When I handed the train conductor my ticket, he said, “Thank you, Love!” That’s when I knew I wasn’t in England any more. I’m skimming the coastline in northern Wales on my way to catch a ferry to Dublin. I’ll spend my next week touring Ireland with a group of InterVarsity students (American study-abroad students on spring break) as we learn about Celtic Spirituality and the life of St. Patrick—the slave who became a minister and brought the gospel to the land of his captors. To say I’m excited is an understatement. I’ve been dreaming of this for months, my anticipation growing as I learned from my community in Hawai’i that Irish spirituality and culture is strikingly similar to that of our tropical island half a world away. I’ve carried my ukulele with me, hoping to join in on some of the merry music-making.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Back to England. My intention in every country I visit over this 2 month long Europe Voyage is to write about the land and the people and how I am like them (and perhaps not like them). What I know of my ethnic heritage according to genealogical stories from my grandparents and confirmation by a DNA test on ancestry.com is that I am a quarter German (3rd gen) and a quarter Swedish (5th gen) with the other half a concoction of Swiss, Dutch, Irish, and English (unknown gen). Being several generations removed from these nations, I don’t really know much about who I am as a person with European roots. Since my grandparents raised my mom in Japan and my parents raised me and my brother in Hong Kong and Taiwan, I know more particulars of East Asian cultures than I do of European. So this trip is quite a time of discovery!
When I arrived in England nearly 2 weeks ago, I quickly learned that I don’t speak “English”, I speak “American”. My young cousins giggled when I asked 7 year old Michael-Brian how many pairs of “pants” he had. His mom Beth Ann (my first cousin) corrected me, “Careful, here pants mean underwear.” Oops! In the successive days, my young cousins, who have American parents but have been born and raised in England and have the most enchanting British accents, kindly helped me differentiate between these “dialects”. (My friends who are linguists are welcome to correct me here on proper terminology.)
I’m bursting for the loo! / I have to go pee really bad!
Would you like a sweet? / Would you like a piece of candy?
Mum, where is my jumper? / Mom, where is my sweater?
It’s a quarter past four. / It’s four fifteen!
Let’s have pudding! / Let’s have dessert.
Would you like to come for tea? / Would you like to come over for dinner (and drink tea of course)?
Let’s go for coffee break! / Let’s go drink some tea (and perhaps coffee)!
Lift / Elevator
Coach / Bus
Boot / Trunk (car)
Nappies / Diapers
Rubbish or Litter / Trash or Garbage
English people are proper and private and have a corner on the language we call “English”. Their architecture dates back to the first century AD (maybe further back) when the Romans constructed walled cities. They don’t consider a community a city unless it has a cathedral. If there’s an abbey, it’s only a town. They love to soak in the bathtub and lounge around the house in a bathrobe. They enjoy taking long walks on the many public footpaths farmers allow through their property. Dogs are their favorite pet and every public park or sidewalk will have multiple receptacles for the doggy do-do (specifically, not for other rubbish). They love gathering at pubs and engaging in group quizzes (I haven’t figured out what this is yet, but it sounds kind of like trivia). They have a rich tradition of academia, some colleges in Cambridge dating back to the 14th century! They believe they have something to offer the world, so they’ve exported their religion, culture, and language to every continent of the earth. They’ve acquired artifacts from every land they’ve been to and carefully documented and exhibited them in museums.
Like British people, I’m independent-minded and academic. I like to drink tea (especially since coffee caffeine is now too strong for me). I like dogs and baths and bathrobes. I like exploring the world, although I try to be sensitive not to impose my culture and language on the host nation, but rather learn theirs first. I like to acquire information, to categorize and document. English is my first language, Chinese is my second. I have an international sand collection and a collection of photos of Starbucks stores around the world. I’ve documented my travels through photos and journals. I think I have something to offer the world, and I seek to walk this out humbly.