“These are a few of my sorted things”
In the United Kingdom, today is Mothering Day–or what Americans would refer to as Mother’s Day–which annually falls on the fourth Sunday of Lent, three weeks before Easter. I’d like to wish my mum, grandmums, and any other mum reading this a very happy Mothering Day from the UK!
Aunt Marla, Chris, and I were originally going to head south to Warwick today; but as I didn’t plan this excursion far enough in advance, essentially every restaurant/tea shop in the country is booked up. What’s more is that we can’t even get a reservation for tea time in Lincoln today, so we’ve settled on making our own high tea. (Stay tuned for that!)
This calendrical difference in honoring (honouring, if I’m staying in proper character here) motherhood brought me around to thinking about the differences and customs I’ve encountered–and loved–on this trip. The have been many; but in a show of modesty, I’ve narrowed it down to top lines.
For example, I can’t get over the concept of “sorting” in England. Any request you have can be dealt with this multipurpose concept, much like David Sedaris’s take on“d’accord” in French. I’ve encountered it in the following situations, particularly when someone is trying to accomplish a task:
“Hello, I’d like an Earl Grey and a caramel tiffin, please.”
“Not a problem, I’ll sort that for you.”
“Could you please tell me where the nearest bathroom is?”
“I’m not actually sure–sorting that might be a bit difficult.”
“I really like this pheasant feather lapel pin, but do you have one with any more brightly colored feathers?”
“Love, let me go sort that and I’ll let you know.”
It’s truly a brilliant and useful answer, and it’s never used in the US. I like it so much I’ve started appropriating it in my own vernacular:
“I know I’ve got the correct change, but it’ll take me a second to sort it.”
“I have no clue what you’ve just said to me, but I’ll try sorting it.”
However, It does get a bit more complicated when “sorting” causes unintentional consequences:
“Not a problem, we’ll get that sorted,” means “It’s ok, you’ll get that sorted.”
“Leave it with me,” which translates to “this will get sorted, but by somebody else–and it won’t involve any current party.”
Of course there are other exciting colloquialisms I’ve picked up, including “done and dusted”, which is often used with or can be interchangeable with “sorted” (“Yes, the gin and limes are sorted–done and dusted.”); and “cheers”, the ubiquitous and magnanimous response to just about anything (“Thanks for the free sample of Stinking Bishop cheese–cheers!”). I haven’t yet gotten on board with “bits and bobs”, which means a collection of literally anything (“Did you remember to get the bits and bobs for the fish and chips?”), because I have yet to get concrete definitions of what actually constitutes a “bit” versus a “bob”.
In addition to some wonderful new jargon, I’ve unsurprisingly encountered a number of new customs I adore. (I suppose that’s rather redundant as traveling is essentially an exercise in broadening your cultural vocabulary if you keep your eyes and ears open.)
In Iceland, it’s quite popular for locals to go to municipal swimming pools in the evening, most (if not all) of which are geothermally heated. On my last night in Reykjavík, four friends I made from my hostel decided to walk for an hour in a rather wet snowstorm to one of the largest pools in the city. After finally showing up completely drenched, we took the requisite communal shower (this puritanical American would like to note that bathers were also required to shower naked) to remove any extant impurity or toxin left on our bodies that the storm might have missed.
We were then treated to an array pools, all of which were outdoors–where the storm was still raging. When there was no other option but to go outside, our gaggle of five foreigners scurried in bathing suits to the nearest pool (which was a pleasant 40° C). We were certainly quite the sight for the Icelanders, who were doing multiple laps around the largest pool (and us) in their speedos, “because it’s good for your health.”
Less dramatic, but equally as important to wellbeing, were the Spanish siestas, which I took to without any prodding by the locals. Beyond the fact that everything effectively shuts down between 16:30 and 19:00, we’re all mentally and physically done by that point. I really don’t need to further justify a nation-wide nap, so I won’t.
In Prague, the public transportation system is phenomenal: An industrial web of tram, train, and metro lines slices and dices the city up, and allows passengers to easily access anywhere. It’s also all done on the honor code, meaning you don’t have to swipe in or out anywhere. That said, there’s supposedly a group of officers whose job it is to check the validity of tickets; if you’re caught with a ticket that has expired, or if you just don’t have a ticket, you’ll receive a hefty fine. Considering a one-way pass on any of the methods of transportation will cost you $1 for 30 minutes (which is plenty of time to get anywhere you’d like to go in the city, transfers included), it really isn’t worth the risk.
Additionally, pets are allowed–and really are even encouraged to be–on public transportation, and they’re all very well behaved. So compare all of the ease of Prague’s public transportation with the the US’s “top” transit system, and you’ve got yourself a fun (and essentially a nonexistent) Venn diagram.
Tea is, as I’ve noted before, a very popular activity in the UK, but it’s also customary to serve it in Morocco. Whether greeting guests or finishing a meal, mint tea is always available. When I landed in Marrakech, I hopped on a bus to the main historic square, Jemaa el-Fnaa, and promptly sat down at one of the many food stalls for dinner. After (literally) shoveling khobz (a flat, circular Moroccan bread served at every meal), two types of tomato sauces, beef tagine, and vegetable couscous (all for $7), I was promptly handed a steaming glass of mint tea to finish up my meal. I should really say that it’s always less of a “mint tea”, even with the stalks of mint in it, and more of a hot mint simple syrup.If someone asks you how you’d like your tea, and you respond by saying you’d like it with sugar, they’ll smile back and quip, “just like Moroccans.”
This tea is a soother, a social lubricant, and a negotiating tool: Walk into a store or pass by a stall in the souk (market), and if you show any interest in buying something, a teenage boy will appear with a tray and a tea pot.
Of course there are other things I’ve loved, like cheap, delicious beer in Prague (not really a custom, but I still love it); cheap, delicious red wine in Barcelona (again, not really a custom); and cheap, delicious homemade bread essentially everywhere (sense the theme here?).
I’d also have a rough go without chocolate digestives, weird weather patterns, art that’s largely accessible to the public, and bocadillos. However, not all of that has been sorted, and thusly cannot be discussed. Bless.