The British are the most class-conscious of peoples. Everyone is placed in a social pecking order from the dustman to duke. Birth and breeding count. Breeding relates to education. The bestâ is provided by the public schools, really expensive private schools. Accent, dress, and manner tend to place everyone on the social scale. The English hardly know where to place Americans except that they respond well enough to those traveling first class and stopping at expensive hotels.
Bona fide English food is not known for its gourmet appeal. Some of the food combinations startle the American visitor: eggs over spaghetti or over French fries, baked bean sandwiches. On the other hand, some local dishes are memorable: the fresh fish, lobster and crab from Cornwall or Devon, for example. The fish and chips are addictive. Roast beef and Yorkshire pudding fit the American palate. The clotted cream on fresh fruit makes one a believer. The English specialize in candy and biscuits (cookies), hence the large number of false teeth. On a cold day it is Shepherd’s pie or steak and kidney pie.
Beer lovers love the English pub, a social institution as well as a bar. Emigrants from England have been known to return simply over nostalgia for the genuine pub, more than sixty-six thousand strong throughout Britain. Each pub has its own following, and most have colorful names. White Horse, Punch and Judy, Black Friar, and Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese are samples. More than one thousand brands of beer are sold; a few pubs brew their own beers.
Britain’s beer vocabulary is much more extensive than ours just as the French food lexicon is incomparably richer in subtleties. Basic beer is made from malted barley (grain allowed to germinate), hops for flavor, yeast and water. During seven days of fermentation the yeast turns the sugars into alcohol and carbon dioxide. The pintâ ordered in a pub is called ale in America. In Britain it is bitter beer. Indeed some of it is much too bitter for the American taste. Porter, stout and extra stout are the most bitter varieties. Ireland’s famous bitter ale, Guiness, takes a few years of dedicated drinking to really enjoy.
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