Anecdotes

Sometimes I want to share a story of something funny that happened or a cultural observation but it doesn’t really warrant a full blog post, so I’ll just cobble a few together once in a while and call it “Anecdotes.” Enjoy!

Tea for Two (and Under)

For a while, I was confused about kids having “tea.” That’s what people here call the children’s dinnertime, which is early, and then typically the parents eat dinner together after the kids are in bed (how civilized!). But from my observation when my daughter had been invited over for a play date and tea, there was no tea for the kids. (Though a play date does always include tea for the mums, and usually biscuits or cake.) This was puzzling. Mums will say “the kids are having their tea at 5” or “what are you giving them for tea?” I finally worked out that the term probably stems from “high tea,” which is traditionally a smaller dinner meal served early. High tea was what the working class had for their supper, whereas “afternoon tea” was what the upper class had to bridge the gap between lunch and their later formal dinner.

I have also been wondering what age English people start drinking tea. It’s such an integral part of their culture and daily ritual, and is certainly the first thing offered when anyone enters someone’s home or is in need of comfort, but when does that start?

One afternoon I was at my friend’s house, and we were drinking our tea while our girls played together before we took them to their swimming lesson. Her younger daughter, who is 10 months old, bumped her head on the table. My friend did all the normal motherly things you do when your baby is crying from a bump, and then she said, “Do you want some of mummy’s tea?” and offered her mug to her baby, who eagerly took some sips (the tea is typically mixed with a lot of milk here) and calmed down. I said, “That’s the most English thing I’ve ever seen.” “Well it’s just comforting, isn’t it?” she replied. So that answered my question: Apparently you’re never too young to drink tea in England!

tea

Tales From the Fitting Room

I was on a quest to find a dress to wear to a wedding, so I went to the John Lewis department store in Sloane Square, a posh shopping area, to have a look at the options. A nice sales lady walked me all throughout the store picking out dresses and making suggestions for me, and then led me to the largest, most elegant fitting room I’d ever seen, and got me some black heels to try on with my dresses. Of course, before I could even try on one dress, Baby R made it clear she was hungry, so I plopped down in one of the multiple plush chairs. I realized I was nursing her on a velvet pillow under a chandelier. It was basically the opposite of the time I nursed her standing up in a public bathroom. “Don’t you DARE spit up or blow out,” I warned her. Unfortunately, the saleslady kept popping her head back in to check on my progress, and I finally had to admit to what I was really doing in there. And ultimately, I didn’t buy anything. I just ran away when she wasn’t around. Worst customer ever.

I was also asked if I needed a hat or fascinator. Now my goal is to get myself invited to an English wedding while we’re here so I can have an excuse to wear one.

Bubble Boys

When we first came to this area of London to look at potential houses and schools, M and I went to dinner at an Asian restaurant called Banana Tree. Next to our table was a long table of about eight men in their 20s, out for a lads’ night. As they looked at their menus, one of them suggested, in all seriousness, “Who’s up for bubbles?” and they proceeded to order Prosecco for everyone at the table. As these apparently straight men sipped their “bubbles,” I said to M, “This would never happen in America.” Straight American dudes out together will ALWAYS order beer, unless they are getting cocktails, but those have to be the types considered “manly,” like Scotch/Bourbon/whisky drinks. We had never seen a group of eight guys all drinking out of Champagne glasses. Just another cultural difference we found amusing! Now we love to say to each other, “Whooo’s up for bubblllles?!”

prosecco

Bilingual Baby

A lot of people have asked me if E has an English accent. The answer is yes, somewhat, much more so when she has been in school or around people from here more. Anything new she learns at school she learns in a British accent, because that’s the first time she’s heard it. This goes for songs, too.

When she’s with just us for a period of time, the accent wanes, and it nearly disappeared during our two weeks back in America. It’s like a child being fluent in two languages. She tends to talk to us in an American accent and use American words, but then uses British words and pronunciation when she’s talking to Brits. It’s really funny. Sometimes she’ll say something in a British accent to us and then actually correct herself, like maybe we didn’t understand that! Tomato, tomahto.

The Big Scream

When M’s parents were visiting us in November, over American Thanksgiving, I suggested we all go see Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them while E was in school. “There’s this cool thing at the local cinema,” I told them, “called ‘The Big Scream.’ You can go see a new-release movie and bring your baby along.” They keep the lights on really low so you can see what you’re doing if you need to attend to your infant, and keep the sound lower for the previews. What a nice idea! Sounded great!

WRONG. It sounded like 250 crying babies. The morning matinee was completely sold out, which meant every single seat had a person with a baby in it. And those babies had terrible movie theater manners. (Mine was an angel and slept through the entire thing. Should have just gone to a regular showing, no one would have known she was there, and I would have actually heard the movie.) Crying, feeding, changing nappies in the aisles… My father-in-law will never forgive me for taking him to that. He just kept looking over at me with an expression of complete incredulity. He claims he has tried to explain what it was like to people back home, and no one believes him that it was really that absurd. Sorry, Pops!

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Baby Got Bach

Today I took my children to a classical accordion concert. Why? you might ask. There’s a concert series in London called Bach to Baby, which puts on classical music concerts specifically for babies through nursery-school-age children in different venues around the city. It costs £10 for an adult ticket, and children are free. “Classical music, feeding, crying, dancing, and nappy changing,” promises the website. Accurate.

Now, it certainly sounds like a beneficial thing, taking your baby to a classical music concert. This week I took her to the Hockney exhibition at the British Museum and to a classical music concert I imagine myself telling people. And then I imagine punching myself in the face, because who wants to be friends with THAT mom? I also let my older child watch an unspecified amount of Paw Patrol and Peppa Pig and some non-educational videos of weirdo adults playing with kids’ toys on YouTube, and gave her a PBJ for dinner. In the end, they’re not going to remember any of this, right? So what does it really matter?

This was our second Bach to Baby concert; the first one we went to was a cellist and a pianist, back in November. The venue closest to us is a church, the same church we went to for the Christmas Eve family nativity service (which was also packed to standing-room-only with families with young children—Nappy Valley, man; this place is no joke).

It’s chaos. A professional musician sits there playing in the midst of babies and toddlers just going, well, the phrase “wild rumpus” from Where the Wild Things Are comes to mind. The kids “dance” up front (yes, even to accordion music that at times sounded like it might have come from The Godfather score). They trip and fall and cry. They fight over kneeler cushions nicked from the pews, which they stack into towers to jump off of. They make a LOT of noise.

They also love to climb the stairs to the pulpit, sticking their heads through the holes in the possibly-centuries-old stonework, threatening to throw themselves over the edge, looking like wee Juliet, suicidal with her love for her Romeo down below. The parents go between crouch-running up there to reprimand their little darlings, and just letting them run wild, looking at one another with eyebrows and shoulders raised, like, well, what can we do?

“They should do these in the late afternoon instead,” I whispered to my friend, “so they can serve wine.”

Just then, someone’s child vomited on the carpet. There was a flurry of horrified mummy movement to clean it up before any of the little whirling dervishes stepped in it.

My friend’s daughter declared she needed the toilet, then strolled right across the front of the stage past the musician, lifting up her dress and pulling her tights down.

“Do you think that makes him feel like a proper rock star?” I said to the woman on the other side of me. “A girl taking off her pants on stage?” No doubt the highlight of his career as an accordionist.

At the end, a woman comes up with a microphone and leads everyone in singing some nursery rhyme songs all kids know, while the musician plays along. All in all, E enjoyed dancing with her friends, R at least seemed to enjoy watching all the kids dance, and neither of my children expelled any bodily fluids onto the church carpet, so I’d say it was a good morning.