British or international?

I’m proud to be British. At the same time, I’m very proud to be an international, global citizen. Lately I have found some people, (or maybe it’s British society itself?) that have an issue with these two words. They believe you must be one or the other – a Brit or a foreigner…you can’t be both.

I work with international students, and host events for international students. This in no way means I exclude all home students and British students from events. Once at a party, the bouncer tried to turn away a group of British people who had come with their Spanish friends, saying that this was an event for ‘international people only’. I know as a nation we voted for Brexit, but in no way do I see the word ‘international’ as an antonym to ‘British, English, local’ etc. How could he possibly turn people away from not being international enough?

I once went to a ‘Global Lounge’ at a church and although they didn’t turn me away, they certainly made me feel very unwelcome for trying to attend a ‘global’ event as a British person. They told me normal services are on Sundays, and this event wasn’t really designed with British people in mind. It was all very ironic, given that my first real contact and participation in a church was when I was living abroad, and I had never really read any Bible verses in English at that point. Why did they want to discourage someone who had only read and heard the Bible in Spanish from a ‘global lounge’? It really surprised me and I never went back there, not even on a Sunday for ‘normal service’, I was so disheartened.

When people ask me where I’m from, I have a similar issue…my passport is British, but over the past 6 years, I have spent almost half of that time out of the country, speaking totally different languages and spending a lot of time actively trying to avoid contact with the Brits (sorry).

And when I do tell people I’m British they say in shock ‘really?? but where are you really from? you don’t look 100% British’ and all the rest of those questions that make words like ‘quarter, half, hybrid, fully’ come up. Sometimes it’s a cultural thing, in Chinese the dictionary definition of 混血 is given as hybrid, but come on, which mixed race person would ever call themself a hybrid?

Through socialising in the international crowd, I have discovered that asking ‘where are you from?’ is actually a really insensitive way to start a conversation with someone. It’s too generic and as someone who is asked this question a LOT, you never know if the person is asking

in which city were you born?
where did you spend your childhood?
which city have you spent most time living in?
what passport do you have?
which country do you feel most at home in?
where do your parents live?
where did your grandparents live?

I have met people who for each of the above questions could answer with a different city or country.

We live in an ever more intercultural and diverse world, so British people, I urge you… drop the British label, think bigger. Learn a language, watch a foreign film, do something to make yourself not only proud to be British, but proud to be a citizen of the world.



When a guy walks you home

Last year when I lived in China, I met a lot of African friends, the university I attended gave a lot of scholarships to students from Cameroon, Tanzania, Ghana, South Sudan amongst other developing countries, like Ukraine, Albania and Egypt.

I spent half the year in dormitories on campus, and there were two sets of dorms for international students, most of the Africans were in Qiming, and the rest of us were in the slightly better Liuxueshenggongyu.

As most of my classmates were African, they quickly became my friends and we would often/always go to Beimen, the school’s bustling north gate to eat dinner. Meals were cheap and there were loads of choices, as well as a supermarket, KTV bars, snooker halls and beauticians (I miss those £2 manicures!!).

When we first started meeting for dinner, most of the group would go walk to Qiming, but there would always be a guy who would offer to go out of his way to walk me back to my dorm, even if it was raining and he was wearing flipflops, I was almost always walked home.

At the beginning, I felt very uncomfortable about this, did the guy have bad intentions? Did he want to know exactly which room I lived in? Why is it ‘not ok’ for a girl to walk home on her own…yet fine for guys? Etc etc. But after a while, I just accepted it as it offended them when I said I would walk by myself and actually, the company is nice.

What I learned was that culturally, these guys were expected to make sure women get home safely, due to the dangers there can be for women walking alone in their countries.

When I came back to the UK, I was walking home with a group of friends about a week ago, most of them lived in a student accommodation 5 mins walk from me…we said our goodbyes and a guy who lived a bit closer to me said he would walk me home. But after the group went into their halls, this guy who said he would walk me home said that actually he lives the other way…so he just walked off and left me. I was a bit annoyed, since he said he would walk me home and didn’t, it was one of the first times in a long time I hadn’t had someone walk back with me after meeting with a group.

Then last night I was at an event and a Russian guy offered to walk me home, I had just met him, but I accepted the offer as we live close by and again, for him culturally, he cannot ‘when in Rome, do as Romans do’ when it comes to things like walking a girl home. He also gave me a big hug, as he said when you shake hands or hug, it re-energises both people as they pass energy to each other through physical contact and it shows strength and power.

Last night we also talked about greetings, and how British people may shake hands when they first meet someone, but not when they meet again for the second or third time. The Russian said us Brits can be really cold, and he can’t understand why I would want to walk the last 5 mins alone… whereas the old me could not understand why a guy would want to walk an extra 5 mins, then have a 10 min walk home alone. I’m still unsure how I feel about being walked home, as if escorted because being a woman puts me in danger…but at the same time, I realised that I did get used to it in China and I kinda like it.

Give Kisses, not XXX’s

I have never been one of those people who put kisses on the end of every text message. In the past people have told me off for ending a text message with a full stop instead of an x. They have asked me if they have done something to deserve the apparent lack of affection I show in text messages. It’s not that I am cold and have no affection, I just don’t see the point in rows of x’s and prefer to put a smiley face instead. I think we should get in the habit of giving actual kisses, rather than x’s, after all didn’t X mark the spot? What spot? Why an X?

The phonetic sound of the letter X sounds similar to the word kiss and the shape of an X can be interpreted as two mouths joining together in a kiss. In the UK, there are “rules” for the amount of x’s or xo’s you should leave for different types of people. These can be interpreted in different ways, but I think the general rules are:

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx – little brother/sister gone a bit OTT

xoxox – hugs and kisses for friends

xxx – for close family, boy/girlfriends, people you love

xx – for close friends, other family members and a good middle ground between one kiss and three

x – for friends

– enemies, people you are angry with, your boss

I pretty much always use the latter for everybody I text.

I don’t understand where these kisses on the end of messages came from. In the UK we prefer handshakes and waves when greeting our friends. When British people do give kisses, it’s often awkward with people not being sure which cheek comes first…is it one, two or three…and do you rest your hand on their shoulder or their hip?

Kisses aren’t all that bad though. I know us Brits are very happy in our own personal space and when strangers try to invade this things can get uncomfortable…

but I think it’s a nice way to greet people. I remember when I was living in Chile and every morning at school I would have to walk around the staffroom kissing everyone it seemed like a huge, pointless task (that would be repeated later in the afternoon at hometime) but now I see the benefits of it. It’s so much more social than a 2 second wave and glance around the room. By going to each person and giving them a little kiss on the cheek you get to give everyone eye contact, learn new people’s names and it’s just nice to have a one on one interaction with everybody. Yes it takes a little time but put the effort in with your friends and stop pressing the x on your keyboard.

Here are some pictures of cute kissing animals!

Afterthought: On the rare occasions when I do put kisses on text messages it means you’re very special to me!

We are British, We are Different

In Britain, we are very different to our European neighbours. Over centuries we have developed our culture to show this to the world in our own special way. Here is a list of things that we do differently in the UK, often without even realising we are being so different to the rest of the world.

  • Firstly, we have a complicated 4 in 1 situation going on in regards to our country/ies and there are still many issues and disagreements between the four nations

    What am I?
    What am I?
  • Driving on the left hand side of the road – here is a page with a colour coded map to show which other countries drive on the left like us…and a list for those of you that don’t like maps
  • The imperial system:
  1. We measure haircuts in inches, long distances in yards or miles and our height in feet (but a horse’s height is measured in hands)
  2. Our milk comes in pints as does our beer (it’s actually illegal to sell draught beer and cider in metric units)
  3. We weigh using ounces, stones or pounds…
  4. The pound! Our currency is the pound, with one pound being 100 pence, none of that euro nonsense for us!
  • We often can’t decide what measurement system to use, as sugar comes in kilogram bags, the sprint won by Bolt at the 2012 Olympics was the 100m (rather than the 109 yards) and a can of coke is 330ml

    Oh yes
    Oh yes
  • For women, our clothes sizes start at 4 and go up in multiples of 2. In Europe a size 10 is a 38 (I think men are S, M, L everywhere)
  • Our shoe sizes are also different, a size 6 being a 40 overseas – making the whole “Act your age, not your shoe size joke” totally unfunny anywhere else but the UK
  • Mealtimes – we eat our main meal of the day in the evening at 6pm, uncommon as other countries eat a big meal at midday instead
  • The spines of our books are the other way around. I like to tilt my head to the right when browsing titles so was forced to turn my Spanish books upside down (notice how the numbers are upside down on the Isabel Allende books in the centre)

    Which way is the right way?
    Which way is the right way?
  • Our plug sockets are three pronged, we don’t want no two pronged Europlug! But then again….

    You got that right!
    You got that right!
  • Our constitutional monarchy, ie. The Queen! A favourite of mine, we are one of only 35 countries in the world that have this system and Liz is admired all over the world

    Queen Elizabeth II
    Queen Elizabeth II

That sums up some of the main ways that us Brits like to do things differently. If there is anything I’ve missed please let me know! Leave a comment!

Are you actually cold or just pretending you have a winter?

Despite the Canary Islands being famous for their all-year round warm climate and sunny days, the autumn has arrived. The air is colder, it’s raining a little more and the temperature has dropped…by a few degrees. The Canarian people I work with, socialise with, work out with and even the ones who are on the street are all complaining of the cold. The amount of times I hear the words

Ay, que frío (Ohh, it’s so cold)

in a day are unbelievable considering the temperatures are still between 17ºC and 23ºC, which to us Brits is still ice cream and shorts weather!

I understand that my body will be a little different from theirs as I have lived most of my life in England where the temperatures can be as low as minus 10…but I don’t see how a drop in 5 or 6 degrees can affect an entire community of people so much. The scarfs, hats and thick coats have all come out. The only people seen wearing sandals are the foreigners (including me) and I get the impression that people judge me for wearing a light cardigan. I’m just not very cold!

Although I know that 18ºC is not a cold temperature (it’s the kind of temperature that us students try to keep our houses at – warm enough to be hotter than outside but cold enough to not spend buckets of money on the central heating) I can feel the difference in the temperature from what it was before. The air is colder…but I stand by the well known fact that if you can’t see your breath when you breathe, you surely cannot be feeling cold and have no right to complain about being cold.

I think that feeling cold can be a bit psychological, when you see people wrapped up in warm winter clothes and you hear people complaining about the cold and even the word cold….makes you feel a bit chilly. At the moment there are times when I feel chilly, which is totally different from feeling cold. There are also many parts of the day where I get hot because of the humidity in the islands. So, a bit like in England, I normally have to leave the house wearing a skirt, t-shirt and a light cardigan…but I have to have gloves, a scarf and tights in my bag in case I get the chills. Sometimes, it’s the other way around and I leave the house wearing jeans, a top and a jumper and within 10 minutes I am carrying the jumper and wishing I’d never put my jeans on.

Anyway, my question to the Canarian people is…

Are you actually cold or just pretending you have a winter?

Because it’s not cold!!!! You have a subtropical climate so quit complaining and man up!!!