Friday, December 31, 2010

The holidays

Everyone from Europe clears out of here. Leaving the place pretty dead. All that is around is the Australian, some Chinese students and me.
Christmas Day: Everything shuts down around here. Apparently it is supposed to be really cool to walk around a deserted London. I wouldn't know because the tube and buss lines were also closed. It's kind of funny that the people that yell for capitalism the loudest in the U.S. are usually the ones that are religious ones that think that no one should work on Christmas holiday. But the socialist government here (in comparison) has it as part of the tradition. OK rant over. Instead L. and I went for a walk down to the Thames river and walked along that until we decided we didn't want to slip on the ice any more and came home.
Apparently the tradition here is that Christmas is turkey and Brussels sprouts. Now no one likes Brussels sprouts, so no one eats them, but they must have them at every party since at least one person likes to keep the tradition alive. (I love them baked, but not the traditional boiled they do here.) The local Tesco ran out and there was enough of a riot that it made it into the paper.

Boxing Day: This is the equivalent to Black Friday (The day after Thanksgiving) in the U.S. The only problem: The tube workers decided to go on strike. To go on strike on the biggest shopping day of the year seems like a real "up yours" to the British economy. So instead L. and I walked to the local shopping center. When we got back they were having a little get together in the Village hall so we went and talked and had some mince pies. These little mini-mince pies are everywhere. Luckily I like them and have been munching on plenty. Even the British people didn't know why it was called Boxing Day, there are only rumors.

New Years: Some of my Chinese friends went into the middle of London to see the fireworks. They waited three hours standing with people pressed against them, no thanks. Instead L. and I went to a local dance club. When we got there at 10:30 there was only maybe 5 other people there. It quickly filled up and we had fun dancing to midnight then took the free bus home. (The Tube ran free all night too instead of closing at 12:30 like usual) When we got back we played games with some guys in the village hall. The card game here that is all the rage is called Fluxx. (Of course they are hard core settlers of Catan players too.)

Friday, December 17, 2010

British Christmas

Christmas parties are suit and tie affairs. (Not fancy dress, that would be costumes.) I just don't see any public Universities in the U.S. throw so many parties where all the guys show up in a suit and tie. I only had two Christmas parties, one for the student village I live in and the other for my research department. I had my suit but when I looked through my shirts I realized they were all old since I have not dressed up for years. I decided to get a shirt with the french cuffs and cuff links because you can get away with that kind of thing here.
Both of the parties had Christmas Crackers (The big tootsie roll looking things made from wrapping paper). I've always seen them but have never pulled one apart. At the village party they just went handing them out. Once you had one, you found a friend, each grabbed an end and pulled until it popped. Whoever gets the big end, gets the prize inside. There was a joke, small plastic comb, or other small toy, and a folded foil crown. So the rest of the party is everyone dancing around with crowns on their head. At my research party it was a little more formal (apparently there are some low end royalty funding our research so they were at the table with heads of the different groups.) Everyone was sitting at large round tables with a cracker on each plate. To pull on these crackers everyone at the table crossed their arms over their chest and held a cracker with the next person. Everyone pulls their arms toward them. The prizes inside these ones where silver pens or calculators.

Friday, December 10, 2010


Tis the season for parties.
Baking Contest: At my student village they had a baking contest. Since around this time I am craving persimmon pudding I decided to make that. The reason why is because the fact I found persimmons at the store which is what I thought confirmed my suspicion that it was a normal desert here as opposed to the U.S. where I have to explain it to everyone. (It's a British style pudding that is basically cake.) Nope, same thing here. No one had heard of it, but they all liked it. Enough that I won the prize. A British food cookbook. So now if ever need to make Toad in the Hole or Bubble and Squeak, I've got the recipes.
Movie Night: Every Sunday they send around an email of what movie they are showing. They line up all the couches with an overhead projector. It's such a homey thing to do. Some people bring pop corn. It's fun.
As far as student planned parties they are of course centered around drinking. Apparently all the saint days mean they are for drinking. They were talking about having a party for St. Andrews Day, which meant we needed to have scotch whiskey. Apparently St. Andrew is the patron saint of Scotland. Which of course ties into whiskey from Scotland. See the problem is that the only one that carried over to the U.S. was St. Patricks Day. which is the time to drink Guinness. Only seeing one piece of the puzzle, I never would have guessed that every Saint had a special liquor for their Saint Day.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

To Busy for Tech Support

Well me being to busy has had its first casualty. I have decided I can't help anyone with tech support problems anymore. I know it seems like a rude thing to do. I have all this knowledge and I am being selfish and refusing to share. But up to this point I have justified how much I help family, friends, and associates with the idea that I was "teaching a man to fish" but the reality is that what happens is that I teach the person that I have the answer so they instinctively come back to me the next time they have a problem.
Imagine the most boring tedious part of your job; the part you hate the most. Now imagine not getting paid to do it, and that is the only thing that anyone and everyone ever wants to talk to you about. Friends that you could talk to for hours now only enjoy quizzing your knowledge about the hated topic for obscure facts. I say impossible quiz questions because in my case it usually ends up being something like what to do about an error message because a specific version of a driver for a specific item installed in a computer is conflicting with some specific software.
By the rule of association since I know about one computer, I know about all computers, then any electronics. From there it is anything that uses electricity, and for some odd reason from there it is anything with a motor. Yes, I have been told since I know computers, diagnosing a dead lawn mower should be no problem; but I digress. The best case scenario is that I fix the problem so it never comes back. Great, who do think that person is going to ask when the next problem comes up? Worst case scenario is an unrelated problem happens. Because I touched their computer I must have caused it. Now they think I'm obligated to fix a problem I had nothing to do with. It is a no win situation for me, either way leads to an increase of trying to help people. The worst part is that most of the time it seems like such a little request with an easy answer. But multiply that by the number of friends you have.
The reality is that I don't know all the answers, no one does. I have to look stuff up too. But because people have come to me in the past it is what they think of, and it is easier to ask me than to do a search on the Internet. I could be passive aggressive and start using "Let me Google that for you" for every request. ( Want to try it? Instead I am going to be upfront and honest. I am not going to play favourites or start charging people a market rate like some people I know have done. Instead I will just say "Learn to fish".

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Stereotyping British Teeth

Of course one of the fun things that happened to me just before leaving New York was my dentist finding that one of my fillings had failed. So with two weeks until my flight I scheduled a root canal and crown, finishing up the last of the visits a day before leaving. Now my dentist had cautioned me that while I could get the work done in the U.K. the mastery of skill she had seen on the teeth of patients that she had that had moved to the U.S.A. from the U.K. had given her reason to believe it was wiser for me to get the work done before leaving. I wasn't sure if it just marketing on my dentists part or not but I went ahead with it mainly because I didn't want to travel with a bunch of X-Rays.
When I got here to the U.K. while I was shopping for food the first week there was a woman giving out free samples of yogurt. When I smiled and politely refused any, her response was "Well you must be doing something right, since you have a beautiful mouth of teeth." I thought it a little odd but just chocked it up to culture shock on my part. I don't like stereotypes and I have had to deal with a lot of them about Americans while here. And, I thought I was doing a pretty good job about it too of not letting the stereotypes influence me. That is until I saw this picture in the window of an eyeglasses shop.

(No, in reality all the British people I know have teeth that are just fine. I'm not quite sure where the stereotype came from but I just thought the chain of events was funny.)