Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Little Differences

Remember that bit in Pulp Fiction where John Travolta is talking to Samuel L. Jackson about the "little differences" between America and Europe, like how they put mayonaise on French fries and you can get a beer in the movie theatres in Amsterdam? Here are a few of the little differences between the States and the UK:

It's autumn now (but we call it "fall" cos it's the time when stuff falls from the trees), and there are horse chestnuts all over the ground. In the UK, they're called "conkers," and they're bigger and heavier than our American variety. Conker tournaments are an old pastime, and one is still held in October on Hampstead Heath. Kids poke a hole in the chestnut and tie a string to it, and then try to smash their mates' conkers with theirs. The last conker hanging on a string wins.

The snail population of the UK is out of control. They are everywhere, and people whinge about how they crawl all over their garden and eat their plants. I told my mate Maggie that we didn't have snails like these in Massachusetts, and she offered to give me some from her garden to bring home. I declined. The ones in this picture are casting their long shadows on a gravestone at St Mary's Old Church in Stoke Newington.

Stinging nettles grow wherever the ground has been disturbed by humans, and graveyards are prime places to find them. These are in Abney Park Cemetery. The leaves have hundreds of tiny hairs on them -- if your skin comes in contact with the hairs, it will sting something wicked. Fortunately, nature has provided a handy antidote -- a plant called dock often grows where stinging nettles are found (but there's none in this picture). You can soothe the sting by crushing the dock leaves and rubbing them on your burning skin.

Of course, there are many other differences -- like French fries are "chips" and potato chips are "crisps" -- but we all get conked on the head just the same when stuff falls from the trees. Happy autumn, mates!

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  1. Hi, I had the misfortune of walking through some stinging nettle while birdwatching in Valley Forge. I don't know about another plant being an antidote, but wading in cool creek helped. I just assumed it was a native plant here, but obviously not. Did someone actually bring it over from Britain?

  2. maggie jones12:46 PM

    We also have too many slugs, (snails that don't carry their home on their backs). Do you have slugs? Do you want me to send you some?
    You gave us gray squirrals that are not as cute as our red ones, which I think is a fair exchange for stinging nettles.
    The offer for the snails still stands if you change your mind.