Going out into London today, there were some wonderful creepy decorated houses, skulls with flashing lights, skulls and sickles on balconies, the grim reaper etc. and children dressed in scarey costumes. It made me wonder what it is like to see these images if you come from a very different culture. Do you think the British are a bit crazy or into witchcraft? or if you come from the states, do you think its all a bit lame because we don’t do it with quite so much pzzazz
We have been going out and asking people who have immigrated to the UK what their experience is. Many people have told us that you have to work much harder than you expected to make ends meet but there is so much to do and I had a very interesting conversation with someone from the Middle East last night about the UK attitude to authority. We were at a class and I corrected the teacher’s pronunciation of my name – I do it every week, he always gets it wrong but he said where he came from, you would never do that, you would just take the teacher’s pronunciation So, it made me think its not that we don’t know who is in charge but here we can be a little bit irreverent,more so than you can in some places.
James’s story reminded me of an incident I had about a couple of years ago and how misunderstandings are so easy. A friend from Africa invited me for lunch. Now I have learnt that if you are invited for lunch by someone from Africa, this might mean that someone has taken the trouble to cook all day, grind beans, stew for hours and you are going to get something delicious. I told my lovely friend that I would be there between 11 and 11.30 and much to my surprise, she was really cross. I eventually realised that she thought I would arrive at 11.00, scoff (eat) her food and go half an hour later. I would have been really cross myself if anyone had done that to me. When I realised, I explained that it meant that that was the time I would arrive and I definitely would stay for lunch and the end of the story was that the lunch was great.
Anyone got any examples like this?
For those who haven’t heard of it, Radio 4 is speech based radio, lots of incredibly interesting programmes about science, the news, the arts and debates. 10 million of us listen to Radio 4 so if you are looking for analysis and latest thinking, give it a go. I heard a great item on it today which fits with the theme of this blog. A German did not understand that when the English put an x at the end of a letter or a text, we are sending a kiss. They thought this is how we ended all letters so when they wrote to the tax office, (HMRC), they sent the tax collectors kisses. So, we don’t end formal, business letters, emails or texts with an X, just to our friends.
What might you not know when you arrive in a new country and in the UK? You might have all kinds of assumptions based on your reading, tv programmes you have seen, what other people who have moved here have told you, listening to the BBC but anyone going to another country is going to find some things confusing. When I went to the US, I ordered a chicken sandwich. Much to my confusion, the person selling me the sandwich asked what cheese I wanted? I said, no, I want a chicken sandwich to which he replied, what cheese do you want? I asked again for a chicken sandwich and he responded again, what cheese do you want? Eventually, I thought the only way I am going to end this conversation is naming a cheese. I didn’t realise to order a sandwich in the US, you need to make about 10 decisions. In the UK, you are mostly dictated to about the sandwich filling – you don’t go off book. This blog is about the smaller detail of life in the UK that you might not know until you are living here.
I want to find out what has been surprising to people when they have come here or when they have gone abroad, what are the details of life that we take for granted. How can we make explicit what is implicit and we presume everyone knows. I am going to start with something that anyone here would know – if your bank writes OD, that means the amount of money you are in debt, not that you have – yes, I had a friend from Russia who got confused about this.