Tuesday, August 12, 2008

What's new pussycat (wo-oo-oh-oo-oh-oo)..

So what hit me as "new" or "different" on this last trip to the UK?

- Well, my paid-up, unexpired credit cards were refused on more than one occasion (usually in Tesco) because I don't have chip and pin. I didn't even know what the sales assistant was talking about the first time my card was handed back to me, I just made sure she said it really loudly so that the people queueing behind me would know I wasn't about to be hauled off to debtors' prison. In the US, your card is usually handed back to you before you've even signed anything, so I don't think the added security of chips and pins is going to make an appearance any time soon.

- It's a hands-down win for the UK as far as ordering and paying for meals is concerned. Having said that, the length of time it actually takes someone to come to your table at all is still just that bit too long, especially when you don't even have a glass of water plonked down in front of you. (Do I sound like a whining American tourist or what?) Anyway, I was most impressed with the hand-held device used to take orders. The waiters even read back our order just to make sure it was correct - now that's progress. What's even more impressive is that when you hand over your card to pay it's all taken care of right before your eyes - the card is inserted into the device and your payment goes through. No more hanging around waiting for your card to be returned. Well done. (And they aren't all bent out of shape about chips and pins either.)

- The TA option on the car radio comes in very handy, especially given the traffic problems everywhere we went. (TA presumably means "traffic announcements", and if you're listening to a national station like BBC Radio 2 with Steve Wright in the afternoon, the local radio station will interrupt whenever there's a problem to share.) Now this is great in theory, but if you're lost in the memory of "Seasons in the Sun" (or whatever golden oldie Radio 2 is playing) it can come as a bit of a shock when the local area DJ, usually much louder, breaks in over the air waves. It also tended to happen when I was in full vocal throttle, warbling along to a real tear-jerker, forcing me to choose between continued bliss or a potential two hour traffic jam.

- And what the hell's happened to crisp bag colour-coding? In my day Salt 'n Vinegar was always, I mean always, blue and Cheese 'n Onion was green. Given that any flavoured crisps are a novelty in the US unless you count sour cream and onion, I allowed my kids to guzzle British crisps to their hearts' content. Unfortunately, when making the purchases, muscle memory kicked in and I inevitably ended up handing out Cheese 'n Onion (in blue bags) to a disgusted flock in the back seat who were all craving Salt "n Vinegar. I mean, what are the crisp marketing people thinking of? Salt and Vinegar (I mean "n" Vinegar) just conjures up blue sea water doesn't it? Well, the salt part at least. Cheese can be moldy, which is green - ergo, green packets. Harrumph! I will have to write in and get the powers that be to correct this before my next trip back.

Lots more to write about but I'm not good at blogging on ad infinitum without boring everyone to tears. More next time.


  1. Oh dear, you've been away too long! Ever since Walkers established the crisp monopoly (and Golden Wonder disappeared from whence they came), blue has become the cheese and onion colour. You do get occasional renegades, but blue is very much the colour of choice.

    What's worse is here in the US, Frito Lay (which owns Walkers, and has the same bag designs) puts its 'Classic' (Ready Salted, to you and me) crisps in a yellow bag....breaking the immutable law that yellow is for roast chicken flavour crisps only. Now THAT can lead to upset, I can tell you.

  2. I think my problem is I've been dieting for way too long. I can't even remember when I bought a packet of crisps for myself. And now that I have three kids, I let them eat a lot more rubbish than I used to - especially on long car journeys.

    Sorry about my 'lapse' on your blog. That guy comes across to me as a complete to**er!

  3. If you travel all the way to England, at least be crispy "exotic" and buy pickled onion monster munch!
    I'm going home soon and plan to devour as many as my belly will allow.

  4. No, no. I must be a crisp snob, or a bore to some people, but it's usually salt 'n vinegar for me. Actually, they have started to do Pringles in S & V here, but if it's a choice between a tube of Pringles and a glass of Pinot Grigio, you can probably guess where my calories go.

  5. My favourite Walkers crisps were always Prawn Cocktail. I hope the packet's still pink? I would ofcourse have made the exact same mistake with the cheese & onion/salt'n'vinegar situation.

    The credit card payment at the restaurant table gaget is something I miss from Europe. In this country of high credit card fraud, who in their right mind lets a waiter wander off with their credit card? All of us ofcourse, because the system here is so ancient that it doesn't let us do otherwise even if we do know better!

  6. Do they have Marmite there? And no, you never bore me!

  7. How sad is this, when we were in Britain in February, I bought an extra suitcase at Marks and Sparks, to put Easter Eggs and Crisps into. So even though the treats were super cheap, the extra 25 pounds I had to pay for the suitcase, made them expensive treats.............however we needed a new suitcase so it wasn't a waste.

    I must be too "Canadianized" as I much prefer Canadian chips to British crisps now.


  8. Kat - Ugh - prawn cocktail. Far too complicated a taste to get into one crisp. A bit like those swwet n' sour, or (god forbid) lamb and mint sauce as I remember. Does my head in.

    David - likewise (on the non-boring bit that is.) You can get Marmite fairly easily here now, (not that anyone else eats it) but what you can't get are marmite favoured crackers. Yum!

    Gill - the trick is to have lots of guests and when they ask if they can bring anything, well.....

  9. Swwet and sour - sounds even worse!

  10. I'm fairly certain the color-coding of crisps hasn't changed since I've been here, but I can feel your pain. If I had grown up associating certain colors with certain favors (colour, flavour?) I would be most upset if they suddenly changed it.

    In a comedy sketch I saw the other night, a guy come out of a coma after 20 years and the only news they could think to tell him was that Marathon Bars were now called Snickers. So messing about with snack food is, apparently, not on.

  11. Smoky bacon crisps were one of my first discoveries here. Next was ginger beer. And then there were the fabulous Pret duck wraps. And Bounty chocolate bars.

    And I could go on and on...

    It's fun to hear your comments on coming back home to the UK. Every time I go back to Houston, I'm disappointed that everything hasn't remained EXACTLY the same while I've been away. I guess I thought life would just stop for Houstonians on the 23rd of December 2002!


  12. Travelling is so educational, isn't it? ;-)

    I do miss my tall glass of water with meals (especially seeing how much drinks cost here!). At least, here in Vienna, your coffee comes with a glass of water, and it is refilled as often as you ask for it.

    Those hand-held devices are used in Austrian restaurants too, speeds communication between waiter and kitchen quite a bit. Austrians restaurants often refuse any plastic cards, and ask for cash. Quite annoying!

    Those traffic updates coming up suddenly, oh yes, seem to be a European fad. More than once I almost jumped the lane (oh well, I have not forgotten the one time when a commercial on WGMS radio in Washington DC almost shook me into the wrong lane, when it suddenly came on the air with a loud blow of a horn).

    I came over from David's,
    and enjoyed the visit! Thank you.

  13. At least the weather here stays the same... rain, rain and more rain!

  14. I'm over from Authorblog to say congrats on Post of the Day.

    How long have you been away from the UK, chip and pin has been around for a long time?


    Seriously - Walkers buggered about with the crisp colours years ago.

    I thought chip and pin was just a French thing - then it arrived in Britain and the debit card chip-and-pin at most American stores seems much the same.

  16. Been away since 1990 although back at least once a year. I think my lack of crisp knowledge definitely stems from the "forbidden food" thing as I never eat them myself.
    Funny, my Mastercard debit card NEVER worked in the UK as a debit card. Most annoying.

  17. Great post. I'd say you need to visit more often as I need to do with your site. Well done.

  18. The most annoying thing with credit/debit cards being used abroad is that you now have to give your card company an itinerary of your trip. If not...they cancel them as soon as you use them! John Cleese fell foul of this recently...so even the mighty are not exempt. I was never a crisp or a Marmite girl...always preferred KitKats myself....

  19. Chip & pin is supposed to be foolproof but now the crooks have found a way round it, according to yesterday's news.
    We have have rain of Biblical proportions over the last week. Absolutely fed up with it.

  20. Great post EPM, and I totally agree with you on the colour coding of crisps. I've lived here all my life (no time off for good behaviour yet, though who knows what the future holds?), and I STILL get confused.

    And I loved you previous post too, btw. Particularly as this morning I was woken at 4.30am by Boy #1 calling repeatedly from his room: "Mummy! Mummy! Mummy!" until I went in there. I stumbled in, not yet awake, and asked what the problem was. "Where were you?" he replied. "Asleep - as you had better be in 5 minutes, my sweet..."

  21. Chip and Pin sounds like a double-act to me. Like Ant and Dec. Chip would be the American ("We named him Chip, like Chip off the Old Block, ha ha, it was either that or Chuck W Junior") and Pin would be the Brit (sounds all prim and proper, neat as a new pin, or perhaps it's the association with Pinstrip).

    And yes, re crisp packets. Obviously cheese and onion is green (cheese is green, as you say, and spring onions are green too).

  22. Um, that was meant to be Pinstripe, obviously, not Pinstrip.

  23. HI EPM, just catching up after far too long an absence. You have been busy!! I thought chip and pin came from the USA!!! Silly me. M :-)

  24. oooh, i you have made me crave a bag of walkers salt and vinegar crips. French crips are awful - thankfully. Have to watch the old waistline these days, and like you I prefer to use my calories up on wine.


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