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Sunday, November 13, 2005

The First Ten Weeks: part one

Well, we've been here in England for ten weeks already, and so it seemed like time for some reflections on living in a different culture.

● As I've mentioned before, we're living without a car; as I've also mentioned, we love it. Many people live here without benefit of an automobile, and many more who have one nevertheless walk or bicycle places. This makes for a very healthy life, and one lived on a more human scale. No time spent in traffic queues, no money spent on petrol, no having to find parking. If we can work this sort of thing out for the rest of our lives -- wherever we live -- I will be quite happy indeed. In fact, this is the longest that I have lived without being in a car, as I've only ridden in one once since we arrived. For that matter, I have lived my entire life these last ten weeks within a no-more-than-five-mile radius, also a first for me.

● The British take their cheese seriously, much moreso than we Americans would ever dream of doing. A typical supermarket will have an entire two-sided aisle filled with cheeses. It will also have its own store brand, not just of cheddar -- which everyone knows is white, not orange -- but also of stilton, caerphilly, red leicester, gorgonzola, and many others besides. I love cheeses, and so I take this as a weather sign of British cultural superiority.

● Related to the last point, the British rather sensibly do not pasteurise everything they can get their hands on. When I was in Honduras several years ago, I fell in love with unpasteurised, not-from-concentrate orange juice: it is divine. Of course, I couldn't get it back in the 'States. The same is true of cheese: America has decreed that all cheese, in fact any milk consumed, must be pasteurised, unless you own the cow. This might seem a trivial matter for many of my American readers, but I have seen the light: lait cru brie. I had eaten brie numerous times before moving to England, but I always did it more out of joyless duty than pleasure -- 'they say this is good, so I'll eat it'. I never really 'got' brie, never appreciated it. That is, until a few weeks ago at the cheese stand in the market square, I picked up some brie, which was lait cru (unpasteurised). I took it home, tasted it, and could barely get enough of it. I have bought some every Saturday since then. It is amazingly, sublimely delicious, and I cannot get enough of it. Which leads me to think that Pasteur -- a Frenchman -- was actually just trying to pull one over on the U.S., so that we wouldn't learn just how delicious this stuff is, and they could keep it for themselves.

● The British also have an affection for sweets which outstrips America's, with long aisles of markets devoted to cakes, biscuits and other sweets. They do not, however, have the same taste for savoury snacks that we do; our displays of crisps (potato chips and the like) tend to be much larger and more diverse than theirs. That is not to say that they do not have interesting offerings in this area, though. If anything, their choice of crisp flavours puts ours to shame. You can choose from ready salted, barbecue, beef and onion, cheese and onion, roast chicken, roast lamb, smoky bacon, worcester sauce, prawn cocktail, Heinz Tomato Ketchup, pickled onion, Marmite Yeast Extract, and -- I might not be making this up -- Lincolnshire Marmoset. They have a great wealth of flavours to choose from (most packed in single-serving containers, so it is hard to sit and watch reruns of Peak Practice whilst consuming a huge bag), but they do not seem to play as prominent a role in snacking here as in America.

Gotta go for now but look for more installments soon, including information on Guy Fawkes' Night, the dangers of riding a bicycle in the dark (i.e. 5pm), and the possibility of having a pleasant walk in steady rain, even when it includes occasional gale force winds.

1 Comments:

Blogger Gaunilo said...

Heh. You're already saying 'petrol.'

I came back from Europe relishing alike the freedom (ironic to call it such, but that's what it is) of being carless. I've expressed it to friends here, many of whom respond that America is so big that we could never survive on the train system the way Europe does. But I don't at all see why that's the case. The American fetish (which is way too weak of a word)for cars goes a lot deeper, but I don't really understand it.

That, and our fetish for protecting ourselves from EVERYTHING (hence, pasteurization). When the American empire finally crumbles, perhaps it will be because of our absurd timidity.

Glad you're enjoying it over there - just long enough to have a little culture shock when you come back!

Sunday, November 13, 2005 7:44:00 PM  

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