England & the U.S.A, Not So Different After All?

I didn't realize I hadn't posted anything for this year yet. I really thought I had some good Obama action after the Inauguration. Or perhaps it's Blogger messing with me? Ah well. A few weeks ago my husband and I returned from about a week-long trip in England. We went to a nice little city called Hereford for five days and spent our last night in London. Here's a snippet of my thoughts on that trip.

US Flag

UK Flag

The Tele My first day in England had me absorbed in their television shows on their basic channels (BBC1, BBC2, Channel Four, ITV, and Five!). In the mornings they had their block of "trash" talk shows. One of which reminded me of Maury Povich whose British counterpart would be Jeremy Kyle. A man who seems to relish being thrust into the middle of broken relationships. Over the course of watching three episodes there was at least an average of one paternity test, this same "entertainment" ploy has become a staple in Povich's show. Young women agree to be on the show to air their dirty laundry and get a free trip to New York City along with a free DNA test for their child(ren). Some of these women tend to come on Povich's show repeatedly causing one to wonder if she is indeed as loose as she comes off as or if this was just a nice set-up behind the scenes to garner some ratings.

Some of Kyle's guests had such thick Cockney accents one could hardly make out the insults they were slinging. My husband was slightly taken aback by this, thinking that all Brits were regal and cultured. Mind you we also learned that England has the highest teen pregnancy rate of all the countries in Europe explaining why the topic du jour was often two teens figuring out how to try and balance their relationship with a newborn child in the mix.

There were also a bunch of shows transported over the Atlantic. It's expected that shows that are/were hits in America would soon make their way to England, shows such as: 'Desperate Housewives', 'Will & Grace', 'Everybody Loves Raymond', etc. But some were kind of head scratchers to me like 'The Flintstones' and moreso 'Everybody Hates Chris.' Seeing such a specific show that even in the U.S. urban markets hasn't been doing very well ratings-wise surprised me when I caught the last few minutes on a Saturday night on one of the basic channels in our hotel room. It was also pleasant to see further confirmation of Chris Rock's appeal internationally.

The BBC News was a staple in our media absorption. For the most part we caught the evening news to hear about Kate Winslet & Slumdog Millionaire's Oscar wins. Another big story a few days later was the death of David Cameron's, son Ivan. Cameron is the Conservative Leader in Parliament. There were many stories in regards to Britain's economic crisis which befell them around the same time it did the United States. Tax payers there are already bailing out banks all over the country and there are many people losing their jobs and homes. A friend I got to visit in London informed me that buying property in London is a really big deal and that young people getting out of college are pressured to do so to already begin owning property and starting a portfolio at the end of the day. "Renting is very frowned upon," she said, adding that she knew many people already in debt. Her roommate was already worrying about paying off her mortgage had my friend not been living with her and getting steady work for the past year.

Shoppin' As a tourist these are things you don't see straight off the bat. Especially when going to Harrod's and seeing the stores with people hemorhaging out of the doors trying to get that posh bit of London that notes they were there. I can't say I wasn't guilty of the same thing as I clung to my teddy bear wearing a Harrod's robe as I waited for a cashier to ring me up. Statistics say that London is one of the most visited cities in the world and it showed when I saw Americans and Brits clamouring for the shiny and glittery objects at Harrod's. It was evident when I heard the silky Italian language that this was the equivalent of Macy's in Herald Square. These same crowds I avoid as much as possible after work and on weekends was the same crowd I was doing battle with to snag a box of Harrod's Earl Grey from it's pyramid in one corner and gather some White wine (for one stop shopping) as I was cornered by a visiting group of Spaniards. The grandness of the outside of Harrod's reminded me of all the thinking that must go on at Macy's once Spring rolls around and their display windows must have flowers, flowers, and more flowers! The lights, the mannequins in sequins and various hues were eye-catching and at the same time gaudy as hell. My friend summed it up pretty accurately, Harrod's is just the pinnacle of "ostentatiousness."

Welcome to London! When first arriving at Paddington Station I was instantly reminded of Grand Central with all the side shops offering food, information, clothing, broadband service, etc. With the difference being that Paddington Station has a large opening at one of the main entrances allowing cars to park nearby or passengers to enter without having to worry about steps or an escalator. It had an older, colonial feel but definitely gave off the feeling of Grand Central with it's grandness and superiority, the high walls that seem millions of miles away and stretches of floor that go from here to there. I really liked the station, but was pretty peeved when I learned I had to pay 30 pence just to use the bathroom and couldn't get change unless an attendant was around. I stomped up the stairs requesting (i.e.: demanding) that my husband give me all the change he had.

After having a lovely and seemingly large room at a B&B in Hereford we were shocked at the lack of space we had in our London hotel. It made me think of moving from a lush one-bedroom in one of the Outer boroughs to moving to Manhattan for less than half the space (and a higher price). Our hotel (per night) was more than the one in Hereford and the space was so tight that we had to put our suitcases on top of the closet we had just to get around the bed. My husband said it reminded him of the pod rooms he saw pictures of in Tokyo where it's simply a bed and a screen. Now, it wasn't that bad. But coming from a place where the bathroom was twice the size of the one we have at home and there was enough space in the 'living' area for us to not only walk around the bed but lay down on the floor coming to this squat area was like living in a studio in the East Village just because you can. We had no bathtub just the shower and for some reason the toilet paper roll was under the sink. It was nice and contemporary looking with the sleek lines, dark colors, and minimal attributes but I'd take the spacious bathroom in Hereford where I took some nice baths when the heat wasn't pumping so frequently and the bright fuschia decor over this anyday. I wonder if people that stay in hotels across from Penn Station or Grand Central or even on Broadway have to deal with this spacing issue. For me it was a direct replication of the renting issue from Manhattan to most of the outer Boroughs (even if you find one of the richer areas to move to). For the same price you can get much more if you're willing to spend some extra time on the subway or say you're from Queens, Brooklyn, or the Bronx rather than say "Oh, I live uptown." The country side is definitely the way to go people.

Look, Boss da Train! The London Underground is also an interesting thing. Their transit employees proved to be extremely helpful to my husband and I even though some things like their charging system was a bit off to me. I believe NYC is one of the few transit systems with a flat fare. Chicago & Boston charge people by distance. London charges people by zones. In NYC you can go from Coney Island to Parkchester for one rate not having to worry about anyone or anything checking your ticket to make sure you aren't trying to swindle the system. When looking at things that way perhaps one may not be so angry when thinking of the impending fare hikes. My husband paid about ten American dollars to pay for us to have what could be considered a 1-day unlimited card for zones 1 & 2. Also something to note is the abundance of machines to purchase tickets from. It didn't look like there were any people selling them so the MTA's step with just having Service agents, relying on the machines to do all the work of selling making Station Agents unnecessary, is something that London has already seemed to adopt.

The Underground turnstiles are much like the NJ Path turnstiles in that you slip your card through and two paddles blocking your entrance allow you passage. You follow the herd of people along the twists and turns to get to the line you need. These lines are color coded (like ours) and have specific names like The Circus Line (yellow) or The Picadilly Line (brown). We have the IND and the BMT but we rarely call them these things more so "The Sixth Avenue Line" or "The Eighth Avenue Line" which becomes somewhat redundant when you're in an outer borough. More apt may be "Train to Coney Island" or "Train to Brooklyn Bridge" or "Train that goes along Queens Blvd for most of the route." And you shouldn't refer to these lines by their color in either London or NYC. I wouldn't say "The green line" to either a service agent in London or a station agent in the Bronx. Trust me, they'll look at you and laugh or just ignore you.

A few of the Underground stations we were at had large screens embedded in the walls. This seemed redundant because there isn't any sound emitting from the walls and because the Tube comes very regularly. Something that reminded me of the L subway stations is the electronic scroll that lets passengers know when the next Tube is coming and if on an adjoining track it'll say which one is on the way. Except for late night, I didn't have to wait more than three minutes for a Tube. It was awesome.

Thing is these trains are very cramped with limited seating (especially for the handicap). So I wouldn't want to be in one during the London equivalent of rush hour. I felt claustrophobic enough standing in one for several stops as we tried to get to Picadilly Circus. People were to the right and left of me and I was stuck in the middle to hold a pole as no ventillation was provided. I automatically became nervous and realized in the event of (God forbid) another attack we'd be cramped and helpless underground. Scary.

Fashion! Turn to the left... When arriving in Hereford and doing a full day's look around of the City Centre we noticed the fashion of the teenagers around us. My husband thought he got away from the below the waistline (and sometimes buttocks) style that some men tend to wear here. But instead he was welcomed by this style, not all together gratuitous in nature, but still disturbing considering the pristine take he had on Brits in general. Seeing some men with a bit of their shirts untucked allowing us to see an inch or more of their boxer shorts set him off. In NYC we've seen a lot worse to the point where I've seen the entire undergarment with someone's butt poked out, as if mocking me, and at times I've seen the skin of said person's thighs and ankles because the jeans were not meant to stay up all together. At least the way the kids in Hereford were wearing them allowed for them to walk properly, not with the gaping steps that remind one of John Wayne meeting a villain for a showdown in True Grit.

We noticed this a bit more on the train ride back to London. We saw several boys (Black and White) with pleasant accents and demeanors as they joked around with each other wearing jeans that seemed stuck just below their crack revealing the nicest and crispest of underwear. I shrugged it off as my husband pointed to them in disgust. I maintained that they still came off more respectful with their "urbafying" their clothes than many of the men I've seen on the streets. I just don't understand how one could wear something below their butts during winter and think themselves comfortable even if it seems to be the style.

That being said women have their faults too when it comes to sensible fashion practices. Of course this usually stems from a need to get attention and so is seen more frequently on their way to night clubs or bars to potentially meet their future husband (or wife).

On our last night in Hereford my husband and I walked around to try and find a bar where we could just sit, drink, and talk. This seemed to be a tall order on a Friday night in Hereford. I tended to forget that even though this was a small, intimate city, that wasn't booming on most nights yet allowed for people to enjoy themselves with food & drink (and some karaoke on the right night) that on Friday's a lot of these quiet places turned into clubs or seething areas to catch an STD. It reminded me of some places in SoHo and far off in midtown on either the west or east side. Women stumbling in heels either because they are not used to them or are already inebriated as they walked in 30 degree (most times lower) weather with the occasional wind chill factor thrown in, or snow for good measure, as they attempt to impress some of the suitors within the bar area. We saw an ambulance outside one of the bars-turned-clubbing-hotspot and a gaggle of girls with no jackets but lots of low-cut or backless tops and short skirts and platform heels hopped to their next destination while one girl was slumped over needing help to make it the few blocks to wherever they were headed. I saw men humping each other with a beer in one hand and declaring their "brotherly love" for one another. These events brought it all home to me as I saw people decked out to get laid. My husband wanted to attempt to relive (or live) a youth he hadn't experienced and enter into one of these debaucherous "clubs." I looked down at my flair jeans, sneakers, and sweater hidden behind a warm wool coat and fleece scarf and shook my head. "I'm too old for that shit," I announced as we tried to see if any place wasn't overrun by post-pubescent, hormonal youths.

Brief Interlude: "Change is coming to America!" Barack Obama fever is everywhere apparently. Not just in Africa or Obama, Japan or even parts of Canada. The Brits seem to like them some Obama. His books were easily attainable at stores in the City Centre and he was lauded for his upcoming visit with PM Gordon Brown as they understood that both the U.S. and GB economies are somewhat fused together in success and failure.

God Bless You... Michael Moore's Sicko was a documentary that makes an American grind their teeth at the thought of American healthcare in relation to the ones around the world. At one point Moore and his crew visited a hospital in England where people did not have to pay for their visit at all. In fact a couple had a baby and left the hospital with nothing additional but the child itself. Apparently they even have a cashier that can refund you money on the cab you took to get to the hospital. Crazy indeed, my friends. On the news we heard that there was some dissonance between the people and the law when it came to universal healthcare because apparently there's also something called social care that is not covered. Social care can mean anything that is not directly related to helping the physical aspects of your illness. Like therapy or getting transportation to where you need to go if handicap or other necessities that whomever doesn't think of as immediate needs for the ill. Go figure. This was something that Moore didn't touch upon as it seemed to be a rising problem in England or at least that's what the BBC and the people they interviewed said.

Now, when comparing our healthcare system to Britian's hands down it looks pretty crappy in the simple fact that they don't have to pay for being in the hospital. Who heard of having a baby for free...who?!? But this is just to say that they have their issues too even though the grass looks greener on the other side. This is something I'm going to have to follow up on and see how it turns out before I pack my bags after Obama's tenure in office is said and done.

Diversity Since we were in Hereford most of the time the diversity was lacking. I saw a handful off African-British (or American) and Asians. But in London it was bustling with them! Lordy they were everywhere in the hotels, the underground, at the cookie cart, in the loo. London is definitely as diverse as NYC is when looking to and fro at those around you on the streets or anywhere.

And then we dined! Food has become a very important part of my life now that I've proclaimed myself a "foodie." This is a good and bad thing in that I get damnright giddy after I try new places and enjoy the decadent desserts or entrees offered. But I also find that I think about meals more often then I used to and don't stop thinking about food until I'm full. Doesn't bode well for me wanting to lose weight.

I noticed that I get especially antsy about food during travels because you don't necessarily have the luxury of storing stuff for later. Unless you get something like cookies, bread, candybars, certain fruits, etc. you'll probably be dining out for the most part. And it's even worse if you don't have the capabilities to do anything but boil water for tea/coffee. So you feel a need to gorge until your next meal and who knows when that'll be! So we ate...a lot.

We arrived on Pancake Day aka Shrove Tuesday and enjoyed the European pancake aka crepes as us Americans call them. While Hereford didn't have hot dog/pretzel vendors on every corner there was the lovely pancake lady with her ready-made crepes and warm donuts that she sprinkled with chocolate sugar, regular sugar, or cinnamon. Yum, yum, and yummy! Two donuts for a pound people! It was amazing! Outside of that there weren't any cart people to speak of in Hereford. Sad to say. But they did have the same shops as us which can be expected to see a McDonald's and a Starbuck's. But don't expect to see a Dunkin Donuts when they have their own equivalent. And some things are just so good like West Cornwall's Pasty shop. It was like the Golden Krust of Britain! The steak and ale pasty that my husband got to try twice (even though we went to Cornwall Pasty four times for it) was amazing. It was like a tangy beef stew in a nice pastry shell. And filling too since they had small size then the big ole regular ones.

There was also a Pizza Hut right across the street form our B&B that did not taste like the Pizza Hut we know of. It was mediocre at best (as was my lasagna and the caesar salad that took 45 minutes to make) but it was obviously the family spot for people in Hereford north of the City Centre.

When traveling one may feel disappointed at seeing chains you see all the time. We traveled to see things that are distinct to that place not the same. Or you can feel a bit of ease at the fact that if all else fails you can get a Big Mac from the golden arches. My husband was slightly upset to see a McDonald's but once he got tired of the offerings during breakfast time he high-tailed it across the street to get some hot cakes. I stayed diligent and ate as much of the English Breakfast as I could get. That's right I'm hardcore.