For two countries which share the same language, England and America can sometimes seem like a world apart (well, they are an ocean apart, I guess). I noticed this most acutely on my recent trip to New York with two friends from London. Whilst in London, shop assistants acknowledge you briefly if you’re lucky, or watch you through narrowed eyes suspecting you of shoplifting if you’re not so lucky.
In New York, it was a completely different story. Everywhere we went, we were greeted by friendly staff asking us about our trip, and recommending things for us to do. The friendliness extends to people on the streets — someone found me the name of a restaurant in Williamsburg and then actually called up for me, and a couple stopped to Google the nearest subway station for us when we got slightly lost. Of course, not everyone is unfriendly in London, but New York seems so much warmer in terms of customer service at least.
This being said, the tipping culture stateside seems crazy to me — in London I wouldn’t hesitate to leave a cafe or restaurant without tipping if the waiter had been especially rude. In New York, one waiter went out of his way to follow us as we left the cafe, muttering “You’re unbelievable” under his breath. It’s not like we hadn’t left any tip at all — it wasn’t 18 percent, but we’d only had a small snack and he had been unfriendly and brusque throughout.
The most fascinating difference between England and America for me as a British visitor lies with the language (ironic, given we’re meant to be speaking the same one). From foods (“Aubergine? Wait, that’s eggplant right?”) to clothes (“Trousers? Do you mean pants?”), there are different words, different pronunciations and different expressions. We say “lift,” you say “elevator,” we say “get in line,” you say “get online.” The weirdest of these for me is “restroom” — why restroom? You don’t exactly go there to rest… “toilet” seems like a much more logical word.
New York and London are two of the world’s most visited cities, and it’s not difficult to see why. The fact off the matter is, both England and America are great countries, and it is their individualities which make both so intriguing to visit/live in.
One of my favourite cheap things to do in London when friends are visiting is to do ‘Tate to Tate‘, as I have recently named it. This involves (obviously) visiting both Tates – Britain and Modern – in the space of an afternoon. It’s made very easy: you just take the river boat which goes direct from Tate Modern to Tate Britain (or the other way round) for a small fee. Even though it’s not completely free, it’s worth remembering that unlike in most other European countries, you don’t pay to get into either museum. There are exhibitions which you need to buy tickets for, but if it’s not something you really want to see, it’s not always worth paying for, & you can spend a perfectly busy afternoon in the free parts…
Prices from http://www.tate.org.uk/visit/tate-boat
- Adults – £6.50 single, £12 return
- Tate Members – £4.90
- Child under 16 with Travelcard – £2.15
- Travelcard holder or London Student Card Single £4.30
- Children under 5 travel for free
Have you ever heard of Girona? Probably not, it is a small city located in the north east of Spain, it is known by history lovers and passionate artists, but what about other people? Well, there is a lot you can do in Girona, get lost in the old part of town and discover the mysterious legends it hides.
The old part of town is the most beautiful thing in Girona. You can start your walk in the Rambla and then start wandering in the dark labyrinthine streets around it. Once there you can make your way to the old cathedral, in which you can find different architectural styles from different periods of time. The cathedral is well known for having the widest gothic nave in the world. If you are an art lover I strongly recommend you the cathedral’s museum in which you can find beautiful and unique pieces.
I’d then continue going down the small alleys in the so-called Jewish quarter, because there used to be one of the biggest Jewish communities until 1492. There are a lot of legends surrounding this quartier (there are some books explaining almost all of them that can be found in shops in the old part) and I definitely recommend the visit to the Jewish museum in Girona.
Continuing in the old part, you will be able to find the smallest square in Europe, la plaça del Raïm and the curious thing about it is that hardly anybody knows about it, not even the locals.
I haven’t talked about it much but it is definitely worth seeing is the wall of Girona, it was firstly built by the Romans then rebuilt by Charlemagne. The sight from there is beautiful as you can see the mountains from the Catalan Pyrenees.
Finally, the famous orange and red houses next to the river (in Catalan they are called “les cases de l’Onyar”) are really something one must see before leaving Girona and take some good pictures, as well as the kissing the lion’s bottom. Let me explain that before you think about how crazy Spanish people are, there is a statue of a lion and if you kiss its butt that means you will definitely come back to Girona.
Okay, not everybody loooves the Saatchi Gallery, because most of its contents don’t really count as ‘art’. But that’s the problem: who decides what art is? If you prefer more traditional paintings etc, go to the Wallace Collection.
The Saatchi Gallery does, in fact, have a lot going for it. Firstly, it’s in Duke of York Square which is nice to walk around, and there’s the King’s Road so it’s not like you have to make a specific journey. Secondly, it’s FREE so you literally walk in while you’re taking a break from shopping/ eating and if you hate everything in there, it doesn’t matter. Also, a lot of the stuff they have in there is often really cool: a black room filled with lasers/ a giant plastic ball filled with air which you can climb into/ a room filled with oil but the reflection of the ceiling is so misleading you think you’re looking into an empty space. So whilst it isn’t traditional art in the form of renaissance paintings, it is an enjoyable way to spend an hour if you’re sheltering from the rain or happen to be passing by. Plus, the gift shop is really cool.
On a recent trip to Crete, I went to a cooking lesson (!!) where I learnt how to make tzatziki, a popular local dip which is usually eaten with crudités. It’s widely available in other countries – in England, you can buy it at any supermarket – but it’s always nicer to make it fresh. The best thing about the lesson was that the chef was called ‘Ares’ (after the god of War)… Best. Name. Ever. Anyway, I am by no means a Michelin star-deserving chef, but even I am capable of making this, which demonstrates how simple it is.
1. Grate one medium cucumber
2. Strain the grated cucumber (very important, otherwise the dip is too watery)
3. Stir the cucumber into 1kg of full-fat Greek yogurt
4. Soak some crushed garlic in a small bowl full of olive oil, and then add this to the mix
5. Add salt and pepper to taste
6. Add vinegar
7. Leave in the refrigerator for 2 and a half hours
8. Serve with chopped up celery, pepper and cucumber
Loving Sabotage, written in 1993 by the Belgian writer Amélie Nothomb, is a short novel about a young girl whose family has been posted to Peking. There, she falls in love with her friend Elena, who rejects her, and she ends up learning some life lessons at a very young age. It’s set in the Seventies, and is written from the point of view of a seven-year-old, which makes for very interesting reading. Living in an enclosed expat world, the young girl offers us an insight into her life. What makes it work is that although it’s written in the first person as a seven-year-old, the language is very sophisticated (far more so than your average little kid’s…) and the similes are though-provoking and unusual. The author has succeeded brilliantly in letting us into the mind of the girl (who we in the end find out to be the author herself) whilst at the same time not using a patronising, juvenile style.
It has been described by critics as being “The funniest book I’ve ever read about the cruelty and delusions of childhood”, and speaking as a teenager myself (because clearly, my opinion is worth soo much), I’d have to agree. It’s sad and naïve at times, but at others, what the critics say is true: it’s laugh-out-loud funny – not something you’d necessarily expect, reading the blurb of the book.
The length of Loving Sabotage – 135 pages – makes it ideal to read during school time, because you don’t have to dedicate large chunks of time to getting into the story. The downside to this, however, is when you’re done with it, you want it to be longer… It’s worth bearing in mind when reading that it was originally written in French – something you really don’t notice when you’re in the middle of it, perhaps because the translation is so good.
Written by Italo Calvino and published in 1972, Invisible Cities is a collection of page-long descriptions of cities, as described by Marco Polo to Kublai Khan. The two men do not have a common language, so we realise that Polo is describing his travels using not only words, but hand gestures and props to make himself understood to his host. The novel, written originally in Italian, is incredibly vivid and explores our imagination. It’s complex, but there’s an enjoyment to be had from just reading it at face value without adding your own interpretation or thinking about it too deeply. Although the cities are described in a clearly exaggerated way, the images are too intense for them to be totally made up…. This is definitely worth reading – it’s totally captivating and although there’s no plot as such, it’s almost impossible to put down. Also, you look kind of intelligent reading it on public transport, which is always nice.