The Founding Fathers versus Henry VIII

393413_10150521073198659_1104260466_nEvery year my daughter’s North Yorkshire primary school performs a Nativity Play. Shepherds with towels on their heads herding cotton-wool-costumed sheep; Wise Kings bearing gold tissue paper gifts; flocks of tinsel-draped angels; Mary picking her nose because she has been sat too long by a painted cardboard manger: proper old-school Nativity Play.  This happens annually at schools all over Britain.  I never questioned it nor gave it a second thought—save the disappointment that my child, a drama teacher’s daughter, couldn’t cope with a bit of donkey choreography.

My mother questioned it.

‘What if there’s a Jewish child?’

‘Err…’  I struggled.

Do we have Jews in England?  I haven’t met any.  This struck me as odd considering how many I know in America.  But Rabbi Lionel Blue has a regular spot on Thought for the Day and there’s a good bagel deli in North Leeds which never opens on Saturday.  Britain must have at least a few Jews.

‘Hindus, Muslims, Atheists?’ persisted my mother.

‘Oh, we have plenty of those,’ I replied brightly, pleased I could show some cultural awareness of my adopted nation.

‘Don’t they complain?’

‘About what?’ I asked.

‘The Nativity Play!’ exclaimed Mom.

‘Why?’

‘Because,’ my mother sighed in frustration, ‘the play is Christian.  It’s religious.’

‘It is?’  I gave my mother a puzzled look.  ‘But no one here seems to think a Nativity Play is religious,’ I protested.

I didn’t need my mother’s raised eyebrow to realise how ridiculous this sounded.  Of course—of course a Nativity Play is religious. Nativity Plays date back to the ninth century, a time-honoured religious tradition.   Of course the birth of Jesus lies at the heart of Christian faith.  And of course any self-respecting, First Amendment loving American should recoil in horror from the very idea of a public school hosting such an obviously Christian event.

Oh my God!  My daughter’s school has been breaking the law every year.  And no one has ever turned them in.  Was the whole community in on the secret?  Have there been underground meetings?  Have pacts been made?  Signed in blood?  Where does the conspiracy end?

My mind raced.  What about Songs of Praise and Thought for the Day?  The BBC is state funded.  Good Friday and Easter Monday are recognised Bank Holidays.  Religious Education is part of the National Curriculum.  My students have been led in prayer by our Assistant Head teacher.  He hands out Bibles.  In school!

Holy Mary!  Why has no one sued Britain for Religious Persecution or Human Rights violations?  Someone call the ACLU!

Of course they don’t have the ACLU in England.  More importantly, England has no separation of church and state.  Thanks to Henry VIII, the Church of England and the English Nation are one—inextricably linked.   This was the whole point of America—to escape the persecution of a national church unwilling to embrace diverse faiths.

The impact of a State Church does not end with school Nativity Plays.  Aside from the reigning sovereign being head of The Church of England, Parliament includes church leaders.  The House of Lords, vaguely equitable to America’s Senate, is made up of two unelected branches.  The Lords Temporal consists of the aristocracy, those with inherited or sometimes earned titles.  The Lords Spiritual is a body of religious leaders: the Bishops of Durham, Winchester, London and the Archbishops of York and Canterbury.  Church leadership plays a direct role in the government.  Astounding!  Like all true American souls mine is certain—absolutely certain—that church and state should be separate.  In England they are joined at the highest legal, judicial and executive levels.

Yet American currency declares “In God We Trust”.  The Pledge of Allegiance: “One Nation Under God.”  Presidents end every sentence with “God Bless America.”  Clearly we’re kidding ourselves with this whole separation thing.

But that’s not the punchline.  England, with her state religion, head of the church monarch and primary school Nativities, is a far more secular nation than America could ever hope to be.  While America clings to God, England keeps God at a respectful and perhaps mistrustful arm’s length.

In 2011 the UK census reported 25% as “Having No Religion”.  In the same year only 16% of Americans claimed no religious affiliation.  72% of Americans identified as Christian while in the UK the number was only 59%.  Church attendance numbers are far lower than that.  It’s a bizarre reversal—though perhaps not that bizarre considering our histories.

America was founded by Puritans (religious zealots England cheerfully transported in their version of events).  Our churches have been centre stage of many great accomplishments: the Anti-Slavery movement, Labour Reform, Women’s Suffrage, Civil Rights.  England has been battered by its history with religion: Crusades, Catholic versus Protestant, The Hundred Years’ War, Irish Troubles, more Witch hunts than Salem could shake a stake at.  This is, naturally, a sweeping generalisation.  Of course it is.  It’s a thousand year trend.  But my point is valid.

970814_10151670015783659_876120044_nEngland has assimilated religion to the point where Nativity plays, Christening ceremonies, church holidays and even the buildings themselves—so many beautiful and ancient hymns of architecture— have been all but drained of spiritual meaning.  59% of the British identify Christian, but almost every parent I know Christens their child.  They might need Sat Nav to find the church, but they get there.  At the same time, a part of England’s racial memory recoils from religious fervour.  Like an alcoholic whose past traumas prevent her from drinking too deeply.

On the opposite shore, America tries to keep religion out of politics.  But we can’t help ourselves.  We fight to embrace it, we fight to reject it.

I wonder if America will grow ambivalent over time as Britain has?  If the differences between faiths continually rip apart the fabric of our country, we will someday look back at our Bible-bashing past and cringe?  Will Britain swing back the other direction?  Perhaps the current recession, the need for meaning and community support will draw her people back to the pulpits?  God knows.

Guest Post on our visit to the Mississippi River by Freya Elmer aged nine

river and flagsOn Wednesday  the 31st  July  my Mum, my annoying  sister Juliet , my grandma, my grandpa and I went  to the Mississippi river.  First we came from the Chicago airport from Brussels and Manchester.  We went on an airplane two times.  Then my mum’s friend Lisa drove us to a hotel which took four hours!  Then we drove to the Mississippi River with grandma and grandpa.

miss and missesMy annoying sister Juliet and I threw stones into the Mississippi River.  Juliet threw one of the stones into my head “accidentally” she said.  I went along the dock and almost gave grandma a heart attack. The Mississippi River is so big and the current is so strong that it could take me away in two secs to the open ocean.

freya riverThe Mississippi River is epic!

Yankee in Yorkshire is On the Move!

Greetings regular and new readers.  For the month of August this Yankee is GOING HOME!  And so this summer’s blog will largely be aimed at my British readers.

Reports from the field will include a visit to the Iowa State Fair, home of the Butter Cow (it’s a cow..made of butter); extensive, comparative studies on the best varieties of Iowa corn; investigations into the superiority of American swimming pools (because we ain’t got beaches in the Midwest); culinary explorations of just how many things can be done to a humble chicken wing.

Marvel also as I show my daughters what a real river looks like, take my nice English husband to a genyooeyene country bar and see just how much heat a Yorkie can stand up to before it melts.

Iowa_the_Beautiful_by_tonyaltn

Have a nice summer, ya’ll.  See ya on the other side!

Ex-Pat Yankee Dreams of Home

Rootbeer, pickle relish, tacos. The sound of a front porch screen door slapping on its sprung hinges. Choruses of June bugs accompanying firefly acolytes in a sanctuary of summer twilight. Thunderstorms. National parks. Distances. Corn.

Rivers of a proper size and people who use their car horns and raiding mulberry trees. Singing Battle Hymn of the Republic as part of a large, harmonious choir. Sundays that mean something.

A decent doughnut with a bottomless cup of coffee. Diners, truck stops, service. Taking a Greyhound bus across endless miles of straight road. The sound of the letter R. Submarine sandwiches of architectural size and shameless self-belief.

The people who have known me and loved me since birth. Closets. Skunks. Flags.

Ducks made of calico at shopping mall craft shows. The county fair. My mother’s cheesecake and my father’s houseplants. The friends who grew up with me. “God bless you.”

Mark Twain one man shows, country music radio, roadmaps based on geometry. Saturday garage sale expeditions planned with military precision. The rapid-fire voices of auctioneers. Serious heat and serious cold and a history that is my own.

The feeling I belong, even as a discontented outsider, to a world that had no choice but to welcome me.

old house
Also corn dogs.

When a Yankee Visits Yorkshire Part Three: Grandma’s Adventures with the NHS

5358673496_d0c1ac3961“I’m afraid there’s been an accident with your Grandmother.”

I had been cleaning all day.  The kind of cleaning you do for company.  Removing books to dust shelves, wiping down picture frames on walls, hovering residual spider webs from the corners of every room.  And then a phone call comes to change it all.

“I’m afraid there’s been an accident with your Grandmother.” 

I thought the weather would be the biggest tragedy of this holiday.  I worried about my husband’s recent bout of flu, the state of the house, the behaviour of my children.  And then a phone call comes to change it all.  There was an accident with my eighty-seven-year-old Grandma, touristing in London before travelling North to see her great-grandchildren (and me).  She fell waiting for the lift and broke three ribs.  So there it is.  People make plans, but life makes other plans and we must chase the bouncing ball of chaos before it rolls into traffic.

Six years ago when my Grandpa lay dying there was nothing I could do to be with my family.  Our patriarch passed and I was an ocean away.  Last week it took me less than a minute to decide how to handle this fresh crisis.  I couldn’t get on a plane to Iowa, but a train to London—that was something I could do.

Packing happened, tickets were purchased and four hours later I got lost in the A&E of St Thomas’ Hospital, Westminster.  Good view of Parliament.  At least Grandma would be able to get in some quality sight-seeing from her sick bed. And yes, Auntie Madge…it is the hospital which went to the moon in that one episode of Doctor Who.  More importantly, it is a flagship NHS hospital which has been providing free health care since the thirteenth century.

“No one has asked us about money.” 

My parents sounded worried rather than relieved, and a bit mystified.  Of course, in an American hospital an eighty-seven-year-old patient in pain would not be hounded for their credit card before admittance, but someone with the patient, a friend or relative, would be taken aside and discreetly asked: “How do you intend to pay for this?”  Yes, even in the Emergency Room they would ask.  If you were bleeding from a bullet would they would ask.

My grandmother was given a bed, a dose of morphine and probably a cup of tea (right up there with morphine as far as the British are concerned).  I’m not going to lie and say her bed was regal or that she had a fleet of nurses flocking to her side seeing to her every need, but she was cared for and given what she needed when she needed it.  That’s the thing about the NHS.  It’s there when you need it—for ANYONE who needs it.  My grandmother was a guest in Britain, not even a citizen, but it didn’t matter to those who treated her.

After a few hours, she was moved into the Victoria Ward for acute medical conditions.   It had an even better view of Westminster.  They took x-rays and blood samples, fed her, counselled her, housed her over-night, gave her medication and a walking stick.  Before her transfer, an A&E nurse warned us we might be asked about our insurance.  Fortunately my grandmother is well insured, but no one ever asked.  Not once. 

377221_10150405441484219_1021563656_nLast week the taxes of Britain paid to treat a frightened, injured foreigner who came to their shores for a view of Buckingham Palace and a cuddle with her great-granddaughters.  My dear, old grandmother so loved by her family and friends.  Thank you St Thomas’ Hospital.  Thank you, National Health Service.  For all the frightened, alone people who come to you in need and receive necessary care, free of everything but their physical pain.  Thank you for looking after her.  My grandmother is worth every penny of tax and so is every other patient you treat.

America, I warn you.  Four tax payers are coming home who now understand exactly how Socialised Medicine works.  They know the truth.  The NHS hospitals of Britain may not have the fanciest equipment but they don’t need it—I doubt you do either.  They use what they have to treat patients in need.  Any patient in need.  It’s not a perfect system, no government system is.  But it’s there when people need it—for anyone who needs it.  My grandmother will not go bankrupt because of an accident.  Four Americans are coming home who get it now.  And they vote.

When a Yankee Visits Yorkshire: Part Two

In my last blog post I doled out travelling wisdom to my Auntie Madge, soon to visit Britain for the first time.  Then I spoke of what TO do when travelling in Yorkshire and its environs.  Now, I wish to warn you a little.  Here is what NOT to do when visiting us across the pond.

3650175597_b45d936b0b_zDon’t let the weather stop you.  Spring in Yorkshire is a beautiful time of year: crocuses and daffodils and narcissus everywhere.  My first impression of England from the air was that it looked like a giant golf course.  Grass so green it seemed fake and so many tiny cars zooming about.  But all that floral splendour and greenery comes a cost and the cost is the weather.  It’s unlikely to rain the entire fortnight you are here, Auntie, but at some point (unless the fates of nature or the gods of tourism favour you) you will encounter Weather.  But do not let it stop you.  If the British let Weather cancel their plans, an entire nation would grind to a halt.  So, as comedian Billy Connolly says: “get yourself a sexy rain coat and live a little.”

_791920_towers_300Don’t expect service. If you have never watched Fawlty Towers this will mean nothing to you, but it’s one of my favourite observations of British culture from American comedian Greg Proops.  “I used to think Fawlty Towers was a screwball comedy then I visited England and realised it was actually a hard-hitting documentary.”  Mr Proops’ point is that service is not a priority in Britain the way it is in America.  When I walk into a shop, no sales assistants eagerly descend, wait staff never greet me with beauty pageant grins and ask every ten minutes if all is well, and no exchange of good and/or services concludes with “have a nice day”.  While this may not sound like a big deal, I assure you it does take some getting used to.  In my entire time here I have only witnessed two Brits send food back to a restaurant kitchen, though many more have quietly complained and put up with unsatisfactory food.  I have some theories as to why service is so poor in Britain but I will save that for a later post.

tea-vs-coffeeDon’t drink the coffee.  England is a nation of tea drinkers. We may have embraced coffee culture to a certain extent, but unless you are at a Starbucks or Café Nero I would give your usual cup of Joe a miss in favour of a brew.  Instant coffee.  That’s what you find over here.  Instant coffee.  Oh you can get filter coffee, but unfortunately few people realise that coffee grounds, unlike tea leaves, do not require boiling water to release their full potential.  Therein lies the difficulty in enjoying coffee on this side of the pond.  My advice: when in Yorkshire, drink the bloody tea.  Except when visiting my in-laws because their coffee is caffeinated nectar.

Don’t forget the exchange rate.  Currency will be your first concern when your plane lands.  Most likely you will bring some British money with you but don’t worry if you don’t.  Airports are full of cash machines all happy to eat up your Yankee dollars.  And eat them they will.  As I write this, the exchange rate actually is not too bad for a Yankee visiting the UK: 1.5 dollars to every pound.  In the recent past this has been as high as 2.5 dollars to the pound.  Even so, you need to keep calculating.  It’s all too easy to slip and forget just how much you are spending.  On that trip to Darbar I wrote about in the last post, I tipped the wait staff the equivalent of $20.00.  In my defence I was new in town and slightly drunk.  

969594-queenlaughDon’t be intimidated.  For the first few months I lived here I kept a pretty low profile.  If I was out on my own I spoke as little as possible because I didn’t want to draw attention to myself.  Mostly this was due to the fact that every time I opened my mouth it began a thirty minute conversation (see previous post).  It was a waste of time.  Don’t be intimidated.  Speak up, ask questions, bother people.  The British may look a bit scary and I still think they lack a few essential facial muscles, but they’re a bit of all right really.

Safe travels, Auntie.  We cannot wait to introduce you to this country we love.  Stay tuned for the last in this series: Madge’s travels in Yorkshire.

When a Yankee Visits Yorkshire: Part One

In a few weeks my dear Aunt Margaret will set foot on British soil for the first time.  She has been peppering my inbox with questions about what to wear, what to do and whether I have a working hairdryer.  I have given the usual advice: bring tough walking shoes, a pseudo-military style water-proof coat and assume it will rain every day so you can be pleasantly surprised if it doesn’t.  Despite all this, Auntie Madge is beyond excited about her up-coming visit.

When I travel to new places, which isn’t often, I always purchase a Rough Guide.  I love Rough Guides.  They never steer me wrong for places to eat or sleep.  They also include a nice list of top activities and attractions for their topic country.  The England Rough Guide’s list includes many things you would expect: go to the pub, have high tea, visit a castle.

These are all nice things to do, but I think this list needs a more personal touch. It needs me to add details and examples from my experiences in Yorkshire.  Auntie Margaret this is for you.

busblogGet on some public transport.  I would say train but your great nieces would advise a double-decker bus.  Either way, take a thirty-sixty minute journey in a confined space with a bunch of locals.  Taking public transport in Britain provides opportunity to enjoy two of the best things about this country: the rural landscapes and the regional accents.  If possible, seat yourself near some older people because, in general, their regional accents will be stronger.  If you find a flock of old ladies you have hit the jackpot because they will chatter like chickens and you can listen like a magpie, taking away a great culture experience. Since you’re travelling with a Yankee posse, chances are very high that within a few minutes one of the locals will engage you in conversation, especially if you are talking about what you plan to do when you get where you’re going.  This is tourist Nirvana and a real aural cultural treat. Disclaimer: none of the above advice works on the London Underground or during Rush Hour on any commuter routes.

Try the weird crisps.  You call them chips, but here they are crisps and here the crisps have some rather unusual flavours.  Common varieties include: Prawn Cocktail, Steak and Onion, Cheese and Onion, Roast Chicken and Salt and Vinegar, which make them sound more like a full course meal than a bagged snack food.  The best bit: all are labelled “Suitable for Vegetarians.” You can also find Wooster Sauce, Tomato Ketchup and Pickled Onion.  My personal favourites are Vintage Cheddar and Onion Chutney and Smoked Monterey Chilli with Goats Cheese (best dipped in hummus).

hikerblogWalk Through Someone’s Back Yard.  In the UK we have what is called “Right to Roam.”  Without getting bogged down in precise legality, it essentially means hikers can go wherever they like as long as they stick to marked walking paths.  Anywhere they like!  There is an official organisation called The Ramblers Association who make it their business to maintain the walking paths of Britain, keeping them clear of debris and safe for hiking.  The first time I went on a hike in the Yorkshire Dales, my walking companions came to the end of an obvious road, then climbed over a fence into a field full of sheep and carried blithely on.  I kept waiting for an angry farmer to run out with a shotgun and see us off.  I thought the sheep might try to charge us.  Nothing happened.  Madonna, when she lived in England, tried to close off the walking path which crossed her land.  She failed.  Disclaimer: obviously you can’t just walk through anyone’s back yard—marked paths only—but I thought it made a good title.

Drink beer and eat curry.  I know you aren’t much of a drinker, Auntie, but surely you might make an exception here because nothing goes better with a curry than beer and I know you like your curry.  Indian food is to Britain what Mexican is in the US: our number one foreign cuisine.  My first Curry and Beer night was in Leeds.  We went for drinks first at Whitelocks.  Bitter Ales are what Britain is really known for, and in Yorkshire that has to be Black Sheep.  I would put in a vote for anything by Wychwood Brewery which has managed to perfect the balance of great bottle art and great beer.  Afterwards, we topped off our nice inebriation at Darbar—easily the most spectacular Indian Restaurant ever with giant Elephant pillars, eye scorching colour schemes and enormous chairs.  Once you have sat down in your enormous chair, expect a tray of “pickles”: mango chutney, raitha and the rather sexy lime pickle, served with crispy popadoms big as your head.  Order Chicken Tikka Masala a true fusion dish adapted fifty years ago by Indian chefs for British customers unaccustomed to the exotic look and taste of curry.

townblogbeachblogGo to the seaside.  Britain has quite a lot of seaside and you would be a fool to miss it.  Don’t bother bringing your swim suit, though.  This is the North Sea and you need to be bad ass as my Northern daughter to try swimming in your skivvies.  Here most people swim in head to toe wet suits.  But that doesn’t mean a day by the Yorkshire coast isn’t one of the best days ever.  Sandsend near Whitby is my favourite spot.  Walk along the cliffs, collect shells and fossils on the beach, wade into a rock pool at high tide and see what you can find.  And you MUST finish your day with fish and chips.  The sea air adds a salty sharpness to the food complimenting the vinegar you sprinkle over it.

wallblohFind a stone in a ditch.  One thing Britain has that America does not is history.  Don’t tell the Brits I admitted that because I persist in arguing we have plenty of history, it just took your lot ages to add to it.  Evidence of Britain’s long history is everywhere from the walls around York to the stone circle of Ilkley to Hadrian’s Wall further North.  My mother, your sister, hunts down history relentlessly when she visits. My husband (and hers to be fair) often tease her about “looking for stones in ditches” but they cannot curb her enthusiasm.  Just don’t let on to the Brits how impressed you are to be touching something which has been standing since before the days of Christ because their smugness will be worse than Mom’s after winning a game of Bridge.

Doctor-Who-Mid-Season-7-Poster-570x806Watch a bit of telly.  If you do not get the opportunity to eavesdrop on public transport conversations, watching television is the next best thing.  News is particularly good for accent explorations, though it would have not been so a generation ago when Received Pronunciation (or as my students call it “talking posh”) was expected of presenters.  This is no longer the case.  Television presenters tend to use their regional accents, which makes it a great way to tune your ear.  In terms of other programming you will learn two things from watching a bit of British telly.  First, you will realise just how pervasive American culture is because we import a lot of programs.  This was a nasty shock for me when I first moved here, though not as horrifying as the McDonald’s sign fused to an ancient wall surrounding the Tower of London.  You will also realise the British are not so different from the Americans.  It’s not all Downton Abbey and Sherlock, some of our telly is truly awful.  We have fame whores flocking to reality shows, minor celebrities making idiots out of themselves and some truly questionable game shows—sometimes all three at once.  But there is new Doctor Who to look forward to and I will keep Mayday and The Secret of Crickhollow on the Sky Plus to restore your faith.  

Obviously this is not a comprehensive list but you are only here for a fortnight, Auntie.  I will fulfil my standard obligations: take you for tea at Betty’s and to Skipton so you can wander around a castle.  Then, when it inevitably gets to be too much, we can ditch the others and sod off to the pub.  But do not neglect the little cultural gems which can be found on your first trip to Yorkshire.

In the next installment of this 3-part series I will explain what NOT to do.

A Right Royal Fall-Out

One year ago today Prince William married Catherine Middleton while the world watched on their televisions.  I didn’t have a television to watch it on because I was there.  Yes.  That’s right.  I was there as crowds of people flocked along The Mall and flashed their phones at the procession of history.  Of course I was there!

When I was ten-years old I woke at the crack of dawn to watch Charles and Diana’s wedding.  I repeated this ritual five years later with Andrew and Sarah.  I even watched Edward and Sophie’s modest little affair.  All my life I watched royal events from afar.  I was not about to let this one go by without being part of it.  So I found two friends who wanted to go (both American) and we made our plans in eager anticipation.  But there was one thing I did not plan on: my own British royal family.

I genuinely adore my in-laws.  My Mother-in-law is a former science teacher, avid gardener, legendary cook, aspiring photographer and fiercely committed Labour supporter, which means she is somewhere left of Michael Moore in her political affiliations.  She finds the Royal Family at best an embarrassment and at worst an inappropriate addition to a free Democratic Society.  And she is not alone.

When I proudly boasted about travelling to London for the Royal Wedding, my American friends and family were universally jealous and anxious to see photos and hear stories of the day.  My British friends and family thought I was joking.  When they realised I was in earnest, they turned…not exactly hostile but their disgust was clear.  Several rolled their eyes and mumbled “She’s American” by way of explanation.  One commented in shock: “I had no idea you were royalist!”  The horrified tone of voice meant to indicate he had learned I was a closet puppy torturer or secret collector of Nazi memorabilia.

From my in-laws there was a lot of tense silence.  No one wanted to talk to me about it and went ominously quiet if I introduced the subject, like it was something embarrassingly private, not suitable table conversation.  When I spoke to my husband about the travel arrangements he gave a heavy sigh of resignation, as if we were discussing my preparations to undergo life-altering surgery.  I found the whole situation thoroughly confusing.

It’s your Royal Family not mine!  This is your history and your culture.  What is your problem?

Intellectually I understand why the Royal Family might be a source of shame.  I agree completely that power and title inherited by virtue of familial connections is out of step with democracy, equality and freedom.  I appreciate how the mere existence of the Queen encourages a culture of class-conscious elitism which trickles down through society.

Unfortunately Britain, no one gets to choose their family—especially not their Royal Family.  Not without revolutions and chopped off heads, which did not work out so well for the country last time (*cough* Cromwell *cough*).  Like it or not, Britain needs the Royals and they are a part of you.  The Queen, Buckingham Palace, the Changing of the Guard: these are the images the world associates with Britain.  Tourism would crash and burn without the fairytale appeal of the Royals.  They might cost in pride and taxes but they make up for it when hoards of overseas visitors flock to UK shores lured by this ancient, majestic institution.

But the Royals are also an inescapable part of Britain’s national life story, and the British are not known for giving up history easily.

The British understand history…they have long memories and an appreciation of time which most Americans lack.  The first flat my husband and I lived in was a converted Gothic church.  The congregation faded away but the building remained.  In America that church would have been torn down and replaced by a modern high rise without a backward glance or a batted eyelash.  The Foss Way built in Roman times, now known as the A46, is still a regularly used road.  A ROMAN ROAD!  We got rid of Route 66 after less than 60 years.

I understand why the Queen is controversial, particularly for my left-leaning family and friends.  We have an auntie in my family we never talk about either.  But like all families, the Royals are a part of the British character.  They may not be a part every Brit wants to boast about or invite over for Christmas dinner, but the Royals say something about who Britain is and where Britain came from.

They also throw an awesome wedding!

Mothering Sunday

Sometimes I cannot help thinking the British are just ornery.  They drive on the wrong side of the road, they call fries chips then chips crisps and refuse to accept the existence of iced tea.  But all these crimes pale in significance to Mothering Sunday.

In England Mothering Sunday is always observed on the fourth Sunday of Lent.  In most ways it resembles American Mother’s Day: you are expected to deliver flowers/chocolate and a homemade card with a sloppy hand print to the woman who made you possible.  One problem: IT’S IN THE WRONG BLOODY MONTH!

My Mother lives in America where they celebrate in May.  Invariably what happens is that I remember to call her on the fourth Sunday in Lent because that is when everyone else around me contacts their Mothers.  She sounds pleased but slightly confused and we have a pleasant chat.  Then when American Mother’s Day actually comes around and she expects said phone call/flowers/hand print I never remember because the British are just plain ornery about it.

It is difficult enough for an ex-pat only child like me to be so far away from my Mommy when I get a booboo and need her special hot chocolate made on the stove with actual milk and a sprinkling of cinnamon, but to then force so much confusion on me as to when I am meant to contact her and say thanks for all the cocoa!  It’s just rude, Britain!  Sort yourselves out and just conform to America like everyone else does.  It’s not like you thought of it first or anything!

What do you mean you’ve been celebrating Mothering Sunday since before my country was born?

Started in the sixteenth century?  No way!

Ahem.

Sometimes I cannot help thinking the Americans are just ornery.

Happy Mothering Sunday, Mom!

From New York to Old York

I grew up in the Midwest of America somewhere between a cornfield and a cow, though my true up-bringing was far from rural.  Being the child of a professor and librarian, university campuses featured somewhere to the left of the cow.  Like my parents I developed interests in theatre, writing, reading, card games and sarcasm.  Like many young college students I developed interests in political rabble-rousing, smugness and experimentation.  I completed my University Education in Nebraska before attempting the leap all drama students must someday take.

I moved to New York City in August of 1998 full of …not exactly dreams, but certainly visions of making some kind of mark in the world.  The biggest mark I made was a wine stain on my friend’s sofa in Brooklyn where I lived for two months while I was supposed to be looking for a place to live.  I temped on Wall Street, which might have been a huge waste of time if my supervisor actually cared what I was doing.  (Those of you who have done time “between jobs” understand the I-need-a-warm-body-to-fill-this-desk-space-and–brains-are-optional work I am talking about.)  I used my working hours to find a boyfriend in that international nouveau singles bar known as the internet.  The chronicles of my whirlwind romance with my stormy-eyed Englishman shall remain private.  The short version is that before I took time to think about it logically, I boxed myself up and sent myself over-land delivery to Yorkshire.

Old Yorkshire felt like less of a culture shock than New York.  Perhaps nothing can seem alien once you have witnessed performance art in the East Village involving a raw egg, a bag of frozen stir fry vegetables and a dread-locked man’s talented sphincter.  Perhaps the north of England, with its many farms and working class history felt more familiar to this Midwesterner than Manhattan.  Americans who have visited England will recognise there are few major differences between US and them—just lots and lots of little ones.  These tiny discrepancies in culture, so curiously amusing to me at first, multiplied and divided exponentially the more time I spent in this foreign environment.  I had to adopt a new vocabulary, take Driver’s Ed all over again, find my way around a completely different education system, and I still don’t understand how the government works.

What do you mean you don’t elect the Prime Minister?  You really don’t have a constitution of any kind?  How do you know your rights?  Because that’s how it’s always been!  Is that really the basis for your government?

The pressure of having to adapt, the constant feeling of social clumsiness and isolation came to head one afternoon as I attempted to pump gas—sorry, petrol—and could not get the nozzle to work.  I was convinced this was one of those now seeming immense cultural differences no one had told me about because any idiot knows you have to stand on your head and sing Jerusalem to get the gas—sorry, petrol—to pump and I do not know the words to Jerusalem.   If I ask everyone will look at me with that pitying expression I have come to hate so much and be tutting in their head and whispering “Colonial” under their breath then I will have to kill them and start an international incident just because I could not pump gas.  Oh, I am sorry—it’s bloody petrol!  I forgot because I am a stupid American.  WHY don’t YOU Take your petrol and shove it where the sun don’t shine, you limey wankers!

The British government has since removed me from their list of “Worrying Individuals” after I agreed to join the teaching profession.  Working with teenagers has not only helped me feel less stupid and useless by comparison, but actively participating in the professional life of British society has soothed my feelings of cultural alienation.  As a bonus, I am always abreast of the latest rude slangs and silly fashions.

I have lived in Yorkshire for twelve years now.  While my cultural faux pas have lessened over the years, I am always conscience of my status as an outsider.  I still have my accent though my vocabulary straddles the Atlantic uncomfortably.  I live in Yorkshire, but I feel more American than ever.