Royal Wedding.

I knew I wasn’t going to watch the Royal Wedding live & in living color. I hate crowds, I don’t have the energy to camp out for hours or days like I had when I was younger, and I just can’t. :-| However, it’s nice to live/be somewhere in the midst of history taking place. So instead, I spent the night at my co-worker’s family’s house. They, too, are American expatriates, and my co-worker’s husband actually wrote an article about the wedding for his hometown newspaper (he had to go for at least a few minutes).

Kass’s blog entries about the Royal Wedding:
- Royal Wedding – Yuck. Prolog
- The Royal Wedding: On The Scene
- Royal Wedding Part 2: Journo-ism (unedited version of published newspaper article)

There isn’t really much to say, so just take a look at the pictures below. Please pardon the bootleg nature of the photos. :-| Enjoy.

With this ring I thee wed.
With this ring I thee wed.
HRH Queen Elizabeth & husband Duke of Edinburgh.
HRH Queen Elizabeth & husband Duke of Edinburgh.
It's official: husband & wife.
It's official: husband & wife.
Fly-over.
Fly-over.
One of many crowds.
One of many crowds.
Catherine.
Catherine.
Balcony.
Balcony.

The kiss.
And finally, the kiss.

Man with a megaphone.

Last week, I was heading out to see one of my kids. I made my way down the steps and saw my colleagues from another team whispering & chuckling. I said “Hey, what’s up?” as I made my way toward the front door. The 3 women chimed in:

“There’s a man out there with a megaphone. He’s basically saying, in a nice & intelligent way, that our (social care) council ain’t shit.”

“He does this every year, at least once per year. He’s been doing this for many years. He’s mad that the council took his children away from him.”

“He sexually abused his children; that’s why social services took them away.”

*record scratch* *REWIND*

I said “He did WHAT???!?!? Why is he out here then, saying that social services isn’t shit? He brought this on himself!”

2 of the women said, “Eh. We’re used to it. But be careful….. He may approach you and talk to you through the megaphone since you’re part of the ‘system’.”

Dammit. That was the last thing I needed. No matter which exit I left through, all exits lead to the main exit….. which is exactly where the man was standing with his megaphone. :-| While he wasn’t within the gates, being outside of the gates and having to walk through them to get to where I had to go would’ve been a pain in the ass anyway. I don’t drive here, so I couldn’t even escape in a car. So I did what I thought was best:

I laughed at & watched him right along with my colleagues. Childish, I know. But he’s a pedophile. I’ll laugh as much as I want. I’m actually surprised that he’s even walking the streets; he needs life in prison, in my opinion. (The United Kingdom’s justice system is another rant for another day.) He finished a few minutes later and I got a chance to leave the building to see my kid & their family.

Here he is: Father Pedophile.
Here he is: Father Pedophile.

One thing I appreciate about living here is the protests. Protests in this country are a way of life; protests are like breathing – done without even thinking about whether they should do it or not. There are a few people here I’ve talked to that consider the protests somewhat of a nuisance, which is understandable because big protests can have as many as thousands of attendees, blocking businesses & streets & peace/quiet. And sometimes, even under the best circumstances, there are always a few hooligans who fuck up what would’ve been a 100% peaceful protest. But overall based on my conversations, Britons seem used to and/or fine with it.

As an aside: In the above link, it states that there were 250,000 protesters; other estimates place the number at 500,000, which sounds correct to me because of what I’ll call the “protest culture”. I actually caught the tail end of that particular protest while on the way to meet with a new friend for lunch and it was orderly & peaceful; it was later that night that the hooligans (thank goodness there were only a couple hundred out of 500,000) vandalized businesses, started shit with the police & caused arrests. Here’s what I caught pre-hooligans:

Public cuts protest. We're mad as hell and we're not gonna take it anymore! Oi!
Public cuts protest. We're mad as hell and we're not gonna take it anymore! Oi!

Back to the point I’m trying to make. I appreciate the protests here because it shows me that people are willing to fight for their rights. Back at home, aside from an unusual burst of fighting spirit every once in a blue moon that leads to (a) protest(s), such as those in Wisconsin that make me feel like a proud American, protests don’t often happen at home. I think people have gotten apathetic & more survival-focused, which is understandable in this day & age and bottomless pit economy. But at what point do Americans say “We’re mad as hell and we’re not gonna take it anymore!”, like citizens of the United Kingdom so often do? At what point will Americans tire of the oligarchy?

So while I think it’s despicable & disgusting that a father who sexually abused his children has the unmitigated gall to protest in front of a social services building (or anywhere else for that matter), I can appreciate the overall “protest culture” and fighting spirit that makes Britons as ridiculous as they are prim & proper. Keep using the megaphone, United Kingdom.

P.S. While you’re at it, check out my fellow expatriate Kass’s blog entry on the same subject.

P.P.S. As I type at this very moment, BBC news is reporting a segment about groups of people who are planning to boycott the Royal Wedding. I love it.

Protest within a protest.
Protest within a protest.

Come on over (part II).

(If you missed the 1st part, just click here for it.)

J arrived with niece & daughter in tow and I got in the car. It was already dark, so I didn’t see what anyone looked like until we got to the house. J’s daughter asked where I was from, and as soon as those 3 words came out of my mouth, I regretted them.

Me: “New York City.”

Here we go…..

Oh my goodness! I’ve always wanted to go there. What’s it like? What part are you from? I just wanna go there and shop! How much does it cost to go there? What was it like growing up there? Oh, this is great! I can’t wait to go there one day. What’s their fashion like? (Sidenote: I, Spinster, am the wrong person to ask about any kind of fashion.) I’m sure there’s tons of stuff to do there! And I gotta try the make-up there too! There are probably so many things there that we don’t have here!

And on and on for most of the ride back to the home. :-| I only answered 1 or 2 of her questions before J told her to calm down a bit. Thank goodness. The anxiety was in full swing.

We got back to the home and J’s husband, a Frenchman (non-English-speaking except a few basic words), greeted me while a couple of female family members put the finishing touches on dinner. The rest of the kids were upstairs until J beckoned them to come downstairs and greet me. (The boys, who are the oldest and in their 20s, didn’t come down; that didn’t surprise me one bit.) She told them to give me hugs & kisses, which was adorable, and they did. Nice warm family. It calmed me down a bit. And wouldn’t you know it? All of the girls who were teens & adults were wearing skinny jeans along with their hijab! They didn’t think I was a whore after all! :-|

I took off my coat & sat down, staring into space whilst waiting for dinner. I felt like an exotic animal because the kids stared at me. The older ones asked me more questions while offering me food & drink. Since I was late, they’d already eaten so the food was just for me. It was strange eating alone while they talked, but at least they were talking instead of staring at me. The food was good & filling. (sampling of typical Mauritian cuisine)

After I finished, I sat back on the couch & twiddled my thumbs. One of J’s older daughters (the one in the car) asked me some more questions that made me groan inside, and then she asked me something I considered strange:

Do you like make-up?

Again, wrong person to ask.

I said

I own some but I’m not into it like most women. I keep it pretty simple when I wear it, if at all.

She asked about different make-up brands and their possible existence back home. I told her about Sephora (my usual go-to for make-up) & offered to show her the website. We wound up looking at the site for a while. This excited her because, unbeknownst to me, she studies cosmetology in college. See, J’s ancestors are from India. Mauritius (detailed Wikipedia entry – Mauritius) has a sizeable Indian-origin population, and so does the United Kingdom. In general, when Indian women get married (or have other milestone events), they sometimes require intricate make-up application, which can only be done by someone who knows their stuff. Since J’s daughter is learning, the Sephora website is perfect for her. It was as if I found some hidden pot o’ gold and gave it to her.

Although her question was strange to me, it did something to me: it decreased the anxiety, relaxing me little by little. I don’t know what it was – maybe having the focus on make-up instead of me? Whatever it was, I felt a little more at ease. I asked them questions about Mauritius, how J met her husband, their religion (born or converted), etc. As an aside, the younger children are at different levels of learning the Qur’an (online version here – Qur’an), and the younger ones had to wake up early the next morning to learn their next sura. Although I’m agnostic, I can appreciate, to a small extent, the positive role that religion can have on people. I think the family is a little relaxed when it comes to Islam (detailed Wikipedia entry – Islam) despite being orthodox; as mentioned earlier, the girls/women in the home wore skinny jeans and watched different TV shows & etc. (Please pardon me if this seems like major generalizing; this isn’t what my intent is, nor should it be taken as such.) Basically, American media doesn’t know what they’re talking about.

Time flew by. We didn’t know it was so late, so I decided to get going. I got up, put on my coat, and held out my hand for a handshake. J’s daughter said

No, we don’t do that here. Give me a hug.

I gladly obliged. Younger daughter also gave me a big warm hug. My world lacks hugs, so I appreciate the few that I can get. They said “Don’t be a stranger, come back soon.”

J & her husband put on their coats and readied themselves to drop me to the overground train station. This time they used the family van. As we drove though, I noticed that we drove past the station, and that’s when J asked me for my address. It kinda caught me off guard.

Me: “Wait, you’re not taking me all the way home, are you?”

Yes. We can’t let you go home this late by yourself on the train. We’re taking you home.

Caught off guard again. Me: “Oh wow, thank you so much. You really don’t have to do this. I really appreciate it.”

And they dropped me all the way home, straight to my front door. I walked in the house, satisfied with the evening’s events. I felt the fear and did it anyway, which is 1 step forward for me. It’s hard to push past uneasy feelings, very hard, but it’s possible.

I was, and still am, overwhelmed by the unconditional acceptance given to me by certain people since being here. Sadly, it’s not something that I’m used to. Or maybe I’m looking into this too deeply, I don’t know. But in a world where one has to have certain qualities & characteristics to “fit in”, where everything about a person gets questioned, picked apart even….. Usually in a negative way, as if one isn’t good enough just the way one is….. it’s overwhelming (but nice) being welcomed with open arms.

I’ll be visiting them again, and they even offered for me to spend the night (I’ll likely accept the invitation). It’s nice to escape every once in a while, even if it’s just to another part of town, and just relax, knowing that all you have to do is just be.

Come on over (part I).

“What the hell did I get myself into?” I wondered aloud while preparing to go to J’s house for dinner.

Might as well start from the beginning…..

After working together one evening, J invited me to have dinner at her family’s home. J is a translator/interpreter, and I acquired her services through my job to communicate with a family whose 1st language is French. We worked together before & after my Christmas vacation, and she seems like a nice woman outside of work. I don’t know her age but since she has 5 children, one of whom is in his 20s, I assume that she’s a little older than me. Therefore, I’d not think that she’d invite me to dinner. After all, I’m younger than she is….. Maybe less mature?….. unabashedly American (whether I like it or not)….. not Muslim….. Why have me over for dinner?

So it was surprising that after one of our last visits with the family, she invited me over. We left the home & walked together quietly as usual until we split to head to our respective buses, and before I got a chance to walk off, she said “Would you like to come over for dinner one day?” I was kinda taken aback because it came out of nowhere, but I managed to say something to the effect of

“Wow. Thank you. Sure I’ll come over. Just let me know what your schedule is and let’s take it from there.”

Even though I accepted, the suddenness of it still left my mind boggled. What did she want from me? :-|

2 weeks passed and we set up for me to come over on 03.11.2011. I was looking forward to it….. at first. She’s from Mauritius which, to me, means learning about a new culture and (most important) trying new food. But that good old social anxiety crept up on me as it usually does. (While I’m a private person, I don’t mind sharing my “flaws”, like the social anxiety, with others if it helps others who experience the same things.) I had at least 1 week to mentally prepare myself, but mind over matter doesn’t always work for me. My mind was racing:

What should I wear? They’re Muslim; I don’t want them to think I’m a whore (whatever that means). What if I do or say something wrong? I don’t know these people. What’s their culture like? What if I don’t like the food? Would it be rude to say something about the food if I don’t like it? Okay, I’ll stay for no more than 2 hours and then I’m going home.

“What the hell did I get myself into?” I wondered aloud while preparing to go to J’s house for dinner. Nothing seemed to fit right. I forgot to look up directions to get there. Then I felt hot and changed clothes. Then I felt cold and changed clothes. Then I felt fat and changed clothes. Then I put on make-up and hated it. Then I took off the make-up and hated it. And these damn pimples! I’m too damn old to still be getting pimples! And why does my face have to look like this? And dear god, I’ve gained more weight than I thought. What if my breath stinks? My life is a complete fail. What was I thinking, accepting this invitation? I bet I’ll regret this.

I drove myself bonkers. And made myself late.

Since I was late & didn’t feel like ironing clothes, I decided on a new pair of skinny jeans even though I didn’t want to wear them. I forced myself to re-apply the make-up, checked my breath, put on my new coat & sneakers, and left the house. It was a cold but clear evening and, despite the anxiety, it was nice to get out of the house & see a different part of town. One of my unofficial resolutions for the year is to go out more now that I’m more settled into life in a new country, and anxious or not, I needed to do this. You can’t move forward if you don’t take the 1st step. Since I was running a little late, I high-tailed it to the bus to get to the train station. It was a pretty easy route despite weekend service disruptions. When I got to my destination, I called J to pick me up as planned; since she doesn’t drive, her niece drove while she & her oldest (I think) daughter went along for the ride. I anxiously awaited and wished myself luck.

To be continued…..

My sentiments exactly.
My sentiments exactly.

GUEST POST: Oh, that’s proper.

Ashley is a friend of mine who was also my very 1st visitor from back home a few weeks ago. She’s a freelance writer & tutor. For more about her, check out Mochalocks In The City or follow her on Twitter @middleofmarch. Here’s her guest post, my first ever on this blog.
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April 5, 2011 – It’s been two weeks already since I’ve been across the pond. I’m talking about London, England. I took time out from being a busy American and I actually took a vacation to a country that I always wanted to visit.

Can I say that I love their accent? LOVE IT. With a capital L.

My trip was only for a week, but I suggest staying there for at least 2 weeks or more if you can afford it. I already made up my mind that I have to stay longer than a week on my next trip to England.

First rule of thumb when arriving in England: Learn their English. A lot of their words mean the same but they use different words from American English. For example:

Television/T.V.= Tele.

Bathroom = Toilets. (I know, this sounded weird as hell to me when I first heard it coming out of the mouth an airport employee.)

Garbage = Rubbish

Parking Lot = Garage (pronounced GAH {like the 1st syllable of the name Gary}-rage)

And so on, but you will learn their way of speaking, etc. as you venture out of your hotel room.

I was lucky enough to stay the week with my friend “Spinster”. Spinster lives in a nice little neighborhood – lots of shopping within 5-10 minutes walking distance from her house, and close enough to public transportation.

The food is good. I didn’t notice a difference between British food and American food at all but as expected, some items on the menu have different names, i.e. French Fries = Chips. And believe me when I say I’ve had enough chips in a week, to not care to have them again for another month. But you’re on vacation right? So who’s really worrying about how much you’re going to eat? British food portions are a lot smaller than American food portions. So a large size plate of rice and chicken is really a medium.

The top two restaurants I suggest you visit while in London are 1) Nando’s (it’s an American version of Dallas BBQ or even Applebee’s) and 2) Haandi (Indian restaurant). We went to one Nando’s restaurant in south-east London and another one in south-west London. With Haandi, there are only 4 of them in the world, 2 of which are in England. Spinster and I went to the one in Kingsbridge, London.

There’s no need to rent a car while you’re there because London has a good source of public transportation. If you decide to drive though, take note that the steering wheel is on the right side of the car.

What’d I love about London? It’s a little version of NYC, but it still has its old but classical buildings intact, some of them with a modern twist. For instance, they still use the antique door key.

I love that you can park any way on the street (with the hood facing each other). Crossing the streets take time to get used to because when you’re on the left side of the street, the cars are coming from your right, and vice versa.

The (over-ground) trains and the tube are very easy to use. I LOVED the fact that everywhere you go they have CCTV (security camera), especially on the bus. If there is one thing NYC can steal from London, then it should make sure all buses have a camera installed. The buses are a breeze to take as well. They use an electronic ticketing system to read the Oyster cards you use to pay to get on the bus. The same Oyster cards and electronic tickets can also be used on the trains and tubes.

What’d I hate about London? I hate that the sidewalks are small as hell but you get used to it after awhile.

Overall this trip was a learning experience, as any other trip is. But I loved it and like I said, London deserves a second trip. It’s worth the 6-8 hour plane ride.

Cheerio!