Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Observations From A Few Hours in Newcastle upon Tyne, England


The Beatles are playing on the radio.

13 countries later and I'm finally some place where they all speak English... sort of... not that I've been outrageously missing it.

“Would you murrublemmuubllechipsjdfj?”
“Pardon?” I asked.

Apparently, a common thread of English doesn't ensure clear communication. Instead of starting in London, where I've heard the accents run more mild, I entered England via the North of England in Newcastle. I can understand most folks but there are a great deal of them who speak with such a thick accented drawling slur that, even after asking, “Pardon,” multiple times, I still am replying to their question because I was able to understand one word.

If I hear “chips,” I say, “No thanks.”
“Biscuit,” means I should respond, “no thanks.”
“Salad,” is a “yes.”


Now they're playing a British pop song on the radio from the early 2000s that I haven't heard in years. I first heard it via the Internet Community. Some young men from Britain made a movie with it. I'm amused to finally hear it here.

Now, for the first time in my life, I'm the one who “talks funny.” I'm the outsider in my own language. Generally, in foreign countries, I just have to learn to communicate in their language. But this is a total different boat altogether. It's English, I know it must be, but I just can't always understand it.

Luckily, this just went for a small percentage. With most folks, I don't have to think twice. After hundreds of hours of listening to British people read me my books on tape (all of the Chronicles of Narnia and the Harry Potter Series alone add up to a few days worth) along with Skyping with my friends from this side of the lake and movies and hours with the BBC and being an au pair.. it's not like the British accent is new to me.


I'm currently at Olive & Bean, a small coffeshop-cafe sort of place. I'm obliging myself to rest as I already managed to muck up my ankle. It wasn't a serious twist, but it was bad enough that I would do best to keep it rested. I got a pot of Everyday Blend tea by Teapigs(.co.uk). The cup itself was hot enough to burn your mouth – another sign that we're not in Kansas anymore (not that I've been to Kansas).

My observations of comparison bounce off of my Swiss and Ukraine experiences. I've only been here in a few hours and wandered a few streets, so many of my “conclusions” are totally half-baked and I acknowledge they may only be a reflection of “Newcastle upon Tyne on a grey Wednesday morning.”

Observation 1:
They still wear shirts with the names of American cities and states all over there. I've seen Ohio and New York in the past 5 minutes. I mention “still” because American shirts plagued the streets of Russia, Ukraine, and Romania... and Hungary and even Switzerland.

Observation 2:

The streets are dirty and grimy and lagging behind in cleanliness in comparison to Switzerland and the Netherlands - Zurich is impeccable & Amsterdam makes an admirable effort. The trashcans, postal boxes, meters are all marked-up.

Observation 3:
The old folks here, so far, have been all incredibly sweet. They sort of make you feel like you already have an aunt or grandpa here. As for the young people? We'll leave that open, still, and declare all observations inconclusive. Maybe they're hungover? There have been a few sweet ones, but a few apathetic ones. Like I said, this is totally inconclusive and I realize I haven't had much access to a wide variety of folks to make a fair assessment.

Observation 4:
There's a wide, wide range of accents in a small town. In America, we have a few accents, some strong, but they span over a huge country. The United Kingdom is like an inkspot on the map yet I've already witnessed more diversity than I did in my months travelling across the States.



Observation 5:
No luggage lockers.
I don't think this has much to do with anything...

Observation 6:
I liked their signs around the train station:

 “If you spill your drink, it's not on us.” I forget the other ones.

“If you abuse our staff your journey will end in court.”

It went on to expand that, “Our staff carry spit kits so they can submit spittle for DNA testing. We do not hesitate to prosecute anyone who spits at our staff.”

Apparently, spitting on train staff was an issue here...


Observation 7:
It's expensive.

There's a reason why I saved the United Kingdom for last and am spending a lot of my time in a rural village where I'll work (Dear England – when I write “work” I mean “help” so please don't deport me.) in exchange for food and a bed.

Luckily, I had Switzerland to prepare me. After Switzerland, you can pretty much handle any country.

My tea was ₤1.99 for a pot which is around $3.10.
My sandwich was ₤2.79 which is around $4.32. This was breakfast. I ate half of it.
My butternut squash and apple soup with a scone was ₤4.79 which is over $7 (expensive but worth every bite).

After spending much of this year in Eastern Europe, I've adjusted to thinking that you never need more than $8 a day to get by. I'll see as time goes on.

Observation 8:
They have funny water faucets (sometimes). Hot water comes out of one tap and cold out of the other. In order to get a mixture of both, I find myself swishing my hands between the two rather rapidly.

Observation 9:
They have products on the shelves here that, in America, I could only find in the British import store. Imagine the joy Americans would have if we could go into every grocery store and find small tins of Lyle's Golden Syrup or Treacle.

Observation 10:
Men go out for tea with each other. I'm surrounded by four duos of men with their cups of tea (and one has a beer).

There's also two sets of women, one solo women, and one women with child. There's one older mixed-gender couple.

Observation 11:
Poundland... Everything's ₤1. Not as satisfying as the Dollar Tree, but still semi-dandy. I lasted two and a half minutes.

Observation 12:
Sometimes, people here actually make eye contact with you and smile.
We're not in Russia any more.
If I smiled at someone in Russia, they assumed I was crazy.

Observation 13:
Their scones deserve all the hype.


Personal-Reflections:
After months abroad, my ears have adjusted to not being able to listen to other people's conversation. It was like having my own private bubble of obliviousness. Now, oi, I can actually make out what people are saying.. sort of.

During my time here, I want to find people to talk to about immigrants, accents, scones, the education system, do people like to blow their noses in public here, recycling, milk, common meals, and....

Another ginger just walked by.

1 comment:

  1. Glad you're enjoying Newcastle, I've always wanted to visit the city myself, maybe one day. And as for the Geordie accent, I can find it difficult understanding it and I'm from the UK.

    Really enjoying these posts.

    ReplyDelete

Your words make me grin.

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