Monday, 8 September 2014

Studying and living with the English

Friday I had a lovely afternoon chat with Chen Mei, MBA candidate for 2014/15 who has been brushing up on her English LINK whilst attending the Royal Holloway pre-sessional and hails from Taiwan.  She was very interested in learning more about UK culture and thus this post is aimed at reflecting on English culture, beyond the stereo types (e.g. fish and chips, London fog) and into some of the harder to access tacit knowledge.  

Chen Mei had read that our number one choice of food is Chinese, I thought it was Indian, with curry being our adopted national dish, thanks to our historic imperial connections with South Asia.  US centric National Geographic LINK suggests roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, which I guess is iconic and a must try experience (you will find sunday roast on the lunch time menus of many pubs and restaurants), whilst suggesting burgers for USA and ignoring the world's most populous country altogether.  

About Food LINK reinforces my view that England's favourite dish has moved away from historically more popular roast beef and fish and chips to embrace Chicken Tikka Masala.  I flagged the fabulous experience of a Sunday lunch visit to Southall in west London to experience India town's (variant of the expression China town ?) excellent and good value for money cuisine.  Our Jain students, who find their religion based vegetarian diet hard to follow in and around Egham, rave about visiting one of the Jain restaurants in Southall.  LINK  

My favourite food is Thai, which is becoming increasingly popular, although recent blog post LINK tells the story of how I can't return to one particular venue in my home village in Sussex.  Pritsana, Royal Holloway MBA 2013/14, was very popular for sharing the outputs of her own excellent Thai cooking, regularly in demand to offer catering for the MBA group social gatherings.  LINK

Our conversation moved on to media and by engaging in culturally grounded popular television can help enormously, not only with language fluency, but also in picking up regional accents (I'm finking (sic) EastEnders (cockney) and Coronation Street (Mancunian) ) and bringing a wider cultural and sub-cultural understanding.  These soap operas (so called because in originating in the 1950's the US popular commercial TV format was often funded by cleaning product advertising spend) are short, content light and easy to follow without necessarily understanding every word, thanks to some bluntly telegraphed visual story telling.  My personal favourite shows include:

(1)  The Great British Bake Off and use imagery to help explain the interactions of the marketing mix in one of my lectures, rivalled only by must see Downton Abbey. 

(2) X Factor for the carefully orchestrated and highly dramatic story telling that is woven into the post production edits, whilst my wife really enjoys BBC1's high kitsch celebrity dance off Strictly Dancing.  

(3) The rest of my family support Manchester City football (my team is Southampton) and we all support Northampton Saints rugby, so we pay a fat Sky premium for live sports channels to catch some of these games. 

(4) Strangely whilst cooking Sunday dinner I enjoy dipping into Countryfile and Antiques Road Show, and finally 

(5)  two US formulaic shows - Glee and Hawaii-5-0.  This LINK flags a number of cult and edgy shows - my latest discovery Cuckoo (BBC3) is missing - but it includes slightly nuts detective Luther, played by Hollywood A lister Idris Elba which I have on DVD and Spooks, a fast moving spy show draws on MI5 as its creative foundation.  

Being a busy hands on dad and hard working academic, I don't find much time for television these days.  

My eldest son doesn't watch TV, like many students who fail to understand the need to purchase a television licence when there is lots of free content on the web using sites such as Vimeo and YouTube.  I also note that most students rarely watch television, perhaps going to a pub to catch a football game, which is at variance to my own student experience.  Our flat (67 Redfern) had a small, CRT colour TV thanks to Randy Mandy, who came from a more affluent background than the rest of us, and we all used to watch the Australian soap Neighbours together (that provided a global platform for the careers of Jason Donovan and Kylie Minogue), which was a strangely cultish thing to do.  Day time TV has developed massively since the late 80's (check out the Jeremy Kyle show), but having been gainfully employed since uni I don't ever get the chance to follow these shows any more.  

The Guardian I have just discovered has a section devoted to TV ratings LINK that makes stories out of the BARB ratings, the market research organisation that tracks actual viewing behaviour in sample households to generate statistically significant national figures.  Relevant and helpful for students interested in learning how to write journalistic stories from fairly dull and predictable data.  Currently the BARB top 5 highlights Bake off, Doctor Who, EastEnders, Coronation Street and New Tricks, but I can only assume that X Factor had not started for that last week in August.  They also offer the top ten show viewing figures by channel LINK which makes for some interesting reading. Come Dine with me is very low brow television that I scorned, but then found strangely addictive.  

Enjoy catching some of these if you are new to UK culture.  

btw - if you live outside UK and are keen on benefitting from UK media output on your computer - subscribing to a UK VPN provider will give you the UK IP address you need to gain access to this content.  

My super colleague in admissions emailed her top show list which includes the following:  The Big Bang Theory (beauty and nerd story), Jerry Springer show (for a laugh) and sometimes some documentaries on Channel 4 ( the weird ones, like My online bride)