Monday, September 29, 2008

Two Months

Today marks two months since I moved to the UK. In some ways it feels as if I have been here longer, and in others it feels like I am still just getting my feet wet. This week I received my National Insurance number, which is basically the same thing as a Social Security number. I guess you could say that now I am definitely an official resident of the UK because now I can pay taxes to the British government.

I still feel like I speak a completely different language. I needed chicken broth for a recipe and Jason was going out to get a paper so I asked him to pick me up some chicken broth. He came back with condensed cream of chicken soup. We went to the grocery store and I asked him to point me toward the soup, I found a can of chicken broth but to my surprise the word "broth" here means exactly the opposite of what it means in America. In America chicken stock and chicken broth both mean "chicken flavored water". Here, chicken broth is chicken soup and chicken stock is chicken flavored water. Add this difference in dialect in with the fact that I was grocery shopping with a man and you have a married couple standing in the soup aisle of the grocery store trying to figure out what they call "chicken flavored water" here in this country and where they might keep it in a grocery store.

This seems to be a conversation we have over and over again and its a good thing we are very patient with each other because every time we go into a store it seems like the thing I am looking for is not in the place I would expect it to be and after explaining it to a sales associate while they look at me like I am either crazy or just fascinating they finally decode my secret language and have a "Eureka! You mean bobbledy boos!" moment and then point me in the right direction. It seems to me even the simplest of things have a different name, come in different packaging and in the case of food almost always come in strange flavors. If anything this experience of describing things has made it clear to me at times how arbitrary products names are on both sides of the pond. I find myself so often having to break down something into descriptives and then I am always left wondering "Why on earth do we call it zucchini?"

There are still a few items that I simply can't find the name for. For example, it is autumn and I am naturally craving some hot apple cider. Much to my frustration, the term "cider" is already taken and is my favorite alocholic beverage. Cider here is a cold carbonated alcoholic apple beverage. I asked Jason the other day if he knows where I could find "cloudy apple juice" or "unfiltered apple juice" and he seemed to be drawing a complete blank. I haven't given up faith that at least by the time winter rolls around I will have identified what they call cider here and I will be enjoying some mugs of hot cloudy apple juice.

That wraps it up for this week, next week I promise I will post on Monday. Jason was home for a long weekend and we finished painting our bathroom. Once we have installed new fixtures I will post some photos of the transformation. Thanks for reading!

Monday, September 22, 2008

What's on the telly?

Jason was back at work last week and naturally the weather was grey and misty most of the week so I stayed in and got myself acquainted with British daytime television. There are a few notable things about British television. First of all, about half of the programs are American anyway so its really not that much different, with the exception of commercials. That leads me to the second notable thing about British television which is that there are fewer commercials. The main reason for this is that British television is not free, to watch basic television in the UK you must purchase a box which is ironically named a "freeview" box. You need to purchase this freeview box in order to get the basic channels from an antenna. Also, you must a pay an annual license fee which for colour TV is about £140 per year. So, given the cost of watching television it is only right that they have about 50-60% fewer commercials. When watching American shows a 30 minute show is normally only about 20-25 minutes long.

TV License aside, I think British television is really wonderful. Here are just a few of my favorite things about it. Unlike American TV, promotions for shows on networks are always funny. Instead of seeing the same boring promotion for a television show over and over again, an effort is always made to make these promotions entertaining. Exhibit A is the promotion for "Girls Night Out" which is on Thursday nights. They play "girly" shows like Ugly Betty and Samantha Who? back to back on Thursday nights on a certain network. First of all, just the idea that they could group together several shows on a large network and label it as "Girls Night In" I find very refreshing. If you were to promote something like this in the US on any network (other than Oxygen or Lifetime, which are designated for these things) the network would surely get sued for casting a stereotype and labeling any shows as "for women". Below is a clip of the promotion for "Girls Night In" which always makes me laugh.

Although the quantity of commercials is smaller, the quality is definitely better. Here are a couple of my favorite commercials.

I think the reason I love this commercial so much is because of how horrible the Burger King commercials are in the US. They should consider an approach like this one instead of the really creepy plastic king.

If you are a frequent YouTuber- you have probably seen the first Cadbury advert featuring this gorilla, but this is a new one and although it has nothing at all to do with chocolate everyone loves it.

Another thing I love is how candid British TV is. One example is the introductions and disclaimers for television shows. In the US, a very serious black screen and a very stern man will warn you that a show contains strong language that might not be suitable for children and "parental discretion is advised". The other night I was about to settle in to watch a bit of Sex and the City (which by the way isn't censored here) and before the show a voice over came across and the woman said "This show contains strong language and some nudity, which lets be honest is the reason we watch it anyway!"

Here are some descriptions of my top 3 favorite British TV shows:

1) Don't Tell The Bride: This is a show where the producers of the show give a couple £15,000 to spend on their wedding. The catch is that every single decision must be made by the groom alone with help only from his best man. He has three weeks to plan the wedding and the bride can't know anything about the decisions he makes. It is a very heartwarming show because even though the guys screw up, they do everything they can to try to please their bride-to-be and it is fun to watch them getting into the details. My favorite moment was when a groom decided to cancel the chair covers in order to afford a group of break dancers to perform at the reception.

2) Come Dine With Me: This is a brilliant show where a group of five people who live in the same county spend 5 evenings together where they trade off hosting dinner parties for each other. At the end of each dinner party the other 4 guests have to give them a score which is kept a secret from everyone and on the last night when the scores are revealed, whoever has the highest score wins £5,000. Its funny to see how different people entertain.

3) The Dragons' Den: This is a show where 5 millionaire business executives, coined "the dragons" are presented with proposals from inventors and entrepreneurs. The entrepreneurs come in asking for a certain amount of investment and offering a stake in the company and they pitch their product or idea to the dragons in hopes of walking away with an investment as well as the business savvy of one or more of the dragons. It is interesting to see the different innovations people are bringing before the panel.

That is all for this week! More next Monday...

Monday, September 15, 2008

Honeymoon Photos

I promise this will be my last post about France, this is after all supposed to be a blog about life in England. However, I do think my trip to France fits into the scheme of "life in England" because the proximity to the European continent is part of living here. In the US we vacation in places like New York or Florida or California, here the trips are basically the same distance but you need a passport to get where you are going.

I have made several different albums of the different sights in Paris that we visited so it is easier to navigate all of the photos. I will post the albums in kind of a "Top Ten List" fashion starting with my favorite site and working my way down.

Here is an album of general out and about in Paris photos which also includes the river boat cruise we took. Also, here are the photos from Vernon including photos of the beautiful cathedral there.

1. Giverny- no explanation needed!
2. Orangerie- a museum dedicated to Impressionism and the home of Monet's Water Lilies masterpieces!
3. Orsay- the best collection of Impressionest paintings! Also, a beautiful sculpture collection. I think this was the best laid out museum I have ever been to. The museum used to be a train station and has a very open floorplan. Many of the most famous Impressionist paintings by Monet, Manet, Van Gogh and others are on display here.
4. Saint Chappelle- by far one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. I literally gasped when I stepped into the upper sanctuary. Definitely lives up to its reputation as the most beautiful church in Paris!
5. Notre Dame- as beautiful as I had expected. What can't be captured in these photos was the beautiful chorale music that was being played there. The ambiance the music and the flickering candles created was so serene and memorable.
6. Arc de Triomphe- a wonderful view of Paris! The very long winding walk up (284 steps) was definitely worth the view at the top.
7. Eiffel Tower- if I were to do it again I would not have gone to the very top. The view wasn't all that great and the lines were very long at every level. I would have just gone up to the second level (which has a very good view) and then spent more time on the ground where the views of the tower were really amazing. The draw of the tower isn't the view from the tower but the views of the tower itself, especially the light show every hour on the hour.
8. Hotel des Invalides- this is where Napoleon's tomb is located underneath the golden dome of the church inside. This building used to be a military hospital and now houses the military museum. We explored the museum that covers the two world wars which was one of the best war museums I have ever visited. The church with the golden dome that is within was almost sickeningly opulent and Napoleon's tomb was gigantic. Hard to believe such a tiny man was encased in there.
9. St Sulpice- this was a very interesting and beautiful church. We stood on the Meridien Line, known to Dan Brown fans as the "rose line" although as the literature in the church explained this isn't truly the purpose of the Meridien Line.
10. Louvre- I didn't expect to enjoy the Louvre too much, I had heard the Mona Lisa is kind of a let down so I it was exactly what I expected. I am not a huge fan of classical style art so most of the thousands of paintings housed here aren't interesting to me. The one thing I really did love was "Winged Victory". I think it was the most beautiful sculpture I have ever seen and the location it is in at the Louvre definitely suits it.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Honeymoon in France- Part II

It has now been a couple days since Jason and I returned from Paris. I took over 1,000 photos (seriously) and I am overwhelmed with trying to decide which ones to post because I am sure nobody wants to go through the hassle of going through all 1,000 photos. Instead what I will do is create a bunch of photo albums from each location and if you would like to check out a certain thing you can. I will probably post these later this week.

Back to where I left off with my last entry, On the second day of our honeymoon Jason and I visited Claude Monet's home and gardens in Giverny, France. It was a long but manageable walk from our B&B to Giverny on the foot path that ran along the back of the house. The footpath actually used to be a railroad but parts of the railroad was destroyed in WWII so the remaining parts were turned into a footpath which is quite nice. The area is very hilly so it worked out that the foot path used to be a railroad because it made getting around much easier for us since it was straight and level.

I don't think I can come up with words to describe how beautiful Claude Monet's gardens are. The last day of our trip we visited the Marmottan Museum which is a museum in Paris dedicated solely to the life and works of Claude Monet. I remember the audiguide at the museum saying that after Monet planted his garden and created the lily pond he created around 300 paintings there, which I found interesting because it was about the same number of photos I took of the gardens. Every flower seemed to be different here, some of the blooms were about the size of my head and even a flower as simple as the daisy was extraordinary because the daisy plants were over 7 feet tall. The garden is still impeccibly maintained which is one credit I have to give to the French about their historical sites. Sites like Monet's Garden and Versailles are still maintained to the level of perfection as when they were functioning homes. Now, they are just there for the benefit of visitors and I can't imagine the money and manpower that goes into keeping them up.

Later I will post an album of all the photos I took in Giverny, but for now here are a few of my favorites. Enjoy!

Me in the "Grand Alley"

That is me over on the other side of the pond! The willow trees were huge!

The lily pond!

Another of the many photos of me by the lily pond

One of the many rows of the the "walled garden" directly behind the house.