7 British Products This Expat Can’t Live Without

You can take a Brit out of Britain but you can’t take the Britain out of the Brit.

Or something like that.

In any case, after twelve and half years in the US, there are still several items that I either stock up on when visiting the folks back home, or which I ask family, friends or colleagues to bring me when they travel from the UK to the US. And while I know that several of these items can be purchased here on the “international” aisles of local grocery stores or in speciality shops, it feels so much more authentic when you know they’ve come from Sainsbury, Tesco’s, Boots, or Marks and Spencer.

First and foremost is Cadbury’s Fruit & Nut. Ensuring a plentiful supply is critical. For all my US friends who say they see it on the shelves at their local Stop & Shop, let me tell you this: US-manufactured Cadbury’s is not the same. And it’s definitely not as good. For ultimate satisfaction, it must be British-manufactured (in Birmingham, right?) Rips offs and knock offs do not come close, trust me and my highly-honed Fruit & Nut palette.

Next up: Marmite, a product few Americans have heard of or like. Largely because most Americans are weaned from the breast or bottle onto peanut butter and jelly or, lord help me, fluff. So it’s completely understandable that Marmite’s deeply concentrated salty taste and dark brown presentation would not appeal to those unfamiliar with it. More for me, say I! Freshly toasted bread, a smidge of butter and Marmite is heavenly for breakfast or a snack. And it’s supposed to be packed with vitamin B too (take that Fluffernutter!)

Think you are “man” enough for Coleman’s English Mustard? It puts the standard yellow mustard you find at diners and burger joints here to shame. The trick is to use just enough to add a fantastic kick to your ham and cheese sandwich, burger or steak. But too much, and your sinuses react like a rocket has exploded and your brain fries like a sparkler. Just for a few seconds then it passes. And you want another bite.

We move on from food to trusted health and beauty products from my motherland. Actually the first item is from French brand Garnier and I’ve never found it among the other Garnier products on the shelves in stores over here. It’s not some fancy schmancy product either, just their Gentle Eye Makeup Remover. I’ve tried other brands and nothing is quite as pleasant and effective for removing mascara and eye shadow.

When it comes to first aid and antibiotic creams, most Americans default to Neosporin or Bacitracin. But I grew up with Savlon cream and TCP liquid. Savlon will gently heal any cut or graze. And if harsher is your thing, TCP will zap any zit or nuke germs into oblivion.

Finally, no proud British gal wouldn’t be seen without her Marks & Spencer knickers. Wait, that came out all kinds of wrong! What I meant to say is Marks & Spencer’s underwear is like bread and butter to British bums. Wait, that doesn’t sound right either! OK, Marks & Spencer makes the best quality cotton underpants and we’ve always bought and worn them.

[Insert underpants humo(u)r here.]

Help: My Kids are Franglaises!

Guest post by Gillian Gover

“No – let’s play in French today. We played in English yesterday.”

“OK. But you speak to me in French and I’ll speak to you in English.”

This was my first inkling that perhaps our youngest daughter wasn’t quite the same animal as the others. As a British couple living in France, we’ve always spoken English at home. But our three (between us) daughters are more exposed to French – at daycare, school, with friends, shopping…. anywhere except at home really. The eldest refused to speak any English until age 4. The second, now 8, speaks exclusively in French if she thinks you’re too tired/lazy/distracted to call her on it.

So it was something of a surprise to find that after two native French speakers, we now have a native English speaker. We still have the same language problems – just the other way round.

So how do you bring up bilingual children?

Well, better folks than I can help you with concrete advice, data-driven conclusions and all that good stuff. But generally, I find it’s the same way you bring up other kids. Simply by muddling through….

  1. Set your house rules: To help you decide when and how to help/prod/correct/encourage/praise your kids, figure out just how bilingual you want them to be. Is the “80/20” rule good enough? Or do you want them to sound like native speakers in both languages? I have a tendency towards “Eats Shoots and Leaves” punctuation geekiness, so no guessing where I fall. But believe me, getting from “Please may I get down of the table” to “Please may I get down from the table” definitely requires 80% of the effort for 20% of the gain.
  2. Decide your exceptions to the rule: As any parent knows, rules are made to be broken. And, like the pirates’ code, they’re more “sort of guidelines anyway…” For example, halfway through discussions of math homework – which take place in what can only be described as a bastardized form of franglais with an accent that hovers somewhere between Calais and Dover – I usually wonder if I shouldn’t just do this bit in French. It would probably be fairer – and easier – on all.
  3. Make the effort, and keep on making it: If you only speak one language at home, don’t expect your children to pick up the other language naturally, as if by osmosis as it were. They won’t. Kids might be sponges but they can only soak up knowledge – and that includes languages – to which you expose them. You need to make the effort to use the second language with them – and be strict and consistent about it over time.

Having bilingual children is wonderfully rewarding and, quite frankly, has masses of pure entertainment value! And just occasionally – usually when I head back to the UK – I get a little smug about the fact that my kids speak two languages and how lucky we are. Fortunately, I’m usually brought down to earth pretty quickly by some of the other families we know, like the one whose children speak French, English, Spanish AND Portuguese! Pride and the corresponding fall would seem to be a rule without exceptions.

And what of our kids? Well, they seem to have agreed to play in English in one bedroom, and in French in the other ….

For those who are interested, here are some of those better folks:

Gillian is a Brit abroad, start-up marketeer and gadget girl. She also plays mum to three girls (through both merger or acquisition) and an ever-changing number of dogs and cats. Follow her on Twitter at @gilliancg 

Confused? 10 British/American Words That Are Spelled the Same But Pronounced Differently

As my readers know, I’ve been living in the US for 12 years now and love observing the differences between British English and American English (see posts 10 Silly American Words and  10 British Expressions that Americans Find Amusing.) While there are many words and expressions that differ between our two lovely languages, what actually confuses me the most are the words that are spelled the same but pronounced differently. Here are my top ten:

  • Vitamin – I have to admit that I no longer know which pronunciation is the “correct” one; a long ‘i’ or a short one? Which usually means I’ll say it wrong.
  • Privacy – Ditto. No clue.
  • Garage – I’m sticking to my guns on this one. Emphasis is on the first, short “a” – not a long, drawn-out “age.”
  • Water – People of the US, that’s a “t” not a “d” in the middle!
  • Herb – Yup, pretty sure the first letter here is an “h” so that’s how I pronounce it.
  • Oregano – While we’re on the topic, I say it the Brit way, with a long “ano.”
  • Peugeot – I know there aren’t many, if any, of these lovely French cars here in the US but I’d like to advise you that there is no “poo” in its pronunciation.
  • Woburn – I have learnt this well; when in Massachusetts, say “Wooburn” (when in England, it’s W-oh-burn.)
  • Tomato – You say “tom-ay-to” – “I say tom-ah-to.” Not budging on this one, folks.
  • Colin – If this is your name, you should know that in the UK, we don’t pronounce it C-oh-lin.

So now that I’ve thoroughly confused you, happy travels. Good luck with “the look!”

Three Reasons Why I Really Don’t Like Country Music

I consider myself a tolerant person, open-minded, moderate, appreciative and welcoming of all points of view, opinions and tastes.

Except, that is, when it comes to country music.

With apologies to the hoards of avid fans of country music across the US – and to my colleague and friend Steve who posted about why he loves country music –  these are three reasons why country music makes every fiber in my body scream “nnnooooooo!!”

  1. It has no soul. I find country music so one-dimensional. Me, I need music that literally moves me. Rhythm. Depth. I want to shake my groove thang and get down. Foot thumping or thigh slapping ain’t going to cut it. Never mind the two-step; I want to bump and grind.
  2. It’s too twangy. To my uneducated, British ears, I hear the same strummed notes in every, single country track making it difficult to distinguish one singer or song from another. And each twang grates a little more than the one before it.
  3. It’s all one big sob story. And why does it have to be so literal? “Get your tongue out of my mouth cause I’m kissing you goodbye.” “I spent a lifetime lookin’ for you. Single bars and good time lovers were never true. Playing a fools game, hopin’ to win. Tellin’ those sweet lies and losin’ again.” “Sometimes its hard to be a woman. Giving all your love to just one man.” And so on.

Admittedly, it’s not all bad. I actually enjoy listening to some Lady Antebellum, Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood. And I love my cowboy boots. But please, for the sake of my sanity – and yes my productivity when at work – don’t inflict hours of country music on me!

Why America?

I don’t really like America. This may come as a shock to you as it’s been my home for 12 years. I’m the kind of person who lives in the moment and makes the most of what I have. I choose to embrace the world around me with an open mind and an open heart. So here I am, in America, 12 years after moving here with my job in February 2000. I could have gone back to France (which I still miss so viscerally,) could go back to my roots in England, could try somewhere entirely new.

I’ve felt at home everywhere that I’ve lived.

As I embarked upon this post, I was thinking of chronicling the major milestones during these 12 years. But two particular moments stand out, defining me and my future.

Flashback to August 5, 2001. Not to that lazy Sunday morning and the heart-stopping moment when this wonderful man I had fallen in love with asked me to be his wife. But later that night, as he slept beside me and my head and heart exploded with emotions and my eyes gushed with tears. Joy: I had finally found my soul mate. Amazement/gratitude: that someone could love me enough to want to marry me. Relief: now I could actually dare to see my future, having children could finally become a reality.

Fast-forward to April 2004. After a tough and mentally torturous journey, we discover I am pregnant. Yes, my body is about to perform this ridiculously clever process of growing a person. They say when you become a parent, you permanently wear your heart on your sleeve. For me, this started the day the little blue line appeared after peeing on the white stick. Life was profoundly altered from that moment. I was no longer one person. I still look at my son with amazement and say, “I made you! How nuts is that.”

Now we have two beautiful kids. This April, Devin and I celebrate 10 happy years of marriage. We have a lovely home, great jobs, good health, fantastic friends. I do not take any of this for granted. I wish my parents and siblings were closer, geographically, but we are closer precisely because of our physical distance.

They say home is where the heart is. Right now, it’s here. America.

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When Bad is Good & Avoiding Awkward Conversations

I’m evidently on to something with the posts I recently published about silly American words and British expressions that Americans find amusing. It’s fascinating – even academically and culturally intriguing – how deeply words separate us Brits and you Yanks. Having studied semantics and etymology, I’m captivated by this language that both unites and distinguishes us.

So, when I recently had to ask a colleague what “sucking wind” meant, I knew it was time to relay some of those cross-cultural phrases with opposing meanings. Hopefully these will help you avoid some awkward conversations.

The following American words all mean GOOD: bad, wicked, doesn’t suck, the bomb, kill it.

Ex: “That was a wicked fun evening; your friend is the bomb.”   “Don’t worry, we’ll kill those goals.”

At this point, I also feel obliged to explain the nuanced distinction between the use of the word “quite” in American English and English English. This is important as the culturally correct use could definitely improve relations with your partner/spouse.

Ex 1: (in the U.S.)

Q: “Honey, how do I look in this dress?”

A: “Quite nice.”

Q: “Thanks, sweetheart – you look nice too!”

Ex 2: (in the U.K.)

Q: “Honey, how do I look in this dress?”

A: “Quite nice.”

Q: “Huh, only quite? What’s wrong with it? Does it make me look fat? Why don’t you like it?”

For those who didn’t catch it, the U.S. “quite” is a compliment whereas the U.K.’s “quite” means “only a little.”

You can thank me later for this important lesson. And I do hope you think this post doesn’t suck wind.

10 British Expressions that Americans Find Amusing

I recently published my list of 10 silly American words –  expressions that I still find ridiculous, despite having lived here almost 12 years. I generally try avoid situations when I have to utter the words “bangs” or “rutabaga” or other such words that I find to be just, plain silly. I have my pride, after all.

To be fair, there are many British words and sayings which humo(u)r or confuse my fellow Americans. Just last week, I used the word “slapdash” in a meeting, only to get what I call “the look” from colleagues. Anyone who’s been a traveler in a foreign country trying to make themselves understood knows that look. It infers, “I have absolutely no clue what you are trying to say but I’m going to nod and smile nonetheless.” Being a communicator at heart, getting “the look” pains me. But at the same time – and with the glass half full – I seize the opportunity to clarify my statement (which can sometimes lead to further hilarity) or, at the very least, educate my audience about the meaning of the expression so that the next time they find themselves in the room with a Brit, they can nod sagely rather than inflicting “the look.”

Here’s a shortlist of some of those British expressions that have caused me to be on the receiving end of “the look”:

  • donkey’s years (= a very long time)
  • putting a spanner in the works (= throw a wrench)
  • and Bob’s your uncle (= and there you have it)
  • gone barmy (= gone mad)
  • a lotta bottle (= a lot of courage)
  • picking up fag ends (= listening to the end of conversations)
  • dog’s bollocks (= cat’s meow)
  • fancy dress (= costume)
  • chuffed to bits (= very pleased)
  • gobsmacked (= amazed)

I confess that I also proactively alter the way I pronounce several words here to avoid getting “the look.” For example, I’ll ask for wahder, say tooona (instead of tuna) and ask for tom-ay-to. It pains me but “the look” pains me more.

Meantime, my fellow Americans, here are some useful links to sites to help your English cross the pond: Effingpot – the very best of British, British Sayings/British Words and this great post about 20 British expressions you will never hear in the U.S.

Cheers!

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