Tag Archives: culture

Kimchi Jigae and Mash

Having lived in England for the past nine months, I think I’ve become more British-ish in many ways. I drink tea with milk at least 6 times a day, I get irrationally over-annoyed when someone jumps the checkout line at the grocery store, and I’m somehow O.K. with the fact that it’s already May but the weather is more like what would happen if there were a monsoon season in the Arctic. And although my spelling remains devoutedly American, I have changed in one other, major way: taking on a more literal outlook to the world around me.

Here, I’ve found, if you ask for a little bit of wine at the dinner table, the server will literally give you two drops worth of liquid. If you ask for a big portion of fries, they will stare blankly at you until you point at what you mean or say “chips”, after which they will give you a plate full of fries with no room for anything else, such as vegetables or something not fried. And if a British friend asks you what you want to drink at a bar, Continue reading

Out of the Blue

Out of the Blue – Chronicles from Winter Tour 2011

Here’s a selection of stories from among the funniest moments of our road trip across England, as well as a few frivolous reflections of an American living (undercover) amongst a bunch of British a cappella singers.

Happy New Year!

Day 1: Let’s not forget about that time at the very wee beginning of tour when, ironically, the British rental car company wouldn’t take the Brit’s driver’s license (i.e. Nick B.’s) but gladly accepted my flimsy, fake ID “issued” by the State of Illinois as proof of driving ability, general maturity, sanity, etc etc. (Just kidding Laurie, it’s a real license.)

Anyway, the blokes at that car rental place clearly think too highly of Americans: although I’ve been driving since I was sixteen, I’ve only manned a manual car twice. Continue reading

The Awkward Tables

Here’s the third of a monthly series of columns I’ll be writing from abroad, as originally published in my hometown paper, the Barrington Courier-Review

Romantic Friday dinners were my favorite in college: at the end of each school week, one of the dining halls on campus would dim the overhead lights, put out dozens of tea candles and hire a pianist to play some generic, swoozy-jazzy tunes while we munched on Ginger-Scallion Stir-Fried Chicken and Apple Tofu Crisp. The weekly event took place in the dining hall that also had the infamous “Awkward Tables,” which were unusually narrow and had seating for at most two people to squish together side-by-side. They were perfect for situations when you didn’t want anyone else to join you, and also for when you wanted to minimize direct eye contact with whomever you were eating. In other words, it was the ideal setting for breaking up with a significant other, confronting a suitemate about their flatulence or talking about touchy-feely things in general — especially on Fridays, when the background music and candlelit glow would have a general soothing effect and help smooth over any ruffled feathers.

The thing is, I never questioned until now why “being emotional” qualified as an activity that best took place surreptitiously at one of the Awkward Tables; it was just a fact that most seemed to accept. (I think part of it’s because our collective societal machoness tells us that talking about feelings is inherently superfluous.) Looking back on my four years as an undergraduate, I realize that the majority of my time spent eating candlelit dinners Continue reading

Seduce Me With Grease

THOUGHTS ON SUCCESSFUL WOOING STRATEGIES

There are three major signs as to whether or not you are living the student life: First, you repair broken plastic hangers with duct tape rather than spend the 99 cents required to buy a new five-pack. Second, the number of times you (don’t) do laundry every semester appalls your mother. Third, you spend most of your waking hours in the same baggy sweater and pair of pajama pants, especially around final exam time. Given these habits, it’s not surprising that most students are notoriously bad at the art of seduction: although we might procrastinate from work by strategizing about how to woo that potential significant other, our grandiose plans often fail, since most people are unimpressed by the clutter of repaired hangers and dirty laundry that epitomize students’ lifestyles.

Even so, in the highly unlikely case that someone out there in the world is strategizing about how to seduce me, I figured it would be helpful to provide step-by-step instructions on how best to do so. To start, I want to make clear that it will take a lot more than an overabundance of papers, books and soiled clothes littered on the floor to faze me. Moreover, I tend to look fondly upon those who share my passion for consuming greasy, salty or otherwise preserved snack foods during stressful times; I have a special spot in my heart for Easy Mac and buffalo chicken pizza Continue reading

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High Tea

THOUGHTS ON TEA (and learning how to make friends with British people)

British people are obsessed with at least three things: apologizing to anyone and anything they bump into, glowering at you if you jump a queue and drinking tea.

Frankly, I didn’t know anything about high tea before stepping foot into the United Kingdom a few weeks ago. During college, I had always brewed and chugged whatever kind of tea they had left sitting out in the dining hall just to get through a long night of essay writing and procrastination. Given that I had never paid much attention to what kind of tea I was drinking, I didn’t quite get why people here seemed to be obsessed with the concept of afternoon and high teas: to me, the drink was just a more appealing source of caffeine than Red Bull or instant coffee.

To investigate, I dressed up a little nicer than my American standards would normally allow and ventured into the stodgiest, most expensive looking teahouse-type place I could find in London: Fortnum & Mason. The store, started decades before America even won its independence, gives off the posh air of a Neiman Marcus or Saks, but with dark wood and plush carpets in lieu of the brightly lit shiny surfaces that dominate American department stores. Continue reading