Thursday, November 18, 2010

Random Musings 4 (UK Edition)

Thank God the English love tea. And cakes, of course. I have been needing the regular caffeine infusion just to keep me going every day with all the research I've been doing. Okay, so it's not physical labor, but it is mentally exhausting to be examining art objects, reading through pages of files, typing up notes, interpreting and reading 19th-century handwriting, and just smiling and being friendly the whole time. Hm...suddenly reading this I'm realizing that few people will want to sympathize. All I can say is that the mental activity is exhausting, and lots of tea (and cakes) helps tremendously. It is interesting though that tea shops seem to have disappeared from most English cities. At one time they were ubiquitous, a public place for ladies especially to congregate where their moral integrity would be preserved and they could socialize. Villages and small cities still have them, of course, or CC and I never would have made it through our day trip to Lincoln. But in Leeds and Liverpool, there was nary a tea shop in sight. Pubs, on the other hand, are everywhere, but even there you can see that the old-style pubs, the rusticated tables-and-chairs, laid-back blokes, the old world charm, what one might consider to be more traditional, is slowly fading as well. Chain restaurants and bars like Nando's and Pizza Express are taking over, the same way chain coffee shops like Starbucks have taken over tea shops. It's sad really, but I have to confess that when I've wanted that cup of tea (or cappuccino or hot chocolate) I haven't hesitated to walk into a Caffe Nero, Pret a Manger, or Starbucks, all of which are chains here.

You've all heard the English say "Cheers!" It's become in many ways the most frequently heard English word by Americans. It's used as a general "Hello" and "Good-bye" but it's also used to say "Thank you" as well. The thing is, I've realized that "Cheers" is a gender-biased word. Men say "Cheers" to one another all the time, as in "Cheers, mate!" to imply gratitude and farewell at the same time. But while a few women said "Cheers" to me to say thanks, they are all young women, which suggests a new generation is appropriating this masculine form of chat. The fact is, you never hear a woman say "Cheers!" to another woman. It's usually always "Thank you!" and "Bye!" It's funny how such a simple word could be so gender-biased even in the 21st century.

But the big news this week in the UK is of course self-evident from the picture above: Prince William and Kate Middleton are getting married. He proposed to her using the ring his father gave his mother. Personally, that would seem like a bad omen to me, considering how that marriage turned out, but he claims he feels like his mother is now part of their union (which seems both sweet and creepy at the same time). The first 24 hours of the story hitting the airways was of course all wonderful. The BBC was interviewing people in the street and naturally everyone was very happy for them. The bitter aftermath has begun though. Americans think the Brits love the monarchy, but after having one for more than a millennium, even though their political power has been practically stripped away, a significant number of Brits want the monarchy to disappear completely, and to take the entire aristocracy with it. That's right, no more lords, ladies, earls, countesses, princes or queens. The fact is, having a family of figureheads living in a number of palaces wears on the nation's economy. To quote JE's recent Facebook post about the nuptials: "So, we can't afford higher education or drugs to keep bowel cancer patients alive, but we can afford a royal family and a royal wedding." He's citing another even that has been in the news late. Students have rioted here recently to protest the proposed increase, up to 3 times what it is now, for university tuition fees. William and Kate may want to take note of this. Maybe they should elope to Gretna Green like generations of young lovers did in the past. I've been wondering, however, since he's the future King William V, will she become Queen Kate? Will they allow a commoner (God, that is very class-ist) to be named queen? Or will they name her Princess Consort or something comparable, as Albert was Prince Consort to Queen Victoria? Or make her a Duchess like Camilla is? Whatever the case, as this journalist has pointed out, she would be the country's 6th Queen Catherine, but hopefully not follow the fate of most of her predecessors with that name (think Henry VIII). Then again, with rising anti-monarchical sentiment brewing here, especially in a tight economic crises, will they make it to the throne at all?

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