Confusing the Locals.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

1. Smiling and saying hello to strangers.

I never thought I was that friendly until I moved here, because I pale in comparison to a lot of Southerners back home. I don't see the harm in saying hello to the person I'm next to on the bus or chatting up the barista behind the counter, while most Brits do their best to avoid any and all eye contact - heaven forbid if you manage to lock eyes with someone on the tube.

2. Wanting to leave everyone, everywhere a nice tip.

Tipping etiquette in the UK is a far cry from what is is across the pond and I am constantly red-faced confused in most places. In the US most waiters don't even receive minimum wage so their entire paycheck relies on tips and it's extremely rude not to leave one, unlike here where they make a normal wage an only expect a tip (10-12%) for great service. When I tell people that the norm back home is to tip 18% at restaurants, their eyes go all googly-eyed in shock. Each place and situation has it's own unofficial set of guidelines, so I've learned that the best bet to avoid offending anyone is just to simply ask.

3. Saying "y'all"

Pretty self-explanatory. This is met with a lot of eyebrow raising and asking where I come from.

4. Hugging.

I never have any idea how to greet or say goodbye to people. I try to follow along with what everyone else is doing, but the first time my friends from France greeted me with cheek kisses ("bisous?"), I jumped back about 10 feet in pure fear. My friends from the UK have ranged from hugs, side-hugs, handshakes, and cheek kisses - but just one cheek. My French friends do both...but FOUR for family...what?! Ain't nobody got time for that. I still never know what to expect and will probably be awkwardly high-fiving people forever.

5. Wanting to take home leftovers.

Although not unheard of, taking a doggy bag of your leftover food is not that common here. Some restaurants flat out don't have the option, especially nice sit-down ones. However, the portion sizes here are a bit more reasonable than back home (looking at you, Cheesecake Factory) so you're less likely to have several meals worth of food leftover. I guess the idea of leaving somewhere like the Ritz with a styrofoam box in tow would be a little tacky.

6. Eating quickly.

Without exception, no matter the meal, I scarf down my food and am out the door faster than everyone around me. Brits tend to savor their meals more, taking hours for tea or a nice Sunday lunch. Waiters usually won't bring your bill until you ask for it or until it's very clear that you are done eating - my friend explained to me that they think it comes off as rude or trying to rush you out of the door to bring you the bill early. One time I was at Pizza Express with a small handful of friends and the hostess awkwardly told us that they needed our table back in 3 hours for a party. Does anyone actually take 3 hours to eat pizza?  Other than Thanksgiving or special occasions, I can't think of any meals back home where we sit for hours!

Pancakes 'n Pampering.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Shrove Tuesday, more commonly known as Pancake Day, fell during Sara's time back in the UK. (We promise we have other friends but ya'know...friends who blog together, stay together?) It's basically the UK version of Fat Tuesday, but with less beads and more Nutella. The origin behind the holiday is that folks used to shovel all sugary bits out of their cabinets on this day, to prepare for the upcoming lent season. They would then make pancakes (the thin, crepe-versions, not American-style) and fill 'em up with everything they pulled which they wouldn't be able to eat in the following weeks.

In addition to wanting to stuff our faces with mounds of pancakes, we were both in need of a little nearing-the-end-of-winter TLC. I don't think I'm alone when January is over, my mind immediately jumps a season to spring, even with February looming its great gloomy clouds above us. Months of no sun, no shaving, and shoving your lotion to the back of your cabinet takes its toll, and few things make me feel better than having my hair transformed from its Mufasa-like state.

We booked appointments at my favorite hair salon this side of the pond - Melanie Giles, and moseyed our way to Bath for the afternoon. I've also recently realized that I've never actually posted about Bath here on the 'ol blog, but it's an easy 10-minute train journey from Bristol and a great place to spend the day. It definitely has more tourists than Bristol with the Ancient Roman Baths and Jane Austen flair, but is easier to conquer on foot and you can enjoy the sights of the hillside country mansions in the distance while standing in the city centre.

We picked up a pair of crepes to-go from a creperie in central Bath after my favorite crepe stand in Bristol was sadly overwhelmed with Pancake Day orders and was running over an hour behind. They were tasty enough to eat considering we devoured them in minutes, but weren't quite pretty enough to warrant a picture.

There are three branches of Mel Giles salons in the South West and I've only been to the Bath location, but it's one of the cutest salons with the loveliest staff along with some of the best service I've received...ever. Finding a new hairdresser can be a traumatizing experience (I've had my fair few) and this was a huge relief to stumble upon last year.


After a few dreamy hours of flipping through magazines and sipping minty tea, Sara left the salon several inches lighter with a new hue, and I had fluffy, bouncy curls that I wish I could recreate at home along with a fresh coat of paint for my desperately unpleasant-looking nails.

Feeling like human beings again, we took advantage of the sunny weather and good hair day. We tromped around the city, wandering around back gardens and parks, perusing the beauty aisles in the shopping district and being enablers for each other - "Yes, you NEED that lipstick. WHO knows when that foundation shade will be in stock again?! This eyeshadow was practically MADE for you!!"

The name of this plant made me chuckle.

This was the point when I accepted that I will never be one of those people who looks like they dropped off a runway and into a blog. Socially awkward photo-takers, unite.

The best part of being in a tourist town? Getting to play tourist. Have American accent, will jump into red telephone box.

What did y'all get up to on Fat Tuesday/Pancake Day? Team sweet or savoury?

Or better yet, any horror stories from trying to find a new hair salon?

My Favorite Coffee Spots in Bristol.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

I don't think I'm terribly hard to please when it comes to coffee. I don't know the difference between a Kenyan or Colombian roast or how to work a french press. Although I'm satisfied with my instant coffee at home, I do like branching out every once in a while and give myself a morning treat. Bristol has a great coffee and cafe culture, with an almost overwhelming amount of options. As the months have gone by, I've collected a handful of favorites - some strictly for the coffee, others nudging their way in with their treats, free Wifi even tacks on a few points.

Goes without saying that I have NOT been to every coffee shop or cafe in the city, so if you are screaming at your screen that I'm missing the pinnacle of Bristol cafes, do let me know. It's a marathon, not a sprint!

1. Boston Tea Party

One of my weekly stops, Boston Tea Party has multiple locations around Bristol as well as dotted around South West England. The original is smack dab on Park St. and is a local and student favorite for their multiple seating options (downstairs, two large upstairs rooms, and a back garden when the weather is nice) and all day breakfasts. I opt for their plain black filter coffee or a flat white if I want something a bit sweeter.

Bonus: Free Wifi (password upstairs & downstairs - look on the wall) + stamp cards for hot drinks.

2. Small St. Espresso

Another Sara recommendation that took me way too long to try. Wedged on a street in the old city but hidden away from the hubbub of Cabot Circus, this tiny shop features exposed brick and industrial decor along with arguably the best flat white in the city. The baristas ask you questions about what type of coffee or bean you prefer, without a hint of pretentiousness.

Bonus: Their treats are from Hart's Bakery - saving me a 20 minute bus ride for the best almond croissant ever.

3. The Bristolian

Supposedly home to one of the best full English breakfasts in Bristol - which I'll have to, uhh...research... This cozy cafe exudes warmth, with cushy chairs, well-loved books strewn about, and even a stand alone shelf with board games. It's the perfect place to refuel if you want to go exploring the shops and street art of Stokes Croft.

Bonus: Unpretentious food and service in a part of town that I don't always feel cool enough to be in + vegetarian options + free Wifi (ask for password)

4. Friska

Perfect for a break between uni classes, this relaxed cafe includes a shop with vintage clothing and vinyl records upstairs. Their coffee comes from local roasters in Clifton and serve lunch as well.

Bonus: Free Wifi (password at the bar)

5. Hart's Bakery

The furthest away from me but well worth the bus fare or walk, the coffee, staff, and pastries here are just legendary. Situated in a large, almost warehouse-like environment, the bread is stacked on shelves and the bakers are buzzing around the ovens behind the counter. It's a bit chaotic in the mornings, but in the best way possible. Seating options are slim and you'll be at cafeteria style rectangular tables, maybe nudging elbows with your neighbor, but it's worth it.

Bonus: The pastries speak for themselves and are my personal incentive to get to the train station extra early. It's that good. Don't take a trip to/from Bristol without filling up here first!

6. The Crepe & Coffee Cabin

Blink and you'll miss this robin's egg blue shack nestled on Prince Bridge. I haven't frequented this place much recently as the seating is essentially a pair of bar chairs on the inside and two bistro tables parked outside the entrance, so it's more suited for sunny days to sit and watch the boats float along the river, or for coffee on the go. They have a short and simple coffee menu and a dangerously long list of crepe options (even though they'll honestly do any combo you want). When I bit into my sweet crepe on my first visit, it was so good that I worried a little about my incoming coffee - sometimes places sacrifice quality of one for the other, yeah? Not in this case.

Bonus: They do some seriously Instagram-worthy latte art. Would you like a Banksy mural in your mug?


Do you have a favorite local cafe in your city?

Foreign Flubs #5

Monday, February 16, 2015

The other day after nearly getting sideswiped by a bus (LOOK RIGHT FIRST, ELLE), I realized that my last Foreign Flubs post was allllll the way back in November. Ideas for these posts are increasingly harder to think of, which means I'm really starting to get the swing of life as a Brit...or at least am succeeding at faking it.

1. America gets a bad rap for extreme commercialization when it comes to holidays, but I have to say England takes the cake. Christmas showed up in the shops the last week of September and my local Waitrose had an entire aisle dedicated to Easter ready two weeks ago. Restaurants advertise bookings for Mother's Day, Pancake Day kiosks are set up at every food shop (on the plus side, Nutella is on sale right now), and the colors of the flower stands change with the season. I'm not complaining through, pass me the limited edition Malteaster Bunny! Just don't tell anyone I didn't really care for the Cadbury Creme Eggs, although it may be due to the recent chaos that unfolded...

2. Coming to terms with the crushing reality of living on an island and the fact that most things have to be shipped to stores in the UK from overseas. My favorite Clinique moisturizer that I've used for nearly 8 years? About $20 more expensive here with the exchange rate. Owwie.

3. The Brits love a points system card. I feel like my mother now, because my wallet (or purse if you're a local) is now bursting with loyalty cards. I was organizing them while Facetiming my mom the other day and she got a chuckle out of my stack. Every place I shop at just has a great incentive program! My wallet is now home to to cards from Boots, Space NK, Waitrose, Nandos, and the Body Shop. Ya'know, just the necessities...

4. Along with the shopping theme, something we take for granted in the states are stores like Target, Wal-Mart, Sam's Club, etc. where you can knock out just about everything you need, and then some (looking at you, Target). Here, I have to go to a grocery store for food, somewhere else for toiletries, somewhere else for home-ware, somewhere else for clothing, you get the drift. To boot, only one random American candy speciality store (walls lined with Pop-Tarts and marshmallow fluff) carries my beloved Hershey's Syrup for making chocolate milk; cash-only, and 5 pounds a bottle. Zing.

5. Although this year's Superbowl has been and gone, I was amazed at the number of people here who stayed up to watch it. The game didn't start until 10:30 pm here, so I opted for a highlight reel the next day. Also, unless you found a live stream online, the networks here don't show the commercials thanks to a bunch of advertising law conflicts and media corporation cross overs. I'm not really a big NFL fan, so I don't feel like I missed much. It did rekindle my love for Missy Elliot though.

6. Speaking of sports, what I HAVE been watching is rugby with the Six Nations Tournament going on. Who'da thunk it? I'm slowly getting the hang of the rules thanks to my friends - but I secretly still think it looks like a mashup of American football and soccer. It's particularly entertaining how the game carries on even if a player is hurt or bleeding profusely. Go on England! (Bonus: Foreign sporting chants are great)

7. It's finally start getting darker later - no more 3pm sunsets and I am THRILLED. I am always a fan of longer days.

Bristol is home to some pretty great street art. I'm obsessed with #21 on that list, it really does look like that in real life!

My "Me Too" Person.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

This is a post I never really wanted to publish. I typed it grinning through my teeth, trying to inject the right amount of humor and sappy-ness.

It's been sitting under "drafts" for over a month now.

Waiting for a certain someone to write a certain post.

After weeks of being careful with my words and tweets, trying not to let the cat out of the bag about a secret that wasn't mine to tell.

Here we go.

This could be incredibly dull to anyone who doesn't know Sara, but I think anyone who has lived abroad or has simply moved away from home or friends will find something in here they relate to. Saying goodbye, or see you later, sucks. There isn't a more poetic or appropriate word I can find that sums up the feeling. Saying goodbye to your family sucks when you leave, saying goodbye to your friends not knowing the next time you'll see each other sucks, giving your dog a quick hug because you know if you hold on any longer and let her lick your face, you probably won't leave.

In these bitter moments, I try to think of that quote from Winnie the Pooh. The one about being lucky to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.

So this post is dedicated to Sara, not only why she is awesome - because she is, but why she graduated from being my comfort blanket, to a truly wonderful friend, to someone who makes saying goodbye hard all within less than a year. Let's retrace our steps here...

Once upon a time...

Elle (that's me) was excited and anxious because she decided that she was going to move halfway across the world by herself and do grad school in England. Elle, being a person of the internet and an over planner, searched Twitter feeds and every page of Google possible in order to learn about this new place she would be moving to. One day, she saw a tweet about a Texan blogger named Sara who was attending Bristol. "Hey that's funny," Elle said, "I'm also a Texan who will be attending Bristol." Elle then proceeded to...technical term...cyber stalk this Sara person and see what she was all about. Upon finding her blog, her Twitter, her Instagram and her personal Facebook within 20 minutes, Elle decided to do the ultimate creepy move and email her. She discovered that not only were they both Texans: their hometowns were less than two hours away from each other, they attended the same undergrad university, both participated in Greek life at said university, Elle had sat next to Sara's younger sister in a class, they were born a month apart, and they had a few mutual friends on Facebook. Elle sent the email in hopes of a response and some answers to her pressing questions ("Do they wear backpacks there?!?!?!")

Over the next 5 months, Sara patiently answered a stream of questions from Elle, even more crucial than the backpack question if you can believe it. Since they were both Texans and whatnot, they agreed that when Elle arrived in Bristol, they would meet up in real life and so Elle could stop emailing Sara.

One sunny England afternoon, they met in person (Elle noting that Sara is even smaller in real life) for tea at what soon became their regular meet up, The Tea Birds and the rest is what we like to call "history." 

Meeting people in person you've only talked to online can go horribly wrong - like blind dates or Tinder. But this was anything but horrible. It was like I had known this person for my entire life. I wanted to shake whoever is in charge of fate and demand why this friend was just now coming around.

Now that you know a little bit about how our friendship came to be, it's my turn to write directly to Sara. Because I'm not that eloquent at speaking, especially when I have that icky feeling of sadness in my stomach - so I'm probably going to be blubbering and emit nothing more than remarks about how you better send me queso when you depart for the states after graduation.

So Sara, thank you for responding to all my crazy-lady emails.

For always being down for tea and a 3-hour chat.

Introducing me to some of my favorite spots in the city, like the Tea Birds, Boston Tea Party, the Old Duke, and St. Nick's Market. 

Teaching me how to do scary things, like learn the bus system.

For sharing many, if not all, of my guilty pleasures.

Having the same itch to explore as I do, even if it means waking up before dawn and catching a ferry to an island for a few hours, just because we want to see it. 

...and celebrating these daycations with a cocktail or two.

Laughing at mishaps like getting stranded in a city by ourselves (I'm talking to you, Sandown)

And finding humor in the all other times when transportation wasn't on our side.

Coming to the conclusion that we will never be good at selfies, so it's best just to trade off cameras. 

Frolicking through Hogwarts with me and embracing being a nerd.

Scavenging the aisles of Boots together, and having in-depth conversations about lipstick formulas.

Loving coffee. GOOD coffee.

Accidentally twinning.

Being my only friend who loves Skins. Even if we can't figure out which one is Cassie's bench for sure

"Doing it for the Insta"

Understanding the ups and downs of being an expat. 

Acting as my personal historian when I don't feel like reading a tourist pamphlet.

Making my first Thanksgiving away from home actually fun and accomplishing cooking a feast together with our bare hands.

For not asking why I had a folder called "Sara" on my desktop when you used my laptop...which I'm 99% sure you saw when you were checking your flight. (PS - It was pictures for this post)

Sharing the thrill out of taking pictures of just about anything.

Saying "yes" to the unknown. And to cheese, saying yes to cheese

Showing me places I didn't even know existed.

Dreaming about moving to tiny English villages to grow old in.

Laughing, albeit feeling a little cheated, at the fact that we lived in the same city for nearly 4 years and didn't meet until now. 

Never frowning, even when I know you were kicking and screaming on the inside. 

Because ASD;LKJSDFJ you tried everything. I know you did. 

And for being my sanity during this massive life change for me, as I hope I was for you. 

I know you're going to miss England, but best believe England is going to be missing you.

Latest Instagrams

Disqus for

© What the Elle. Design by Fearne.