They’re Vacations, Not Holidays

 Posted by at 10:01 on 2 August 2014
Aug 022014

Happy August! We find ourselves deep in summer trip territory with this turning of the calendar page. Ah, but what do we call those journeys?

If you’re American, they’re vacations, and you don’t necessarily get them very often. There is no national (federal) law requiring any paid time off to be granted to employees for vacation purposes; this falls under the benefits we look for when we job hunt, along with a raft of other things.

If you’re British, your summer trip is a holiday, and you’re guaranteed the paid time off, at least, by the law: every worker gets four weeks’ paid time off every year.

If you’re American, a holiday comes from the words Holy Day, so our holidays come from Holy Days: Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving, Halloween, American Independence Day – what, you don’t think patriotism in America is a religion? Clearly you’ve not spent long enough in that culture. We’ve tacked on some more, of course: Presidents’ Day, Dr Martin Luther King Jr Day, Mardi Gras, Memorial Day, Labor Day, and New Year’s Day.

If you’re English or Welsh, days like those are called bank holidays, and aside from a scant few (namely, Christmas, Boxing Day, Good Friday, and Easter Monday), are just arbitrary Mondays throughout the year that create 3-day weekends. (There are one or two more meaningful bank holidays for the Scottish and Northern Irish.) The same ideas apply for bank holidays as for federal holidays as regards time off – it’s not guaranteed you’ll get those days off, that’s mostly for office workers, etc. Much of the retail and leisure sector operates as normal, or even at fever pitch, on those days, so obviously those workers don’t get the time off. In years past in the UK, they used to get some sort of compensation – double pay or paid time off later – but those rules have gone now, so they’re just treated the same as any other day on the calendar. In the US, some employers will pay 1.5x the regular hourly rate, but that’s entirely voluntary, and infrequent.

So if you’re British, you “go on your holidays” or you “go on holiday” or you’re “off on your jollies.” Americans will “go on vacation” or … other things that escape me right now. (My fellow Americans, chime in in the comments!)

If you’re British, and you’re trying to make a date with a friend but look at your diary and see that you’re going to be on your jollies some 100 miles distant that week, you’re away. If you’re American, you look at your calendar, phone, or planner, see the same thing, and tell them you’ll be out of town.

Another aspect of breaks is the staycation. In the US, this generally means you have time off work/school/etc, but stay in your house. Perhaps you arrange a series of day trips, or perhaps you just sleep in and enjoy not having to put on your uniform each day, or whatever. In the UK, because vacations have been for some years decidedly things that involve going abroad, when the term came across from the US, they adapted it to mean staying in the country. I give you the chart from the Office for National Statistics showing this – this is the federal government’s statistics arm:


(GB here means Great Britain: England, Wales, and Scotland.)

This brings me nicely to another point about vacations: because the UK is so small (remember, it’s only the size of Louisiana and Arkansas put together), and because there are many other countries nearby, it’s really common for people to go abroad at least sometimes – even school trips will sometimes go abroad. It really breaks my English friends’ brains when they realize that most Americans go through their whole lives without once going abroad … but then, most of them don’t ever realize just how BIG the US is, so you can have all manner of vacations and experience many different cultures without ever leaving the country. I try to tell them: it’s over twice the size of the EU; it doesn’t really sink in. Indeed, what Chris and I began to suspect on our US road trip last year was that for the most part, it doesn’t really register even to those living there just how vast the country is, until you really go out and explore it.

My word choices these days are very conscious, deliberate things – given choices, I’m having a field day reducing ambiguity, which always seems to me the best goal to have in communication (probably has something to do with that math degree). So no matter what passports I hold, they’ll always be vacations; holidays are days of meaning, and perhaps even holy days. And I really don’t like this word staycation, regardless of how it’s used, so it’ll either be “time off” or “vacation” or some other word or phrase that’s served us so well for so many years. Oh, and a diary is always a private record for my eyes only, not a schedule of events – that’s a calendar (which could be on my phone or in a planner). I think a UK journal is a US diary, but I’m not sure; a journal will always be to me a less personal record, such as a lab journal, or the journal of water outages I started keeping when we had a spate of those: logs meant to share.

Isn’t language funny?

Monkey Nuts

 Posted by at 13:15 on 27 July 2014
Jul 272014

Even after six years of living here, I occassionally come across things that throw me.

On the menu this week is Kung Pao Chicken. This means I need peanuts. We’ve had Kung Pao Chicken before; I’ve bought peanuts suitable for cooking with before. In Tesco, nuts generally come in a small bag (about a cup’s worth), and will sometimes be with the baking stuff, or with the health food stuff, or now they have a bit in the produce section that has some nuts and dried fruits, or there’s one or two other places to look. Before I got there, I was at the greengrocer’s, Sowerbutts, so I checked their stock of nuts – nope, no peanuts. Right, Tesco it is.

I looked high and low, in all those different places. I found no peanuts. Almonds in twenty different forms, walnuts, pistachios, even macadamia nuts, but no humble peanuts. I then thought, this is crazy, peanuts are the most common snack nut – surely there’s at least some in the snack aisle? So I went slowly down the aisle with the crisps (chips), etc, and nope, no nuts at all. This is insane. How can a whole supermarket have no peanuts? I’m sure I’ve bought them from this very supermarket before!

The quest continues …

At last, I found a worker, who led me to the display of snack peanuts (which wasn’t with the crisps, of course). Hooray, peanuts! Now, could there possibly be any that aren’t salted for snacking, but rather plain, more suitable for cooking with? Not these … not those … what are these, down on the bottom shelf?


Monkey nuts? What in the world are monkey nuts?


Hey look, roast peanuts. In shells. So they’re peanuts. Where do the monkeys come from? Who knows.

Hooray, I have some unsalted peanuts now for my Kung Pao, even if I have to shell them myself. Don’t think it’d be quite right with almonds…

Introducing a new page

 Posted by at 16:42 on 12 April 2014
Apr 122014

Once upon a time, I spent a great deal of mental effort making sure to choose the right words and phrases before they came out of my mouth. It wore me out. I finally realized that, because I’ve moved from the US to the UK, and not the other way around, and particularly because I’m living in the friendly place I do, I’m surrounded by people who will just understand my meaning and roll with it, instead of doing that stereotypical American thing of demanding the immigrant to perfectly fit in, berating and shaming them if they don’t. Sometimes my friends and I don’t understand each other, but we just ask nicely; whoever was speaking will explain, and it’s all okay, really. It’s not the horrible thing I feared it would be. So now I just use whatever words come to mind, and I’m so much less worn out when I converse with friends, which is as it should be.

I do, however, still notice the differing word choices, and you’ve seen me include the translations here when I feel it’s appropriate, since I have readers on both sides of that vast ocean*. I’ve decided to start a page collecting up some of these words and phrases, with the best translations I can think of for them, linking to blog entries where I more fully explore their meanings and connotations – as I know them so far! Eventually, once more content is added, you’ll be able to check that page for a translation if you’re not sure.

I’m a little on the fence about the name for that page (ironically). It’ll certainly have translations, such as sick/ill/poorly/puny, so it could be called Translations. However, it may also serve as a repository for words and phrases specific to me / me & Chris / Glossop / Derbyshire, such as “When I were alive.” In that latter case, it feels more like a Glossary. For now, I’ve decided to take Chris’ suggestion and call it Words Of Interest, without the audio file that plays it in a booming god-voice everytime you look at the phrase (we concluded that’d be annoying). Anyway, so the name might change (or not), but you’ll surely be able to figure out what it is on the menu bar.

Oh yes, and finally: sometimes I may put tongue-in-cheek translations on this new page.

* I’ve decided: Anyone who thinks it’s just a pond has clearly never flown over it, or listened to Jan Meek talk about rowing across it. It’s a 24-hour day with three separate flights each time I fly to my parents’, and then the same again to come home. It’s an ocean.

I don’t feel so well…

 Posted by at 16:42 on 12 April 2014
Apr 122014

Ugh, I hate being this way.

What way is that? I have a throbbing head, a massive sneeze that returns frequently enough to make my chest ache, a running nose (I didn’t tell it to go for a run, no idea where it got that notion!), at night a sore throat, and so on. I have a head cold.

To my UK friends, I’m poorly. To my US friends, I’m sick, or ill.

These aren’t reversible …

These don’t work the other way around, I note: I’m not sick to my UK friends, because sick to them is a direct replacement for the word vomit. “I had to clean up her sick” means “I had to clean up her vomit.” It’s not a synonym, which usually has a slightly different meaning or connotation (take car, which has a synonym of automobile, but automobile means many more things than just car – could mean a truck, etc).

I don’t know how other Americans use ill, but I picked it up as a slightly more elegant way of saying sick, with the same range of meanings: you’re sick or ill whether you have a head cold, pneumonia, cancer, or whatever; you have to use other words to convey which it is (I generally unimaginatively use the words head cold, pnuemonia, cancer, and so on). A few times I’ve said someone’s ill to my friends here, and they react with such concern that it’s as though the person in question is on their death bed. I now usually remember to not use ill.

A new American word for my current state has entered my awareness recently: puny. My aunt wrote in a letter recently: “I have been a little puny this week, but as the day goes by, I am doing better.” Then when I was on the phone to my grandmother, she used the word puny to describe my current state. So I think puny and poorly are the best match, but I don’t know how widespread puny is (in this meaning). I just don’t remember coming across it that much, but then, it’s not the kind of thing I paid much attention to until having to learn the new vocabulary for it.

But then, in a recent conversation, someone was talking about his father, who’d been in the hospital for 9 weeks before dying recently, very sad. He said, “… but by then, Dad was poorly,” referring to that 9 weeks. So poorly doesn’t always mean a mild illness, clearly.

Forget sick/poorly/etc. I’ve decided that I prefer to simply call my current self a snot monster.

An Amish Experience

 Posted by at 23:09 on 19 February 2014
Feb 192014

I’d thought today’s WI meeting would be very hard. I had to go, though: my strongest memory of Phyllis is of her shaking her finger at me and telling me that I mustn’t miss any more meetings, after I’d missed a few in a row following some unpleasantness a few years back. That meant the world to me – knowing that, despite the unpleasantness, and my fear that my adversary had poisoned my friends and acquaintances against me, in fact I was still liked and my company was still desired by some, at least. Since then, I’ve fitted back in, and it’s a rare meeting where I get a chance to visit with everyone I’d like to. It’s a feeling of belonging, which has been entirely too rare in my life. I shouldn’t treat it lightly, and such things need nurturing. No, I shouldn’t miss these meetings willy-nilly.

So, off I went this morning – after a too-short night, as is almost always the case on these WI Days. I was interested to hear the speaker, as well as wanting to see my friends. His talk was entitled “An Amish Experience,” and since I know very little about the Amish, this promised to be informative and interesting. (I always love learning – not school with its tests and stupidity, but learning for its own sake.)

Wherein I provide more entertainment than the speaker (to some) …

After setting up his slides (actual slides, not a powerpoint presentation), our speaker began. He explained that his daughter’s lived in America for a number of years, and when she lived an hour’s drive away, they went to visit Amish country as an afternoon out. After she moved to upstate New York, his sister went with him to visit once, and she wanted to see Amish country – now some 300-odd miles away, so “not an afternoon job.” (He said the actual number, but I forget it now.) Then he told us about that trip down to Amish country – they stayed three nights – and showed us photos. Many of the photos came from post cards and brochures, so I imagine they were actors, but it gives you something to show what it’s like, so fair enough.

I’d arrived last, and grabbed a chair at the back of the room. Our speaker stood up and faced us at the beginning, to give the prologue, but the room’s situated such that any sort of projector needs to be placed about halfway back, in the midst of the crowd, so speakers often end up sitting there, facing the front, to change the slides. Thus, he couldn’t see my face; mercifully, I didn’t need to try to keep a poker face – always an incredible challenge for me. My face is incredibly expressive (it always has been), which is a blessing and a curse, like most things in life. It’s a blessing in that I don’t have to find the words to convey so very many things: sorrow, sympathy, glee, pleasure; the whole lot. It’s a curse because I give away what I’m thinking right there on my face, which is sometimes troublesome. Ho hum, it’s part of me, and always shall remain so, I imagine.

So he started to talk about their trip. He said 300-odd miles is a long way, so he rented one of these people-carriers for it: a seven-seater, with three rows of seats. He showed us a photo of a minivan. Finally! I’ve always wondered what the heck Which? has been calling a people-carrier or MPV (multi-person vehicle) — silly me, I thought that was basically anything other than a small motorcycle — and now I finally know! Anyway, so he and his daughter swapped the driving, and they rode up front*; his wife had one row of seats to herself, and his sister had another row of seats to herself. Because 300-odd miles is a long way.

(*My parents took us on many road trips when we were growing up, and they remain part of the fabric that is me: one of my great loves. I see the eminent sensibility in their system, though, that if you can arrange it, put the driver who’s resting in the back, as far away from being able to watch the road as you can. I find myself doing the same that they did way back then: when I’m not driving, I find myself watching the road just the same as when I am. Means you get no mental rest from driving if your off time is in the front passenger seat. This system of my parents’ also meant us kids learned how to read road maps early and well, so I advocate it to all.)

Three hundred-odd miles is a long way in Britain, mind: the congestion and crowding makes travel here massively more exhausting than the same distances in the US. Three hundred miles here would surely be a very long, hard day – akin to those crazy people I occassionally checked in to my hotels who’d made it 1000 miles in a single day. I’m gently mocking, however, because the speaker obviously discovered the difference himself: he put up a view of the road and said, “I’ve only put this one in to make you jealous. When was the last time you saw a British motorway with only one other car in sight?” About 1950, I imagine, if motorways (interstates, kind of) even existed then. I’ve always tried to tell my friends and family that driving in the US is vastly different from driving in the UK. I think the only ones who’ve understood have been the ones who’ve done both.

Anyway, our speaker went on to tell us that the speed limit was 65mph, and he dared not exceed it – it’s enforced by aircraft, radar, etc. Signs positively litter the highways in that part of the country warning about aircraft-controlled and radar-controlled speed limits, which are actually worded quite silly so always made Chris and I laugh. Our speaker told us that when a cop pulls you over in America, the first thing they do is get out of their car and get their gun out! So he would only go 63 or 64; he wasn’t keen to argue with a cop and his gun. His daughter would push it, having discovered that a smile and a British accent go a long way. “They love us there; we’re their biggest allies.”

I’m afraid my eyes rolled so hard they fell on the floor when he told us that American cops pull their gun on every speeding car they pull over. I swear I have a magnet inside me that makes cops catch me every time I speed – so I don’t anymore, but in my younger days I got pulled over quite a bit. Y’know, I’ve never had a single gun pulled on me. Methinks the speaker has been watching too many episodes of COPS.

It was about this time that the ladies around me realized that, as they announced loudly later, watching me was more entertaining than watching the slides, and they proceeded to do so, telling the others around them (who couldn’t see me) what expressions I’d made. At one point I had to shush them and tell them to let the man talk!

So the man carried on, choosing to not be bothered at all by the ruckus behind him. It was interesting to see how much gets misinterpreted. He thought the motel they’d stayed in was quite sizeable because the parking lot photo he’d taken showed a parking space numbered 122. Brits are used to numbering from 1, rather than the coded system Americans are used to, with a block number prefixing the house number, or a floor number prefixing a room number. Room 122 in an American motel is likely to be the 22nd room (or 21st, if they’ve skipped 13) on the ground floor, and this was just one story high; from what I could see in the photo, 20-odd rooms looked about right to my somewhat-practiced eye. I remember the hotel in Cardiff last year had what I’ve just called American coding of room numbers (floor number plus room number, so room 122 would be the 22nd room on the first floor), but I think they don’t expect that coding when it’s all on one floor, probably because the ground floor isn’t the first floor, it’s floor zero. The first floor is one above the ground floor.

He also believed the horses and buggies had their own lane on the main roads through Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, saying they’re like the bicycle lanes we get here. Actually, that was the shoulder. The road markings are different: the solid white line at the edge of the road in the US always means it’s the edge of the road, it has a variety of different meanings here – like that demarcation of the cycle lane.

He also didn’t understand that the orange triangles on the backs of these buggies are a general requirement for slow-moving vehicles in many states, including things like motorized farm tractors; the state law mandating it wasn’t necessarily put in place specifically for these buggies.

Despite these few misunderstandings, he had a lot of interesting, informative stories and facts to share with us about the Amish, and was a good, engaging speaker, so I do highly recommend him and won’t spoil his talk by telling you what all he said, in case you’re a local reading this who might want him to come to your group. During the meat of his talk, thankfully I quit being so entertaining, and the others focused on him.

Towards the end, though, he told us of getting some pies from the farmers’ market just before they headed back out again. One was “just plain apple” and one was strawberry and rhubarb, and he’s never found that combination so good ever since. I was surprised the apple pie was plain – that’s the British way, not the American way (Americans tend to bake in cinnamon, for a start), but perhaps it did have the usual spices and he simply glossed over that point. He then told us that, though the Americans seem so forward in so many ways, they’ve never heard of custard!, which is what he likes to have with his apple pie. Of course, we have heard of custard – we call it pudding, and it is delicious. Most of us, thankfully, haven’t heard of the foul yellow goop he’s talking about, which bears absolutely no resemblance to custard. I never call it custard; I always refer to its brand name, Bird’s, because that’s what it is. It’s mixed from a powder that comes in an envelope labeled Bird’s, and that’s all we can really be sure of. His daughter had a large supermarket near her with an entire aisle given over to the “Best of British” food, though, where she’d found this abomination. My face was wrinkled with absolute disgust the entire time (not too long) he spoke about that strange yellow concoction, to much hooting laughter from those around me.

On that supermarket aisle, the daughter had also found Yorkshire Tea, and was grateful for that, because American tea is quite foul – this is very true. When Chris and I visit the US, we take our own tea with us, much to the bemusement of those we visit.

The laughter was spreading now, to the other end of the room. The speaker finally acknowledged all this disruption by saying that he hoped there were no Americans present. He received a chorused, “Yes,” and said something like “Oh.” Over the ensuing roaring laughter, I tried to project my voice, to put him back at his ease, by assuring all and sundry that yes, American teabags are quite foul. I left the discussion of Bird’s for smaller conversations later.

I thanked him before he left for a welcome trip down memory lane. I hope he wasn’t too bothered by the hidden American in the room; it was great fun for me. He was a dear; we talked briefly about the incomprehensible-to-British-minds heat that summertime in the Southern US brings (he does talks on the US Civil War, as well, and was blown away by the weather they were dealing with). I told him every August I’m exceedingly grateful to be here, not there!

On loss: the Why

 Posted by at 14:49 on 15 February 2014
Feb 152014


Phyllis was one of the loveliest ladies I know, and I will miss her greatly. Words will never do justice to her charm, her sparkling wit, her understated ways, her matter-of-factness, her straightforwardness, and so many other qualities that made her such a wonderful, lovely lady.

She left us yesterday, finally at peace after her struggles.

I don’t know, and will likely never know, what happened – why she’s gone. In the way of grief, part of my mind has become focused on this tidbit, convinced that if I understood why she was gone I’d be more at peace with it. The rest of my mind isn’t so sure, but would like the chance to find out.

Click for more …


I realized last night that for almost none of the deaths that have affected me since moving here have I ever been privy to the causes. The only exception was when my mother told me when “my” cat passed away. PC – Precarious Cat – always liked my mother best, so she stayed living there with her; besides, she was 17 by the time I married and settled here, and very set in her ways, so it felt wrong to contemplate uprooting her. Mom told me about coming home to find PC in a state, rushing her to the vet, what he said, and everything that happened next.

For every death that affected me before I moved here, I was privy to the cause of death. Not generally a blow-by-blow as with PC, but “he had cancer” or “he drowned” or “he was allergic and died of anaphylactic shock.” I suspect the difference is mostly down to the fact that these deaths local to me here have been of my friends and acquaintances, and I’ve not rated as someone worthy to tell what exactly happened; I suspect that the people telling me didn’t rate either. The deaths before were family members and kin (more distant family), so I rated then, and was automatically told.

Phyllis went into the hospital with a chest infection. I visited her a few weeks ago. She was tired, and weak, but she seemed okay. She said she was having trouble catching her breath, so they were trying her on different pills to try to fix this problem. I don’t understand why they didn’t try giving her oxygen. She said she was weak, and couldn’t walk too well; she lived alone, so this needed to be sorted out before she could go home. I knew from a friend who’d visited her before that she was having trouble eating, but there wasn’t a nutrient drip for her, or even a saline drip to make sure she at least stayed hydrated.

I listened to other mutual friends before and after my visit, and I heard, between the lines, them preparing themselves for her death. I didn’t – don’t – get that line of thinking; she was tired, and weak, but she hadn’t seemed anywhere near death’s door to me. I realized, back then, weeks ago, that this is probably a self-preservation measure of theirs, and that I have nothing like it; rather, I always experience any death as a great shock, because my subconcious assumption is that everyone will live forever. This is odd for me, given that I think a lot (relatively) about my own demise; I have a folder of instructions for my own funeral compiled already to save a bit of trouble for my survivors, for example. Yet, it’s true: death is generally a shock to me.

When I got the call, I let my poor friend tasked with telling me keep talking after she’d broken then news, hoping for some explanation. All I heard was the same anger towards the patient that I’d heard in the wake of these other losses (last year there were four in a four-month span): “She hadn’t improved at all.” “She wasn’t eating.” And so on. This victim blaming is undoubtedly done under the just-world fallacy paradigm. They’re blaming the patient for not doing what she was supposed to do, and thus they’re able to comfort themselves that the same won’t happen to them: they’ll do what they’re supposed to do, naturally. It’s the same thing many do with rape victims: they blame the victim for wearing the wrong clothes, etc, comforting themselves that they’ll never be raped because they’ll do what they’re supposed to do.

It occurs to me that it could be a cultural difference, rather than a relationship difference; if it is, then I bet it’d be founded on the biggest underlying difference I’ve noted between these two cultures: Fairness. In the UK, things are supposed to be fair: laws are written to this end, campaigns aimed at making things fairer succeed, and so on. In the US, it’s widely accepted that things are not supposed to be fair, that fairness is a myth. Fair and just go hand in hand, so if the victim-blaming is part of the just-world fallacy, then it’d be based on this notion that life and death are fair – when, in fact, the only fair about death is that it eventually comes to us all.

When I’ve asked (not yet in this case, but last year) what happened, why have they left us, I’m met with stock phrases such as “Well, she was old,” or “She’d been ill.” Those gems were regarding an acquaintance who’d fallen a height of some six feet and broken some ribs. She, too, lived alone, so needed to be able to function again before they sent her home (hospitals here are much quicker to admit and much slower to release patients than any hospitals in the US I’ve ever been around, in my limited experience), so she was in the hospital for a couple of months, I think. But before that? She kept up a very busy social life; she went line dancing every week – she was more active than me! Vera wasn’t old. As her son said at the funeral, “We shouldn’t be here.” No, we really shouldn’t have.

This belief that age is some sort of automatic cause of death really grates on my nerves. People don’t actually die of old age; I wish that myth would kick the bucket already. My friends are simply my friends – they never seem old or young to me; they’re people I can count on, people with open hearts and open minds, people interested in what I have to say, with things to say that I’m interested to hear. Phyllis was one of those, and she never seemed old to me.

This mystery of why she’s gone makes me feel as though I’ve stepped back in time, to the 1600s or some such, when we knew little about how our bodies worked, and you just had to cope with the knowledge that they’d died. I don’t get it; when the electricity or water goes out, the first thing other people ask is why, which is such a trivial, unimportant thing for the customers – something’s broken somewhere, and the company’s fixing it, which is the salient point. All these deaths I’ve been around, though, and no one asks or tells why. Coffins are closed, and it’s generally seen to be poor form to actually cry at a funeral (from what I’ve gathered); how are we meant to come to terms with loss?


 Posted by at 01:20 on 3 January 2014
Jan 032014

I was amused that someone finally commented on my use of the word yall – for the first time. In a meta way, he’s amused that I use yall instead of you. I’ve been waiting five and a half years, bracing myself with each new listener to my use of that word for confusion, mockery, derision, and the like. Every time, they just roll with it: they understand what I mean and get on with the business at hand. I’m surprised every time, to be honest. Today, comment finally came – from someone who’s known me basically that whole time because he works at my greengrocer’s – and it wasn’t derogatory at all. The English aren’t cold or reserved; they just take longer to warm up than Americans, that’s all. 😉

I was so busy being surprised that someone’s finally commented on that word choice that I forgot to correct him. He said he knows it’s just my accent — but it isn’t at all. It’s a word choice, not an accent, and a very deliberate word choice. Yall is a wonderful word whose formal equivalent is simply missing from English. Other languages have it; English just apparently forgot that the unambiguous plural you is a good word to have. Admittedly, having that ambiguous plural and singular you (you) is useful at times, but so is having that unambiguous plural you – and the only one I know of is yall. Thus, I use it – do yall know a better word? 😉

How I Shop in Glossop

 Posted by at 22:18 on 31 August 2013
Aug 312013

One of the many things I had to learn when I arrived here in Glossop was how to shop. There is no Target, no Walmart. There is no Tesco Extra1 in my town. When I want something, I must go hunt it down, like game in the jungle, elusively mocking my inability to find it.

Glossop High Street.

At least, that’s how it felt at first. Coming from the land of find-everything-under-one-roof, where I see more and more small shops have gone the way of the dodo on each visit, to this land populated entirely by small and medium shops, I was very frustrated at first. It didn’t help that I wasn’t even familiar with what I was looking at: where’s the 409?2 the Bounty?3 the Downy? What’s “washing up liquid” and why’s that on the aisle sign in the supermarket?4 Why does searching for “sponges” on the supermarket website bring up cake?5 Where can I buy a hand dishwashing rack and bowl?6 Where do they sell unscented candles?7 WHERE is the baking soda!?!

Okay, a few of those are (slight) exaggerations, but I still really miss the ability to just look for the really big numbers 409 and quickly leave the chemicals aisle (the fumes always bother me), not to mention having just one bottle of cleaner I’m sure will pretty much work on anything.

However, I wouldn’t trade my shopping experience here with my all-under-one-roof shopping experience in the US (most days). What I have here is just too enjoyable to do that. Friday, I was out for 4.5 hours to do the shopping, and it was really lovely. Doing the shopping here is so much more a social event for me than it’s ever been before in my life; I reckon it’s outside the experience of most of my friends and family, and far too many Britons, so it’s about time I write about it.

Read all about it …

On this day, I started by seeing my beautician, Suzanne at The Beauty Room, who has the unfortunate responsibility of taming my wild eyebrows. Usually you think of waxing as rather unpleasant, but I don’t mind going to see Suzanne – the pain itself is far less from her than from other waxers I’ve had, but moreover the natter is always enjoyable and usually interesting.

I emerged from there and saw that the newly-opened bakery in town, One17, was actually open, and I was there, so I popped over to check it out. I met the proprietress, Jane, and we had a lovely chat about all sorts of things. I bought a couple of things to try, and went on my way.

I headed up to the market, to work my way back down again (I don’t usually double back, but Suzanne’s is in the middle of my path down the high street). On the way, I saw Nigel, the proprietor of Sowerbutts, taking stock as I passed by. He was sure to point out to me that they’d gotten in some smoked garlic; I thanked him and told him I’d get some on my way back down the street. Shortly after that, I ran across someone I know but haven’t seen for ages; we stopped and chatted a bit about how life’s going. I told him about Bankswoodberry this weekend, since the rock music playing there struck me as his cup of tea (I was right).

Then I picked up my local(ish) paper, the Glossop Chronicle, from the newsagent. I finally remembered to look for the Buxton Advertiser‘s new Glossop edition, only to find out that this week is the first week they haven’t published it. Apparently it didn’t sell very well, so they’ve stopped. The newsagent and I had a good laugh at the supreme localism – how some people look askance at people from o’er the hill – and how the Buxtonites, especially, can’t be trusted, after having stolen Glossop’s Howard Park gates all those years ago!

I poked around Niche Markit, after being lulled over by half-price sizable water guns. The clerk put her mind to helping me find a gift – no luck, in the end, but I definitely had to relieve them of a couple of water guns. 😉

I waved at Maggie, who waved back while talking with someone at her card stall as I went past, and I headed into the market. The lady who runs the Market Deli was leaving to get some customers something out of the freezer as I was passing by; trust runs high in these parts – I hope rightfully so. The market bakery (The Muffin Stall) still had some oven bottom muffins (also here), so I snapped up a couple for Chris. Then I stopped at the cheesemonger’s, Parker’s, and had a lovely chat with Jean.

Jean’s hiding down at the end in this snap.

Too many times I’m in a rush when I do the shopping, but today I wasn’t, so I strolled through the market and ogled the rug stall (we need a new living room rug, but I keep forgetting to measure our floor). The stallholder came over and chatted to me again – the first time I was drawn to his stall, he told me all about his trip to New York some years ago, and we’d had a lovely chat. I wandered down to Glossop Screenprint, who’s recently set up a stall in the market. He has some very amusing shirts, but I hadn’t realized he was a screenprinter, too, until I saw something from the market’s twitter mentioning it. I have an idea for some t-shirts to make, so I got some prices and information from him. Then some socks caught my eye at Mini Muggles (a children’s clothing stall), but sadly they didn’t have the size I needed. The gal helped me work out size probabilities for a child of unknown size, and efficiently helped me find something to suit. Hooray!

Wandering around, my ear was caught by an acquaintance of mine hollering at me; I turned to find her sitting in the market café with a cup of tea. I was quite hungry by now, so I joined her for a sandwich and a chat. That was really lovely: we swapped stories of our trips around America. Mine was my recent road trip this past spring, and hers was some unspecified number of years ago. She went coast to coast, from Maine to San Francisco – all on a coach! I really don’t envy her that. But it was lovely to reminisce, and to visit with her.

We parted ways, and I finally made my way back down to Sowerbutts to get that smoked garlic, plus the rest of my greengrocer list. Three of the regular workers were there, and two different of them quickly told me about the new loyalty card program (well, the second one started to, but the first one jumped in and said, “I already told her – beat you to it!”). We pulled each others’ legs about our food preferences and dislikes, and after a bit I was the only customer in the shop, so I told them about my accent experience (from my last post), and we talked about accents a bit. I was able to ask them about the offense that might be construed by mixing up two certain accents (quite a lot, as it turns out) – which helps me understand why it is that people always phrase the question as, “Where is your accent from?” instead of “Are you from ____?” Once we’d solved all the mysteries of the universe ;-), I headed on.

I also dropped by the butcher we use, Mettrick’s. I still feel so blessed that we can get meat from a butcher who is patient and knowledgeable enough to answer all my questions (born of continuing to cook American recipes while living in England, where all the cuts of meat are called differently), and has such a short supply chain that should any problem ever occur, it will be quickly dealt with, because all the links are known – personally.

Then I found that the newest shop on High Street (it just opened on Monday) was still open, so I dropped in to have a look around. It’s lovely, and full of nice things. I chatted a bit with the proprietor Darren, and he told me that the nail salon they plan to open is planned for the upstairs – so this gives me hope that the fumes won’t keep me away after all! Happily, he reported that they’ve had a lot of lovely feedback in this first week – fingers crossed that translates into enough sales to keep them around.

Then I needed to pick up the last few things on my list from the supermarket, so I headed there. Ran across two different friends I haven’t seen in awhile, chatted a bit with each. My teacher friend thinks summer’s gone far too quickly, unsurprisingly; my other friend had just returned from ten days in France, and had to restock – especially on bacon, which she couldn’t find there — what scandal!

So that’s how I spent four and a half hours doing the weekly shopping. That’s also (part of) how to be part of a community, which is what’s being threatened by the demise of British High Streets. The connections, the humanity, the non-sterile experience: these and far more are at stake.

Connecting with people was a huge part of what I missed while I was in America this past spring. The cashiers at various supermarkets were friendly enough, but I guess the difference is it’s just one transaction at the end instead of the many different people I interact with each week here at home. The posher supermarkets now have manned cheese counters, bakeries, deli counters, fish counters, etc; I understand some here do, as well. I don’t know about the ones here, but the ones we were in, all across the breadth of the US, were very rarely staffed with workers anywhere nearly as knowledgable as the traders on my high street. They were still supermarket employees who’d never received any training specific to the counter they were manning, mostly. So no, I doubt I’d ever bond with them as I’ve bonded with the people here, simply because how I broke the ice in the beginning was by having to ask about nearly everything.

I still have to ask about Praze deli‘s bewildering array of cheese!

Glossop is incredibly blessed in its richness of traders, particularly independent ones – I’ve only mentioned the tip of the iceberg here, and not even all the ones I visit. There’s the cobbler, whom I only see sometimes, and the other cobbler whom I don’t use; there are at least two other butchers; there are two pound shops; there are a dazzling array of charity shops (thrift stores); there’s a sweet shop; there’s a craft shop I use quite often; the list just keeps going on and on. Unfortunately, too many towns in England are suffering from closures of high street shops.

Even where national chain shops are the only choice, that’s still far better than shuttered high streets. The whole social thing that is the human experience still happens as long as the shops are staffed by people. The WI resolved this summer to work to save the high streets. Hopefully our work towards that goal will accomplish good things for all.

  1. Britain’s answer to Super Walmart []
  2. 409 is an all-purpose spray cleaner; yes, I know there are plenty of them to choose from here, but that still requires reading the “how to use” stuff on the back to figure out which ones they are, instead of just knowing which cleaner does what. []
  3. Bounty paper towels, not Bounty candy bars. I’ve realized now that Bounty paper towels are re-branded Plenty now. []
  4. Turns out washing up liquid is dish soap; they say: “I have to do the washing up” instead of: “I have to wash the dishes.” []
  5. They call ordinary cake sponge cake here, to differentiate from fruit cake (which, strangely, they call a celebration cake, instead of a door stop). []
  6. From the supermarket, the market, or the pound store, but you’ll pay the most at the supermarket. []
  7. Not many places, it turns out, and again, the supermarket’s the worst on price. []


 Posted by at 00:18 on 31 August 2013
Aug 312013

I met my first fellow American-Glossopian today!

Granted, we’re both far too new to Glossop to call ourselves Glossopians: one man I know is quick to point out that he’s still a newcomer, having been here a mere 40 years.

Anyway, I had this conversation today:

Her: Where are you from?

Me: The US.

Her: Same as me, then – I’m from Philadelphia.

Me: Wait, you’re American?

D’oh. Not only is she American, but she’s still pretty new, only having lived in the UK for 6 months, so I’m sure her accent hasn’t changed much yet. And I didn’t pick it up at all. I didn’t actually even notice it after she’d identified herself. I knew I’d gotten horrible with accents, but yeesh, I didn’t think I was this bad.

What’s happened?

Upon further reflection, I figure: I gave up. I simply gave up trying to identify accents.

Once upon a time, I was an American who’d only ever lived in America, and I could easily pick out accents from different parts of the country. It didn’t require effort, usually: it just happened. I derived great enjoyment when people tried to figure out where I was from based on my accent: thanks to my upbringing, mine is the most pan-American accent I’ve ever found. It encompasses west, north, east, south, and even the Great Plains likely filtered through at least some – Dad grew up in Kansas. So yes, it was always vastly amusing to watch people try to peg my accent to one place.

Then I moved here to England. Before I did, I’d always thought there was just one English accent. I couldn’t have been more wrong! I’ve moved to a town with such a conglomeration of accents I can’t even count them all. Why so many here? From what I’ve read, moving about the country has only become fairly widespread in the past generation or two. So, people pretty much stayed in the towns they were born in for their whole lives since … Roman or possibly Celtic times (depending on the town, I suppose; Glossop only dates back to the Romans). They didn’t move about as much; very small geographic areas developed their own accents, far different from their neighbors’. (Also word choices, but that’s a whole nother post). Remember rule #1: Everything is smaller here. So yes, there are quite a lot of accents; they just each cover a smaller area. I think, actually, that there are more accents in England (which is geographically only the size of Louisiana) as there are in the whole of the US. Thing is, now people move about, and lots of different people are drawn to my town, for various reasons, so we now have quite a variety of accents. I’m sure many of theirs are blended accents, too.

I never dreamt I’d live in England. I didn’t study it before I came. I knew next to nothing about it when I got off that plane behind that line of Piggly Wiggly t-shirts. I’ve been a miserable student of it since I’ve come; I still haven’t learned where all the counties are. I have, however, learned that when I don’t know the places people talk about, they become meaningless words that simply wash through my consciousness. I probably asked where various accents were from, at first, but the places didn’t register, so I couldn’t place these accents that swirled around me. After awhile, I simply quit hearing them altogether. I focused on word choices, on understanding and being understood. These days, only extremely pronounced accents and accents so strong that I can’t actually understand the speaker register at all.

I never thought I’d overlook an American accent, though. And a Yankee one at that!