Thanksgiving in England: How to not to die of homesickness

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!  This time of year, we always get a LOT of emails from fellow expats that are trying to distract themselves from HHH (Heinous Holiday Homesickness).  I hold my arms open wide and give you all big, non-creepy hugs…

Because so many of your are hurtin’, I thought I’d write down my personal and extra-special check-list that I’ve developed to to kick HHH’s arse.

1 – PARTY!

We’re American and we are used to celebrating this day – don’t stop now just because of the tiny, insignificant fact that you don’t ACTUALLY LIVE THERE ANY MORE   Invite people over – heck, invite PERSON over and channel your inner pilgrim.  Drink ’til you’re merry then eat ’til you’re comatose.

Don’t worry about everyone being American, Brits go MENTAL of Thanksgiving.  There have been years that friends that live on the other side of the UK call me up 6 MONTHS IN ADVANCE to ‘reserve’ their seats at Thanksgiving.  Once a friend even flew over from Spain just to be part of our Thanks-mania.

2 – Take the day off

It took me two years to realise that the single thing that pissed me off the most about missing American Thanksgiving was not getting any time off.  From the minute my alarm clock would go off on Thanksgiving morning, I felt like I wanted to throw things and burst into tears.

But the third year in, I took Thanksgiving day off from work and spent the whole day prepping for party-central and watching the original Miracle on 34th Street on constant loop.  BLOODY HELL, it made me feel SOOOOO much better.

Can’t recommend it highly enough.

3 – Do something REALLY American

I’ll give you three guesses about what I do on Thanksgiving Day every year (and have done since my first expat Thanksgiving all the way back in 2005).

Give up?

I GO TO STARBUCKS.

I swear I’m not paid to constantly talk about Starbucks – I don’t even go there all that often.  I just write about it on here a lot because it’s my go-to-screw-you-HHH solution.

Anyway – this is pretty much the first thing I do every Thanksgiving.  I take myself out for a giant eggnog latte and an enormous pastry.  I bring a book and I just sit, read, and soak in all that glorious caffeine and sugar.  I soak it up and I wear it like a sweater / armour all day long. HHH can’t touch me when I’ve got my American buzz on.

4 – Don’t try to EXACTLY duplicate your childhood Thanksgiving

This is another thing I tried to do for the first two years and I can hold my head up high and tell you that it TANKED.  BIG TIME.

Duplicating my American Thanksgiving caused all KINDS of trouble.  For example:

  • Trying to find certain ingredients was a nightmare (Canned pumpkin, fried onions, the right kind of stuffing mix)
  • Asking everyone around the table to say one thing they’re thankful for went down  like a lead balloon.  On the whole, everyone was TOTALLY embarrassed about it.  We didn’t even get all the way around the table.  The Brits staged a kind of silent revolt and gave up half-way through.  For an English twist, why not ask everyone to make a comment about the weather instead?  (Kidding kidding… that was kinda mean, sorry. Clearly I’m still bitter.)
  • Some of the traditional Thanksgiving dishes gave my English guest the heebies.  They’re weren’t a big fan of green bean casserole.  They were sceptical about candied yams and they were surprised (although not horrified) about the stuffing because it was so different to what they’re used to.
  • It’s worth noting that I’m a vegetarian and we also had quorn roast instead of turkey.  You’ll be SHOCKED to know that it didn’t go down that well. :)

5 – Talk to your family

This is both the absolute best and the super-most-difficult part every year – but it’s an absolute essential.  I always want to have a little tear-session after I talk to my fam, but I also know that I’d feel like a big ol’ pile of shite if I didn’t catch up with them.

———-

And that’s it!  I do these 5 things every year and really REALLY helps.

Does anyone have any tips or traditions that you’ve started since you’ve been an expat?  There’s freakin’ LOADS of room on my list for more traditions, so bring it on.

English candy bars – a quick translation

With Halloween upon us, there’s fancy-dress, ghosts and candy everywhere.  Maybe it’s just me, but I find myself having familiar conversations about what candy is like in the US verse the UK.  Questions like, “Do you have _________ in America?”, “Is __________ the same in America?”, “What’s your favo(u)rite American candy?  And your favo(u)rite English candy?”

So let’s take some time to look at English candy because ALL HELL can break loose if you’re an American living in England and you don’t know what you’re doing.  Some candies look similar, but underneath that layer of familiarity lurks a world of confusion.  Some candy bars have the same name, but don’t have the same sweet shenanigans inside.

So here’s a list of some of the candy that drops into my expat conversations the most often:

Smarties

Closest US equivalent:

M&M’s (although they have M&M’s in the UK, too)

How are they different?:

They’re brighter colours, each colour is a different flavour (they’re different flavours for realsies, though – I know some of you M&M enthusiasts insist that all M&M’s don’t  taste the same, but I refuse to believe it) .  Also, they’re colouring is all-natural and doesn’t contain any of those frisky E-numbers – and they come in a cardboard tube (which I think is awesome).

The verdict:

I come down hard in favour of M&M’s because I don’t actually like the flavours that Smarties use. It’s a shame though, cos I love that they don’t use E-nums.


Milky Way (UK)

Closest US Equivalent:

Three Musketeers

How are they different?

The UK Milky Way is teeny tiny (about a third of the size of an American 3 Musketeers) and it has a thinner layer of milk chocolate than the 3 Musketeers does.

Everybody stay calm – there’s a candy bar called Milky Way in the States and it has nougat, CARAMEL and milk chocolate. So don’t lose your rag if you buy a Milky Way over here and it seems suspicious.  They’re not discriminating against you because you’re American by shrinking your choccy bar and witholding your caramel.

The verdict:

My Lord, I LOVE the UK Milky Way. It’s the right size, the right amount of sweetness, and it’s a bit lower calorie than your average candy bar which can never hurt. My loyalties lie with the UK version.


Mars (UK)

Closest US Equivalent:

Milky Way  (I know, I know – I’m confused, too)

How are they different?

These are super super similar – I crave them interchangeably.

The verdict:

The US version of the Milky Way was a major fave when I was a kid, so I’d vote for it just for ol’ times sake.

Horrifying yet amazing fact:

They deep fry Mars bars in Scottish chip shops.


Bounty

Closest US Equivalent:

Mounds

How are they different?

Bounty has coconut in the middle and MILK CHOCOLATE on the outside.  Mounds has the same type of coconut, but DARK CHOCOLATE on the outside.

The verdict:

Since coconut was invented by God to be paired with dark chocolate – I’ve gotta go Mounds on this one.


This post is starting to make me feel like all I do is eat chocolate.  Or maybe it’s making me WISH that all I do is eat chocolate.

Actually, as I’m typing this there’s a Halloween candy bowl in front of me filled with mini UK Milky Ways and Mars bars.

YES!

Why getting fat(ter) in England and Sir Mix-A-lot can go hand in hand.

peacefulyorkshire

There once was an American girl named Ms. Peaceful, aged twenty, who hadn’t yet moved to Britain. She enjoyed sweaty daily Bikram yoga sessions and MorningStar Soya burgers. She did 10 Mile bike rides in the sunshine while wearing Lycra. Tanned and toned was she. (Gawd, she even tried all those odd do- it -yourself chair exercises in Self Magazine).

Fast-forward 9 years and meet a new Ms. Peaceful Yorkshire (me): A bulge that I swear looks like I must be in the early stage of pregnancy. Oh, and those fancy Victoria’s Secret undies originally that came in my suitcase from the USA now just don’t cover my Latina bum the same way. This is good viewing for Mr. Chill, my English man, but really folks, a place in Wedgie-Ville is not the best place to be when you are trying to negotiate your salary. I dread to think how many more rolls I would accumulate if I didn’t walk to work on a daily basis. Am I not talkin’ bout the sausage ones!

The Verdict? I am slowly getting fat in England.

It’s the yummy food like Sainsbury’s olives and Cadbury’s chocolate. I am weak around buttery crumpets, bacon sarnies, the cream teas I have with my American Sistahs at Betty’s in York. The cold weather indoor lifestyle I have (what you want me to run in this mizzle?) does not lend myself to be motivated to frolic outside.  Erm, ok.. it’s not England’s fault.

And, while walking home today I decided to take note of some fellow Yorkshire-ites and saw lots of other teacake lovers. Muffin tops rollin’ over jeans, big breasts spillin’ and straining in white work shirts. Ruddy double-chins. Men and women in trouser suits that need to be taken out. (And some British people think Americans are the only fatties on the block?)

Of course it bothers me. I would be such a liar if I said it doesn’t! Unlike my former American self I’ve just stopped obsessing so much. I enjoy turning on Sir MixA-lot to shake it when Yankeebean and I meet up to celebrate some curves-action. I love that many women (and men too) in the UK,  as Yankeebean wrote last week , don’t really seem to give a rip about toned abs and bingo wings so openly and obsessively.  Let’s face it, some British women dress like hookers when Saturday night rolls around, no matteh’ what their shape. I really admire that, even if its not my style.

I think one of our readers, Sandra Dee, summed it perfectly:

‘Not that I am against staying in shape, its just the Hollywood-ness of it all made me realise how obsessed I used to be too. I used to delight in my flat-abbed stomach. Now. well, I can’t be bothered to care. In England it is so cold that I normally don’t get the time to show it off anyway. Well, except to my English man. And you should see his stomach….. he does NOT have a six pack nor does he want one or care about my newly formed fat bulge.

British people receive bad service abroad because everyone thinks they’re bad tippers

yankeebean

I had an interesting chat with my brother-in-law and his wife awhile ago.  My BIL and his wife travel all over the place constantly.  They’ve been back and forth across the world again and again – from snazzy fancy places to places where you have to get a slew of shots before you’re allow to set foot in.

We were talking about waiting tables and how it’s bloody hard work for bugger-all cash.  I commented that I’d been a waitress both in the US and in the UK and that you could made a PACKET from tips in the US – but not in the UK.  Based on my experience, in the States tipping averaged out between 15% and 20% – in the UK it averaged out to roughly 1 pound per customer.

To compare – If 4 people went out and spent 50.00 GBP / 74.04 USD on a meal the tips might be:

  • 10.00 GBP / 14.81 USD in America (20% tip)
  • 4.00 GBP / 5.92 USD in England (1 pound per person tip)

(Rate conversion was done via Google)

When you’ve been on your feet for 8 hours and your ankles are the size of a couple of hams, the difference between those two amounts is HEEE-YOOOJE… I’m so glad I don’t wait tables any more…

Anyway… my BIL then said that they regularly receive terrible service while abroad, even in America.  He thinks that all Brits are up the international creek just because of their reputation as bad tippers.  Have any other Brits noticed this?

Mr Nice Guy hasn’t noticed really, but I usually do the talking when we’re out about because no one understands what he’s saying :)

I’m definitely guilty of rushing to judgement about UK tipping (probably because I’ve been on the wrong side of a bad tip WAY too many times) – but it never occurred to me that it would come back to bite the Brits…

———————————

UPDATE – I was watching Live at the Apollo last night and Jason Manford did a whole schpeal about why British people don’t tip.  Too good to be true – http://bbc.co.uk/i/r95jk/.  (This link will start right at the part about tipping and is only available until 15th May).

Kraft are closing Cadbury’s Bristol factory :(

yankeebean

Mr. Nice Guy just told me that Kraft are closing the Cadbury plant near Bristol – poutpoutpout.  You can read a full article about it on the BBC website – ‘Cadbury’s Bristol plant to close by 2011‘.

The article makes it perfectly clear that the plant was due for closure anyway, but it still sucks.  That’s 400 UK jobs gone like dust in the wind… AND less UK-made chocolate.  A double-whammy if ever there was one.

Soon our lovely Cadbury goodness will come from Poland – ahh, the *sweet* taste of a sagging UK ecomony and an increased carbon footprint.  Mmmmmmmm…

Kraft bought Cadbury – now everyone is telling me how shite American chocolate is…

Lordy!!  You’d think that I was the CEO of Kraft and that I’d just negotiated the take over of Cadbury.  I didn’t do it, I swear… Kraft didn’t even ask me first…

Here’s the news, in case you’ve been buried under a mountain of Cadbury Creme Eggs (you lucky lucky sod).  Today Cadbury (UK-all-the-way)  agreed to a takeover bid from Kraft (USA-a-ok).  This means, in a chocolate-covered nutshell, that the Americans have bought an English institution.  Cadbury is about to become Yankee-fied…

Does this worry me?  Yeah, a little… mostly because it will mean job-losses in the UK and that’s the last thing we need.

But the most recent development is that it’s causing people to tell me about how SHITE American chocolate is.  Sigh…

The thing is, I GET that Cadbury’s is probably technically better and I like Cadbury’s chocolate.  But then, I like most chocolate that I come across.  My favourite kind is the kind that’s about to be inserted into my face.

What I don’t like is people telling me the things they hate about America – let’s face it, it’s not exactly the friendliest conversation starter.  Hershey’s chocolate isn’t for everyone, I get it, I get it… but neither are Marmite, breakfast beans, or monarchies and I’m not going to bring up my strong opinions about them the first time I meet someone.  At least not unless they tell me their feelings about chocolate first ;)

Here’s hoping Kraft don’t change the recipe for Cadbury’s chocolate or I’ll really be in for it… :D

Christmas pudding in England is freakin’ weird

I love it here – England is awesome in so many ways – but desserts at Christmas is NOT one of them.

I’ll never forget the first time I heard about Christmas Pudding… Made ages in advance, CHOCK full of dried fruit and nuts (like every English dessert on earth), full of booze, left to sit for weeks, steamed for hours ‘on the day’, LIT ON FIRE and then eaten with brandy butter (or, as I like to call it, booze cream)

After the description of Christmas Pudding was delivered, in monologue, by Mr Nice Guy – the silence of disbelief descended.

Was I curious about it?  Hell yeah.
Did I want to try it?  Abso-freakin’-lutely
Did I enjoy it? *shudder*

Dude, I have freakin’ FLASHBACKS about that action.  And after making the effort to adapt to Marmite, I really don’t feel the need to try and force the Christmas Pudding issue.

A Christmas Pudding being flamed after brandy has been poured over it - Picture courtesy of Wikipedia

A Christmas Pudding being flamed after brandy has been poured over it – Picture courtesy of Wikipedia

Admittedly, I’ve never been a big fan of lots of dried fruit, and peel makes me wanna gag.  I like traditional American desserts which involve a lot of sugar and, sometimes, not much else.  Christmas cookies, baby!  Sugar and E numbers – what more could you freakin’ want?? :D  Or pie, in any formation… with ice cream (or custard if you want a little ‘English’ on the side).

But don’t worry – if you’re at your in-laws for Christmas, you don’t have to ’cause a scene’ – there’s a way out without anyone getting hurt.

For anyone struggling with the lack of Christmas cookies and pie – repeat after me “Could you please pass the chocolate log?”

(Or you can fake a nut allergy) :D

Converting an American recipe to British is tougher than you think!

redlillocksFirstly, I’d just like to thank the amazing ladies of SNFY for once again allowing me to contribute as a guest blogger and get some of my frustrations off my chest. Beats anger management classes anyday! You girls ROCK I tell ya.— REDLILOCKS

Autumn Baking…

Hey did anyone notice those couple of days of sunshine we had over the past few months? Yes, that is what they call here The British Summer. I know, I know, I almost missed it as well. I have to admit moving from Southeast England to the Northwest, I never realised that when people said it was cold and rainy in Manchester that they actually meant it! I just figured people were exaggerating (I mean, the whole country rains, right?). Well, much to my surprise, they weren’t. Dreams of pretty cotton dresses and drinking Mojitos in the sunshine never entirely materialised but as the weather turns, I find myself with new fantasies to occupy my time. Warm knits, knee high boots with opaque tights, snugly scarves and that cool nip in the evening air that tells you that autumn is well and truly upon us.

Despite our rather sorry stint of truly warm weather, I actually quite like the cool crisp September weather and having a taste of home the other day, I decided I wanted to make a Zucchini Cake. There’s nothing like a bit of baking to warm up the house and remind you of cozy nights in with hot mugs of tea and a bit of baking from scratch. As you probably know, they are called ‘Courgettes’ here (we Americans use the Italian word, the British use the French) but as it is, after all, an American recipe, I decided it’s only right to use its proper American name.

Now I do quite a bit of cooking in this country but it was first time I was going to actually attempt to BAKE. With my fabulous boyfriend’s (we’ll call him Mr. Lovely) vast array of culinary equipment and ingredients to hand (he’s a great cook) I decided it would be a nice way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

I knew, of course, the ingredients would be in imperial measurements but I was confident that with a bit of conversion using metric kitchen scales, I could easily manage the recipe – no problem. Well, the issue wasn’t the conversion. It was the ingredients.

My conversation with Mr. Lovely went something like this:

Sitting in the living room, I called out to Mr. Lovely in the kitchen, “Can we get ‘All Purpose flour’ here?”

Mr. L responded, calling back, “What’s ‘All purpose flour’?”

“I don’t know, I guess it’s just regular flour.”

“Umm. Yeah I would think so. Is that the same as Self-Raising Flour? I have some of that.”

I didn’t like the sound of flour that rose on its own willpower. “Self-Raising flour? Hmm. I don’t think so.”

Mr. L, already tired of the exchange, assured me, “It’s okay, we can nip to the shop and get some.”

“Ok…” I went back to my recipe but only for a moment. “What about Baking Soda?” I called again.

“Do you mean Bicarbonate of Soda?”

I thought about it for a second. I know I’ve heard of Bicarbonate of Soda but I’d never eaten it. “I think so. Aggy and Kim use it to clean everything; I think it’s the same thing…” I went back to the ingredient list.

I called again, “What about Baking Powder?”

It was at this point that Mr. L, realising this may be an extended conversation, came into the living room. “What’s Baking Powder?”

“I think it helps the cake to rise. Or wait, is that what Baking Soda does?”

“Well, that’s what self-raising flour does.”

“Ahh right. Do you think I can skip both of those then if I use the self-raising flour?”

“I’m sure you can. It’ll be fine, just use the self-raising flour,” he assured me. He’s good like that.

I pondered this for a second. “Wonder why we don’t use self-raising flour in the States? Seems a lot easier….” Back to the ingredient list again. “What about white sugar?”

Mr. L crinkled his brow. “What do they mean by white sugar?”

I shrugged. “I think they mean just regular sugar.”

Mr. L went back into the kitchen and brought back a white packet. “I have caster sugar,” he announced.

I looked inside the packet, examining the tiny crystals. “Hmm – this is a bit finer than regular sugar. Do you think it’ll be okay if I use this?”

“Yeah, it’ll be okay.” (I swear that should be his motto, he says it to me so often.)

“Ok, I’m sure it’ll be fine,” I said, reassured. “Oh wait, the frosting takes confectioner’s sugar. Can you get that in this country?”

“Never heard of it. What about icing sugar?”

“I don’t know. This is a soft icing, it’s not gonna go hard is it?”

By this point Mr. L put his hands on his head. “ Arghhh I don’t know…” and walked out of the room.

It was clear by this point, I was on my own!

Now, my dear readers, let me tell you that in the end, despite all the guessing and against all the odds, the cake came out rather fantastically well – I know, no one is more shocked than me. Turns out all my substitutions worked a treat. However, next time there’s a chill in the air and I fancy a bit of baked scrummy goodness, I might just save all the hassle and go to Greggs instead.

Want to see Redlilocks other popular guest post? Click here

Elevenses! Woohoo!

yankeebeanAccording to Wikipedia:

In the United Kingdom and some other Commonwealth realms, elevenses is a snack that is similar to afternoon tea, but eaten in the morning.  It is generally less savoury than brunch, and might consist of some cake or biscuits with a cup of tea. The name refers to the time of day that it is taken: around 11 am.

According to me:

Freakin’ awesome!

Seriously, people  - how did we cope in America without Elevenses!?!  Ok, ok, I can hear you speaking to me through the blogosphere – We do have elevenses in America.  But we don’t call it elevenses and it’s just not the same.

In the States I seem to remember doughnuts, Starbucks or Entenmann’s being involved, and coffee… always coffee.  There’s a lot of good things on that list.  Good, tasty, artery-clogging things.

But there’s something gorgeous about a cup of tea and one single biscuit (ok, 2… cheeky).  And if you manage to wangle the jammy dodger out of the biscuit selection then SCORE, baby!!!

Points to England for inventing the most descriptive word for the occassion.  Half a point lost for not having a grocery store that sells Entenmann’s near my house right now, though…

I don't want to buy American stuff in the UK

yankeebeanI recently found this awesome website called American Soda where you can buy American food online and have it the next day.  With essentials like Hidden Valley Ranch, Cheetos and canned pumpkin… this is a really really really really REALLY awesome store…

But right after I found this site, it occurred to me that I don’t really want to buy any of this stuff when I’m in the UK.  I think what I actually MISS about these American beauties is being able to go out and buy/see them – and for it to be normal.  Does that make any sense?

It not like I want to buy a bag of Nestle Toll House Morsels and make the biggest be-all-end-all-giant-batch of chocolate chip cookies ever.  What I MISS is being able to mention Nestle Toll House Morsels and have everyone know what I’m talking about, or to go shopping and see them at the grocery store, or to go to my Grandma’s house and see them in the pantry.

I guess, if I put the shoe on the British foot for a minute, the same goes for English stuff in America.  I don’t really want to go back to the States and drink squash, or eat Marmite, or have baked beans for breakfast.  Although I would do all those things, I certainly wouldn’t object – I just wouldn’t go out of my way.

Although, having said all that, I can feel my first American Soda order brewing beneath the surface – even if it’s just for the ranch dressing…