Jon Kennedy's 'Postcards from
his sojourn in Northern Ireland'

Language differences and
Castle Court shopping center

Jon Kennedy  

JONAL ENTRY 1284 | April 24 2013

Then Joseph could not control himself before all those who stood by him; and he cried, "Make every one go out from me." So no one stayed with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. And he wept aloud, so that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it. And Joseph said to his brothers, "I am Joseph; is my father still alive?" But his brothers could not answer him, for they were dismayed at his presence. So Joseph said to his brothers, "Come near to me, I pray you." And they came near. And he said, "I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years; and there are yet five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God; and he has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt.

— from Genesis 45,
from today's lenten Orthodox
lectionary readings

Diary: I promised to return to cultural differences between the United States and the United Kingdom, changing the focus from food to language. But it's hard to leave food in some ways. For example, there seem to be more convenience food items in the stores here than in the states, but maybe it's more a difference in the form they are marketed. Mashed potatoes are available in the cooler section, for example, ready to warm and eat, but I haven't noticed any dried-boxed mashed potatoes (just add water or milk and whip), or even dried scalloped potatoes, which were a staple in my house-mate host Jim Toth's bag of culinary tricks last summer in Pennsylvania. I haven't seen ready to open jarred gravy here, but granulated (dried or freeze dried?) gravy preparations are common.

But pulling myself from the table to discuss language, the biggest difference Americans are likely to notice is that the BBC (and other network) programs scheduled from 9 p.m. on, do not censor or "bleep" any of the "f-bombs," blasphemies, or other obscenities still verboten on American telly. Everything from cop shows to standup comedians doing their bits use such language unflinchingly, and you may have noticed that the FCC is now proposing and starting to allow such usage in the States. I believe that speaking is just a short way ahead of "doing" (if the experience of the western world of the 1970s teaches us anything), so we should be getting hardcore porn over the American airwaves a few years hence. In fact, Brit television shows already have sex acts as graphic as those in R-rated movies, though thus far there seems to be less nudity.

The Republic of Ireland is famous for public (on the street) speech laced with f-bombs, too, but I haven't noticed that here in the more religious north (I'll have to do an entry later about religious cultures here and there, too). Of course I'm not pretending that these reflections are anything beyond anecdotal; others' mileage on these issues is likely to vary widely.

I won't say more about indecent, abusive, or obscene speech but will keep the rest of this discussion to peculiarities in usage. I used "telly" above, one that most Americans have heard before in reference to the "tube," and in London the tube is not the telly but the subway. In like manner, what Californians call freeways are called expressways or Interstates in Pennsylvania and motorways here. Not only do the cars position drivers on the "wrong" side and the highways are designed to drive on the "wrong side" (even German, Swedish, Italian, and French car and highway makers disagree with the English on both of these points) parking on either side of the road in either direction is also generally allowed, as if to totally befuddle drivers.

Does anyone not know that French fries are called "chips" here and potato chips are "crisps"? But I've already devolved to considering food again, so let me retreat quickly. I suspect everyone knows that the American "hood" of the car is the "bonnet" here, and the "trunk" is the "boot." Cars are generally smaller (though some fullsize Jaguars, Mercedes, and others are seen), and though Ford is one of the commonest brands, the Fords here do not look like their model equivalents in the States. VW's are also popular, but they also look different here. Trucks are called "lorries." But though C.S. Lewis seemed to always refer to buses as "omnibuses," bus seems to have entered the British parlance as the more common word now.

Expressions like "half-seven" instead of "7:30" also sound peculiar to American ears, though it's hardly a mystery what it means from first hearing (but both sayings are common here). Celsius is generally used for temperatures, and though inches, feet, and yards were allegedly based on the King of England's knuckle, foot, and arm lengths, the meter has entirely supplanted the yard and its various subdivisions here. My pastor, just over 30, said that being a child of the '80s, he didn't know what "50 degrees" means, to which I told him "7:30" is the Fahrenheit way of saying "half seven."

Though the five and the dime died out here a few years after it did in the U.S., (Woolworths was the biggest on both sides of the Atlantic for generations) and has been succeeded by "pound" stores as five and tens have been succeeded by dollar stores in the States, there still seems to be a wide variety of upscale department stores doing quite well here, thank you, whereas Macy's has taken over the upscale niche almost exclusively in the States.

Walmart, which dominates downscale or discount department store marketing in the United States, is represented here only by a grocery subsidiary, Asda, and I have not yet seen any of those, though on the mainland, they are presumably flourishing (Walmart's experiment in taking over a large German discount department store chain failed). The biggest grocery chain here is a locally born chain named Tesco, which has aisles of non-food items somewhat challenging Walmart. In Ireland—Northern and in the Republic—Dunnes department stores appear to be the equivalent of Sears (though with "soft" goods, not the hardware and appliance departments that Sears were better at before Home Depot and Loews came along). And maybe a half dozen large British department stores, including Marks and Spencer, Debenhams, and Frazer, seem to be doing well here. American close-out specialist T.J. Maxx is positioned here as T.K. Maxx, over against a local rival, Primark.

Whereas large drugstore chains from RiteAid to Walgreens with downscale pricing on most non-drug items are the rule in the States and there is a lot of competition for prescription trade here, too, the most successful drugstore in the U.K. is Boots, which looks more like an upscale department store than a discount one.

And our discussion of language peculiarities seems to have been sidetracked into marketing differences. Commerce has always been a cultural topic of interest to me, though from what source I've never found. I'm sure a reincarnationist would say I must have been a merchant in a previous life . . . and we'll plan to come back to the language differences later.

Today's video clip is related to the topic, a short visit to an indoor mall in downtown Belfast, Castle Court.

Click the > on the video to launch. After the video launches, you can double-click the screen to enlarge it to full-screen. If your browser cannot open the video in Windows Media format, you can try it on YouTube, here.

Scripture: The story of Joseph, one of the patriarchs of Israel and a type of the Savior of mankind, has always been my favorite Old Testament story and Joseph a favorite character. It has the most fully developed "plot" and deeper character development than most other biblical accounts, and Joseph's showing of mercy toward his older brothers, who sold him into slavery because of their envy of the favoritism their father showed toward him, is the Gospel in the Old Testament.

§     §     §

You can check out my overview of my venture in Northern Ireland, check here. My residence/postal address is 227 Crumlin Road, Belfast, Northern Ireland BT14 7DY, UK. Mobile: 07772197118.

Webmaster Jon Kennedy


related pages

The Nanty Glo Home Page

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St. George's Market and a bus ride out of town

Report on latest NTAMHS Meeting

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I live in a semi rural area near Kingman, Ks. Recently, a new neighbor called the local township office to request the removal of the deer crossing sign on our road. The reason: "Too many deer are being hit by cars out here! I don't think this is a good place for them to be crossing anymore."


One's real life is often the life that one does not lead.

— Oscar Wilde, Irish dramatist, novelist, and poet (1854 - 1900)

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