Monthly Archives: September 2008

Ooh a new book

I clicked on a story on the NY Times website today called “Margaret Thatcher’s Open Secret”–google it if the notorious NYT link doesn’t work–and no, not a wedding announcement, in fact I was so busy being at a live wedding yesterday that I have not yet read them this week! At the start of the article, I found the following introduction:

A colleague in The Times’s London bureau, Sarah Lyall, has just published a book called “The Anglo Files: A Field Guide to the British,” a cross-cultural look at what makes the British British, as seen though the eyes of an American expatriate with an English husband whom she describes as “something out of ‘Brideshead Revisited’.” Given Ms. Lyall’s perspective, I asked her thoughts on the recent revelation that former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, like President Ronald Reagan before her, is losing her mind and her memories to a form of dementia. Here are her observations, with a link to the story that is striking a chord on both sides of the Atlantic.

I had the usual reaction, which was to immediately go to amazon.co.uk and buy the book. I should have it later this week, and will let you know what I think, and if it is anywhere near as good as Kate Fox’s “Watching the English”. In the meantime, the rest of the article, about Thatcher and aging, was fairly interesting as well.

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An English Wedding

Today was the day that I got to attend my first ever English wedding. Now given the things I have said in the past, it might come as a surprise to you that it was actually the wedding of an English colleague of mine, someone I met at work and who has since become an actual friend, even to the point of being one of the first people here to invite me into his home for a little dinner party. The beautiful bride is someone I had gotten to know over the last few months, and I was so happy for the couple when they announced their engagement and then invited me to the wedding on top of it.

Somehow, I had forgotten about the hats. It was totally surreal, like something out of a movie, to be at a wedding at which the men were mostly dressed in morning suits and the women were mostly wearing fascinators if not full-on hats. I shocked a few locals by mentioning that where I grew up, it was considered disrespectful to wear a hat in church. “Even for a wedding?” several of them said back to me. They didn’t seem to comprehend it when I noted that hats (or fascinators) were not normal attire for North American weddings.

Other differences from any wedding I had ever been to: the bride and groom had chairs and sat down (I never could have done so in my wedding dress!); those in attendance sung hymns; the bride and groom moved around the church for different parts of the ceremony; there was a real trumpet for the Purcell trumpet voluntary recessional.

The day was beautiful. The weather was gorgeous, and the champagne reception outside in the garden was amazing. I teared up both during the ceremony and during the speeches at the reception. There had been a snafu and I had not ended up on the seating plan, but unlike previous experiences in England, room was found for me and even my dietary restrictions (I’m a reformed vegetarian but still only pescetarian) were accommodated — no problem. I had hoped to slip away at some point and get some work done, but the day was just too beautiful and that was not to happen.

Please, where is it that I live?

When I lived in the US, I had no trouble finding my country in a drop down list. It was always under the letter “U”. Similarly, if I was looking to convert currency, I knew I was looking for “USD” or “US dollars”. Here it’s not so easy. I’ve been stuck at check-in kiosks at the airport with no idea what my three letter country code was (GBR, in case you wondered–the kiosk helpfully mentioned that it was not UK but left me to come up with GBR on my own!) Today it happened again, and I found myself completely flummoxed at the website for the Economist, where they were running a poll on how the rest of the world would vote in the US election. You had to select your country first, and since I was thinking of myself according to where I live now, not from where I hail originally, I was looking to see what the other people in England thought. So I dropped the list down to “U” looking for UK, nothing. OK, that happens sometimes, try “G” for Great Britain. Nope. Nothing. “E” for England was also blank. And now I started to panic. The Economist is published HERE, wherever we are, why can’t I find us on the list? Tried E, G and U all again–figured I just accidentally skipped over it–but when I still couldn’t find anything I started to just read the whole list. Eventually I found us under “B” for Britain (and it took a while because I had just re-visited “U” and was coming up the list in reverse). Seriously, Britain? That is NOT what you would write on an envelope if you wanted a letter to reach me here… I give up, I clearly don’t know where I live (although I do know it’s not the U.S.A.)

A week of weddings

After the odd start to my week, with the random but fun clicking around on the internet due to a wedding announcement, it became clear by yesterday that this was a week in which weddings were the theme. Tomorrow I am due to attend a wedding here in England for the first time since my arrival, which is bound to be a fascinating experience. And in the meantime, late evenings in the middle of this week were occupied by watching the DVD of the Sex and the City movie. There’s a line in there when an angry Carrie Bradshaw yells at Miranda that she “ruined my marriage” and of course it’s not true, she may have helped disrupt the wedding but there’s a pretty crucial distinction between a wedding, a single event, and a marriage, some relationship that goes on for years, for better or for worse.

Now I have mixed feelings about all of this wedding stuff. I am a divorced person, and thirteen years ago I had a big white wedding complete with a princess dress and nearly 200 guests. Now obviously splashing out on an event like that does not guarantee the future of the couple in question, and it is my assertion after watching the phenomenon unfold that it’s really easy for the marriage in question to take a back-seat to the wedding. It is easy to get wedding blinders and not to be able to see beyond them.

Perhaps it is obvious that in light of my own history, all of this talk of weddings can put me slightly into a funk. It’s hard to think positively about all of this, and yet at the same time it’s hard to feel like I’ve lost my only chance at the ripe old age of thirtysomething. While I know I would not have a second wedding with two hundred guests and a big white dress, I sometimes wish that I did have something like what was at the end of the SATC movie, which was also remarkably similar to the small Miranda-and-Steve event from the tv show. Close friends and family only, and with a focus on the future, not the day itself. The wedding magazines and wedding industry would suggest that this is not enough, but I think it probably is. However, enough about me, it will sure be an interesting adventure to attend my first English wedding tomorrow, and see how it contrasts with those I have attended in the USA.

End of an era?

While most of the world worries about banking, headlines in these parts are about the proposed constitutional reform that will eliminate the requirements that the monarch be an Anglican. More specifically:

Downing Street has drawn up plans to end the 300-year-old exclusion of Catholics from the throne. The requirement that the succession automatically pass to a male would also be reformed, making it possible for a first born daughter of Prince William to become his heir.

Exciting stuff, right? It’s so hard for an American to understand the whole state-mandated religion in the first place. And don’t even get my republican self started on the monarchy. Or the awkwardness that occurs when I’m at a dinner event and people start toasting the queen… Well, at least photos of Prince Wills are more attractive than those of Hank Paulson…

Brighton

Today was a special day that I had marked in my calendar months in advance: my parents were in town. They were on an anniversary trip to Italy and a few other interesting places on a cruise, and had arranged a stop-over at the Hilton at Gatwick airport so we could hang out and do something fun. So we did. Since Gatwick is on the train line to Brighton, we headed there this morning. I left home at an ungodly (and very un-me!) hour to meet them and zoom down to the coast, as I had not been there before.

Brighton was amazing and we had a great time. None of us had any idea what to expect. I had checked my “Traveler’s Southern England Companion” and thus had a few ideas, but was really unprepared for the amazing stuff that we actually saw when we got there. We headed straight for the beach on arrival, and after walking down to the waterfront, walked towards the Palace Pier for starters. I bought a painting in a gallery, which was extremely exciting and part of my new philosophy that I should replace faux-art from Target with real art from actual artists. It was the most money I’ve ever spent on original art, although hopefully that will change soon as I continue to develop this new grown-up philosophy. (Artist’s website is here.) That was fun, but we were more intrigued with the ruins of the West Pier. Less than an hour after arriving, I was kicking myself for not bringing my camera, and I will have to add photos later when I get copies from my Mum. We next went to Waterstone’s to pick up some information “of local interest” realizing that we had found something fun but were totally unprepared for it all.

Next we hit the Royal Pavilion, which was again totally amazing and frankly unexpected. I could chastise myself for being unprepared, or simply admit my delight in wandering around a new town and enjoying the thrill of discovery.

We had lunch, did some shopping (I bought new boots, which is consistent with the other half of my philosophy–since my friends save one all have spouses and children, I am allowed to spend money on art and shoes without remorse!) and returned to the parentals’ hotel.

It was a great day and reminded me how stupid I am if I never get out of my own neighborhood and explore this rich country. I have spent far more time on the continent than I have in England when not at home in the town where I live, and clearly I am missing out on many interesting things to be seen. Fortunately or unfortunately, I only seem to get out and see things when I have guests, but my Mum’s desire to see castles should drive a longer and equally if not more fascinating adventure for the three of us some time in the not-too-distant-future. Now I am exhausted and have to work hard the rest of the week to make up for playing hooky today, but it was well worth it!

click…click…click

Ever get caught in a click-loop on the internet? Like when you suddenly realize you spent more than an hour on Wikipedia and are nowhere near the page you started from, and can barely recall how you got there? I had one of those today, but it involves another expat blog and the story of how I got there is going to cause me enough mortification to last through the Equinox and beyond.

For many weeks and months now, I have read every single wedding announcement in the New York Times. They are published on Sundays and when I wake up on Sunday, this is one of the things I do over coffee. This is, of course, the mortifying confession part. I have no idea why I do this. It started one random week when I was reading the actual news on the NYTimes.com and they had a wedding featured on the site as one of the links from the main page. I read the story and then realized, interesting, they have the wedding announcements here. So I read more of them. Then it became a sociological experiment. I encourage anyone who wants to take the piss to actually try this–read them for a few weeks and split the couples into lawyers, doctors and other. It’s quite an interesting experiment. Regardless, now you know my guilty secret and I can go on with my story.

I have never, ever found something in a NYT bridal announcement that led to further investigation until today. It was this announcement: link, may or may not work since NYT is picky about registration and things, but was the wedding notice for Lisa Charo and Alex Bain. People I do not know from Adam and Eve. And the notice had an interesting note about the company owned by the groom which I then googled. I found nothing about the company, but the website of the groom. And from there, the website of the couple’s cat.

Yes, I know. But I love cats. I read icanhascheezburger regularly and send links to friends. And have one of these silly cat images on my desktop at work. So from there, a link to Levys in London, because they have a cat that is apparently ‘friends’ with the cat of the wedding couple.

So now I was on a site of an American couple in London, and I proceeded to read everything on the site, including plenty of amusing stuff that resonated with me as an expat. So I found this site in a strange and crazy way, but was back in familiar territory with something that made me feel less crazy. I am always happy to find sites of American expats commenting on the things that make Britain different.

So what have I learned? One, I spend too much time online in random click-loops, although it’s hard to complain when they have promising results. Two, I waste too much time when I could be working, which is what I did the rest of the day (except for a trip to the gym). Three, I have an irrational affection for the personification of cats. Four, I have a clearly unhealthy interest in the wedding announcements on the NY Times, especially since I have only been to NYC twice ever. Five, I wonder if I should just break down and buy a television since that is a far more sensible way to waste time than this!