C is for Cilantro

Sometimes it’s the small capitulations that signify the beginning of the end. Who said that? Nobody. But I feel some famous smart person must have said something pithy in this regard once upon a time.

Today felt like that to me. Today was the day that I texted child 3 that I had just bought cilantro. It felt weird. And a little bit wrong. But sometimes, being an immigrant, you just have to accept these ‘when in Rome’ moments. What I wanted to type, of course, was coriander.

Trouble is, in America, coriander is only used to describe these:


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The leaves:

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are called cilantro.

It’s not really a big deal. The Latin name for the plant is Coriandrum Sativum and it doesn’t take a genius to take the leap from Coriandrum to coriander. I did have a bit more trouble with this line from Wikipedia though:

Cilantro is the Spanish word for coriander, also deriving from coriandrum.”

Eh? Who starts with coriandrum and jumps to cilantro? I’m no linguist (clearly) but that seems like a bit of stretch.


R is for Roy G Biv

What the… I hear you say in the U.K. Roy G Biv?? What on earth is that??

But everyone in the U.S. (I bet) knows exactly what this is. Yet we have lived here for 8 years now and I only found out about this phrase YESTERDAY! It came about like this:

Child 3 and I were driving along in the car at about 5.30pm. The wintery sun was setting up ahead and there was a lovely range of colours on show that child 3 said “made the whole sky look like a rainbow”. And then she asked me if I thought the rainbow included indigo and violet or “just purple”.

This was the moment I discovered that when we lived in Canada between 2008 and 2010, so Child 3 was aged between 3 and 5, she was taught that the colours of the rainbow were… wait for it… (and feel free to sing this in your head to the tune of twinkle twinkle little star)

“Red and Orange, Green and Blue, Shiny Yellow, Purple too.”


Well, I was shocked. I mean that’s just wrong. Am I right? I am.

Because as everyone in Britain knows, the colours of the rainbow can be remembered using the mnemonic Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain. In other words red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet. In my mind, the Richard of York referred to here was always this guy:

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This is Richard III (who I have always liked btw. I named a hamster after him once – Richard III the last Plantagenet King. We called him Plantagenet for short) who was the King of England from 1483 to 1485 when he was killed at the Battle of Bosworth Field. I love Richard III, I’ll admit. From Shakespeare’s play to Sharon Penman’s fantastic historical novel The Sunne in Splendour and on to Josephine Tey’s crime story The Daughter of Time, Richard III is a very interesting person to know about. When I was pregnant with Child 3 we even used to say if she was a boy we’d call her Richard because she’d be Richard III. But this morning, I’ve just read that he IS NOT the Richard of York in the rainbow mnemonic.

According to The History Girls blog, the Richard of York of rainbow fame was in fact Richard III’s father, also Richard, who was never a King himself, despite being the father of both Edward IV and Richard III. Gosh, those Wars of the Roses were complicated. Many battles were fought and Richard never did come out on top. He died in 1460 and since he certainly battled in vain, I’m drawn to believe he IS the right Richard remembered in the rainbow thingy.

I hope readers will take a look at the History Girls blog post (link above). I enjoyed it very much, especially the comments section where it was suggested that another version of the British rainbow mnemonic was Richard Of York Got Boiled in Vinegar! Probably this is significantly less historically accurate than the way I learned it, but it is definitely fun and memorable which (and, yes, I am finally back on my transatlantic track here) is a lot more than can be said for Roy G Biv.

Back to the car journey last night.

After Child 3 stunned me with her Canada rainbow revelation, I obviously had to check what she had been taught after we imported her to the States at the tender, sponge-like learning age of 5. And that’s when she told me about Roy G Biv as the way she remembers Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet.

I feel it is important to note on a language-type bloggy that Roy G Biv is an acronym and not a mnemonic, even though it serves the same purpose. There is nothing wrong with a good acronym, I don’t suppose, and at the very least it does at least include indigo and violet rather than the catch-all purple at play in Canada (at least according to Child 3).

But Roy G Biv? Really? I am generally firm in believing that American English is as good as British English and that all the differences between the two are wonderful and interesting, but Roy G Biv?

No. Give me Richard every time.


U is for Ugly Sweater

Once upon a time in the US there were Christmas sweaters worn by sad Dad characters like this one:

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That’s Chevy Chase in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation from 1989.

By the turn of the century, even the love interest could wear a Christmas sweater, as demonstrated by Colin Firth in Bridget Jones’ Diary in 2001:

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A key influencer may have been this man. He’s not the most popular chap in the world these days but back in the 1980’s, when Bill Cosby spent his time on a TV set rather than a courthouse, he certainly put the ugly in sweaters, regardless what time of year:

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And so somewhere in all this the Ugly Christmas Sweater was born in the US and these are the two that Child 2 and Child 3 INSISTED on getting and wearing to school this year:


In the face of serious objection from Child 3, I shared this on facebook and a clear transatlantic translation issue emerged at once because in the UK, these are not ugly sweaters. They are Christmas Jumpers. But say that over here… and people will look at you like you are mad. Believe me, I’ve done it. I know. That’s at least in part because over here a jumper looks like this:

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In Britain, that’s a pinafore. Confused? I know I am. It reminds of when Child 1 was aged 3 and at his most annoying. He kept asking questions like “why is the sky blue?” and “but why is a table called a table?”. I feel just like him right now.

Why do we call jumpers, jumpers? Nobody jumps in them.

Are sweaters called sweaters because they are warm and… sweaty?

And why call a pinafore a pinafore? Did they get pinned at the front in the UK? Did American girls jump skipping ropes while wearing them or what?

And while I’m here, what even is the difference between a jumper and a pullover? Or a sweater and a sweatshirt?

I could go on. But it’s Christmas. The answers will have to wait.

T is for Thanksgiving

So I am a week late with this but I have been mulling over a few aspects of Thanksgiving, perhaps because of my new perspective as a US Citizen. Thanksgiving was not mentioned on the list of 100 facts about the USA that we learned off by heart (and are already sadly forgetting) in order to pass our citizenship test, but I think it really should have been. Feeling the need to fill in my knowledge gap, I found this nice little 3 minute video on Thanksgiving history…


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And here is a cute (or weird?) bobble head doll of Sarah Josepha Hale who (as outlined in the video) wrote to Abe Lincoln advocating for the need to make Thanksgiving a national holiday. She is also known for writing this…

“Mary had a little lamb, it’s fleece was white as snow and everywhere that Mary went the lamb was sure to go….”

Just the kind of unnecessary trivia I like to collect 🙂



M is for Mailbox

Cue music…

I used to say post it, now I say mail it,

I used to say postman, but now I say mailman,

I used say post office,  but now I say… um… hang on a mo. Cancel the music. What do I say nowadays?

Actually I still say post office. In one of the many quirks of transatlantic differences in English, although I can now only send and receive mail (not post – a post here is a thing sticking out of the ground) I send it using the United States Postal Service (USPS). But what I never do, is pick up my letters from the door mat because I don’t have a letterbox. I have a mailbox instead.

The best thing about having a mailbox is that it comes with a red lever on the side. If I want to post (mail!) a letter and I have the right stamp, I can pop it in my own mailbox and lift up the lever. That tells my mailman to pick up as well as drop off my… mail. The worst thing about it is going out to get the mail in the rain – a first world problem, I know. But what I love about mailboxes is the whole world of opportunity for self-expression out there – in mailbox choices. Here’s a snapshot of the range available, all spotted during our dog walk yesterday. It made me think of this guy:

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So let’s start with the GOOD ones we saw. There was this one. This was my favourite:


Now we all know that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so to allow for variance in taste, I will also add this one:


I don’t love it and suspect it might be their summer mailbox. Yes. I kid you not. People have seasonal mailbox in these parts. I am not making that up. Anyway, that goes in the good category, I think, along with this one:


I have NO idea why there is a mummy mailbox and three little baby mailboxes here, but it does look cute and there are many examples of shared mailboxes (although generally they are all of a similar size). This one I thought looked good.

But what about the BAD mailboxes? Lots of them are pretty bad to be honest. Ours is just a metal can on a stick. It wobbles and is so boring I couldn’t be bothered to take a photo of it. Everyone else on our little street, however, has one like this. I don’t like ’em. Way too much function. No sign of aesthetic taste whatsoever:


This is a bad mailbox. And it is common. We even spotted one with no house anywhere in sight. What’s that all about then??


And finally I have my two offerings for UGLY. These two are on the same road, almost directly opposite each other. I wonder which came first. Is there a story here – of neighbourhood tension and one-upmanship perhaps?

The one of the left is a slab of something. Slate? I’m not sure. Anyway it’s ridiculous. And the one on the right seems to me to be taking stone-cladding to a whole new and hilarious level. Both ugly. But which is the worst? You decide.

O is for One Hundred Days

So Donald Trump may be trying to suggest that the one hundred day mark of his glorious administration is not a big thing (can’t imagine why!) but I am here to tell you that it is. My evidence? This…

This is Child 3’s creative way of marking her 100 days in first grade. Since she is in sixth grade now, it has been a while since she made it. And I know for a fact that this ‘assignment’ is common throughout schools here at some point in kid’s first or second full-time year in school. So where does the 100 day thing come from?

I’ve read a couple of different accounts – one citing the fact that it took Napoleon 100 days to return from exile, re-establish himself as the ruler of France and start the war against the Brits that would end at Waterloo – but the origin of this as a US phenomenon seems to lie firmly with FDR.

Ever since Franklin Roosevelt’s charge into office with the New Deal, among other achievements, the concept of the importance of 100 days as a marker of importance has become part of US culture. And that’s despite the fact that, “Presidents since Roosevelt have been held up to a standard that not even Roosevelt achieved,”

That said, the 100 day mark is arbitrary. It has a cultural significance but doesn’t define a school year or a presidency. It merits buttons and not much more.

But for those interested in what Trump has or has not achieved in his first 100 days (and yes, I did think about making a sheet just like Child 3’s buttons and putting a photo of Neil Gorsuch in the first box and leaving the rest blank!), here is a link to Fox News’ review. Since Fox loves Trump and Trump loves Fox, I think it makes interesting reading…

Trump’s first one hundred days in numbers


P is for Pocketbook

Here’s a funny thing about bags. In America it seems like lots of people don’t call handbags, handbags. They call them pocketbooks. Which is odd. As child 3 so beautifully put it… “I would have thought that a pocketbook was some kind of book you put in your pocket.” But no. It is a handbag. Or a purse. Recently the lady on the checkout in my local Wegman’s said pocketbook but I think most people I know call it a purse. Apart from me. Calling it a purse would not be possible because my purse is what I keep my credit cards and money in. Only here, that’s a wallet. Which is odd because to me, wallets are carried by men. And don’t have zips.

But the biggest shame of there being all these pocketbooks and purses over here is that the following clip probably means nothing. And yet it is one of the best delivered lines of a play in the history of the universe. In my opinion anyway.