Sometimes it is good to just be able to listen and read and not even think. After being in Paris for about 3 weeks, where it seems my every thought has to be processed, translated and practiced, we decided to start our holiday with a quick jaunt to London for a few days. The lights, the All-Sorts and a pint of bitter were calling. With the need to get a few toiletries (and know exactly what I was buying) and a hankering for a really good cuppa set for a grand trip.
My temporary home-schooling for Liam has focused on the American Revolution and how the French helped us. I thought that would be a great way to tie our country to France in his mind. So, going to England, Liam had only a small part of the British history, and quite a cheeky one at that~Although we were put in our place when the Yeoman Warden asked our group as our tour reached “treason gate” at the Tower of London, “Anyone from the US? Australia? New Zealand? Hong Kong?” After each little group answered, he said, “Right, then. Welcome back.” Touchè.
What surprised me, despite my previous trips to London, is how literal the Queen’s English is. Not really news, but coming from Paris, where each phrase I utter takes the equivalent amount of brain cells I needed to take the SATs, I felt like a science fiction movie where I walked into my mind, seeing what goes through as I try to figure the most significant Romance language out. “Give way.” “Mind the gap.”
I would say the antonym for French dining is British eating. Calamari apéritif in Paris becomes “Crispy squid” as a social plate? Crème caillée aux cerises d’alcool becomes “Wobbly cream interspersed with boozy cherries” as a pudding? Add that to everything being either fried or boiled, and you’ve got yourself a meal. Or supper. Or “Digestibles Suitable for Your Intestines” to fit in with my new friends across the Channel. Fortunately, lager, IPA and bitter are universal. Order a nice cuppa and it comes with a biscuit…or my favorite (really!), a digestive biscuit. Is there really any other kind…as in who, over the age of two, would eat a non-digestive anything?
Luckily, this literal-mindedness unintentionally extends to help the weary foreign traveler in Boots, the great British pharmacy chain. When the box on the shelf (or the commercial on the telly for that matter) says the syrup is for “chesty coughs” as opposed to “dry, tickly coughs” there is no need to whip out your new Orange (French Telecom) phone with the international plan to hit the WebMD site is there? BTW, in the French pharmacy terminology, it’s described as a “fatty cough” which makes those digestibles want to come right back up.
We left London after four full days of interpreting English, visiting sites and catching a musical. We came back to the land of stairways and stare-ways. My little pea brain took a few times to reset to “look left, look right, look left again”, because the street corners here don’t tell me which way to look. The traffic signs of “no anti social driving” aren’t posted here at all, but really should be after hearing all the honking and brakes screeching. And the stares of “she looks vaguely French, but there’s something in her furrowed brow as she gets ready to speak” that forewarns them here before I even open my mouth that I am not French. No, I cannot order “fatty cough syrup” or “horseradish sauce” without Google translate and a few verbal repetitions, but I am home. The Motherland is wonderful and beckons us to return soon, but now that I have a full medicine cabinet and shampoo that I know works on my hair, I am determined to lose that furrowed brow and work on my nasal pronunciations~and hopefully be understood by my vocabulary and not by my literal translations in my head.