Cracked

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Limited view,
giant ego
Selfies give fame,
to those who crave
Liars run wild,
addicts eat light
Stuck in a void,
hapless android
A fake life thrives
as living dies

 

 

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Inspiration: Poetic Asides, Wednesday Poetry Prompt #264

Photo: Say It With Silence

Words: c.b.w. 2014

The Language of Signs: London

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In my many years of travel, I’ve always made it a point to snap pictures of street signs or other signs that I find interesting or funny. It’s rather fascinating to observe how a culture communicates rules of the road or expected social behavior.  For example, in London, many of the signs are very polite.

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Near Southwark Cathedral on the South Embankment, London
Photo by: c.b.w. 2006

At home I’m accustomed to the red Exit sign that shows me how to get out of any building. In the London Tube, however, there is what I consider a more gentle way of pointing out the exit.

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Follow the sign to leave the London Tube!
Photo by: c.b.w. 2006

At Tate Modern, this sign is posted on the elevator. I found it very thought provoking in that it asked people to be mindful instead of simply putting a wheelchair symbol and hoping for the best.

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If this sign doesn’t inspire you to make the extra effort to climb the stairs, I don’t know what will!
Photo by: c.b.w. 2011

However, the use of symbols is employed around heavy tourist areas to accommodate those who don’t speak English. Around Buckingham Palace I spotted these signs:

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What do they mean??
Photo by: c.b.w. 2006

Now, I’m not sure what these signs are indicating, but I have a couple of guesses. Traffic comes from all different directions on the roundabout in front of the palace (and they drive like idiots), so maybe it’s telling people to watch for traffic. Or, perhaps it’s a sign telling people there’s a tourist site (the eye points to the palace) and there is also a place to pick up a taxi. Either way, they are helpful!

Tourists also get reminders on how to cross the street safely. Foreigners are often thrown off by the reversal of traffic direction on the roads. Americans in particular are in the habit of looking for traffic on the right side of the road instead of left. To keep tourists from getting squashed, crosswalks in the central part of London are painted with a handy bit of advice!

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Look both ways! (In reverse)
Photo by: c.b.w. 2006

Crosswalks also receive a little extra attention in that they are marked with special road lines to warn drivers ahead of time to slow down. Hence, the infamous zig-zag pattern before the thick horizontal bands of most crosswalks.

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Watch out for pedestrians! Zig-zags in Muswell Hill
Photo by: c.b.w. 2011

Traffic signs in London are very similar to those in the U.S. in that they convey the same concepts, but different words and shapes are used.

Yield = Give Way:

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Give Way in Notting Hill
Photo by: c.b.w. 2006

Speed limit signs are round with a red rim:

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Slow down in Muswell Hill!
Photo by: c.b.w. 2011

Bike lane signs are also round with a red rim:

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Ironically, this sign was by a pub. A way to curb drunk driving??
Photo by: c.b.w. 2011

In Europe in general, the names of streets are placed on the sides of buildings or walls. Very rarely have I spotted a street name on a separate pole or traffic light. I prefer this system mainly because it’s easier to see the sign and there’s less likelihood of a car accident wiping out the sign. Tourists, however, have a hard time making the adjustment. Sometimes I chuckle when I see someone with a map looking everywhere but halfway up a building. In neighborhoods, street names are usually placed on brick walls that flank a residential entrance or a retaining wall.

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Photo by: c.b.w. 2011

On most of the main roads, street name signs also include the name of the London borough where the street is located as well as part of the zip code. For example, Drury Lane is in Camden and Portobello Road runs through Kensington and Chelsea.

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Do you know the muffin man? Camden, London
Photo by: c.b.w. 2011

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Photo by: c.b.w. 2006

Of all the interesting signs in London my absolute favorite is a small laminated sign zip-tied to the fence at Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park. For me it has always embodied the broader purpose of traveling and experiencing new places.

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Simple, yet powerful. Speaker’s Corner, London
Photo by: c.b.w. 2006

Keep an open mind, my friends!

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There are too many signs for just one post! Next week, we’ll head to Ireland and Prague, Czech Republic to check out their “sign” language.

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Just curious . . .

What are some interesting signs you’ve seen in your travels?

Londoners, correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t the zig-zag road lines slowly being phased out? I though I read that somewhere.

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Previous New Familiars posts:

Grocery Shopping in London

Lunch In A Chinese Home

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c.b.w. 2013

Grocery Shopping In London

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Every evening at about six-thirty, I walked through the doors of  the local food store on Muswell Hill Broadway.  During my extended stay in London,  it was my evening ritual to pick up something for dinner and a snack for the next day. While I fell into the groove of a London grocery store rather quickly, the first few days were an interesting experience of learning the norms of a different culture.

Back home, grocery shopping is usually a once a week thing, but I realized very quickly that weekly shopping in London does not work.  First, like many Londoners, I relied on walking and public transportation to get around town, which makes carrying a week’s worth of groceries next to impossible. Second, the house where I was staying had a teeny tiny refrigerator that I had to share with another roommate and the homeowners. It was about the size of a mini bar, so I had no choice but to adopt the London lifestyle of daily market trips.

There were two grocery stores in the Muswell Hill area: Marks and Spencer’s and Sainsbury’s. I went with M&S mainly because it had a large array of fresh produce and a healthier variety of food products. And it was cleaner.

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My “local” grocery store on Muswell Hill Broadway
Photo by: c.b.w. 2011

My budget constraints left me with about £10 a day for food, which  included my daily Cafe Mocha, (£2.90).  Breakfast and lunch were a snap –  a bagel smothered with Nutella in the morning and a fresh apple in the afternoon. Those two meals together cost me about £10 a week.

Dinner, however, was a bit trickier.  All I had to cook food was a microwave and a toaster, which was actually more restrictive than the budget! Thankfully, Marks and Spencer carries a wide array of frozen prepared meals that are reasonably priced and somewhat healthy (few preservatives or artificial ingredients). If I could get to the store before 6:00 p.m. I picked up a freshly made sandwich or salad. They were just as inexpensive as frozen dinners, but they were in short supply! Just ten minutes past six meant an empty shelf.

I think I tried just about every variety of the single-serve frozen dinner. The store brand chicken casserole, bangers and mash, and shepherd’s pie were my favorites, though I’d stay away from anything Italian (the noodles never cooked right). For £2.29 – £3.29, I got a pretty decent meal with enough left over to get a little dessert.

The candy rack is usually where I found that dessert. Candy bars are typically Cadbury or Mars, but in varieties that were totally foreign to me, (see The Junk Food Tourist for a complete rundown on my candy adventure).  Depending on the brand or size, they go for about 55p or £1.00.

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nom-nom-nom . . . The Double Decker is my favorite!
Photo by: c.b.w. 2011

Shopping in the store is about the same as it is in the U.S. It’s crowded, people don’t always move, and it has that urban food smell that dominates all grocery stores. However, things get interesting when it’s time to wait in line and pay. British people take waiting in line (or queuing up) pretty seriously. There is no whining, line cutting, or standing too close to one another, nor is there tolerance for obnoxious conversations on a mobile phone. If any of these unspoken rules are broken, the British are not shy about voicing their disdain.

What I found most fascinating was the courtesy of placing the conveyor belt divider for the person standing behind you. Whether I was carrying one item or five, the person in front of me never failed to  place the divider. It didn’t take me long to adopt the policy both in London and back home. A little kindness goes a long way.

The cashiers sit instead of stand as they scan purchases. They sit on ergonomic stools that actually looked really comfortable!  People either bagged their own groceries or the cashier took on bagging duties once money changed hands. Bags are not free, but rather optional and for a fee, (5p). It didn’t take long for me to wise up and bring my own bag in order to avoid being charged extra.

After a while, I got to know the cashiers and I no longer got lost trying to find the snack aisle. I knew the left door always got a little stuck when it slid open and there was always a huge puddle in front of the exit after it rained.  I’ll bet if I went back today I could still find the Nutella and the best frozen bangers and mash a girl could ever want. This little store, along with so many other things became part of what I call my “new familiars.”

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Just curious:

As this series progresses, I’ll being using this section to ask questions to clear up my own curiosities. However, please feel free to leave your own questions and comments below.

Are small refrigerators common in London homes?

What’s the story behind having to pay for a bag?

How would locals describe food prices – high or reasonable?

Londoners, what did I get wrong?

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c.b.w. 2013

Favorite Thing Friday: Blog Refresh

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After two and half years of blogging, it gets tough to keep things fresh with interesting topics. Admittedly, my muse is focused on other things, so I’m finding it hard to keep this space filled with quality posts and content. In many ways, I don’t think I’ve been entirely successful, but I’m hoping to change that over the next few weeks.

Over a cup of coffee, I asked my mom, “What do you think I should write about?” It took her less than a second to answer, “Travel.” I rolled my eyes because that is a topic I’ve explored time and time again with articles, fiction, poetry, and photography. Everybody gets it, I’ve traveled a lot. She stopped me right in the middle of my eye roll and explained that she wasn’t interested in the stuff she can find in any tour book, but rather the everyday life of people in other places. What do they wear? What do the houses look like? What’s in a grocery store? You know, the little things that are so normal for some, but strange to visitors.

I have journals full of those “little things” because my favorite thing to do when I travel is people watch. Part of my motivation for staying in London for an extended stay was to get a sense of what it’s like to live as a Londoner. Furthermore, wherever I travel, I am always more fascinated by local custom and the neighborhood experience than I am of the tourist trap. My mom is right – I should write about what I’ve observed and open up candid discussions about cultural perspective.  There are things I’ve seen and experienced that I still don’t understand. What better platform to explore those curiosities than blogging?

Starting next week, posts about the “little things” from around the world will fill this space on Wednesdays.

Some topics on upcoming agenda include:

  • Why Europeans wear shorter pants
  • What it’s like to shop in a communist grocery store
  • Shopping in a Chinese Wal-Mart
  • What Londoners do when it rains
  • Queuing up in a London post office
  • Water calligraphy in Changchun
  • Why left-handed people are clever in China
  • What a bed is like in Prague
  • The French are not rude
  • Dogs in China / Dogs in Prague
  • What Americans look like to Europeans
  • Riding the Tube
  • Eating at a pizza place in Prague

The list is endless and this is only the beginning. In addition to my own posts, I will also be inviting guest bloggers to share their observations and insights on the places they’ve traveled. If you are interested in contributing, please let me know!

Aside from this adventure into international normalcy, all the old favorites my readers enjoy will still be around. My writing journey, creativity, poetry, and photography will fill in Mondays and Sundays, while Friday will continue with Favorite Things.

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What’s your favorite thing this week?

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c.b.w. 2013