Yesterday was… ?

I was at meetings in East London yesterday, which I do about once every month or two, and these events inevitably end in the pub with the group. I managed to divulge one of those little pieces of Americana that I don’t even think about as being unusual, but it shocked the assembled Britain-dwelling (although not all Britain-born) masses into silence, and left everyone staring at me with their jaws hanging floorward. They were discussing “pancake day” (Shrove Tuesday) and how they needed to go home and make pancakes. I had been seeing signs in the kitchenware shop down the street from me advertising pancake day and trying to sell pancake-making implements, but I had certainly not heard of “pancake day” before moving here and it’s not something I would have thought of yesterday. I was, however, from reading American papers, aware that it was Mardi Gras. Someone must have asked me in passing if the Americans celebrated pancake day, to which I replied (too hastily), “No, but today there will be loads of girls in New Orleans for Mardi Gras drinking too much and lifting their shirts to flash strangers.”

Yeah, you could have heard a pin drop. Oops. But, it’s true, New Orleans is the only place I can think of where people plan in advance to go out drinking and purposefully not be wearing bras for this adventurous practice. I have not been to NoLa for Mardi Gras, although I was there one year for a conference that fell close to St. Patrick’s day, which I have been assured was very Mardi Gras-like, including a parade, beads, t*ts, the whole thing. The conversation moved on to discuss Carnivale and the fact that there were a variety of interesting things happening yesterday depending on where you were. It’s a pretty funny cultural commentary, I thought: the Brits are eating pancakes while the Americans, North and South, are flashing a lot of skin at passers-by. Hmmm. Not sure what that means. But Lent starts today regardless of what you did yesterday.

4 responses to “Yesterday was… ?

  1. I am really bad at making pancakes. Really bad. Perhaps I should try the alternative entertainment. I might be more skilled at flashing.

  2. My wife made pancakes for tea lasst night, a tradition we observe every year. As far as I know, she hasn’t flashed anyone in a while, however.

  3. Dammit, I missed it!

    The celebration tends to be done in the evening — it’s not an official all-day holiday here, unlike Mardi Gras.

    Also, our pancakes are more like French crêpes.

    For the ‘pancake day’ custom, see the lovely and long-admired site of Woodlands Junior School: .

    Something like Mardi Gras happens in London in the Notting Hill Carnival every year in August, not tied to the beginning of Lent, but with the same exuberance as its Caribbean/Brazilian models. I do hope you will drop your weary load for a day and sample it, NFAH: google for ‘Nottingham Hill Carnival’. It’s a load of fun!

  4. Wait, how have you never heard of “pancake day”? I mean, since we grew up in the same household and all…. Maybe it’s an East Coast thing? I was teaching my American Cultural History class about it (and Mardi Gras) on Tuesday, acknowledging the British origin, but noting that it is still celebrated with American-style pancakes in parts of the US… and with free pancakes at IHOP.

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