Absolute Beginner: The Adventures of a Middle-Aged U.K. Newbie

[Blogger’s note: I was born and raised in America, moved to Canada for love in the early 2000s, and recently relocated again, in my 50s, with my British-born spouse to the southern coast of his homeland. This is an occasional series about learning new tricks in Merry Old England.]

Keep the Change – No, You Keep the Change! The Tricky Business of Tipping in the U.K.

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Illustration by Jeff Cohen

The spouse and I ventured to Winchester one Sunday this spring to see a favourite singer-songwriter perform at a rustic pub near the town’s train station. While waiting for the show to begin, I sauntered up to the bar and ordered a lager, forking over a fiver to the sullen barman behind the taps. He slid the pint towards me and deposited the change, a 50-pence piece, into my outstretched palm. “Mind if I leave this with you?” I asked, hand still thrust toward him. He peered at me with a marked expression of distaste, as if I’d replaced the shiny coin in my grasp with an eviscerated dung beetle, or a ball of freshly foraged belly button lint, or a teeny-tiny MAGA hat. “I’d… rather you not,” he huffed, and folded his arms tightly across his chest as if to further protect himself from our toxic transaction. “Well, okay then,” I muttered, sheepishly pocketing the pence. I slunk away feeling like I’d committed some grievous faux pas akin to clipping my toenails during a church sermon, or publicly declaring that I actually enjoyed the Game of Thrones finale. Continue reading

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Absolute Beginner: The Adventures of a Middle-Aged U.K. Newbie

[Blogger’s note: I was born and raised in America, moved to Canada for love in the early 2000s, and recently relocated again, in my 50s, with my British-born spouse to the southern coast of his homeland. This is an occasional series about learning new tricks in Merry Old England.]

A Toast to the Roast: Tucking into Britain’s Traditional Sunday Feast

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Photo by Andrew Burbanks, taken at the Cowshed in Bristol, England

Waaaaay back in the hot ‘n’ hazy days of summer—you know, eight weeks ago—I boldly proclaimed central air conditioning to be mankind’s greatest invention. Well, I take it back. (I’m a fickle blogger, aye, so I am.) That was warm weather me talking, high on salty sea breezes and sunscreen fumes. Chilly weather me, wrapped in a comfy, musty cardigan, pumpkin spice latte foam sloshed across my upper lip, is more inclined to bestow superlatives on autumnal pleasures. Snuggling with the spouse, so uncomfortable during the summer heatwave, earns high marks, as does binge-watching darker fare on Netflix, like The Haunting of Hill House. But the single greatest rite of fall has got to be gorging oneself to the point of delirium on an excessive feast, something Americans raise to an art form on Thanksgiving, which as I post this is just a few days away. (Lucky Canadians already had their Thanksgiving in October.) As a Yank myself, I should be pining for this annual jubilee of gluttony right about now, but I’ve discovered a U.K. equivalent that totally satisfies my expat hunger pangs. Even better, I don’t have to wait for a holiday; I can belly up to this gut-buster on any given weekend. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you my definitive pick (at least until spring) for mankind’s greatest-ever invention: the British Sunday roast. Continue reading

Absolute Beginner: The Adventures of a Middle-Aged U.K. Newbie

[Blogger’s note: I was born and raised in America, moved to Canada for love early in the new millennium, and recently relocated again, in my 50s, with my British-born spouse to the southern coast of his homeland. This is an occasional series about learning new tricks in Merry Old England.]

A Bloke Afloat: Getting Chummy with the English Seaside

btyWith the hottest summer on record in the UK nearing its inevitable end, it’s time to take stock of the personal highlights and lowlights of these past few muggy months. One definite lowlight: no central air conditioning in our flat! In the sweltering American South, where I grew up, central air is as essential to life as grits and saying “thank you, ma’am.” Here in England, the climate is usually less steamy. Most of the time my partner and I feel sufficiently cooled at home by opening windows and, of course, downing a few icy gin and tonics. This summer, as the weeks dragged on without any hint of rain and temperatures hovered in the high 20s C/mid-80s F, I was an ever-moist mess. Continue reading

Absolute Beginner: The Adventures of a Middle-Aged U.K. Newbie

[Blogger’s note: I was born and raised in America, moved to Canada for love early in the new millennium, and recently relocated again, in my 50s, with my British-born spouse to the southern coast of his homeland. This is an occasional series about learning new tricks in Merry Old England.]

Hello, Stranger, Would You Watch My Baby?
A Wary Former City Boy Struggles with Small-Town Neighbourliness

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Illustration by Jeff Cohen 

“British reserve” is a behavioural trait that’s allegedly so common in the UK it’s become a cliché.  Movies, books, even Brits themselves perpetuate the stereotype of a guarded people genetically predisposed to bottling up emotions and not making waves – “Keep Calm and Carry On” and all that. But if the cliché is true, someone neglected to tell the good folks of Southsea, the little laid-back village in which my partner and I now reside, nestled between the larger city of Portsmouth and the English Channel. After decades of living in sprawling, impersonal North American metropolises, we now find ourselves in close quarters with a community of characters who are anything but reserved. Indeed, they are an exceptionally chatty lot, alarmingly liberal with their warm greetings, all too willing to share intimate details about their personal lives, and trusting to a fault.  Continue reading

Absolute Beginner: The Adventures of a Middle-Aged U.K. Newbie

[Blogger’s note: I was born and raised in America, moved to Canada for love early in the new millennium, and recently relocated again, in my 50s, with my British-born spouse to the southern coast of his homeland. This is an occasional series about learning new tricks in Merry Old England.]

Lovely, Actually: Embracing Britain’s Cuddliest Expression

lovelypicIt was the afternoon of Prince Harry’s and Meghan Markle’s nuptials and royal wedding-obsessed folks all over Britain, indeed the world, were bunched around TV screens, hankies at the ready, to watch the blessed event. But not me and my partner. We had skipped the live airing to hunt for discounted summer attire in Portsmouth’s scruffy city centre shopping district. (Though of course we caught the two-hour BBC recap later that evening. We’re not monsters.) Well into our leisurely stroll from our flat to the shops, we overheard a cheerful male voice approaching from behind. “Hello, Nan, it’s your favourite grandson!” the voice crooned in that pleasantly sing-song way in which many Brits speak. Being a world-class sleuth, I quickly deduced that he was talking to his grandmother via mobile phone. “What’s that, Nan?” the voice continued. “No, I’m not watching it. Don’t really have any interest. You? Ah, lovely. I’m sure it is a beautiful dress. Well, I was just calling to wish Auntie Gail a happy birthday. Is she around? Lovely! Ta, Nan!” Continue reading

Absolute Beginner: The Adventures of a Middle-Aged U.K. Newbie

[Blogger’s note: I was born and raised in America, moved to Canada for love in the early Aughts, and recently relocated again, in my 50s, with my British-born spouse to the southern coast of his homeland. This is an occasional series about learning new tricks in Merry Old England.]

A Waitrose by Any Other Name: Falling Head over Belly for Britain’s Most Sumptuous Supermarket (While Saving Room for a Side Dish of Marks & Spencer)

IMG_20180430_114131If you’re not a fan of mushy musings on affairs of the heart, I suggest you stop reading now. For the blog post that you are about to peruse positively oozes with sap; it’s fecund with romantic fervor. You see, I am smitten, utterly captivated, moon-in-June besotted. In a word, gaga. All I want to do is loll on a chaise-longue in my dressing gown and pen amorous odes to the object of my affection, but daily I’m driven to get dressed and get out so that I can once again behold my darling’s ample assets. When we’re together, my sweetheart satisfies my every whim and I have truly grown as a person thanks to our union. That’s no metaphor. I’ve literally gained weight by being just a five-minute stroll from all that I desire. It’s the only downside of falling madly in love with a supermarket. Continue reading

Absolute Beginner: The Adventures of a Middle-Aged U.K. Newbie

[Blogger’s note: I was born and raised in America, moved to Canada for love in the early Aughts, and recently relocated again, in my 50s, with my British-born spouse to the southern coast of his homeland. This is an occasional series about learning new tricks in Merry Old England.]

Who is Freddo and What’s a Krankie? Puzzling Through the References on British Television

IMG_0423As far as immigration sagas go, my move to the U.K., minus a couple of slight stumbles, has been a relative cakewalk. Yes, securing a spousal visa proved to be somewhat Kafkaesque, but in the end, I was granted entry into a beautiful country populated by friendly folks who—and this is crucial to the ease of my transition—speak the same language as I do. As I’ve discussed in a previous post, I’ve had to get used to a few British-isms during my brief time residing in the land of jumpers and crumpets, but the learning curve could have been much steeper. Everyone around me could be speaking Mandarin, or Estonian, and I’d morph into one of those Ugly American tourists who, upon arriving in a bustling foreign city centre, immediately begins screeching “DOES ANYBODY HERE SPEAK ENGLISH?” (What, you think I’d actually be able to master conversational Estonian? Not a chance in põrgu.) My North American accent may sound a trifle strange to my British neighbours, but in general they seem to understand what I’m saying, and vice-versa.

Watching British television, however, can make me feel like a bewildered traveller in dire need of a Berlitz phrasebook. Continue reading

Absolute Beginner: The Adventures of a Middle-Aged U.K. Newbie

[Blogger’s note: I was born and raised in America, moved to Canada for love in the early Aughts, and recently relocated again, in my 50s, with my British-born spouse to the southern coast of his homeland. This is an occasional series about learning new tricks in Merry Old England.]

Wait, I Have an Accent? How the British React to an Alien Voice in Their Midst

1510920403-picsayIf you heard me talk, you probably wouldn’t be able to guess right away where I’m from. I was born in Texas and throughout my childhood my family moved all over the American South, from Florida, back to Texas, to Florida again, then to Tennessee and finally to Georgia, where some of my relatives still live. By rights the words I utter should be as drenched in drawl as those of that Clampett clan who loaded up the truck and moved to Beverly—Hills, that is. (Swimming pools. Yada-yada.) Yet due to a fluke of nature, or perhaps congenital obstinance, I’ve resisted the Dixie diction and speak in a voice that is only fleetingly Southern, meaning a twangy syllable might slip out when I’m angry or tipsy, but of course I’m hardly ever either. (Insert winky emoji here.) The rest of the time, it is rather featureless. I asked my spouse to describe my voice and he deemed it “sonorous, uninflected, middle-American.” Notice he didn’t add “irresistibly sexy” and “almost frighteningly macho,” but that’s a topic for another, more private discussion between us. I’m confident in the assertion that, compared to many people from my native region, I have gone through most of my life pretty much accent-free.

Then I moved to the U.K. Continue reading