Saturday, September 18, 2004

Of Cups and Hungry Husbands

On these chilly northeastern English mornings (yes, I know it's probably hard for some Texans out there to believe it's chilly anywhere in September...), nothing makes for a better breakfast than a bowl of porridge. Since I have the most lovely wife in the world, she regularly has a nice hot bowl ready for me when I am done with my morning bath. Mixed with a little brown sugar and some raisins, followed by some hot tea, I am then ready for whatever the day may hold.

However yesterday morning I came down to the kitchen, looked at my bowl of porridge and saw that there was substantially less than my normal portion. Has Crystal determined that a diet is in order? Is there more somewhere else and this is just some extra leftovers? (I hunted around the kitchen but could find no more). Crystal was unavailable for questions so I just resigned myself to a meager meal.

It wasn't until bedtime that I thought to bring it up and Crystal was baffled: "I made the same amount I always do...though I did put slightly less milk in it to thicken it up a little...." But I was quite sure there was substantially less than previous mornings. A mystery....

But then Crystal's eyes lit up and she said, "English cups!" And suddenly it all made sense. Since our belongings had recently arrived from the states, we now had our American measuring cups, which Crystal had used instead of the English ones that were furnished by our landlords. Now, what difference would this make, you ask? After all, we were prepared for the conversion of teaspoons into milliliters, and cups of flour into grams -- but a cup is a cup, no? Well, no.

It turns out that a cup in the good ol' USofA is 8 ounces (thus a pint is 16 ounces, leading to the harmonious saying, "A pint's a pound the world around"). But in England a cup is 10 ounces (leading to the less-harmonious saying, "A pint's a pound and a quarter unless you are an importer"). Now why, one may ask, if the US is just about the only country in the world that still uses British units instead of metric units, do we have different values for the same things? Well, apparently the story goes that when the colonies were established there were two different liquid volume measures in vogue in Britain: the wine gallon and the ale gallon. The colonists decided to standardize things by settling on the wine gallon as their measure. [I know at this point in the story you're probably guessing that the Brits decided to standardize on the ale gallon...but you'd be wrong]. On this side of the pond, they decided to throw all tradition to the wind, and defined a new British Imperial gallon to be the volume of 10 pounds of water. The difference results in 20 oz vs. 16 oz pints.

I think I'll spare you the saga of the teaspoon (4.929 milliliters as measured in the US, often simplified to be 5 milliliters, but sometimes also referring to 6.16 milliliters in the UK so that it will be 25% more than the US measure, in keeping with the pint problem discussed above....), but please make my porridge according to the (larger) English measure!

Friday, September 17, 2004

A Journey Completed

What do you get when you combine lots of research and planning, more sorting and packing than we care to remember, a "freight forwarding" company and all of its subcontractors, customs officials who always seem to want a different form from the one we filled out last time, and lots of patience? You get a pile of your belongings showing up on your doorstep in England!

Well, ok, they actually show up in the form of an 18-wheeler, largely dedicated to carrying our measley 42 cubic feet, parked on our very own Bek Road (taking up nearly the whole width of the street). "Could ya gi' me a'and?" was the driver's request and so we carried the boxes up our little cul-de-sac and into our home. As we finished, huffing and puffing a bit, I told him our friends were expecting about 30 boxes of book in a few weeks, so maybe we'd see him again!

It's really nice to have our things here with us. We were actually doing pretty well between the things we carried over on the plane in our luggage and the things our dear landlords provided for us at the house. But it was a bit more like camping than living. It also proved quite embarrassing for Crystal at Bible study this week -- allow me to elaborate: She only brought one pair of jeans with her to the UK and it had gotten to be time to wash them, so while they were washing (a long process -- we'll tell you about it sometime soon) she was running around our chilly house in shorts and a t-shirt. She was sharing this story at Bible study and concluded by saying, "So Rob asked me what I was doing and I said, 'Well I don't have any pants!'" A hush fell over the (somewhat) pious group. Amy looked at her 5-year old son to see if he had heard Crystal's impolite remark, hoping he wouldn't add to the embarrassment by saying something himself -- fortunately he hadn't heard. We looked around awkwardly until someone decided to explain: "I assume you mean 'trousers'". You see, in Britain "pants" means "underpants" and "trousers" means "pants". But it's worse than that -- apparently "pants" is a pretty naughty word, almost a curse. I heard one teenager refer to his home networking equipment as a "pants firewall" (meaning cheap, worthless) and a friend told me about a risque political billboard that used the slogan "Pants to you!" Needless to say, it's good to have a few spare pairs of pants around nowadays.

Saturday, September 04, 2004

Getting Sorted

Hi All,
This is just a quick post to let you know that we've arrived, are enjoying our new surroundings very much and are now connected to the WWW.

Our trip was a little delayed due to a mechanical problem (one of the engines wouldn't start!) on our plane from Dallas to Chicago. A long story short...we ended up flying out the next day (Friday) and arriving in Durham Saturday afternoon. Our gracious landlords, the McManners, met us at the airport (even though we arrived ~1 late, they were still there!) with 2 cars for all of our luggage, only to have our 2 big bags lost at air (fortunately, they arrived the next day). The McManners then delivered us to our new home that they had prepared for our arrival by stocking the fridge and cabinets with food and placing a fresh bouquet of flowers on the table. They're amazing!

During our first night/morning here a little jet lag provided the opportunity for a traditional English breakfast (English bacon, eggs, toast, sautéed mushrooms, roasted tomatoes and, of course, a pot of tea) at 3 a.m. and a couple of phone calls to family back home. We've mostly acheived a normal schedule now.

I won't bore you with every detail just now, but our days have mostly been filled with things like registering with NHS (National Healthcare System), opening a bank account (well, attempting to anyway) and shopping. This can all be a bit of a challenge because things aren't always done "like they are back home" and because of this "common language" we share with the natives. ;-) For example, when shopping where do you find eggs and milk? In the refrigerator section, you say? Oh no - just sitting out on the shelf, of course. Eventually, you give up and decide to ask where something is located which comes with a new set of problems...who knew clothespins were pegs, dishwashing soap is washing up liquid, a trashcan is a dustbin (or a wheelie bin if it has wheels), or that hamburger buns are baps. Oh yes, one of our favorites so far is that deposit slips are called "putting in forms;" which I guess makes sense since you are putting money in to your account. I'll sheepishly admit that I thought the bank clerk was saying "pen 'n forms," instead of "putting in forms," all day and I figured you had to use some special pen to fill out the deposit forms or something. I was so confused, but then that's my general state these days. As you can tell, we're mostly having fun (only occasionally feeling frustrated) and enjoying our new adventure. We're also missing all of you, but phone calls and email make it seem like you're not too far. :-)