My name is Sine and I am from Thailand. Here’s some of my story. I’m here in England!! Even though it has been nearly 5 years of living in England, I never forget my strange feeling at the first moment I was in England.

Let’s start from the weather (I know everybody loves talking about the weather here..!) It wasn’t one of nicest days – rather cloudy but no rain.

Personally, I don’t like rain or gloomy days that much. I don’t know why but for some reason, I always find myself slightly depressed.

I comforted myself… ‘Nevermind, it will be sunny later on’ However, that whole evening went dark very quickly.

Then I thought, ‘Hm, I shall go to bed (my body told me that if it was dark, it was time to sleep) and once I get up tomorrow, it will be a nice day’.

My alarm clock went off at 8am, ‘Mmm..(stretching my body)…(slowly drew the curtain out)…aw, it is raining!’Then, I had to force myself to cheer up on my first day at school in England. Unfortunately it didn’t help as I forgot to bring an umbrella and ended up walking home soaked by the rain.

Secondly, English food, erm.. sorry, I honestly don’t mean to offend any English readers here but it was just…’different’. Possibly I wasn’t used to cheese – to me, cheese smelled like milk which has gone off for more than a month.

I found English food quite rich. However, it didn’t take me long to get used to the food. After 3 months of having toast and butter every morning and pudding after supper, I put on more than 5 kgs. or nearly 1 stone!

After living here for 5 years (2 years with an English family, 1 year in the catered hall of residence), I’m much better and believe it or not, I do love cheese!

I enjoy cheese and salad sandwiches as much as Thai green curry with rice!

Next time, I’ll be writing on a culture shock in England and how to handle it. Also some tips on how to cope with homesickness.

Don’t forget, if this is your first time in England, let me know whether you feel the same way as me. What do you think about England? Do you enjoy it? Share your experience or even if you are feeling homesick right now, let me know cuz I might be able to help…If not, then I’ll promise you to be a good listener. Believe me, saying it to someone does help a lot!

miss englandHammasa Kohistani, famously chosen to be the “English” entry into the Miss World contest last year, has spoken publically about the societal rift between Muslims and British people in England.There are several observations I would like to make over her comments, reprinted below:

“The attitude towards Muslims has got worse over the year. Also the Muslims’ attitude to British people has got worse.”

She simultaneously wishes to see the osmosis of Muslim Brit’s into English society while herself making a distinction between the two. She worries that she was only used as a “sugar coating” to help iron over the tensions between Muslims living in Britain and British caucasians, yet she self-defines as a Muslim and her opinions seem to prioritise her Muslim identity above her English identity, rather than both being of equal importance to her.

“there is this hostility”, she says, which comes “mainly from the Government”.

She blames Tony Blair for making things worse:

“Tony Blair addressed Muslims in particular [?], telling them that they need to sort out the problem within. That was a huge stereotype [?] of the Islamic community. Even the more moderate Muslims have been stereotyped negatively and feel they have to take actions to prove themselves.”

The highlighting is my own. Firstly, why would Tony Blair not address Muslims in particular? What other group should he be addressing on the subject of Muslim terrorists that he has not already addressed? Secondly, how is this a stereotyping? By instructing Muslim leaders to do more to avoid those from within their communities from becoming terrorists or terrorist sympathisers, he is simply speaking logically. If group A has a problem, you are best advised, lest you want to be accused of being patronising, to expect that group’s leaders to deal with it. I find no basis for the accusation that his instructions were in any way stereotyping Muslims. Unless she means he was stereotyping Muslims as being Muslims, in which case she has no complaint.

Hammasa feels that Muslims are unfairly treated by the opinions of English people, yet she herself received several thousand death threats from Muslims in the weeks after she accepted the position of Miss England. Several community leaders openly declared her to be betraying Islam. Yet she feels Toby Blair has no place telling those same leaders to do more to curb the problematic few Muslims who are capable of causing such destruction.

“It is not for me to answer how to get people to turn away from terrorism. The politicians don’t know what to do and I am just a 19-year-old.”

Fortunately she saves herself from sustained criticism by at least admitting the possibility that she doesn’t quite know enough to express opinions on this subject. Yet the subtext here is still vitriolic; that the politicians do not know what to do.

Call me racist if you must (I assure you I am not) but is it really, really awful of me to expect Miss. England to be caucasian English and to have spent their childhood living in England and not abroad? That, of course, is another post entirely.

miss englandIn mid January a whale was found in the Thames River, London. It died the next day as environmentalists attempted to lead it to deeper waters. It was believed that the whale had taken a wrong turning and rather than meeting the atlantic drift where it could relax and chow down on some squid, it had actually found itself surrounded by football chants and heavy accents in the middle of Chelsea bridge.

The post-mortem showed that without the healthy diet of squid, Fred had been unable to hydrate himself and his skeleton had been put through alot of stress.

This rings warning bells for the cockneys, of course, who also put their skeletons through alot and quite frequently end up lost in the Thames River after one too many beers on a Friday night. The next time Frank “The Bruiser” Fiddlesticks decides to take a refreshing swim across the river he may be mistaken for a particularly attractive pink and wobbly squid, and consequently gobbled right up.

Personally though, I can’t imagine the Thames becoming much of a nature reserve for oceanic wildlife. Apparantly there are quite alot of fish in the Thames, but they’re fighting for space with the plastic bottles, industrial waste and raw sewage.

hop hoodening Another site has cropped up; www.StGeorgesHoliday.com. As the name suggests, the plan is to work a sort of active petition for the creation of an official holiday celebrating St. George and all that is English (or Turkish.. depending on who you ask about St. George).

Graham from the site has been in touch to share some details:

“..We want the government to introduce a bank holiday on 23rd April. I’m sure you appreciate that a bank holiday will be a great opportunity for all the English (regardless of colour or religion or sexuality) to recognise the things that bind us together – rather than concentrating on our differences..”

You are invited to join the growing number of people who have pledged to take the day off work – officially or otherwise – on St. George’s Day. We look forward to seeing how this progresses.

A weekend in London

I’ve returned from London after an enjoyable weekend up there. You can view the photos from my trip over at the english-blogs.com photo album.

The flats pictured there are part of the building I stayed in. They are a group of flats in Chelsea, which is a part of London known for ‘high-society’ living.

The area is expensive and I could not afford to visit any of the restaurants there! The streets surrounding the flats are littered with all manner of small boutique-like shops, selling expensive fashion items such as dress and formal wear or jewellery.

Fortunately the underground system in London (a system of trains that connect parts of the city under the ground) is very easy to use and efficient enough so that getting from one place to another is both inexpensive and hassle free.

One of the highlights of the trip was a visit to Covent Garden. This area is famous for street entertainment and good eating/drinking.This is largely a pedestrian area with no cars allows for performers to set up shows and entertain the public in return for tips (if you feel generous!). There are also many good places to sit and watch people as they walk by.  

There are terrace areas owned by a local pub that allow you a great view of the goings on beneath you in the square. Most days, happy punters watch a man balance a bucket of water over his person or walk over some unsuspecting innocents, or somesuch similar spectacle.

If you don’t enjoy being accosted by strangers then Covent Garden Market is not the place for you.

As soon as you step off the tube (the underground tube is the best way of getting there from afar) you will be surrounded by performers and public.

Many people use the area as a go-between for travelling from one street to another, so the area gets additional foot traffic. It’s also a popular place to stop for a quick lunch as you can listen to opera or perhaps a string quartet while munching happily on a sandwhich before returning to work.

For a modest sum you can even have a skilled artist paint your portrait, or even a comedy version such as a charicature. If you enjoy the talent of a performer the option is always there to throw some spare coins into their hat – a way of keeping street performance alive and showing your appreciation for the effort.

Covent Garden Market is a must-see for any first time visit to London.

Here continues our blog on English Do’s and Dont’s – those things you should and should not do when in England or with English people! You can read from the beginning here.

Do not stare at people! - It is considered impolite to look at someone too long when you do not know them very well.

Do not spit! – Spitting in the street is considered to be very impolite indeed. You should only spit when no one can see you!

Do not touch people too much – unless you know them very well, gestures like hugging and kissing and so on are only shared between close friends. In general, English people are very modest when it comes to public affection between strangers.

Do not pick your nose in public – English people find this disgusting! If you have to do it, use a handkerchief or tissue to blow your nose into it. Blowing your nose in public is considered more polite, unlike many other countries.Do not burp in public – After eating or drinking, you may enjoy a good burp! If you do it in public you can be sure that people will be very offended.Do not pass wind in public! This one is obvious to English people. Any loud sounds your body can make are usually considered very rude!Do not speak when you have food in your mouth – English people consider it rude to speak with your mouth full. If you want to reply to someone, they will appreciate you finishing what you are eating before talking back to them, so don’t worry about the pause.

Do not ask personal or intimate questions – English people are very keen on their privacy. This might seem strange considering how we treat our celebrities. Nevertheless, you should not ask questions like ‘Why aren’t you married?’ or ‘How much money do you earn?’ and if talking to a lady, definitely never ask ‘How much do you weigh?’.

Do not eat from your knife – only put food in your mouth from the fork or spoon – the knife is just for cutting the food!

Here is just a small selection of Do’s and Don’ts for life in England. I hope you are not completely put off ever visiting if you haven’t already! English people are very friendly usually and are used to meeting foreign people. If you make a mistake, it will probably be forgiven very quickly with a round of smiling and maybe some gentle teasing.

The class system in England has some very historical roots, as I expect most class systems do. Before I go any further, let’s have a look at some basics.

What do you mean by ‘Class’. Is it like school?

Erm, no. The word has a couple of other meanings, and here I mean it in the sociological sense. You can also refer to the idea as a ‘Social Class’ as it refers to a grouping of a part of a society.

In the more academic sense, the social term ‘class’ refers to groups that contain members of a certain occupational background. In this system, people with jobs that are more highly respected are given greater status than others.

The English class system consists of three main units, or ‘classes’: The Upper Class, the Middle Class and the Lower Class (sometimes ‘The Working Class’)

Now, there will be no prizes for guessing which class determined the names for each group. It certainly wasn’t those in the lower third!

This system is commonly referred to as, simply, ‘The Class System’. When English people refer to someone as being of a particular social class in this way it is always a way of labelling someone in a kind of estimate and never a definite thing.

We do not, for example, carry a card which states what class we are in. It’s a social term that is used for referring to sections of society, often in an economical sense. One does not necessarily know what class one is in, although most people will have more examples of why they are perhaps in one and not the other.Let’s take a closer look at these English classes. The Upper Classes are a grouping of families and individuals seen as wealthy, often from inherited wealth. Such people may often hold titles of importance such as ‘Lord’ or ‘Lady’.The Upper classes tend to be defined by their lifestyle and wealth, but also by their education. Typically ‘Upper Class’ activities include fishing, hunting, shooting and generally anything involving horses. Yes, even that.

The Middle Classes are the largest group and in modern society tend to be the most fashionable class to sit oneself in.

By declaring a middle class, you are simultaneously stating that you are comfortable but not rich, yet educated enough so as to avoid the word ‘Lower’ or ‘Working’ labelling your life. The Middle Class consists often of professionals in business and other areas, successful shop owners, industrialists and so on.

The Working Class are typically agricultural and industrial workers such as manual labourers who might work in a factory or some similar such job. Some refer to this kind of job as ‘unskilled’, meaning simply that no specific or long term training is required for its execution. Nowadays with the job market as diverse as it is, the lines between lower and middle classes are blurred.

It has become fashionable (as with anything that casts a negative angle on anyone) to not outrightly acknowledge the existence, or rather, the importance of an individuals class. Employers of even ten years ago might have actively discriminated against someone from ‘the wrong type of class’. Today we are encouraged to look beyond social class and examine only the individual and his or her specific abilities.

Regardless, it might be useful for any visitor to be able to tell the difference. Most English people certainly can. Learn to look out for differences in the way people speak (their accents and accentuation), the way they dress (are they wearing the same type of clothes as other people in the same situations?), the way they choose to educate their children (what schools are they being sent to?), what activities they enjoy and even what type of food they eat on a regular basis!

When people actually use the word ‘England’, they often mean ‘Great Britain’ or ‘The United Kingdom’. When used this way, the word never actually means ‘England.’

The history of the British Isles is a long and typically confused one. The United Kingdom is made up of England (capital: London), Wales (capital: Cardiff) and Scotland (capital: Edinburgh).

England is the largest part of an island called ‘Great Britain’ which is also the biggest island in Europe. Great Britain is the name given to the Kingdoms of England and Scotland, and the Principality of Wales.

The diverse history mentioned above has given rise to some very different and particular customs and traditions in each of the three countries.

As recently shown by some comments on this site, getting any aspect of the unique ‘cultures’ incorrect can cause offence, and not only to members of one but usually all three.

When using the word ‘England’ you should take care that you are not causing offence to people from other parts of the UK.

Why England?

England used to be called Engla land meaning literally ‘Land of the Angles’ (no, not angels!). The Angles were a people from continental Germany who invaded Britain in the 5th Century, flanked by the famous Saxons and Jute.

The name Britain was the term used by the Romans to mean ‘the whole island’ and comes from the Latin (Roman language) word Britannia.

The term Great Britain was only first used by a King known as James I.

He was the King of England and Scotland (known as the 6th James in Scotland) in 1603 and needed a way to refer correctly to two separate Kingdoms that shared one same mass of land rules over by the same Monarch. However both Kingdoms did not share the same Parliament at that time.

Later, in 1707, the Act of Union dictated that a single Kingdom be created that shared a single Parliament.

Scotland retained its Legal System and still does to this day. The Act stated that this union be referred to as the ‘United Kingdom of Great Britain’.

1801 saw Ireland joined to Great Britain in another such Act of law, and the name changed again to ‘United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland’. However since 1921 only Northern Ireland has been part of the United Kingdom and so the name changed again.

hop hoodeningIf you’re from Kent, a county in England, you may very well be spending the day recovering from the annual festivities of Hop Hoodening.

This very English festival is celebrated throughout the country because historically Kent was the main producer of Hop. Nowadays much of this grip on the market has been lost, inevitably, to imports and increasing production costs in harvesting. Nontheless, you may still find the odd example of the Hop Queen parading around in a Hop Bower.

The longest running example of the Hop Hoodening is to be spotted at the Canterbury Cathedral on the first saturday of September. As with so many English celebrations, the Morris Men have alot to do with it.

Typically the festival begins with a parade along the areas leading to the Cathedral. The Hop Queen in a Hop Bower is followed religiously by country dancing Morris Men. There are also two hooden horses, a sort of horses head atop a wooden pole with drapes hanging to conceal the bearer. Everyone meets at the nave to the Cathedral and then walk down it for the main service.

A lot of dancing goes on, as is typical for this sort of thing. Dancing at the altar, dancing by different groups and so on. Loyal supporters of the Hop Hoodening have not been free from their fair share of troubles in trying to keep the spirit of the Hop alive in Kent. In 1996 the local police came to break up festivities when the local choir had booked the Cathedral for a service, for example! This led to the fun being had in a local Methodist church; the minister there apparently doing his very best to avoid directly mentioning either hops OR beer!

Obese England: 2010

miss englandThe government have released details of a report that speculates that by the year 2010 England will contain over 12 million obese adults and over 1 million obese children.

This speculation relies on the current rates of obesity being maintained.

Estimates for obesity rates in 2010:

Men 28% – 33%
Women 28% – 31%

Girls (2-15 years old) 22%
Boys (2-15 years old) 19%

If we do the mathematics, this predictions calls for basically a third of all English adults and roughly one fifth of all English kids to be obese.

Surveys associated with the report have claimed that the reason English people are getting fatter is because of a less physically active lifestyle and a tendency to eat more ‘junk’ food. Phew- we can blame the americans after all.

The charges such a problem might bring to the NHS tax-payer bill are estimated to top the current £1 billion budget.

Blair called for a ‘Fitness Strategy’ for England, requesting all government departments to work closely to make it so.

Laws have been suggested that legislate the advertising of junk food products. Calls have been made for such adverts to be banned from the television before the 9pm watershed.

Interestingly, although it is currently the boys who are more obese than the girls, the report predicts that by 2010, there will be more obese girls than obese boys. Essentially- English girls aren’t going to get any thinner. Sore news for us all.

The report made particular mention of fat Yorkshire women. Northern England in general, so it proclaims, will have more than twice the number of obese people than London and the South. With all those pies and cheap ale, what do they expect?

Patriciai Hewitt, Health secretary, was quick to remind us all that it’s not actually the government’s job to remind us to take a walk now and then. Well done, Pat. Labour is certainly the most expensive Nanny I have ever had.

While politicians across England rise to the new buzzword ‘Tackling obesity’ (courtesy of Caroline Flint, Minister for.. wait for it.. Fitness) some opposition party members did whisper something about the whole thing being a gimmick and an attempt to distract voters. Heavens no.

If things don’t change, England will be as fat as America by 2009.