Monday, August 20, 2012

You Say Chips, I Say Fries

A Typical Non-Existant Shoulder on a 50 mph A Road

 "The United States and Great Britain are two countries separated by a common language." 
George Bernard Shaw  (and my husband, Graham)

"We have really everything in common with America nowadays, except, of course, language."
Oscar Wilde

I told you yesterday how the shoulders of roads are non-existant, and people park their cars in the streets. I told you about those marvels of patience and engineering and sheer British courage called "roundabouts."  I thought you might be interested in some other differences I've noted so far. It should be said that I am not making judgements of one way being better than the other, it is just a chance to puzzle over how such simple things can be so different from the US to the UK. Which is why I'm here.

Shopping carts: You wouldn't think there was much room to play with the shopping cart, it is such a simple and efficient bit of engineering, yet it turns out to be so. Unlike America, in Britain the shopping trolleys are not large enough to transport a full-sized spitted pig, but are probably half the depth, and not quite as wide or long, as their American counterparts. Trolleys have wheels that actually turn in a coordinated manner, in a weird way that makes the carts seem to glide through the aisles. And they have these funny handles that stick up from either side of the conventional American bar handles, which allow the shopper to steer more precisely. Now, I've been shopping since infancy, and can steer an American grocery cart well enough to win any slalom, but these things are pretty amazing.

Sliced and fried potatoes: My husband has spent the last 11 years bemoaning that he couldn't find a decent chip in America. I couldn't figure what the heck he was whining about. Turns out chips and fries are different in more than name. Chips are generally cut thicker, and just cooked. Where fries are cooked to a nice golden tan, chips are pallid, pasty. Like British legs on a summer day. Graham is so delighted with chips he's almost giddy. I am ready to whine. What the Americas call chips are here called crisps, and come in weird flavors like prawn (shrimp), and barbecued steak.

Fried eggs: Two semesters ago I wrote a paean to the perfect fried egg, and described the precise method for achieving same. I'm thinking of printing it out and distributing it to every Brit I meet. What these people have missed. Fried eggs here, in my experience so far (aside from Angie's Roach Coach this morning, on the A47 between Norwich and Dereham), are pale, floppy things, like poached eggs given a chance to spread out. None of that crispy goodness that comes with a decent egg fried in butter or bacon fat. Eggs in grocery stores are not refrigerated.

Lemonade: When an American orders a lemonade, they expect a beverage that has more than a passing acquaintance with the fruit for which it is named. Here, ordering a lemonade gets you a fizzy drink poured from a 7-Up can at best, or seltzer water flavored with a little dish soap (fairy liquid) at worst. Ask for lemon squash.

Car rentals are car hires. Renting an apartment means calling a lettings agent to arrange to view a flat. A parking lot is a car park, the front hood of a car is the bonnet, the trunk is the boot. The crossing guard is the lollipop man. 

Sausages. I'm a person who cannot get near chorizo, but appreciates breakfast sausages and Italian sausages with a deep and abiding love for their herby, spicey, savory goodness that hits at the back sides of one's tongue. Here, when ordering a sausage at breakfast, be prepared for something the size of an Italian sausage, but with a very bland taste. They call them bangers. I'm not certain why. They aren't as exciting as the name implies.

Bacon: The Brits call American bacon "streaky bacon," and not in a way that makes you believe they think this a good thing. British bacon is what Americans would call thinly sliced ham. Not bad. 

Beans. Every meal is served with beans. I'm pretty sure it's a right guaranteed in the Magna Carta. The brand is Heinz (Americans, think Campbell's beans), and they are ubiquitous.

Baby carrots sold in a British grocery store are actual baby carrots. Not adult carrots that have been whittled down to size in a giant pencil sharpener.

A semester is a term. Otherwise, when you tell people you are here for a semester at the university this fall, they won't know what you mean unless you tell then you are here for the autumn term at uni. Sneakers are trainers. Pillows are sometimes sold in grocery stores, as are iPads and cell-phones. Yarn is wool, regardless of fiber content. Cookies are biscuits. Pepperoni, when you can find it, is made either in Denmark or in Germany. It tastes very little like pepperoni.

Lastly, if you want to make millions, introduce the Brits to American toilet paper.

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