British versus American

Unlike most Britons (male and female) that I know, I am unreserved about enjoying a British series called Made In Chelsea (MiC). I debriefed the series in a previous post here, which you can read up on here. Liking the series (and Britons who also like it, but are embarrassed to admit it in British public) may say a great deal about me as a person, and the people I attract. Let’s face it, black-identified Americans have called me “bourgie” since I was a child. It’s pretty hilarious to think about the cultural connection, too, as Anglophones typically view Francophone people as “refined” ( Ou Lah Lah! ) but “arrogant.” We all bathe in parfum and are serial epicureans. “If the shoe fits?” Continue reading

Hog Cracklin & Moula

Early on I learned … somewhere … that food in the United Kingdom was simply disgusting. No other adjective fit the bill. It’s strange how palettes are established and clichés disbursed and perpetuated. Whoever planted that seed left a lasting impression; and all of this before I had even set foot in the UK.

One day sometime last summer, not long after I had arrived in Brighton, I stepped into a local pub with my Creole cohort, Darryl BARTHE, a native of New Orleans who also studies here. He absolutely loves Brighton. Actually, I’ve never asked, but I wonder if he also loves the whole of England? I don’t know, it may be that Brighton is an isolate within the UK, considered by both the British and outsiders to be the most liberal city in all of the British Isles. Not to digress too much, but back when I was still in the States, Darryl was trying to convince me to come study here and, one of the first things he said to sale Brighton to me, was that it was “the San Francisco of the UK,” with a beach, nice people, hills, and the whole 9 yards. I, sort of, rolled my eyes in disbelief, and wrote off all of what he said  as “pure dee” rubbish.

Anyway, I wound up coming. And, Darryl and I sat in a pub having an ale (I was secretly wanting to barf – too bitter for my taste) and, the very second thing I noticed after all the trinkets on the walls and mismatching prints (which were collectively the very first thing I noticed), were small bags of “pork scratchlings,” which I thought were what we refer to as pork rinds in South Louisiana. I’m sure that the term is used elsewhere, but Louisiana is my reference. I mean, literally, in the U.S., Louisiana (perhaps also Texas) was the only place I have ever eaten rinds.

In any case, I took the scratchlings for rinds, because rinds also come in packages (see images) and they virtually look the same. With that in mind, I thought it was odd to find rinds in a pub, but was curious more for its flavour rather than it being a rind, per se. As I grabbed the bag from the barmaid, I expected it to feel like a bag of air, because, afterall, pork rinds are light as cotton. But it had some weight to it. I thought: hmmm, this is interesting. I tore open the bag –waiting, secretly, for a breath of bbq or spicy rind smell to hit my senses– and grabbed a scratchling; the darn thing was, sort of, hard. I didn’t know what to think, at that point. And it didn’t smell like rinds, either. But the scent was familiar to me, even still. I bit into it rather hard, too, because, somehow in my mind, I still thought that it was a rind, and when one bites into a rind, it’s like biting into crispy cotton candy (called candy floss, here).

It wasn’t a rind, at all, though. It was, quite literally, a darn hog cracklin’! I could not believe it. I was so disoriented (disorientated, the English say). I was confused because in Louisiana, hog cracklin’, or gratons, always come in a small brown bag with small grease spots around it and an open top. We only purchase them from boucheries (butcher shops) and from select local markets and gas stations. I had never seen them pre-packaged professionally like the scratchlings. But, they tasted the same. I mean, seriously, the exact same. How they manage to preserve the crunchiness, flavour, and grease, is beyond me. But, I don’t really care, either. And here I was thinking that gratons were a chiefly localised Latin delight (called chicharrónes all over the Hispanic Latin realm; and, couratos or torresmos in Portugal). Boy, was I ever wrong. They even sometimes are referred to as “pork crackling” in the UK! And, it turns out, they’re also common in Southeast Asia (Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam).

Sometime earlier this year at my friend Lasse’s birthday libations, I made some additional British friends. We were –tsk! tsk!– at a pub. No surprise there. And, Lasse has been here studying for some time now; so, he had tons of locals present. I mean, like, the real deal kind of English folks. I’ll never forget when I said “fella” instead of “dude” to Rich, he, sort of, wenced, then said “I see you’re learning some English phrases.” I was then confused, and reassured him, “dude, we say ‘fella’ or ‘fellow’, too.” He wasn’t aware; but then again, he had never been to “the boot,” either. We both were puzzled, I think.

At any rate, Damien was there, too. And, I swear, I think “Damo” was born American in a different life. Not just any old American, either, but a thug, which is hilarious. Why? Because, he comes complete with a non-ghetto English accent, and wears jeans and oxfords (shirts), t-shirts, or sweaters, and sneakers. A “normally” clothed guy per American standard, and perhaps a bit on the preppy style for the English; normal in the UK would be the industrial look with the untied boots, skinny jeans (the dirtier they look, the better) and a plaid shirt buttoned to the very top, with an incongruent haircut; the wavier the hair, the more authentic the cut appears. But Damo had a pretty standard (US) haircut. And still, he uses all kinds of US thug lingo with impressive fluency.

One day we were having a picnic in the Brunswick Square park on the seafront. There were a few of us, including Lasse, Kingsley (a cool dude who I had just met through Damo) and some others. And, out of nowhere, Damien said something about moula. I thought I had heard him say it, but wasn’t certain. So, expressive as I am, I turned to him in utter disbelief with, I’m sure, one of those “wtf” looks. I then asked “Wait. Did you just say mouuuula; as in ‘money’?” He said “Yeah, dog.” I just had to ask “do the British actually say moula?” He explained that it wasn’t common. But that left an even more pressing question: where, on Earth, did you learn it, then? He told me that he had either gotten it from an American rappper (whose name now slips me), or from an American movie with gangsters in it, like Godfellas or Summet. 

I couldn’t wrap my mind around his usage of moula, partially because it is, even within the U.S., highly regionalised (I think other than Louisiana folks, Cubans and Dominicans also use it to mean the exact same thing), but here I was in England and an English lad with an English accent was using the term. That was the first of many experiences to follow in England in which it became painfully obvious to me that idioms don’t always travel via airplane or boat, but often via TV and radio and are just as robust as if transplanted physically. It, sort of, reminded me of the young French in cities of France who are fluent in ghetto U.S. English, but have never set foot in the U.S. Their only references are BET, MTV and Hollywood. These kids, often, cannot converse in “standard” English. Incredible. In Damo’s case, however, he has traveled to the U.S. and is well-versed on many matters particular to the U.S. As I mentioned, I swear that he was born American in a different life.

Dunneaux. These were 2 of those “ah, hah!” moments when I realised how small the world really was, and how much we shared culturally; usually unaware to Americans. And I’m a seasoned globetrotter. Imagine that! Us earthlings tend to have more in common than Aldjazeera, CNN, FoxNews, the BBC, Paramount Pictures and HBO lead us on to believe. I can confirm one British-American difference, though: marmite! Americans, if you see the stuff: run and never look back!