Tag Archives: British

E-mails sweeter with kisses?

30 Jan

A British friend recently remarked that my text messages are so stark and blunt because I never end them with a kiss (or “x” in the text messaging world).

She’s absolutely right. Though I don’t have any objections to people signing off with a “x” when they speak to me, the custom of signing off texts, e-mails, and to some extent Facebook messages to your friends and family in this way is still something that I can’t wrap my head around.

Signing off with a kiss in Canada would probably only be used in e-mails to your Grandmother, a best friend (only between girls), or a text message to a potential new partner (aka. Dear Michael, I had a great time on our date last night x). Even a potential partner situation might be overstepping the mark.

After my friend made the comment, I googled signing off with a x and discovered loads of fellow foreigners flabbergasted by the British use of “x”.

“I am just curious about something I have noticed British friends doing,” said one girl on a Lonely Planet travel forum. “In e-mails they often sign off with x’s and here in the US, this type of thing is reserved for just partners and parents. It’s a pretty personal and affectionate thing to do that we don’t do for friends usually”.

Advice came to the girl in the form of people telling her to basically put an “x” into every message to everyone, no matter whom she is e-mailing.

Another Brit told her she uses them for everything or she actually feels rude. But then when she was in Indonesia and her friends there were asking her why she always uses them.

I’m curious how such a personal expression of warmth became so accepted and encouraged by all, but I couldn’t find much on the history.

If you can enlighten me, please do because otherwise I’m sticking with signing off with my name.



Great Expectations

5 Dec

Many of you have read my endless whining rants about being a Canadian living in Britain. Well soon you will be reading endless wining rants on returning to Canada (albeit temporarily – about two weeks).

Today marks the 12 day mark – 12 days before I finally go home for the first time in one year, three months and 21 days, but of course I’m not counting. I actually don’t count my time here that precisely. I looked that up online because I’m a giant nerd.

I thought I’d blog about my trip home to Canada because writing is the best way for me to think through all my thoughts and feelings, and it might provide some mild entertainment for anyone that happens to read my blog.

After spending the past almost year and a half semi-assimilating into British culture, I’m full of excitement and apprehension about going home.

Because I devote far too much time to fretting, I have conjured up two scenarios:

  1. I fall back in love with the country I had promised to leave for only a year, and can’t bring myself to get on that plane back to London (though of course this is unrealistic because I owe two months’ notice at my publication, have a one-year lease on my flat, and have friends and a boyfriend who would be quite unhappy with me).
  2. I’m disappointed by my trip home because I’ve painted an idyllic birds-chirping-in-the-winter, no-crime, happy land that doesn’t exist outside my imagination. (This is possibly the worst of the two).

Take my poll at the end of this post to help me predict. And, remember, whatever happens, I will provide you with regular updates on my trip to Canada.

Whose wind up is it anyway?

4 Apr

Wind someone up: To provoke, tease, deceive someone. (British)

When I first arrived in England, my single greatest surprise, regarding the English, was how much they enjoyed this pursuit of winding someone up. My own family loved calling me “American” because they knew it would be met with an onslaught of reasons why I was NOT American.

“It’s so easy to wind you up Maiya,” I was told, again and again. And I suppose it’s true.

I assumed it was a Canadian sensitivity, mainly because I had never heard of so many words to describe teasing someone before. There’s also “take the piss” and “take the mickey,” which both also mean to tease, mock, ridicule, etc.

But I had to take a hard look at myself when my Canadian friends arrived over a week ago. They took less than half the amount of jibing that I had experienced upon my arrival?

Why? What was their secret?

I watched them with my housemate, who repeatedly makes comments like, “Oh what’s this like in America—sorry Canada” (most of the time he doesn’t even add the “sorry” portion of that sentence). They smiled politely and moved onto something else. And that was the end of it! My housemate would then save his Canada-America insults for me, hurling them at someone who knew he could get a reaction from.

I’m not saying they didn’t get wound up at all. My one friend from back home did have to explain to my housemate that, “No, America and Canada are completely separate places.” But she only did it the once and ignored most of the other comments. And she very calmly stated this. As a fact.

So now I’ve found a solution to this winding up business. Evolve into a different person, with a thicker skin. Now, if someone can just tell me how to speed up the process…

Everyone Poops

18 Mar

This post is going to be all about—you guessed it—the British obsession with pooping, or rather the enjoyment the Brits seems to derive from a successful bathroom experience.

Picture it: It’s 16 August 2010 (over seven months ago). I’ve just arrived in London, England after the most terrifying seven-hour plane journey of my life to be greeted by relatives I’ve only heard of and seen pictures of on Facebook (who were very nice, incidentally). I’m jetlagged—there’s a five-hour time difference—and emotionally drained. I’m given a tour of the house—kitchen, living room, my room, laundry and finally, as the grand finale, the toilet.

There’s a whole host of literature for your reading pleasure, I’m told. And indeed there’s a thick stack of magazines and a couple of books haphazardly thrown atop the pile. Groggy, I don’t think much more of this encounter until I’m shuffled off to another relatives’ home a few days later where there’s even more literature and in a three-hour visit with my cousins, the bathroom reading is referred to at least half a dozen times. My one cousin remarks that he’s learned quite a lot from the hefty fact book and quotes lines from it.

I later learned from a non-relative that bathroom reading is referred to as “shiterature”. A quick peak on Urban Dictionary defined shiterature as “Any book, magazine, letter, pamphlet, or any other type of literature one may take to read while sitting on the toilet.”

My non-relative informed me that he planned to have an excellent collection of shiterature in his own bathroom one day. A good enough life aspiration I suppose since a UK study suggested that more than 14 million Brits read books, magazines and newspapers while on the toliet. Considering the population is 61, 838,154, that’s a whopping 23% who seek written entertainment in the bathroom.

Another Brit provides me with regular updates of his bowel movements. He’s quite proud of himself when he can come up with unique ways to describe his account on the toilet. The week he came up with “broken babies” I must have heard him repeat it at least four or five times, on the phone to various people.

Now perhaps my eyes have been closed to the pooping habits in Canada but I don’t imagine anyone spends nearly as much time talking about the toilet preferences in my homeland as the people of the UK seem to. Fellow Canadians, feel free to point out if I’m misinformed here, but I’ve also yet to hear of Canadian equivalents to institutions such as the British Toliet Association and the Loo of the Year Awards.

Disclaimer: I apologise if any Brit feels that my post is not truly representative of the approach to the pooping experience in Great Britain. Please consider that this is my own personal account and thus do take into consideration my own biases, which include, among other things, a tendency to interact with men more than women.

Accent Under Fire

14 Mar

If you’ve been reading my Facebook updates, you’ll understand that this post has been a long time coming. I never considered accents much back home in Canada. I knew my maternal Grandparents had thick Polish accents and that my favourite professor had a South African accent but not much else. I hardly consciously noticed these things. And I certainly never gave my own accent much thought. That is until I arrived in England where I immediately felt different from the moment the plane landed on the British tarmac.
Perhaps that’s not true. It was actually the moment I walked into a shop in Heathrow airport, selected some mints from a dizzying array of sweets I’d never seen before and paid using the funny-looking coins. As I opened my mouth to speak, I realised I was afraid to reveal my accent. I couldn’t understand where my deep fear stemmed from as I mumbled an inaudible ‘thank you.’
The following weeks illuminated the situation. In a culture where everyone’s favourite pastime is “winding you up” or “taking the piss,” my accent was/ is something of a target, particularly when people (especially relatives) realised there was no greater insult than to call me American. I was laughed at for numerous pronunciations of words that were “so American” and it didn’t matter how many times I said them. It never ceased to be amusing.
Take for example the word “Awwww!” which is according to my housemate is, “So American and so annoying!” I mean, who says that? You’re basically saying you hate the way someone speaks when they can’t avoid it.
Another word that’s apparently quite humorous is “water.” In England, you either strongly pronounce the “t” sound or pretend it’s not there at all.
And the funny part is that when the Brits imitate the way you speak they always exaggerate the differences so that it sounds all-American. So when their imitation of my pronunciation of water sounds something like “wadder.”
Then there are the numerous terms that are the bane of my existence, causing anxiety at the mere possibility I might have to say them.

  • Tottenham & Birmingham (you better not say the “h” sound)
  • Chancery (this “au” sound is impossible to pronounce)
  • Leicester (don’t make the same mistake I did. Tell yourself, in your head, it’s Lester)
  • Fenwicks (still can’t pronounce this one)
  • Argos (this “os” part is like the holy grail of British pronunciation. One day Maiya…one day…)

And that’s just the starter list!
So, I plead with the Brits, please remember I’m just an ignorant foreigner (which I know you take pleasure in reminding me of anyway) and that I’m still learning to adapt to your confusing speech patterns.


Relevant Links:




27 Jan

The other evening I was informed by a British contemporary, who shall not be named, that I’m ‘practically British,’ owing to my ancestry. I assure you that no one had made this suggestion previously and thus, I was quite surprised. I was also sceptical. I saw myself as purely (100% Canadian).

Well perhaps the phrase ‘purely’ is a tad of an overstatement. Everyone in Canada identifies with the origin of their parents or Grandparents. I’d always said Polish because both my mother’s parents were from the Eastern European country and it seemed easier to attribute myself to the culture I was most familiar with.

While it’s true that my Grandfather and his sisters were/are British, I’d never given much consideration to the cultural influences they may have had on me. I always saw them as Lithuanians, anyway, as their parents came from Lithuania to England many years ago. My Grandfather hadn’t hit his third decade when he’d arrived in Canada. So, to me, England was only ever a temporary stopover for my family.

But maybe I was wrong? My Zadie (Yiddish word for Grandfather) may have died when I was 12 but I’m sure he left me with some British tendencies. Perhaps it’s owing to my early experiences with him or the fact that one quarter British blood flows through my veins but these resemblances are apparent.

Firstly, back in Canada, people accused me of lacking warmth and being a tad aloof. My brother and father (who I believe are overly demonstrative) used to force me into hugs as my body lay limp and discomfited in their arms. Here, no family member or friend would dream of forcing me into a hug against my will!

Then, there’s my predilection for coffee’s caffeine alternative. I always wondered why my brother and I drank tea so copiously when neither our parents nor the majority of our contemporaries shared this obsession. My brother and I, though, we obsess over tea and always manage to dent our parents’ supply when visiting. Also noteworthy: we grew up saying, “Put the kettle on, please.” We did pronounce our t’s though, which means we can’t be that British.

Finally, there’s sarcasm. Not sure if I can count this one because I’ve already written of the differences in the brand of humour between nations. I appreciated, and doled out my fair share, of sarcasm when in Canada but England is another story.

I guess, all in all, it’s just not to be able to identify a little bit (even if not very much) with the country I’ve chosen to reside in (for now).