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

Hey. How’s it going?

I walked into Mulligan’s, an Irish-inspired pub located on Iberia Street in Downtown New Iberia. I hadn’t been there for since 2010 or 2011. 

I sat at the bar where Zech, a guy I’ve known since high school, worked as bartender. 

Not 5 minutes in the bar and a complete stranger (guy) walked up to me, his hand extended for a shake, and a welcoming smile. He asked “Hey. How’s it going?” 

I was startled, mostly thinking, “who the hell is he and what does he want with me?” The poor chap probably noticed my reaction and thought to him “what does this guy have stuck up his derrière?”

In fact, that entire night was full of random “hey” and “how’s it going?” and “you’re from around here?” greetings from complete strangers. 

I was a bit overwhelmed by it all, for I had forgotten that in the Attakapas District, people are, generally, quite hospitable, forthcoming, conversationalists. They weren’t the problem; I was. 

There are many fine things about the United Kingdom and Southern England, where I have now lived for 2 years. But hospitality isn’t one of them. 

Without even realizing it, I had absorbed the British reserve; the reaction of feeling awkward when approached by complete strangers who want nothing more than to shoot the breeze.

I used to avoid going to venues alone (my typical habit) in Brighton, because when I would pull a South Louisiana random greet out of the box, people would freak out.

I remember one time, in a lounge in Brighton, I was standing at the bar alone, enjoying the ambiance, and a group of 2 females walked up. I greeted them, as I would typically do in Louisiana, since they seemed to have something interesting to chat about. Well, it turned out to be a close-ended conversation, one of those where folks only respond without engaging. I kept trying in different events and places, but often with the same result, until I learned that for many Brits, this comes off as intrusive, especially if the greeter is alone.

I’ve become that person, it appears. 

It’s a bit … well, fascinating. Total immersion has that effect on us without our knowing. “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”

Folks in the Attakapas growing up routinely called me “bourgie,” overwhelmingly because of my clothing preference and speech.  But now they really find me with a stiff upper lip and back. 

And when I return to Brighton, I’m sure they’ll find me foreign all over again.

Oh, well. At least I can add multiple personalities to my curriculum vitae, now. I can already see how that would benefit InterPol or the C.I.A. 

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!

Dining in England.

My funding for studies from the U.S. are unavailable during the summer break in England. It’s because the U.S. is on an 8 month academic calender, whereas research students in England conduct research 12 months of the year. So, if an American obtains funding from the United States Department of Education for study abroad, U.S.––not foreign––rules apply.

I had to get work to cover expenses from June to late September.
And there I was, suddenly, on the job market, competing with the English and others, for whom jobs in Brighton are hard to come by; so, imagine me, a foreigner.
But I luckily landed a waiting position at an American-style diner in Hove.

The job is fun; young staff and unpredictable patrons.

At the end of the morning shift, my colleague, who had been waiting this table of 5 or 6, went home. They had no more than mostly empty glasses, a plastic jug of about 1/4 of water, and a few saucers hanging around.

I took over her section and, as I had learned to do in the United States, cleared off the empty plates, utensils and went back to grab the glasses. One of the ladies grabbed her glass and said “I’m not quite done with that yet!” I apologised.

I waited about five minutes before I printed the bill and placed it in the middle of the table on the napkin dispenser. I knew something had gone wrong as that same lady with the glass rolled her eyes as I left the bill.

After they left, she left a comment card complaining about the awful service. Her chief complaint was that she felt rushed out by the waiter who cleared the table and left the bill without their request.

Thankfully, my manager is American and understood exactly what had transpired, and vouched for me, because the British and Portuguese managers were ready to jump me over this. The Portuguese still did.

If I learned anything from that experience, it was: never touch a plate, utensil, or glass on a table in England, unless the patrons ask you to.

This is 180º different from the United States, where we clear tables to make more room for comfortable discussion over a coffee or digestive. Indeed, some are rushing clients out to replace with another table; afterall, tips matter in the U.S. (they are virtually non existent in England), and therefore the more tables one can serve, the more potential tips accrued. Americans are aware of the tip culture in the U.S. and usually are unphased by some hasty after-dinner service in busy restaurants. But most servers aren’t trying to kick you out because they clean your table off in the U.S.! Certainly in my case, our restaurant was half-empty!

When I first came to England years ago, I recall sitting in a pub which, here, customarily has tables set some ways from the bar, with menus on them. I sat for minutes waiting for a server to ask my order; none arrived. I finally went to the bar to order where I learned that I had to order AND pay before the meal arrived.

In more recent times, when I first moved here to study, I got all bent out of shape one day at a restaurant. I had finished dinner and had been sitting, and sitting, and sitting, and the waiter was nowhere in site. Well, technically he was, but was avoiding the table. My friend and I had clearly finished eating. Minutes went by; still no bill. Finally I made gestures for him to come to our table. I asked for the bill and left. Pissed.

I now know, after that experience with my own client, why that server never touched our table.

Dining in England and in the U.S. are simply 2 different experiences.