Restaurants

If you spoke to me at all between September 2009-December 2009, you’re probably aware that I quite openly complained about British food. Due to a series of unfortunate food choices and a general lack of funds to purchase decent restaurant food, I complained to anyone that would listen (or pretended to listen) about the horrors of British cuisine.

I found myself so desperate that I had a stint as an accidental vegetarian where I sufficed on only humus and pita, apple juice, and a large assortment of biscuits. This was enough to make me vow to do better the next time I was in the United Kingdom.  Sure I could shed an easy ten pounds on this diet. Much more if I gave up the biscuits (and hadn’t discovered a mystical place called Ben’s Cookies). But this diet just wasn’t right.

Upon arriving in the United Kingdom last September I wanted to give this country the benefit of the doubt when it came to affordable restaurant food. I tried with my limited budget to seek out decent restaurant meal deals with some success. Sure I found some gems such as beat the clock nights at Belgo in Chalk Farm (from 5 PM-7 PM your meal price is the time that your order was processed), an Italian restaurant near my flat called Nino’s that even gives away free bread (on occasion) and meals under £6, and Steak Night at Wetherspoons (£7.50 for steak, potato, veg, and drink) when I’m not pretending to be an intentional vegetarian.

Despite the successes, there are still some cultural differences in the restaurant world that I’ve experienced. Perhaps I haven’t dined at the most outstanding restaurants in London because of my current status as a graduate student, but in America food can be delicious with good service at an affordable price. Nonetheless, I’ve picked up on a few cultural differences between eating on both sides of the pond.

The honest truth of how restaurant scenarios are handled in two countries. An unfortunate tale for those residing in the UK.

USA: What you see is what you get…

In America menu descriptions are often so vivid they are accompanied by photos of the food you could potentially ingest. Most of the food items in your entrée are described in detail in the menu.

UK: What you don’t see is what you get…

You’re lucky if a menu description is more detailed than “green salad.” Questions are met with skeptical looks. Surprise tomatoes and olives are always a possibility.

USA: Complaining Brings Reward

If you have a problem with your food, it’s perfectly acceptable to inform the waitress or waiter and send it back for a new dish to be prepared. Sure it will be inconvenient, but you’ll probably get an apology. Maybe even a comped dessert. Or 10% off your bill. Exciting, right?

UK: Complaining Brings Confusion

If a waitress asks you how your food is you’re expected to say it’s fine. When you tell her your chicken is overcooked, your complaint will be met with a blank stare. Then she’ll walk away.

USA: Do you want another refill on that diet coke ma’am?

Yes please sir! It’s free like this country after all!

UK: You better savor that drink yank.

If you want another refill on your diet coke you better cough up the GBP to finance that glass of lukewarm soda. Learning to savor a tiny glass of diet coke with your meal is an under appreciated art form. Better yet order water. Just make sure it comes from the tap so it doesn’t come with a bill.

USA: Tip 15%-20%

Waiters and waitresses will offer you good service because their income depends on tips. If the service is lackluster you can always consult a manager.

UK: Tipping…not as necessary

Waiters and waitresses are paid a living wage. You’ll get horrible service and they’ll still expect 10%. Suppress the urge to be American and give more than 10%. Sometimes leave 5%. Stop feeling guilty about it.

USA: Do you want some more complimentary cheesy biscuits?

It’s only our third basket. Sure why not?

UK: Do you want some bread?

If your response is yes don’t be alarmed if when you receive your bill you’re charged £3.50 for bread.

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Take me out to the ball game…from London?

It’s no secret that baseball isn’t exactly the sport of choice in the United Kingdom. When it comes to a sport that involves a bat and a ball Brits prefer cricket.

Just like baseball, right?

Just like baseball, right?

Baseball’s lack of popularity in the United Kingdom wasn’t going to be a hindrance on my sincere desire to watch the Pittsburgh Pirates from across the Atlantic this year.

Sure the Pirate’s haven’t had a winning season since I was a toddler, but I’m not exactly a fair weathered fan.

What I looked like the last time the Pirates had a winning season.

Years of watching Pirate’s baseball with my father has taught me to always have hope, anger management,  forgiveness, and patience. No matter how many times you vindictively turn off the television and declare that you aren’t “going to watch those bums anymore.” You’re going to turn the television on again. You will watch more baseball.

After a promising start to the season last year that ended in this horrific moment…

It all went downhill from here...

I’m pretty optimistic this season. I may or may not say this every April.

But…this year we have AJ Burnett. He might be hurt, but he’s ours.

Hope.

We also have this guy until 2018.

This optimism coupled with my desire to maintain my “Americaness” made the decision to subscribe to MLB.TV easy. Now I’m able to watch all Pirates games streaming live on my computer or on demand via Root Sports.

Proof.

Just because you can watch baseball on your computer from your flat in the Barnet borough of London doesn’t mean it is the same as watching it in America.

The time difference can be a bit of an issue. Games that start at 7:05 PM in the US start at 12:05 AM in the UK.

Trying to acquire the ingredients for a ballpark themed menu isn’t the easiest task in the world either. I attempted this on Opening Day which started at 6:35 PM GMT. Perfect for aligning my dinner plans with my baseball plans, I know. Not so perfect, when you’re trying to create a ballpark themed menu using ingredients available at your local Tesco.

You're not going to opt for these.

I ended up relying on British cocktail sausages to suffice as hot dogs on mini submarine rolls. If I was in North America I would find this appalling. On this continent, it’s surprisingly acceptable.

Not as appetizing as hot dogs from home...

Instead of fries I made oven baked potato wedges. These were tasty.

Watching baseball in the United Kingdom isn’t all that different from watching it from Pittsburgh.  I’ll continue to root for the Pirates from across the pond this year.

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Happy Easter

Today I celebrated my first Easter sans jelly beans and miniature marshmallow chickens.

Instead I  celebrated by receiving this giant chocolate egg as an Easter present…

Chocolate overdose...and I only had a few of the tiny eggs.

I also received a very special Easter present in the form of my mom! She flew into Heathrow today to begin her first visit to the United Kingdom!

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London Sunshine?

Although stereotype might dictate that London is perpetually immersed in rain and fog, this is not always the case. Surprisingly on occasion London weather can be quite lovely. This past week temperatures hovered in the late 60’s F with clear skies. After a frosty winter in a flat that lacked the ability to produce sufficient heat, the change in temperature was certainly welcome.

Such lovely springtime weather in London cannot be enjoyed without consequence. Apparently we’re  currently experiencing a drought. Strange, right?

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Mad Men

I love good television. Not bad television. There is a distinction.

I’ve never watched a full episode of Jersey Shore or Keeping Up with the Kardashians. I tried. It didn’t go over well. 

I’ve watched every episode of Mad Men about 20 times. You can check my iTunes account if you want specific statistics.

Mad Men is brilliant television.

That’s why today March 25th the premiere of Mad Men Season 5 is very big deal. After almost 18 months of waiting in agony for more Don Draper, I’m on the wrong continent to enjoy the premiere. Heartbreaking.

Even more troubling, I don’t subscribe to SkyAtlantic the channel that broadcasts the premier on March 27th in the UK. I can’t wait any longer. I wish I was exaggerating. I’m not.

Thanks to a thing called the internets, I plan on buying the episode from iTunes for $3 tomorrow morning. I’ll watch it approximately 15 times before the next episode airs. It is a worthwhile investment at £1.89.

Or I might beg someone in the US to broadcast it to me via skype at 3 AM GMT. Any takers?

For all of you in the United States I hope you enjoy the season premiere. Don’t worry too much, globalization allows me to watch it not long after you do (especially if you live on the west coast).

With that I leave you with a video of Don Draper. He is the only alcoholic, chain smoking, philanderer I would ever consider having a romantic entanglement with…

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The Tale of Two Footballs

There are two types of football in this world.

Explanation: Soccer in the United Kingdom (and the rest of the world) is referred to as football. What Americans call football is known as American football (pretty easy, right?) elsewhere.

There are many differences between these two sports. The obvious. And the less obvious.

The Less Obvious Differences between the two Footballs

Scarves not Towels

UK

Supporters hold Liverpool scarves during a football match

USA

The Terrible Towel. Enough said.

Unruly Football Fans

UK

Chaos Inducing Football Hooligans

USA

Philadelphia Eagles Fans

Baltimore Raven Fans

Cheerleaders

UK

Manchester United Football "cheerleaders."

USA

Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.

Television Commercials: Watch these! The differences are quite funny!

UK

USA

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Saint Patrick’s Day

Apparently everyone in America is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day. Most of these Americans were not born in Ireland. There is a good chance they have never visited or lived in the country. It’s not a problem. As long as an American has an ancestor somewhere in their family tree that hopped on a boat from Ireland to America it counts. If you don’t have an ancestor from Ireland, don’t worry. Just lie about your heritage or be prepared to lose some serious street cred.

Even the President needs a little street cred as he shares a pint with a long lost Irish cousin in DC.

A certain demographic of Americans binge on McDonald’s Shamrock Shakes, “Irish Car Bombs” and watery green beer when celebrating St. Patrick’s Day. It’s a 24 hour period where they pledge admiration for a people that many of them only first identified with because of the little green man on the highly processed cereal they ate as a child.

Green food coloring doesn't make Natty Light drinkable.

Get a taste of Ireland for only 680 calories! The Shamrock Shake.

In true showy American fashion St. Patrick’s Day also consists of coloring landmarks green as a testament to a bond with Ireland:

On Green Pond. The White House Production.

Leprechauns flew into O'Hare just to dye the Chicago River green.

Although the UK includes a country called Northern Ireland, St. Patrick’s Day celebrations are a bit more subdued compared to the ones across the pond. St. Patrick’s Day isn’t just a day to get drunk off of Baileys and convince people to kiss you while singing “I’m Shipping Off to Boston.”

“Irish heritage” is certainly complex in the UK. Centuries of Irish oppression spurred by a guy named Oliver, a bitter revolution, division of a country, combined with the rise of a  little terrorist organization known as the IRA (not Investment Retirement Account) surely broods some serious identity issues.

With those mitigating factors in mind, St. Patrick’s Day in the UK looks a little different than it does in the USA.

Dyeing the Thames green was too ambitious, so the Brits decided to dye the livestock.

The Duchess of Cambridge presents a dog with a shamrock.

St. Patrick's Day celebration in Trafalgar Square.

Disclaimer: Copious amounts of binge drinking also occur in the UK on St. Patrick’s Day. Granted this isn’t much different than any other day.

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