Spanish Chronicles: The story of “peasant shoes”

Espadrilles on top of Wires for Soles

Espadrilles – the chic fabric flats/heels with roped soles that have many summers over taken American fashion scene by storm and revolutionized wedged-shoes across the world. While many know these shoes are originally Spanish, few could imagine that in the early 14th century, these soles started out as being the common peasant footwear. 

Antigua Casa Crespo” it reads, with 1881, clearly imprinted on the plaque outside the vintage, wooden doors. I was in Spain, determined to find an espadrilles-maker and here I was standing in front of the most famous and one of the oldest ones in Madrid.

Espadri-what???

*flashback* 

Me: Elisa, I want to go buy espadrilles!
Elisa: Espadri-what???
Me: You know, espadrilles, Spanish people are famous for making them!
 Elisa: *WTF are u talking about look*

Okay, so no one I knew in Madrid had the slightest idea what I was referring to. Espadrilles were just so popular back in the States, and I figured the word must have come from the Spanish – considering the shoes are from there.

Turns out, history has it a bit different than that. In the 14th century, these flats were first recorded as being made in parts of the Basque Country in the south of France and Catalonia. The word “espadrilles” comes from the French word “espadrille“. The root of the word is “espart” which means the wiry type of Mediterranean grass that was used to form the sole of the shoes.

Yet, as production of the worker/peasant footwear grew in popularity across Spain in the next centuries, Spanish people used their own word “alpargatas” – which means a type of wired-sole sandals. Hence, the complete confusion with my Spanish mate :))

Espadri-how???

So then, how exactly, did the Spanish-popularized shoes come to be known internationally under a French/Catalan-originated name?

Sure, you could say, that it was because these shoes were first made in these regions.

But then again,  it was Cas­tañer – a Spanish alpargatas maker established in 1776  that *quote* propelled the shoes into the world of fashion * when he and his wife introduced the “laid-back glamour” shoes to Yves Saint Laurent.

My hypothesis, since I have yet to find anywhere else, why these shoes are not more known as “alpargatas” is that it was introduced to Yves Saint Laurent – and naturally, a Frenchman (and a fashionable, chic one to boot) does what he does best- speak and keep his “français” , if you will.

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Alpagatería Hunt !

*flash forward*

Once Elisa had determined exactly what it was that I wanted, we were off with her 2 friends Elena and Ana to search for this age-old alpargatas maker or alpagatería, where apparently, Queen Sofia and other members of the Spanish Royal Family have regularly visited every summer.

Antigua Casa Crespo” sits on the quiet but chic Calle de Divino Pastor in the Malasaña neighborhood.  The shop has quite the complicated opening times schedule and hence, it wasn’t too big a surprise that we were greeted with closed wooden doors. After all, this was a summer wear, and who was I to expect anything, wearing three layers of coat, standing outside a sandal-maker in the middle of December?

I’m not going to get to see this shop“, I disappointingly thought to myself, when the bold Ana makes a go for it, as she starts ringing the bell. Much to our surprise, minutes later, a man came running down the street, spills out a series of Spanish, disappears through the door, and seconds and a few shackling of wooden panels later, we were inside the charming little shop.

The generous señor who came to our rescue is Maxi Garbayo – the fourth generation of a family that has been making alpargatas since 1836. Maxi’s great grandfather Gregorio Crespo started the alpagatería and with the tradition of children taking their mother’s surname in parts of Spain, the family business went under Maxi’s grandmother maiden name Garbayo.

In the 1970s, Maxi’s father Martin Garbayo introduced a colour-assorted catalogue for his shoes, and created a craze in Madrid, where alpargatas had always been black and white.

Maxi Garbayo

Alpagatería Future?

I hadn’t a clue what Maxi was saying, through his speed-of-lightning Spanish (not that I would understand normal-speed Spanish either *_*), but I could tell from his tiny puff of laughter that he thought I was just this weird Asian in his shop curious about things like how many shoes he makes an hour or where the cords come from.

You’d think a shop made for queens and royals would be way out of your league, but with 6.50 Euro flats and heels at 29 Euros, the shop is quite the quality bargain for anyone looking for handmade espadrilles/alpargatas.

“Business is getting difficult”, Elisa translates Maxi’s words, “I need to keep prices down because Chinese manufacturers are now making these shoes at mass at half the price, sometimes even less. I can’t compete with that” . 

Maxi no longer makes these shoes and neither do his children, they rather only manage the store. One of Maxi’s siblings still make the shoes, with each pair of flats taking around 10 minutes and heels taking several hours to a day.

—————-

Leaving the shop, with my new black alpargatas heels ready for next summer, I start to think that perhaps that was how so many different alpagaterías had died out, purely against the rough competition from cheaper imported counterparts. And yet, at least for this roughly-180-year-old shop, perhaps the  presence of annual royal support and the sheer passion of people for hand-made, traditional espadrilles and alpargatas will keep it going?

Let’s hope so 🙂

Here are more pics of the shop and my Spanish friends! (The pics are not really good quality, since I had only my phone 😦 sorry!)

Plaque in front of Antigua Casa Crespo
Plaque in front of Antigua Casa Crespo
A picture of the original shop in the late 1830s
A picture of the original shop in the late 1830s
Elena, Ana and Elisa inside Antigua Casa Crespo
Elena, Ana and Elisa inside Antigua Casa Crespo
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Spanish Chronicles: Jamón Jamón

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No, it’s not just the 1992 film with sizzling Spanish couple Javier Bardem and Penélope Cruz. It’s thin slices of delicateness tucked neatly within the embrace of a golden, crispy loaf of bread, fanned out across a plate on every other table in tapas bars, wrapped with a bow in your most prized Christmas baskets.

In Spain, it is not just ham, it is a way of life.

Legs in "Panty Hose" - Museo del Jamón
Legs in “Panty Hose” – Museo del Jamón

Legs here, legs there, legs everywhere!

Never had I seen so many legs – hanging on the wall, above the bar, from the ceiling – some naked, some clothed colorfully, others fashioned in “panty hoses” – all pigs’ legs. Anthony Bourdain has after all  once described jamón as being “pornographically delicious“.

Even the name jamón – pronounced like a whispering roar from your throat : “harrrr-mon“, sounds sexy!

If you are ever in Madrid, and are up for a visual as well as a literal feast of the “sexy legs“, make a quick visit to Museo del Jamón. Now Prado, Bosco and Goya can wait, for this is a museum of ham, for crying out loud! – also a chain resto where a lot of the older locals gather to grab a drink and a “bocadillo de jamón” (bread with jamón)  for no more than 2 to 3 euros.

This “museum” features a eat-in section, a bar and also a deli shop, where butchers are ready to cut fresh slices of jamón for you. Lunch hour – 2pm to 4pm – the bar is packed, bustling waves of chits chats and loud crunches of bread and jamón being devoured, vibrate along the walls of ‘legs’. 

(There are plenty more local and small tapas bars with great jamón, at times, free with a drink. Do discover more at Tapas Talk)

Museo del Jamón - in central Madrid
Museo del Jamón – in central Madrid

Jamón: Gourmand or Gourmet? 

The dried, cured legs of ham may be generally renowned worldwide as Spanish ham, but there are a range of different types of Jamón, categorized mainly by the type of pig and also how long the legs are cured for. The two most popular are:

– Jamón Serrano: the every-day GOURMAND cheaper ham, made from Landrace white pig breeds and cured for shorter amounts of time (with the shortest still around 9 months)

– Jamón Ibérico de Bellota: the famous GOURMET expensive ham, made from Iberian black leg (pata negra) pigs.

Why are these black pigs so special, you ask?

+   Well, for starters, each pig is reserved 2 acres of land (London renters, be envious!) for ample free-ranging.
+ They are raised only in unique old-growth oak forest areas of Western Spain
+ They have a special diet of bellotas (acorns), herbs, wild mushrooms and grasses
+ Each pig’s leg is cured for a minimum 2 years before going onto the market

These factors make this type of ham rare and the most expensive in the world, with a 7-kg leg retailing for as much as 1,800 GBP (!!!)

A countryside butchers’

Akin to the differences between a smartly-dressed, chic urbaner and a simple chap from the countryside, the “legs” in the village of Candelario bear a stark simplicity and barrenness in comparison with its well-clothed, Museo del Jamón counterpart.

A step inside this building, and the whiff of cured ham, slams itself up your nostrils and you find yourself in a daze, before making out the hundreds of legs hung one row on top another. The building itself is uniquely designed to feature few, strategically-placed windows to ensure the best curing conditions.

But it is here, where black pigs are brought in and cured for years at a time, the oldest leg possibly in its 16th or 17th year. The taste of a 2-year leg, in all of its chewiness and savoriness, contrasts its bare and greasy appearance.

Bare and Simple - Candellario Jamón de Bellota
Bare and Simple – Candelario Jamón de Bellota

A short ride from Bejar (more than 130 miles NW of Madrid) – where my host family is from, Juan Garcia Gomez butchery might not be from the most famous of jamón regions in Spain, but it certainly was the closest I got to tasting gourmet jamón  – a pack of 12 slices cost 12 Euros (and that’s only the 2-year cured ones)

But I must say, at this very shop, I discovered that I loved Lomo (another type of cured ham) with its subtle blend of chewiness and fat much more than I do Jamón, which I found to be quite intense and gamey on the palate. But of course, it is for each to taste and each to judge…a “tiny” fan of beer, I think I haven’t done the ham justice, in not accompanying it with a pint or two.

Porky Pride

21 million. That’s the number of kilos of Jamón the Spanish consumed in 2009. If my two-week journey proved anything, it was that this dried, cured ham was everywhere, a culinary giant in whom many Spaniards take great pride. 

There was even a national television campaign promoting different qualities and price ranges of jamón in Spain – with the motto: “There is a ham for everyone

 Jamón slicing (here’s a slicer in my late blog on Borough Marketis a profession in many parts of the world and a very well-paid one to boot.

This is not to say that all Spaniards are madly in love with it. Take Elisa – my  Madrileña friend for instance, she hates jamón with a passion.
Enjoy some more pics of Museo del Jamón and the butchers in Candelario!

Butchers in Candellario
Butchers in Candellario
Lomo - Love this more than Jamón!
Lomo – Love this more than Jamón!
Inside Juan Garcia Gomez Butcher's
Inside Juan Garcia Gomez Butcher’s

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The deli shop in Museo del Jamón
The deli shop in Museo del Jamón

[UK] East End – London’s Street Art Hub

What is it that pops into your mind at the mention of : “London” ?

It might be the iconic Big Ben, the Buckingham Palace, the Tower Bridge, the abundant museums, the Thames river, the immobile Queen’s guards, or the many red double-deckers that dot the streets.Quite shamefully, I have yet to truly discover any of these and after 6 weeks of being here, today was the first time, I actually caught a glimpse of Big Ben.

This past weekend, nevertheless, I finally embarked on a touristic attempt : taking a tour. This wasn’t your conventional double decker sight-seeing tour, but an aptly and appealingly named package called “The Alternative London Walking Tour . A 2- hour walk on a pay-what-you-like basis, this tour won’t bring you through the regal city centre  , but instead,  will weave you through the lesser-seen backstreets of London’s East End.

Here boasts one of the most vibrant and diverse street art scenes in the world

It serves as an urban canvas for famous artists like Banksy and Ben Eine. The tour guide (pictured above), a graffiti artist himself, leads our group of 15 through street branches and alleyways off of Brick Lane – the prominent vein of East End.

You might think of street art as the hiphop culture-inspired type of modern graffiti. In Vietnam, I know that many consider it vandalism and the farthest thing from being art. But London’s East End, opening its wall (legally) to the imagination of many, offers so much more than just graffiti and perhaps, even redefines the concept of graffiti altogether. Its walls are plastered with everything from detailed fine-art masterpieces to massive stick figures, using every artistic influences you could possibly think of: spray-paint  cubism, stencil art, …mere scribbles! It is an urban gallery and for me personally, as visually engaging and even at times more exciting than a stroll through an actual museum.

Our artist tour guide noted something very fascinating to me, and that is, East End is an open gallery, in every sense of the word. It’s open to interpretation, it’s open to the simplest to the wildest of ideas, and it’s even open to modification. Once you set your art onto the streets, it’s for the world to ponder on, love, hate and even change.

This neighborhood, the guide shares, owns its bustling and multi-faceted nature to a history dotted with different waves of immigration.The French Huguenots first came in 1650, commencing a lively textile and crafts industry in the area. 200 years later, the industry would be inherited shortly by the Irish and then prominently by Ashkenazi Jews. The end of the World War II era saw the British government opening up its immigration policy as a revival tactic, through which Brick Lane became home to generations of Bangladeshis until now.

Fun fact: Brick Lane is curry capital of the UK, with a total of 52 curry shops on a single street.

The Brick Lane Jamme Masjid mosque on the corner of Fournier Street and Brick Lane is perhaps the most concrete proof of the area’s diverse history, being the only building in the world that has, in its history, been a protestant church, a Wesleyan chapel, a Methodist chapel, a synagogue and now a mosque.

A multi-cultural centre of communities developing and struggling through their settlements in the UK, the streets here in East End, by the 80s amd 90s, had become a space of expression, where generations of people addressed their feelings, discontent or the social challenges they face in society – with the most obvious being issues of racism and discrimination. From being an outlet of social stress, it now has been branded as an artistic venue – where street artists from all over the world, inspired by their urban environments, come to play.

It was an overall visual treat and a tour that, more or less, revealed the backside of London’s portrait – a side less common to the world, you could say. On a side note, it did take place on one of the coldest days I have experienced in London of yet and we had to give up 2/3 of the way after walking  in the painstakingly rainy and humid cold for over an hour.  I’ll save  more on the tour in our next attempt in the spring and also the amazing vintage markets and gastronomical variety in the area for another post. For now, I leave you with some snapshots of East End’s colorful street art. Enjoy!

[Vietnam] A country – NOT a war


My first day of Asian History in a public high school in Washington DC, a pan of the room and I found myself a loner amidst a group of American Caucasians. Considering the content of the course, all attention veered towards the obviously Asian girl across the room, as the teacher asked where I was from. “Vietnam”, I replied, to which the teacher posed to the class “What do we all know about Vietnam?” Hands popped to the air, as 8 proclaimed “Vietnam War”, while one boy enthusiastically shouted “Rambo”, and that was the end of it.

Throughout my next 6 years of living and meeting people in America, I would come to realize that in most minds here, Vietnam is seen no more than the notion of the “Vietnam War”. It’s a historical period so engrained in the memory of Americans and so popular for the anti-war spirit it inspired in American and global youths during the 1960s, that it has become the only perception most people have of Vietnam.

I’ve met people, who, in our second or third conversation, would hesitate before reticently asking me “So, do Vietnamese people still hate Americans?” or stories of veterans, who fear ever coming back to Vietnam not purely because of the revival of traumatic experiences but mostly, because they unconsciously assume that Vietnamese people “are not over it”.

Terminology-wise, first off, Vietnamese people have never referred to the period between 1954 and 1975 as the Vietnam War. It was never our choice to bring war upon us and naming the intentional efforts of the American government to colonize Vietnam – the Vietnam War, to Vietnamese people, is incomprehensible. Given our 1,000 years of rule by the Chinese and 100 years of colonization by the French before, the American invasion would be known simply as the American war.

I don’t blame the general knowledge of Vietnam being limited to the notion of war. We are, after all, a nation shaped by war and resistance, losing generations of Vietnamese to the battlefield while our society, today, is still riddled with unresolved consequences from the war. 37 years after the guns have fallen silent, ordinances and mines still dot our terrain threatening to explode at any minute and children born today live still with congenital disabilities due to the effects of Agent Orange. While the war is an inseparable part of Vietnam’s identity, however,  it is not the whole of it.

Hundreds of years of colonization have taught the Vietnamese to fully embrace their achieved independence and nearly 4 decades have been enough to see the Southeast Asian nation forge ahead first off, economically and more so, mentally past the war.

In sentiments to Americans, when he was alive, my grandfather, a witness to and active citizen in Vietnamese resistance against both the French and American invasion, stressed how many Vietnamese during and more so, after the war understood that it was the then American government and not the American people that their generation was fighting. While Vietnamese people may hold resentment towards the war, and what it took away and left behind in its course of destruction, I believe I speak for many when I say, we don’t hold a grudge towards the US as a nation and certainly not as a people. Let me take half a step back on my word to also note that there is no divide between black and white here, we must understand that even though it was a war between Vietnamese and Americans, there were Vietnamese on the side of Americans and Americans supporting the cause of the Vietnamese.  That grey area alone offers space for many questions and analysis into how the war was perceived then and even now. The opinion provided here is therefore, my general prospective on Vietnam today.

There are the Americans who fought endlessly against the American war in Vietnam, actively so in the series of protests iconic of the 1960s. There are then are untold stories of American youths who came to Vietnam to volunteer and even American veterans who only realized the war’s lack of purpose when their fingers hovered over the trigger on the battlefront. Vietnamese people receive their stories and sentiments with an open mind and hospitality.

I won’t go into how the economic growth has affected Vietnam, the perks and downsides are 100 posts in themselves, but it has certainly changed the face of Vietnam – a nation constantly struggling to balance the concept of communism, which had pulled it through the war, with its aspirations now to compete with its capitalist counterparts in becoming an economically-thriving country. You could say, Vietnamese society like any other modern society has a range of multi-faceted issues to face with, everything ranging from rising petrol prices, to motorbike congestion, to support to the shrinking rurality, to your everyday tabloid story about celebrities showing too much skin. It has so much to look forward to and so much to deal with rather than hold itself in a standstill to lament the war. This is not to say it should neglect working upon resolving the aforementioned consequences of war.

The S-shaped nation is also a beautiful one, a melting pot of cultures with its 53 ethnic groups and call me biased, but it has one of the best cuisines in the world.  Vietnam is imbued with history and culture. It stands at a crossroad between the old and new, the oriental and occidental, tradition and innovation, it aspires to grow, it struggles to face with daily national and regional challenges, it is in its own right, a country, NOT a war.

PS: this was from a short exercise this afternoon in class – very much not well analysed, sorry 😦

[UK] 4th week in London – Of Blogging and British Weather

A spin of my earlier blogs on this site and you will have learned a bit or so about the nature of my blogging habits – frequently sporadic (total irony, that pairing of words) and full of rants. With each new adventure, each turning around life’s little corners, I promised myself that I would record it to justice, somehow stretch the excitement and memories of those experiences well beyond the boundaries of my own mind. And of course, life got in the way or more so my laziness, and vulnerability to useless distractions.

Would London be any different? It does certainly promise higher prospects considering I’m being monitored by my course on personal blog updates. And yes, I haven’t blogged for 9 days, I promise I’ll make up for it. But beyond the mandatory nature of it all, I simply hope to live up to my desire of capturing this one year, as often as possible. That said, being in a journalism course renders you more aware of what you’re writing and you can’t help but think that everything you’re professing, click-clacking away on the keyboard is being more scrutinized. And so, the already procrastination-ridden me, adding the increased self-consciousness levels do not make it exactly as easy and carefree to “Publish Post” as it had been before. It’s all part of the learning process and a challenge that I gladly welcome and accept.

I also blame it all on the weather – the “bloody” capricious state of the British weather- yes it’s the scapegoat for my laziness ^^ and my helpless need to mutter “I’m exhausted” every 20′ either in my head or out loud . But honestly, make up your mind already, will ya? You were practically radiating sunshine, warmth and glory just now, and a breeze and two minutes later, you turn into this little monster, spewing out   cold gushes of wind and depressing rain, casting this eery, shadow of gloominess on us all.

You could tell that at least on one occasion, I’ve sprinted out in a t-shirt and jeans, fully ready to embrace a sun-filled day, only to come home at the end of the day, trembling, with enough water in my shoes to house 2 goldfish.No news in that, another rant about British weather, I know. Only 50 people had convinced me before I even left Vietnam that I should expect all of this and yet, there I was, still naive enough to reckon against the engrained spirit of the British weather.

It’s exciting nevertheless, this struggle to prepare for 4 seasons each and every morning, as I stick my hand out the window, trying to more and less predict the unpredictable. I’ve so far overdressed the past two days and found myself akin to being smothered out of breath in a bear suit sitting on the tube with my down feather, puffy jacket. The umbrella has become a regular resident of my bag, as has the scarf. All of my shoes have failed on me, in my amazing ability to step into every puddle I past by *_*.  So, my next quest will be purchasing a good pair of wellingtons or wellies – rain boots, if you will. And yes, a total face-palmer this one, but I will actually follow up on weather forecasts *Duh!*

4th week running! No part-time job yet , have yet to but will get to writing about car boot and Cambridge visit. Gotta get through with the initial big assignments first this week. Wish me luck!

[UK] Borough Market – London’s Attack on the Tastebuds

Freshly Made Bread and the Wheels of Cheese

A smokey whiff of cajun weaves its way through the crowd of people in front and, instinctively and quite unconsciously, despite your view being blocked, you follow it. Soon enough, you hear the hiss – a hiss that only fresh meat sizzling on a grill could make, and you start to take your first gulp, images of the most delectable, honey-hued cajun chicken like a mirage in your mind. Your pace quickens , your appetite heightens, your eyes widen as there before you, stands a man, never mind who he is, your attention races to his hand, as he offers you a free try of that which has enticed at least 3 of your 5 senses for the past 5 minutes. A tiny yet succulent and rewarding cube of cajun roasted chicken to start you off in what is possibly the gastronomical heaven of London’s Borough Market!

Considered London’s best of food markets, Borough is within walking distance of London Bridge station, tucked nicely next to the Southwark Cathedral, bordering the Thames River. The market spans over a number of sections,  walking through which would take you under these brick-laid railway arches. A few steps from the market and you would be on the river bank, within minutes from Tate Modern, looking over to the panoramic view of London that includes the Millenium Bridge and St.Paul’s Museum.

You could possibly tell, I fell in love with this market at first sight, sound and taste! Yet, the initial, satisfying welcome  would do little to prepare me for the journey deeper inside, as colors and aromas begin to tingle every sense, to the point that my knees start shaking in confusion and excitement of not knowing where to head first. There are over 100 different stalls here, offering everything from a range of UK’s most loved delicacies like freshly baked, golden brown pork pies, Lancashire hotpot or cottage pies to landmark dishes from across Europe and the globe, Turkish delights, Thai green curry, Portuguese custards, Spanish paella, or French raclettes, just to name a few. For the shallow-pocket students, one stroll around the market and your tummy will have been initially satisfied with the range of samples the shops hand out…try not to make the 2nd or 3rd stroll without reaching for your wallet though, as you may get “it’s the ‘eat- and- never- buy’ pack of poor students again”-stares from the stallholders (spoken shamefully… from experience *_*)

The readily-prepared delights of the market might seem easily the best part of it, yet you’ve only scraped the tip of this culinary iceberg. What makes this market stand out is the fact that most of the stallholders are themselves, the people who produce, grow and rear the products they’re selling. Borough, in essence, is the perfect cross between your favorite weekend farmers’ market and an exciting food festival. Freshness and craft are key and shine through as you walk through the lush green of the vegetable area, the aromatic crisp-brown of the bread section or as you sample 20 different types of freshly made jams.And my favorite, the cheese section! – everything from intense bits of roquefort, to wheels of artisan cheese, the diameter of …well yes, a car’s wheel, actually.

The butchers’ corner might be a bit startling for those accustomed to seeing meat only in its fillet supermarket-packaged form, with full pig’s heads, dead hares and fowls hanging about. Freshness, alright :D. I remember just standing in mesmerization of a stallholder meticulously carving for jamon serrano from a pig’s full limb  perched upon a steel-constructed hostler,  as I came to appreciate the care and craft these producers put into their food.  Here is a space where food becomes more than just a commodity, food becomes art, food becomes beautiful and food becomes celebrated.

Digging a bit further, and I’ve come to find that the roots of this market dates back to 1014, when being right off a river source, the London Bridge became a hub of produce trading. A market was found around the 13th century, and after Parliament cleared it out in the late 18th century, producers and growers in the surrounding Southwark area revived it into what it is today – the only fully independent market of London. It’s a true community effort in the making – with stallholders still contributing today to local food-related events and any of the surplus from the market going to the food bank of the London Borough of Southwark. A market, you could say, but beyond that is culture, history and the coming together of an entire community – absolutely fascinating and for everyone out there, foodie at heart or not, a destination not to be missed when visiting London!

Source: Borough Market’s Main Website

(Check for opening times on this site as well! )

Enjoy my “Snap It!”s around Borough!

A map of Borough Market
Panoramic view from Borough Market’s side of the River
Olive Salads and Spanish Paella
Yummy delights from the Borough Market!
Portuguese sweets!
A smoke-free market, and a snap of the veggie section!
Butcher’s – Fresh, Indeed!
Poor Hares and Fowls – Jamon Serrano shop

[UK] Getting the terms straight

* UNITED KINGDOM or ENGLAND or GREAT BRITAIN or BRITAIN?

Now to some, all of this will seem quite obvious, but frankly, this has never occurred to me until I’ve set foot here. I’ve heard all of these terms used interchangeably to refer to the country here, and to some point, it just got quite confusing. Credits to not paying attention in high school European history *_*. Anyhoo, here’s the lowdown, and may this engrave itself on the back of my brain somewhere:

United Kingdom or UK: short for the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.  This is the only correct name to call the country or sovereign state that is the UK. It emphasizes the coming together as a nation of: England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The southern part of the island of Ireland, as we know, is separately, the Republic of Ireland.

England:, therefore, is 1 out of the 4 main regions of the UK, not a country in itself.

Great Britain: the fact that it is part of the legit term states it’s not the whole of the internationally recognized country. Great Britain comprises of England, Scotland and Wales. It can be understood more of a geographical term referring to the main territory of the UK.

Britain: This dates back to the Roman ages, to include only England and Wales.

* ENGLISH or BRITISH?

My Hanoi-based friend from London preferably refers to himself as a “Brit” or “British”, citing the usage of “English” as somewhat “white-exclusive” and to some point, even “discriminatory”. My Portuguese landlady, however, has referred to her sons-in-law from different parts of the country as English men. But from the geographical lowdown above, to call someone “English” would mean he’s solely from England. And since England is not a country, it would be incorrect to say “English citizenship or nationality”. Calling people from the UK “English people” would also be excluding Welsh, Irish as well as Scottish people, whereas the term “British” encompasses all of these. In the national spirit of the UK, people proudly call themselves “Brits”. In the more regional spirit with some begging to differ that perhaps, their region should even become an entirely separately country, they’ll refer to themselves as English, Irish, Welsh or Scottish respectively.

As a professor has put it down quite bluntly for us yesterday, people of this land are “mongrels to the purest”. “England was invaded by the Anglo-Saxons, and then the Vikings, and then the French Normans”, he said.  “It’d be absurd to think anyone was still ‘English’ in this part of the world”. It becomes quite the interesting psychological, social and political case now how people choose to use these different terms. Definitely a note-down for anyone new to the UK.

In other updates, I’ve almost completed my first week of being here in London, settling in quite well and just loving the vibe. I arrived right in time for enrollment, so it’s been straight into classes (well, intro classes for that matter) since Monday, doing 6-hour lectures everyday. It’s been a rather intense opening, to be honest, sitting in class the whole day, but I’m warming up to the pressure. For one thing, I’m required to keep my blog updated for my course – a savior to my sporadically given attention to the blogosphere.

TGIF! I’m going to Brighton today. Toodles!