Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Tea and Sympathy

"England and America are two nations separated by a common language," or words to that effect, is an insightful statement often attributed to George Bernard Shaw.  Indeed, the assumption that if we all speak English we must have plenty of other things in common can come back to bite you on the ass when you move from one country to the other.  Culture shock is even more shocking when you aren't expecting it. 

So, one of the functions of the American Women's Club (AWC) is to help newcomers adjust and adapt to life in London.  All of the club members have been through this themselves, so they are very sympathetic to the challenges Americans face when they first move here -- particularly for women who move here because of their husband's job (or to marry a Brit).  Monday morning I attended a "Cross-Cultural Coffee" at their offices in Kensington that served as a sort of orientation session for those of us who are still relatively fresh off the boat.  Over coffee (and tea) and digestive biscuits, the club president and one of the officers covered a broad range of topics, including the climate, health care, transportation, shopping, cooking, tipping, language differences, and socializing with the notoriously standoffish Brits.  Some of it I'd already figured out on my own, but I still got a lot out of the meeting.  One of the most useful things was this handout:
Kitchen Cheat Sheet
Converting measurements is doable with a computer, and our measuring cups have both imperial and metric markings, but if you bake, trying to divide a brick-shaped block of British butter into tablespoons or cups will leave you scratching your head.  So that yellow rectangle at the bottom of the page is a boon for anyone wanting to whip up a batch of cookies using their favorite recipe from home.

The AWC also has designated "area friends" in different parts of London that you can contact if you have questions or need recommendations for a local hairdresser, dentist, dry cleaner, or plumber.   I've mostly relied on my neighbors for local advice, but it might be nice to get a second opinion, especially when it comes to dentists.  I've heard it's so hard to find a good dentist here, that some expats just schedule an appointment with their old dentist whenever they go back to the U.S. 

I've also found their Facebook group to be helpful.  Before my sister came to visit, she asked if I wanted her to bring me anything that I couldn't find here.  Since I hadn't really been here long enough to know what I couldn't find easily, I polled the AWC Facebook group and ended up with an interesting list of things you could find in any drugstore or supermarket in the U.S.  Ironically, several people mentioned tea, but it was either herbal teas you can't find here -- like Sleepytime -- or for making iced tea.  Other coveted items included Ziploc bags, chocolate chips, peanut butter, goldfish crackers, Tylenol, Advil, and Band Aids.  When Sonia flew out from California a couple weeks ago, she brought me Triscuits, crunchy peanut butter, Ghirardelli chocolate chips, and a bottle of Lubriderm lotion.  Josh brought back 2 boxes of Trader Joe's pancake mix from his trip to DC right before that, so now we're pretty well stocked.  They are all things we could probably live without, or find substitutes for, but it's a nice treat to have them.

After the AWC coffee, I walked over to Sloane Square, which I had heard was another popular shopping area.  There is a big department store and many of the same high street shops we have in Wimbledon, along with an art gallery and a nice plaza that hosts a market on Saturdays.  I grabbed some lunch and browsed in a few of the shops, and discovered there is a Partridges there.  I had heard a couple people mention that they sell hard-to-find American grocery items there, so I went inside to take a look.

They did have a large American food section, but everything was OUTRAGEOUSLY EXPENSIVE!

Triscuits: $10
Cheerios: $13
Sugary kids' cereal: $13
A bag of Nestle chocolate chips was about $9!  I'm glad I had Sonia bring me Triscuits and chocolate chips, and that I'm perfectly happy eating Special K, which you can buy at any British grocery store and comes in great flavors like Strawberry & Chocolate and Peach & Apricot.   I haven't eaten Froot Loops since I was a kid, and I'm not about to start now, especially at $13/box!  It's hard to imagine someone being that desperate for Fruity Pebbles, but someone must be buying this stuff or they wouldn't be selling it.

If you plan to visit us in London -- and we hope you will! -- don't be surprised if we send you a shopping list.  What you can buy at CVS or Safeway for $20 could be worth its weight in gold here!

1 comment:

  1. Also, the price of entry (speaking for Josh) is a canister of See's Toffee-ettes, which I also brought, in addition to iced tea bags. But I definitely see the need for triscuits in the land of water crackers and "oatycakes" (bleah).
    I must admit I'm a bit confused by some of the measurements on that cheat sheet: in the Liquid Measures table, everything other than a teaspoon is listed as 10 mL. The butter part is super-handy though.


To prevent spam and other inappropriate messages, all comments are moderated before being posted.