Monday, October 29, 2007


Yesterday we reached the breaking point. There was no more room in our tiny freezer (we are sharing it among 5 people) so Ryan and I made a tough call and decided to defrost the freezer on the other fridge. This sounds easy enough, but the freezer was literally a block of ice, as in the door wouldn't close, because there was a giant, freezer-shaped block of ice was protruding about 1" through the door.

We scavenged and found an abandoned towel. I used my hairdryer, about which was conflicted, because hairdryers use a ton of energy. But after discussing this with Ryan, we decided that the open freezer door actually wastes more energy than a few hours of hair drying ice. It was a long, wet, process but we now have a foothold against the ice that is inevitably consuming our freezer/refrigerators.

Today felt a lot warmer than it actually was. Andy, my asst manager, is giving me crap about not following the standardized dress code at work (who knew a dress code of looking "smart" actually meant black dress pants?) At any rate, I wanted to look smart, but also stay warm, so I put on my long johns, black dress pants, and pumps. This was a mistake. (Could I be acclimatizing?) I was hot and my feet hurt. After work and grocery shopping, my feet were killing me. So, on the long walk home from Marks & Spencer (the only shop in town with sea scallops, which is pretty good because when Ryan sees the receipt from this transaction we will NEVER eat them again!), anyway, I was channeling Regina Spector and I took off both of my shoes. Nobody seemed to be noticing, and then I saw Oliver, from Ryan's class. He probably thinks I'm crazy now, but that's okay. That's what I'm used to.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Heating Restored

Well, Ryan and I finally got some cash and paid up our card. After restoring the card, we huddled around the radiator, but to no avail. This was followed by a fairly comical scene of the two of us in the woodshed, huddled around the hot water heater, lighting matches in quick succession to read the "reset" instructions. Sadly, the lighting in the shed doesn't work, and we have no "torch" as the English call it (flashlight.) I was close to concocting my own real torch out of newspaper and a glass bottle, but Ryan figured out how to reset the water heater before this was necessary.

Thank you all for your generous out-pouring of concern and ill will towards my roommate. She is not really a bad person, she's actually pretty nice....just lazy and not very bright/responsible. As predicted, she woke up after the heating crisis was resolved. I did however, very passive-aggressively, reset the thermostat timer from turning off at midnight to 11:30, yeah, so take that!

Also, last night as Ryan and I were washing our dinner dishes, Angel woke up and turned on some Mariah Carey-sounding Chinese music and she began to sing really loudly and off-key. It was pretty hilariously awful, so we also had a good laugh and she sang her little Chinese heart out.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Domestic Dispute

So as of last week, our house went from nearly empty to full. After Ryan and I came back from London, we discovered someone had been moved into our house during our absence. We met her a few days later in the kitchen. Her name is Dorothy and she is a nurse, originally from Nigeria. She is very nice and cooks a lot, like me. She pronounces my name "Kaily" but I don't mind. She lives on the top floor and we usually see her in crossing from the kitchen to her room.

Then last Saturday, right before Ryan and I were leaving to watch rugby at the Moon & Bell we had a knock on our door. It was another new roommate, moving into the downstairs, named Angel and from Beijing. We were glad she came to introduce herself and we tried to give her a quick run-down on the house: what works, what doesn't, how to sort through the abandoned dish ware in the kitchen. She apologized profusely for the noise of moving in and asked if she could store a box in the corner of the living room. We said sure, and left for rugby.

Flash forward to Sunday afternoon: we come home from church and the entire living room is covered in boxes, including a large mattress laid across the furniture. We ignored it and made some lunch. About 3pm Angel toddles out of her room to ask us to turn the heat on.

Maybe at this point I should clarify the heating system of our house. As I have mentioned, it is a large Victorian house with a lot of "original work" as my landlord put it. Meaning, the floors haven't been varnished in 1oo years and the window frames are sieves for all our heat to escape through. Heating is done by natural gas in England and is very expensive. Our thermostat is set to run twice a day for a few hours at a time. To supplement our heat, we wear layers and also have a small electric radiator for our room. The gas is paid for by card, and every so often (usually after a lot of nagging) our landlord will drop off 50 pounds for us to take the card to the mini-mart and charge it up. He said he expects the 50 pounds to last a month. This is also supposed to cover our cooking gas and the hot water heater, so as you can imagine, we economize.

Since Angel has moved in (3 days ago?) we have gone through a week's worth of gas. Our thermostat is set to turn on a few hours in the morning and a few hours at night, turning off around 10:30. The problem is that Angel goes to bed after midnight and sleeps till around 5pm. (She told us she is looking for a job in London ?) Ryan was making tea yesterday evening when she stumbles out of her room wrapped in a comforter and heads for the thermostat. Ryan explains how the heating system is currently set, and offers to change the hours around, to which Angel replies "why don't we just turn it on when we're cold and turn it off when we're hot? We're not paying for it." Which sounds logical enough, except when you've spent a few anxious days tracking the movements of your landlord and hunting for an open shop when he finally rolls around with the gas card top-up.

So, this morning we are out of gas. Maybe now Angel will see the importance of not heating the entire house for 12 hours a day. Unlikely, though because it is 10am and she is not due to wake up for several more hours.

Monday, October 22, 2007

What do you do with a drunken Finn?

Friday night Ryan and I were invited to play Beer-tionary (aka alcoholic Pictionary) with some guys from the Master's course. So, after a quick dinner we bundled up and headed over to the only grocery store open after 5pm, Sainsbury's, to pick up some refreshments. The whole store was filled with college-aged people loading up their backpacks, and friends' backpacks with cheap beer.

After this brief foray, we meandered over to a campus apartment complex's common room. A group of semi-intoxicated international masters' students had already assembled. Most of these fellas are not native English speakers, so as you can imagine, simply explaining Pictionary's rules was pretty interesting. Not to mention, Fernando, a guy from the Canary Islands, is a total cheater. Worse than me, seriously. Anyway, after the first round my team was doing pretty well, and I managed to guess "the Earth" almost instantly. The second this happened, Stefan, my French friend, yelled "you shit!" I was a little taken aback, but I figured "maybe this is some cultural thing." HOWEVER, he continued to shout "you shit! You shitted!" until another French guy whispered something into his ear, at which Stefan turned bright red and they both spent the next few minutes trying to pronounce the word "cheat." "Shhchhiiiiit, Shhhcchhhiiii-eeeet." It was pretty hilarious.

After some decisive cheating on Fernando's part, our team was victorious, and people began mingling and hanging out, mostly discussing lab blah blah blah. Then a very fancily dressed Asian lady approached me and began asking me a lot of questions. This would be a fairly normal situation, but what struck me about this lady was her perfectly stenciled eye-makeup, blank expression, and automated-sounding voice, which explained that she "come from outer space." I have to say I was a little creeped out. After a moment, a guy I sort of recognized came over and sat next to me. I was glad to have another person to converse with, and I soon realized this guy was fall-down drunk. It was pretty amusing because he was drunk enough to be kind of unaware of his own body, but at the same time, thinking everything he is doing is very cool.

His speech slurred out slowly, and he was hitting on me, but I explained that I was married, and gestured over to Ryan. He must know Ryan, right? He seemed to take the hint and asked if we were going to watch the Rugby World Cup on Saturday. I said, yes we are. He suggested we watch it together, and I figured sure. So I gave him our number. In a few minutes, I was back over with Ryan and I said "Your Finnish friend wants to watch rugby tomorrow night, so I gave him our number." Ryan says "Who?" "That guy from Finland...over there." I pointed to the Finn, who gave me a weird winking face. Ryan said "I don't know who that guy gave him our number?" "Well, I thought he was in your program!"

I spent the rest of the evening avoiding this Finnish guy, and also the robot lady. It mostly worked, minus when I was helping clean up Pictionary and Finnish guy made a swipe at my ass. Man, there's nothing more attractive than a desperate and super drunk guy who thinks he's really special.

We slept in on Saturday and occasionally made anxious checks of the cell phone, but our drunk Finn, for some reason, did not call. I don't know whether to feel hurt, rejected, or what. You just can't trust those alcoholic Finns.

Friday, October 19, 2007


Last weekend the husband and I trekked down to London. I've been meaning to write about it all week, but I don't know what to say, exactly.

We took the train down early Saturday morning, and back late Sunday night, and all in all, it was a whirlwind. I'm not sure I even have a fundamental feel for the city due to the brevity of our visit.

For one thing, London is EXTREMELY touristy. We met far more tourists than actual Londoners. It is very different from our little town of Loughborough, where we've met only one other American. Ryan and I first touched down in the Tower of London, and then spent most of the weekend in and around Trafalgar Square/SoHo/the West End. It was wonderful shopping and theatre, but I don’t feel like we really connected with the city until Sunday night.

After pub dinner, we walked along the Thames as all the buildings were lit, and it was really beautiful. That is the London I'd like to see more of next time. On the way back to the train station we walked through a park with a World War 1/World War 2 memorial, and Ryan noted how ironic and sad it was that so many monuments in England talked about the horrors of "The Great War" and then were forced to add an addendum a mere 20 years later. It is frustrating and discouraging that humanity can experience the sorrow of such wars and still continue to engage in the barbaric practice.

But London is not a comment on history, but an honest presentation of it. The Fabulous British Museum is full of rare and beautiful artifacts carried out of colonies. The Tower of London still stands to shock people with horrific tales of torture and imprisonment. (It actually was pretty entertaining, though I think their next step will be some Disneyland-style robotic people pretending to be executed-- you know, like the Country Bears Jamboree only with more blood.)

I guess my advice on London would be to really absorb it from a historical perspective first. Take in the less sensational sights like the government buildings and churches. Then move on to the more touristy areas. That’s my plan, anyhow.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Language Barrier

Everyone's probably heard the phrase "England and America are two countries separated by a common language." I'm certainly finding it true. Not only do English and American people use different words and different expressions, I think their whole manner of speaking is fundamentally different. In America, one speaks to get a point across quickly; for instance, when telling a funny story one will use exaggeration to prove how funny/absurd the situation was. Or when explaining something, one speaks quickly and directly, economizing words.

But in England, there is no such rush in language. People talk to talk. The funniest things here are asking directions and saying goodbye. Most of the English people Ryan and I have come across seem to love to give directions. They'll think as they talk, explaining a particularly good route, then doubting themselves, they'll say "no, no, go this way instead..." and explain one or two more routes. Also hilarious is saying goodbye, particularly our landlord. After concluding a 5 second phone conversation "we need more money on the gas card" for instance, he'll end by saying "Alright? Alright. Cheers, mate, cheers. Bye. Goodbye, cheers, bye." Seriously.

In general, the English are more courteous. I notice this a lot at work. When I tell someone their total, they'll say thank you or cheers (or sometimes both). I'll make change and hand them their receipt, they'll usually thank me again, tell me "cheers", "take care", or my favorite: "bless you, dear." They are also quick to slather the compliments, calling me "lovely", "darling", "dear", "love", etc. Or telling me that my ringing up of their items was "brilliant" or "lovely." Not bad really.

There is one thing that always catches me off guard, though. At my work, all the employees tend to say "Are you alright?" in a tone that makes one think they've just walked out of the ladies' room with mascara streaks running down one's face. They actually mean "how are you?" but it still takes me a second to respond appropriately.

Many of the customers ask me if I'm Canadian. I think a lot of them have a perception of Americans speaking with a New York, Boston, or Minnesotan accent. It doesn't bother me, really. I don't have anything against Canada. But they are very embarrassed when I correct them. I'm kind of amazed when they pick up on the accent when I say like 5 words to most of them. It's probably the "cheers" that gives me away. British pronunciation: chee-as, American: cheeeee-uhrs.

Friday, October 12, 2007

A Proper Tea

Thankfully, work was much less stressful today. I'd made 8 pages of flashcards with the codes on the back, so I can master the produce pricing, but it wasn't going well. This weighed on my mind as I trudged to work this afternoon.

The only lady over 30 at the shop was working with me today, she told me her name is Sharon, or "Shaz." She is very nice, but kind of bitter. After hearing my accent, she asked me where I was from and I gave her the run-down of what I'm doing in the UK. I asked her if she was from the area and her reply was "Born and bred. But I hate it here and would do anything to escape." Taken back a bit, I asked where she'd escape to. "Anywhere." "Would you stay in England?" "Never." But all in all she was very pleasant. And there seemed to be a funny flirtation between her and the assistant manager, Andy. They play jokes and pick at each other, its kind of like being in high school. In fact, when Shaz was on break, Andy approached me and asked where Karen was. Thinking I was misunderstanding his accent, I asked "Sharon?" "No, Karen, the other girl who works here." At which I blushed bright red and exclaimed, "Oh no, I thought she said Sharon, I've been calling her Sharon all afternoon! And Shaz!" He laughed and said "well she'd never correct you, she's too polite." I was soooo embarrassed and started to say something to her when she came back from break, but she stopped me and said that this was a joke Andy told everyone, and that half the customers now call her Karen. We decided to call him Adam for the rest of the day.

The codes are coming along better. I did overcharge like five people for their potatoes, but I am getting better. Not bad for two days. I've discovered that a sense of humor goes a long way. This seems obvious, but its hard to step back from a stressful situation and just laugh. This afternoon an old man went off on me when I called his cabbage "lettuce." He was remarking loudly to everyone in the line that I didn't know what cabbage was, and that I worked in a grocery store! How absurd! The gentlemen seemed genuinely offended by this fact, so I deadpanned and explained that we don't eat vegetables in America. At the mention of the US his whole demeanor changed from cranky old man to curious neighbor. After asking me all the standard questions (during which time I was able to find the code for his particular type of cabbage) he wished me luck and left happily with his groceries. The novelty of being a foreigner will carry me far, I think.

And as I sat in the Market Square on my "tea break" watching the generations doing their shopping and socializing, people from many different countries meeting and greeting, I have to say I felt oddly at home.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

World-Class Fruiterer?

Take a look at this picture. You probably know it as a zucchini, or if you are confused, a cucumber. In England, it is a courgette. Yesterday I started my new job at "JJ Atkinsons and Sons, World-Class Fruiterers." I have no idea how to pronounce that last word, so its lucky I don't have to answer any phones. That is actually my least favorite part of working retail, because at least in America, you can't just answer the phone and say the business' name, you must launch into a memorized two paragraph exultation, even if a client is just calling to ask for directions.

ANYWAY, the good news is I don't have to do any hokey phone answers or ask customers if they've seen our latest special or if they'd like to apply for a Target card, I just have to ring up fruit and veg. It seems simple enough. The only thing is that half the produce I've never seen before in my life, I'm still not 100% on British currency, and did I mention I need to memorize like 200 codes for all the produce?

But considering all that, I think my first day went pretty well. The first half of the day was pouring and we had few customers, which was nice. Andy, the assistant manager, walked me through the first half day's transactions, including all the codes, specials, and etc. It is pretty easy when he's standing next to me. The market is open on to the market street, so I was worried about freezing, but we have lovely fleecy jackets provided. They are all large man-sized, so they perfectly complimented the professional yet trendy outfit I had selected with which to make a good impression.

The day was fairly smooth until closing time. How is it customers always know when you're about to close and decide to bring all their families in when you're trying to clean and lock up? I was taken off till to do some cleaning, then called back on due to a massive line. I'm trying to ring up all these items that I don't have memorized so I must keep referring to a giant list of codes, and I almost made the wrong change, and when I corrected my mental math error I started counting it back in dollars instead of pounds, and there was a huge line at my till and Andy was yelling something about my till's screen and I almost lost it. Courgettes, isn't that stupid! BUT I reminded myself that I was living in a foreign country and this was my first day at a job I had never done before and I was just familiarizing myself with the bizarre names, myriad of codes, and absurd amount of coins that each transaction required.

I took a deep breath and just did my best to keep the line moving, and when it was gone I shot Andy a satisfactory look, because I know I can handle this. Perhaps this is my new England mantra. I can handle this. Living in England, nothing is really hard or scary in itself. Its just that nothing is as easy as it used to be in America, and this gets frustrating. But I know I can handle it.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Sherwood Forest Full of Foreigners

Happily for us, Nora and Phillipe whom we met Wednesday night, gave us a ring Friday and invited us along with them on a hike through Sherwood Forrest the next morning. We trekked over to the university bright and early the next morning, and a few minutes after 9 Nora showed up and walked us over to their flat where Phillipe was tiredly looking for his hiking boots.

They managed to get university housing, which was very nicely equipped but tiny. They have a kitchen, bedroom, and bathroom. No room for a couch. But their appliances are brand new. I guess its a toss-up, good condition but no room, or acres of room but falling apart. Nora agreed with me that English housing is dirty, and said their place was filthy when they moved in.

We got in Phillipe's Italian car (steering wheel on the left) and after a few "detours" and Nora asking every English person we could find where it was, we made it to Sherwood Forrest. It was surprisingly small, coming from a land of vast national parks. It is an odd mix of ancient oaks and recent plantings. The largest oak in the forest is called "The Major Oak" and is approx 800 years old and 33" around its trunk. Legend has it that this is where Robin Hood and his merry men gathered before raids.

Apparently there was a real, documented person named Robin Hood. He was an outlaw, and though many of the stories about him are probably legend, word spread about him and many people took up his name as an alias and carried on in his grand tradition. Sherwood Forest honors this by erecting a hokey-looking statue and a fairly sad carnival. It was very touristy. But they are planning on tearing this down and building a new visitor's center, which would probably be for the best.

Anyway, we walked around the tiny forest, taking the longest trail which was 3.5 miles. We felt a little over-equipped with our hiking shoes, backpacks, and etc. But we had a good talk about the different countries we had been to, the culture shock of England, politics, and the NHS. I must make a correction, I think last blog I stated that Phillipe is French but he's actually Italian. He and Nora met while they were both working in Monaco, which is a minuscule and bizarre place full of millionaires and NO TAXES. Amazing. Phillipe was a tanker engineer and Nora used her many languages in international business. Also, when I say talk, I might add that Nora is kind of the mouth for both of them. I think Phillipe is self-conscious about his English, though its very good, but he is very quiet when he talks.

After our brief walk, we ventured into nearby Mansfield for lunch. We walked around for about half an hour, with Phillipe and Nora poking their noses into places, then walking out and apologizing to us, in what appeared to be a foreign dining ritual. Ryan and I followed the two of them around, wondering what criteria the pubs and cafes were being judged on. Finally Phillipe turned to us and broke his silence. In his low, accented voice he said "I hate zees place." I almost had to laugh, it seemed like something from a movie. Nora joked "they invented spaghetti so now they are the culinary authority."

We finally settled on a pub, and Phillipe was excited to find the Australian/English rugby game on. Nora and Phillipe coached us through the rules, and I have to say the sport is infinitely more exciting than American football. This one in particular was an intense grudge match, since the last Rugby World Cup was between England and Australia, wherein Australia was stomped on their home turf. The game was pretty intense, and it was exciting to hear the cheering in the bar. The English won, 12-10 and the bar was full of hoots and hollers. Only Nora was disappointed, she said as an Irish person it was against her principles to root for England.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Friend Hunting and Job, reverse that.

Sad to report, I did not get the lunch lady job. I blame prejudice against Americans. No, not really, though it is harder to check my references. I have several CVs out currently and two interviews in the immediate future.

The job hunt in England is fairly different than job hunting in the US. You must have a CV for even minor, minimum-wage jobs. And it is a major faux pas to mention to a prospective employer that you are considering taking more than one part-time job. (Although President Bush calls it "uniquely American" and "fantastic")* Apparently the two employers would have to coordinate for tax purposes and the Simon Cowell impersonator I interviewed for yesterday was very adamant about not bothering with this. It was a little harsh for this foreigner.
But, like I said, I have many irons in the fire at the moment.

In other news, on Wednesday I joined Ryan and his research group for lunch at one of his school's cafeteria, which has a full bar, which is open for lunch also. His group is made up of 1 Irish guy, 2 Greek fellows, and a Chinese bloke. We were talking about our travels and I must admit I felt pretty ignorant. I've thought of myself as fairly well-informed because I watch world news and took a class on International Relations. But the Irish guy, Micheal, knew not only where Montana is, but the states that border it and its national parks. I was like, "Oh, that the one with the IRA or is that North Ireland?"

That night there was a post-grad engineering social at The Orange Tree, one of the local pubs. It was pretty fun and we met a lot of people. Some of the conversations were actually a series of misunderstandings because the other party was not a native English speaker and the pub was very loud! But it was fun, and I did meet a lady named Nora who is married to a French student and we had a good talk since we are going through a lot of the same things-- adjusting to married life, following our husbands to other countries, looking for work in the UK, visas, and all that. We also had a good laugh about how our engineering husbands calculate everything. In Ryan's case its "If we ruin this meat, it costs blank, versus buying something pre-cooked, minus the cost of labor...." and so on. It's comforting to know that engineers are the same no matter what country you are in.

*"You work three jobs? Uniquely American, isn't it? I mean, that is fantastic that you're doing that." (Bush speaking to a divorced mother of three, Omaha, Nebraska, Feb. 4, 2005)

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Good work England

Yesterday I had a realization of sorts. I'd emailed my Dad to complain about how filthy our new flat is, and he emailed me back with the remarks "You can expect the cleanliness issue to reoccur as you move around because we Americans are clean freaks."

I've always known, at least at a logical level, that just because I did things a certain way in America didn't mean that its the right way; but somehow this notion had failed to permeate. I know that up until now I've been feeling icy towards England-- I had never expected things to be so different.

Taylor teased me before we left that the UK isn't really a foreign country, and though I laughed, I think somewhere deep down I believed it. We share so many things; I would've been prepared for huge changes if we were moving to Africa or Japan, but England seems like it should be much closer to America-- like Canada. But whereas Canada is just like walking around in America, with a few laughable differences, Britain is entirely different. Walking around here, I am keenly aware that there are rules being followed by everyone else and I have no clue what they are.

But we are making progress. Today while crossing the street, I looked to the right without thinking about it. Normally I forget which direction the cars are coming from and just look back-and-forth-and-back-and-forth-and-back-and-forth vigorously until I feel it is safe. AND there are a lot of good things about England. Surprisingly, the food is one of them. Ryan and I have yet to eat bad pub grub (even the peas weren't mushy, Bonnie!). And have any of you heard of pasties? That's a "short a" p-ah-sties, not p-ay-sties, the nipple twirl things. Anyway, they are like the fast food of England, like a little chicken pot pie you can carry around and eat with your hands! And they come in such a variety of fillings! Good work, England.

In other news, I had a job interview lady to be a "catering assistant" aka a lunch lady, at a very posh private school. I find this job bizarrely desirable, and think I would make a hilarious lunch lady.

Monday, October 1, 2007

New Digs

Sorry its been over a week since the last post. It has been crazy!

So, last you read our heroine and hero were vigorously and disappointedly seeking accomodation. Well, for lack of time I'll sum up. After two more disappointing days of bouncing around different letting agencies, and a completely useless bus ride to nearby Shepshed, we finally made a break.

Thursday in Lboro is market day, and also the day the paper comes out. For the hell of it I called an ad from the classifieds and got a viewing appt. I called several more and we made four appointments total Thursday night and Friday. Most of the places were pretty disappointing. But, with a glowing review from our B&B hosts, who were very lovely, we took a room in a shared house on Friday. We jetted out of town on Saturday and spent a lovely 2 days in Bath and then 2 in the Cotswolds, which I'll write about later.

We came back on Thursday this week to find that the promised "cleaning service" had failed to materialize. After speaking to a roommate, she offered up the opinion that our landlord is a lying sack of scum. He's been very nice to Ryan and I so far, and has met all of our requests minus this cleaning bit. He's even offered us a free meal at his steak restaurant, which I'm hoping we can take advantage of tonight.

The house was built circa 1820 and is well preserved. The shared kitchen and living room are large and our room is quite nice. But it is very dirty and our dryer doesn't work. It was the only place we looked at that actually had a dryer, so I guess its a toss up. The kitchen and bathroom need a lot of work. Ryan scrubbed at the stove last night while I constructed a chicken pot pie remarking "Say what you want about Juan and I, but we NEVER lived like this!"

One fun fact about European construction: the idea of a single faucet has not crossed the pond for the most part. All the sinks here have seperate taps for hot and cold water, so you basically have a choice of freezing or scalding. Yes, they built some of the most beautiful buildings in the world, but give me warm tap water any day.

Last but not least, our roommates are quickly vanishing. One moved out on Saturday to attend university in another town, but the one on the top floor has apparently jumped ship after getting two months behind on rent. And our remaining roommate, who is keeper of the internet, we haven't seen since Friday. We were hoping she'd hook up our cable so we can call home via Skype, but no such luck. She has got a lot of stuff around the house, so I don't believe she's jumped ship, but we'll see......