My Idea of Something "Very English" - Alex


After returning to England from Spain, my girlfriend and I had one night to relax before we were heading of somewhere again. Except this time, she didn't knew where we were going.


Before travelling, she had asked me if we could stay somewhere "really English". She had lived in England before so I knew she already had a good idea of what that meant to her. I wanted to try and show her what that meant to me.


I started looking at hotels, and then bed and breakfasts and then cottages for rent. I eventually found a tiny one bedroom cottage in Sussex, which is an hour or two south of London by car. Sussex is a large area known for its natural beauty and little English towns. It is probably most famous for its 100 acre woods, which is where Winnie the Pooh and his friends live.


The cottage was about a 10 minute drive from the little town of Lewes. I had been there once before for the Guy Fawkes Day festival (5th November), which was a crazy experience, but I'm going to save that story for another day.


We drove to Lewes first in pouring rain and windy conditions. I was not feeling very optimistic, and I was worried this trip might have been more 'English' than I was hoping. Meaning the weather will ruin everything. By the time we had arrived in Lewes, the rain had stopped but it was still cloudy and dark. 


We walked through the town, had a little nose in a few shops and made our way to Lewes castle. Lewes is a very small town, and it is basically on one long hill. At the top of that hill is Lewes castle, a 1000 year old building from the Norman times. At the top of this castle there are beautiful panoramic views of Sussex, but on that day the wind was so strong, we didn't stay up there for very long.


After a few more shops and a little lunch it was time to surprise my girl with the cottage. She still had no idea at this point.


As we were driving there I noticed that the sky was clearing up, and even a little sun was starting to show, I couldn't believe my luck. I promptly reminded myself that I was in England and that the weather could change any minute. We pulled up outside the owners main house, and walked round to our cottage for the night.


It was tiny, with red brick walls, a little chimney on a pointed roof. In front there was a small pond with ducks, and a large oak tree with an old swing hanging from it. There were a few late summer flowers growing and nothing else but green. My girlfriend was ecstatic, "it's so cute!" she said. We looked around and took lots of pictures, and of course enjoyed some tea in our English cottage.


As the weather had cleared up, we decided to drive to the coast and try to catch the sunset. The drive was about 30 minutes along some terrifyingly narrow country roads, I was truly relieved once we finally reached the car park. We started walking towards the coast, it was starting to look a little cloudy but I was still hopeful, everything else had gone to plan so far. As we were walking I noticed lots of little holes in the ground, I knew what that meant...rabbits!


I told her that if she was lucky we might be able to see some, in no time we saw some, and then some more. We tried to take pictures but they were too quick for us. After reaching the coast, we stood in awe of its beauty. As an English person I was disappointed in myself that I had never been there before, the white cliffs next to the water are truly breath taking. 


We walked uphill along the cliffs just as the sun was setting. We reached the highest point and watched the sun disappear into the clouds. I like to talk about the terrible weather in England, but on that perfect day, the gods of England really showed us both what "very English" means.


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Reverse Culture Shock - Peter


I only occasionally miss the UK. Mainly I miss the food and my family. And I’ve never had a problem with culture shock living in Japan. But something has begun creeping up on me each time I go back to the UK for a visit. Sometimes, and increasingly, the UK is starting to become a little strange to me. I’m surprised by the way people communicate, taken aback by unusual behavior, and appalled by the apparent casual rudeness of shop assistants. Welcome to the world of reverse culture shock, a strange phenomenon whereby the attitudes and culture of someone’s home country jars with their new lifestyle of living abroad.


Of course, you might think that a place changes with time. I’ve been out here in Japan more than six years, that’s enough for fully fledged cultural and social change back home. When I left, hardly anyone had an iphone, now they’re everywhere. When I left, men all had shaved short haircuts, now they all have “man-buns”. But all this aside, the basic behaviors and cultural norms should still be intact, right? People still behave the way they always have when they’re in a restaurant, or at a movie theater, or at work. Those things don’t really change. So why does this affect someone coming back to their home country after an extended period abroad?


For me it tends to be things that Japan does better than the UK that shock me when I go home. Let’s start with customer service. In Japan, we are greeted with a cheerful “irashiamase!” upon entering pretty much any store. In the UK, you’ll be lucky if the shop assistant or server actually even looks at you! This is particularly noticeable in more “down-market” establishments such as McDonalds, or “Poundland”, (a UK version of Daiso or any common 100-yen shop). I’ll stress that while it is comparatively rare (but not unheard of) for a shop assistant to be openly rude or insulting, they often just seem to not really care about customers. This kind of thing is incredibly shocking when you’ve got used to the polite greetings of Japanese service staff.


As well as the general behavior of service staff, it’s also the system that confuses me now. For example, in Japan every bar or restaurant has table service. The servers come to your table and take your order personally, or you order via a touchscreen device and the food and drink is delivered directly to your table. It’s incredibly convenient, and so easy to get used to that you barely think about it. Back home in the UK we usually have table service in restaurants, but more casual places, pubs, bars and so on, do not. We have to stand at the bar and wait for our turn to be served. There is no queue, there is no system of priority, and if there is a large number of people at the bar, you could be waiting a long time if you don’t make yourself known to the bartender quickly! This system, which seemed completely normal to me most of my life, now seems a little silly.


There is another aspect, about the society of the UK itself that I now notice a lot more. They’re just so…LOUD. People shouting in the street, in shops, people singing on public transport. Drunk people chanting football slogans at 2am in city centres. People talking in a cinema, or worse still, applauding after a movie. What’s the point? It’s a movie, they can’t hear you! I have got so used to the Japanese way of being discreet, not drawing unwarranted attention, and respecting the feelings of others that when I hear just how inconsiderate people back home can be, I find it really irritating!


It seems like I’m being a bit unfair to my home country, so what about the flipside, things that the UK does better than Japan? Well, I still believe that the UK has the better rules about smoking – smoking inside is banned, but smoking outside anywhere is OK. That way, non-smokers don’t have their meal ruined in restaurants, and the smokers can just go outside when they want to. I think riding a bicycle on the sidewalk is dangerous – it is illegal in the UK. The UK’s free healthcare beats Japan’s health insurance system easily, even though we have to wait longer for an appointment!


But the absolute best thing that the UK does better than Japan is…big portions of food! Japanese food is great of course, but it’s so small. In the UK I can order a big steak for a decent price, have a pizza that is much larger than any I could get in Japan, have a giant fry up of bacon, eggs, sausage, mushrooms, tomato and baked beans, and round it all off with an enormous chocolate cake with ice cream. It’s no wonder that the last time I came back from the UK, my girlfriend’s first words when she met me at the airport were; “You got fat”!


So with this in mind, I’ll try not to get worried about all the differences I notice every time I go home, just as long as I can go crazy and eat all the food...!


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Strange English On T Shirts - Peter


I am starting to believe that there are some foreign people with a very silly sense of humor in management positions at Japanese casual clothing companies. Why, you ask? Well, the other day I had the latest in a long line of incidents of not being able to look directly at a student because the writing on his t-shirt made me laugh. The t-shirt in question had white writing on a black background, and the writing simply said; “MASSIVE HEAD”.


This was offputting for a number of reasons. Was the t-shirt saying that the child’s head was abnormally big (it wasn’t, it was around average size for an eight year old)? Was it telling the reader, (me), that their head was big (I’m not sure it is, but I may just be biased)? Was it just a statement about people in general (some people do, after all, have massive heads)?  I don’t know. It was, and remains, a mystery. When I pointed out to the student what the writing on the t-shirt meant, he was shocked and surprised, and I guess, a little embarrassed.


As noted, this isn’t the first time this has happened. It seems that a lot of clothing items in Japan have random English written on them to present an image, rather than attaching meaning to any of the words. After all, like my student, the vast majority of people who wear these bizarre T-shirts have no idea that they have surreal nonsense printed on their chests. And I admit, I’ve seen similar things back in the UK – I once saw someone wearing a t-shirt in my hometown which simply said “カキクケコ” – totally meaningless!


But here in Japan it’s almost everywhere you look. Some more examples of phrases I’ve seen on t-shirts include “Crap your hands”, an unfortunate misspelling of “clap” which adds an unpleasant meaning to the phrase (look it up, I’m not explaining it here..!), “try my delicious salt beef”, a phrase simply copied from a restaurant menu somewhere, “I feel happiness when I eat a potato”, and of course the classic “Diarrhoea – feces are discharged from the bowels frequently”, which to me is one of the more extremely silly examples. In fact, I always believed it was fake until I saw it myself.


I hope your dictionary can make sense of some of these phrases, and I apologize for some of the…interesting vocabulary!


The most interesting example however, was when, around six years ago, an adult student came in wearing a t-shirt which said; “I dares do owt”. This phrase, which may look like utter nonsense even to most English speakers is in fact a phrase of Lancashire Dialect, which translates as “I dare to do anything”, meaning “I have no fear”, or “nothing scares me”. That one made me think – it’s far too specific to have come from some bored Japanese designer hitting his keyboard at random.


 So I’m convinced. There is some maniac foreigner, possibly from Lancashire, UK, at the top of one of these companies, having a lot of fun thinking up bizarre things to put on t-shirts, while occasionally dropping hints for foreign residents to notice. It’s all a deliberate scam to make Japanese people walk around with utterly silly messages on their t-shirts.


So if you’re reading this -whoever you are- give me a job, it sounds like fun.



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