In the Kitchen-Cultural Clashes in Britain

copyright Amy Yi-Mei Chen, 2008

Our kitchen was a battleground for all things British and American. It was

where the eight of us converged every day: four Brits, four Americans, some hung

over, and all hungry.

At first we tripped over each other, literally. Too many people, not enough

space. Our two tiny fridges and freezers couldn’t handle all of our groceries at

once. Eventually we learned to cook in shifts and alternate shopping days. Things

continued to get easier as we Americans began to adopt British habits. We started

drinking tea in copious amounts, fascinated by the swirls we could make on the

surface by adding milk. It never took long to boil the kettle, but it was always a

challenge to remember who took what kind of milk (0.1 percent skimmed, 1.7

percent semi-skimmed or 3.6 percent whole), not to mention who liked sugar and

how much. Even more confusing was when “tea” became more than just the

beverage but also what the Brits called dinner.

Just when buying non-refrigerated eggs became almost normal for us

Americans, we were confronted with the wrath of our British flat-mates for our

failure to purchase free-range products. “Think of the chickens in the cages,” they

told us in their Leeds or Durham accents. (Not to be confused, they always

insisted, with accents from any other regions.) The guilt, we decided, wasn’t worth

the 50 pence we might have saved otherwise.

The cultural differences that surfaced in our kitchen didn’t all revolve

around food. Over tea, I once questioned a British flat-mate as to why Brits

pronounced the letter “Z” as “zede.” “Because we invented the language!” she

haughtily replied. “It’s you who says it wrong.” We Americans were confronted

with similar outrage when questioning our British roommates as to why French

fries were called “chips” and potato chips “crisps.” As the year progressed, I found

it was often better to quietly accept such differences.

Whether gossiping, arguing or just shooting the breeze, life essentially

revolved around our kitchen, complete with its stacks of dirty dishes and arrays of

empty wine bottles. As with all communal living situations, we endured our share

of conflicts and accidents, which often resulted in broken cups or shattered rice

cooker lids. But hey, it could have been worse. At least we had our own


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