The Peculiarities of the English

I’ve now been in England for a little over four months and the initial disorientation of living in another country has worn away to a happy familiarity. Durham no longer seems like a confused array of medieval streets squeezed around the River Wear. Well it is a confused array of medieval streets but I have come to know where many of them lead. I have learned the subtle nuances of the language and can now wear fringe while drinking Earl Grey and eating Jaffa Cakes. Despite all this, on occasion I am still amazed by some of the differences between here and the States. I’ve chosen a few of my favourites to highlight in this, my first post of February.
The English hate interior W’s.
The easiest way to peg yourself as a foreigner is by mispronouncing place names. If you ever come to England you must be prepared to ignore interior w’s at all costs. For example, while I was in London I visited Southwark Cathedral. In the US we would pronounce this as it is written, South-wark. Across the Atlantic, however, it is pronounced Suth-ark with the emphasis on the first syllable. There are other examples of this peculiarity of English pronunciation. There is a stately home near Durham called Alnwick Castle. Now, have a go at pronouncing it as the English would. Nope. It’s pronounced An-nuk again with the emphasis on the first syllable.
So here are some other place names you may want to practice before boarding a plane bound for England (Ing-lund). Not all are odd for the interior w rule, but it’s best to be prepared.
Norwich (Nor-ich)
Leicester (Les-ter)
Peterborough (Pe-ter-bro)
 Edinburgh (Ed-in-bruh)
The traffic lights are very clever.
How often have you been stuck at what seems an interminable red light with no way of know when you will be allowed to continue on your way? You may get lucky and be able to spy the light for the cross traffic for a clue, or perhaps the stream of traffic provides a tell by slowing down. Sometimes though, it really comes as a surprise.
In England, they have solved this problem with the clever use of an extra amber light. Allow me to explain. In the US the rhythm of the traffic light is red to green to amber to red. In England the rhythm is red to red/amber to green to amber to red. That extra amber gives you a chance to get in gear and get your foot off the break and ease the clutch. It is quite clever really.

Red….Red/Amber….Green….Amber. Never wonder when the light is going to change to green again!
The chocolate is to die for.
After extensive research in the form of verbal surveys of a cross section of my acquaintances (it was all very scientific, trust me) and personal taste testing (this was quite an important part of the research and was repeated several times to ensure adequate controls were in place) I have come to the conclusion that the chocolate in England is far superior to the chocolate in the US. This is not just the case with gourmet chocolate but also with Kit Kat bars and Cadbury Cream Eggs.

All you have to do is compare the ingredients of a Kit Kat bar from the US and Europe to see there is a difference. In the UK they are made from 66% milk chocolate (sugar, cocoa butter, cocoa mass, dried whole milk, lactose and proteins from whey, whey powder, sunflower lecithin, butterfat, wheat flour, vegetable fat, yeast, sodium bicarbonate, salt, soya lecithin. In the US they use sugar, wheat flour, cocoa butter, nonfat milk, chocolate, refined palm kernel oil, lactose, milk fat, 2% or less of soy lecithin, PGPR (whatever that is), yeast, artificial flavour, salt, and sodium bicarbonate. So they aren’t terribly different but where they divulge deliciousness ensues.

The result is that English chocolate is creamier and smoother. It tastes fresher, sweeter, and it melts in your mouth. If you don’t believe me, I urge you to conduct your own experiment. Then this little conclusion of mine can be said to be peer reviewed.

Mmmmmm….creamy. (by Wilson180)
No one is perfect over here.
You all must be tired of hearing about the English grading system, but I have come to look on it as a model for how grading should be done. Remember that 50 and over is a pass, 60 to 70 is a second, and a 70 and over is a first. Few receive marks over 80 and no one receives a perfect score.
This may seem harsh, like attaining perfection is impossible, but that is precisely why it is brilliant. Let’s be honest no one is perfect (this is a difficult thing for me to accept as a self-admitted perfectionist). The English system acknowledges that there is always room for improvement and growth. There is no stagnation, only the continued drive to improve. In the US I frequently received 100s and while that was lovely, I never felt the need to push beyond what I thought were my limits. Now that I am receiving marks in the high 60s and low 70s I have somewhere to go. I have a destination in mind and as a result I work harder and have exceeded my own expectations of myself.  
They really do take tea breaks.
Since I began working at one of the university’s museums on Fridays I have been indoctrinated into the ritual of elevenses and afternoon tea. I’m not sure if you are familiar with the episode of Animaniacs where Brain decides to try to take over the world by stopping Big Ben at 4:00pm thereby creating infinite tea time. If not you should check it out.
It really is like clockwork (no pun intended). The staff of the museum meets in the staffroom at 11:00am to enjoy a cuppa, some biscuits, and conversation. Then at 4:00pm the process is repeated. I cannot tell you how nicely it breaks up the working day. From 9:00am – 11:00am you begin your work and get set up for the day. From 11:00am – 11:15am you enjoy a break with colleagues. Then from 11:15am – 1:00pm you get stuck in on your projects. An hour for lunch brings you to 2:00pm – 4:00pm where you hopefully get even further with what you’re doing. From 4:00pm – 4:15pm another break with colleagues and caffeine and then only 45 minutes before you head home. It is all rather civilised and you get to know the people you work with and have much needed laugh on tough days.    

Is it time for elvenses? (Photo by dragonflysky)

 There are probably more things I could mention, driving on the other side of the road, the plethora of accents, the unusual words (see my dictionary if you want examples), the weather, the healthcare system, the television license, but to be honest I am more amazed at how often I feel like I’m back home. Sometimes things here seem and look just like they do in the US and I find myself getting a bit disoriented, as though I can’t remember which side of the ocean I’m on. Just the other day I was in an area that so strongly reminded me of a city in my home state that I actually thought that’s where I was. So really, there are many differences and the differences make both countries special, but we are more similar than not, and I am glad for that. 

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