as Maha is wearing a scarf. Abdul and Meha order from the Halal menu but the children do not. Hamad, is terribly excited to look at the menu and hold back not a bit! He’d like to order everything.  As side dishes, he orders garlic bread with cheese on top, and sweet potato fries. Upon learning that I also love sweet potato fries, Hamad gives me a fake serious nod of the head and a fist bump after which we both start to laugh.

Abdul insists that I order a bottle of wine and tells me he will drink a little (turns out very little)  and I can take whatever is left home. He encourages me to drink as much as I want. I’m fairly sure drinking is not allowed for Muslims and so it seems he’s going out of his way to be accommodating.

Right away Abdul starts telling me how important this trip has been especially for his children. “I want them to experience life. We are good people in Saudi Arabia. People want freedom. We are like other people. We want …” He searches for words… “… to be happy.”

Hamad takes over ordering for his father, saying to me with playful rolling eyes, “My father he don’t know what he wants but I do.” He orders rib-eye and barbecue sauce for both him and his dad.  “Hmm yum, I love barbecue sauce,” he rubs his belly and nods and smiles to indicate to me how much he cares for the stuff.

They are such a happy family, happy to tell each other things, share funny observations and just to laugh. While the others are trying each others’ food, Abdul says to me, “This is so nice that you came. For me it is important that the children meet good people from other countries. I don’t want my children to be .. ,” he gestures with the palms of  his hands on either side of his head. “Small minded?” I offer.

“Yes! In my country, we do still have this mentality, small.. small-minded.  We know only our country. But do not misunderstand, people want freedom so much! But…. they do not know how. But we want.”

For dessert we order practically everything on the menu. Hamad can’t wait for his Oreo Milkshake – although he agrees to share.  I say to Maha – “You know, I am full but dessert takes up a different part of the stomach.” She claps her hands and laughs and says, “Exactly! It is different!”

While we wait for dessert, Abdul wants to smoke so I accompany him outside and he is glad to have me alone. He seems desperate for me to understand so many things but he is struggling to communicate all that he would like to. “I have a very good job. I am an engineer. For my job, I must travel — Belgium, France, London, Rome. I meet people and I enjoy! I want my family to enjoy. I want them to know people are good. People are the same.”

He tells me that his company does engineering works for other countries, often to “help them”  he says. They recently did a project in Africa. I can’t follow all the details but from what I understand, his company does projects in underdeveloped areas and are directed to do so by the Saudi government.

I tell him that I’d been offered a job to teach in Saudi Arabia but it wasn’t as much money as they had offered in years past. In years past Saudi Arabia was known for paying up to 100,000 pounds a year for an English teacher.

“Saudi Arabia now give money to many country to help them. The United States tell them to do it and we do. We want to help but now we have less money than before but we are still ok.”

Back inside, we all share the desserts, giggling over how good everything is. The kids are in absolute heaven, it would seem.

Hamad excitedly tells me that tomorrow they are going to see the movie, The Incredibles. He has some difficulty with the pronunciation which makes us giggle. “At 5:30!” he adds, throwing his arms up the air.  He looks directly at his father and says, “At 5:30,” then does the same to his mom, apparently to make sure they remember. They shake their heads and smile telling me Hamad hasn’t stopped talking about it for days. I advise them to also see the show the Lion King – that it would be a great experience for them, not just for the children.

Walking back to the Covent Garden station, Hamad and Latifah are skipping and running ahead, pointing out and showing each other things in the shops and giggling, running back to mom telling her things and running off again. I note how free the children are, and how happy they all are and so kind to each other.

I guess I wanted to write this post because all I knew about Saudi Arabia was women aren’t allowed to drive, where it is on the map, and generally negative things. But like everywhere else, the most important bit about a place is the people. And spending time with this lovely family simply opened my eyes. That’s all.