Saturday, December 5, 2009

Thanksgiving Leftovers

I don't really have a post this week (very busy times for all of us, you know) so I thought I'd take advantage of this down time to throw up a hodgepodge of items I had on my list but never got around to writing about.

(You can take "throw up" as a metaphor if you like, but I will try to make this as tasteful as the traditional "First Week of December Turkey Casserole" at the very least.)

Currently, I am engaging in another time-honored holiday tradition called "Waiting in Line at the Post Office." I arrived just after they opened but the queue was already out the door; the only good thing about that was it has, briefly, stopped raining.  So while we're here, let's talk about some unconnected trivia:

Ah, the power of my web site! After my last post, more lights have begun appearing around the town—not many, but a few. The black hole that was the Bishopric now has festive lights strung in the trees so it no longer looks like this:

but now looks like this:

How much effort and expense could that have taken? No more than half an hour and £6.00 at Poundland. Yet they had to be shamed into it by my previous blog post. (I know they must have read it and been spurred into action by justifiable guilt; what other explanation could there be?)

In other news, no one here seems to know what 1,000,000,000 is called.

Traditionally, a British billion is a million millions, or 1,000,000,000,000, which is a US trillion. Granted, this is falling out of fashion but it was the standard until a few years ago. However, no one has been able to tell me what increment comes after the American million. If it's not ‘billion,’ then what is it?

My boss, who was a math teacher in a former life, couldn't tell me, so I went to the bank and asked, "Hi, I'm Trish, How Can I Help," but she puzzled over the query and had to retreat to the back room to consult with her mates while the queue stretched out behind me and I apologetically explained that I hadn't meant to take so long, I was only doing it for a joke. (Now you see why my wife doesn't like to come into town with me.)

Eventually, I'm Here To Help Trish returned with the pronouncement:

1,000,000 = Million
1,000,000,000 = Billion
1,000,000,000,000 = Trillion

I thanked her and, in order to keep the queue from turning in to a lynch mob, left without pointing out that the combined knowledge of the entire bank staff was patently wrong. My next stop was Waterstones Book Shop and the Oxford English Dictionary, which unequivocally states that 1,000,000,000,000 is a British Billion, though it does note this is falling out of favor (or, favour, if you will).

It did not, however, tell me what 1,000,000,000 was, and further confused matters by telling me that a British trillion is actually 1,000,000,000,000,000,000, or "a million, million, million."

So what do they call a proper quadrillion? The mystery deepens.

And finally, British clothing is pants. (For those of you light on the lingo, "pants" is a mild insult, as in, "having to work on Thanksgiving Day is pants!") Anyway, I've been on a quest for pants, or underwear, lately because, frankly, the ones I brought over with me nearly eight years ago are starting to show their age. I've tried British Home Stores and several brands from Marks and Spencer but, with one notable exception, they were all, well, pants.

The BHS line fell apart after a few washings, as did one M&S line. One of M&S lines, however, wore well and was every bit as snug and comfy as my traditional fruit-of-the-looms. (If any of you are beginning to suffer from Too Much Information syndrome, I invite you to move along. I won't be insulted, honest; I wouldn't want to hear about your underwear, either.)

American underwear after 7 years

British pants after 7 months

The problem is, I can't find the 'good' line again. I've looked in every M&S I have been in and even wrote down the make, model and serial number for comparison and still cannot find any. They say, "Better to have loved and lost," but I would prefer not having found any good pants than knowing there are perfect pants out there somewhere, hiding from me.

Another fashion anomaly involves shirts:

US Shirt

UK Shirt

Enough said.

British shirts do not come with sleeve sizes. You get a neck size and just deal with it. This makes me look somewhat silly when my cuffs stick out 6 inches from my suit coat sleeves, so one day I came up with what I thought was an ingenious solution: I put rubber bands around my arms just above my elbows to hold the sleeves at their proper length.

This worked well enough, and back at home when I removed my suit jacket, I expected my wife to look at the rubber bands and exclaim what a great idea they were. Instead she just looked puzzled and asked, "Why didn't you borrow mine?"

Apparently, croupier-style arm garters are standard apparel here in Britain. I now do borrow her pair (I had seen them before, I just thought they were some sort of bracelet) and I have to say it is really cool dressing like a Wild West bartender. All I need is the vest and the handlebar moustache.

The queue has moved a bit. I'm nearly inside now and should be out of here in time for lunch. This, you see, is another British tradition—a Christmas queue filled with people mailing packages all over the world and the only time they can do it is between nine and noon on Saturday morning and the Royal Mail sees to it there are never more than two tellers on duty at one time.

Traditions: what would Christmas be without them?

Seriously, if this is true, why are they bragging about it;
why not make the service less complex and confusing instead?


  1. I was one of a collection of women standing outside the post office waiting for it to open this morning.

    Also, don't buy pants from Sainsbury's, because they're pants.

  2. Those long long postal queues... I have found a tiny little village post office (one of the few remaining) in the next village over that hardly ever has a queue and this is the first place Ive mentioned it because I dont want any one else to know!!

    Oh and that billion, trillion thing always bugged me as well. Wish you had an answer then I would!

    Pants. I know what its like to find a favourite something and then not be able to replace it, thats me with shoes usually. Good luck with the search there!!

  3. The sleeves on shirts are too long because you're supposed to cuff them, if I can say so as a female who does not have to deal with these rituals. On the brighter side, there are many more cufflinks here than in the US and that seems to be associated with the cuffed shirts. Score!

  4. Purest: Thnaks for the tip!

    Michelloui: I used to have access to little village post offices both here and near where I worked but the government shut them down. Now I have no choice but to stand in the queue with everyone else who has to stand in the queue because they now have no local post office.

    NFAH: Cuffed? I have no idea what that means. I have seen the shirts that do require cufflinks and I think they are very classy but I just can't be arsed these days to both with sleeve jewelry. I do believe the shirts I buy are just meant to be worn without any additional preparation. They are just not as concerned about sleeve length here as in The States.

  5. i always thought a billion was a million, million. (all those 0's gave me a headache) but then i'm english too so whadda i know? anyway chances are i'm never going to have to worry about it... unless im behind you in the bank!
    re your underpants. the ones that lasted 7 years. what in god's name are they made of? teflon? those other ones of 7 months? well all i can say is what my mother used to say, you might be run over by a bus. make sure you've got good underwar on.

  6. underwar? underwear.

  7. Without divulging too much personal information, I too have been a quest to replace 'pants'. I fail to understand why companies feel the need to change perfectly good products just to be new!
    I finally ordered some online last night that seem to be the same style as I had before.

    Perhaps you could order some of the US pants online? If they last 7 years, it would be worth it!

  8. Nigel7:25 PM

    I never go to the main post office, the queue is always too long. I always go to a local one, but never first thing in the morning or on a Monday. Lunch time is usually the best time, but watch out some small ones close on Wednesday pm.

    As to pants, if you have the model number and serial numbers of the ones from M & S why not see if you can order them from the store, they even do mail order I believ now!


  9. Clippy: So it really does go like this:
    1,000,000 = a million
    1,000,000,000 = a million million?
    1,000,000,000,000 = a billion?
    And you would say, for 4,237,873,342 four million million, two hundred and thirty seven million, eight hundred and seventy three thousand, three hundred and forty two?

    Linda and Nigel: yes, on-line seems the way to go. But I always feel that, if you're ordering undergarments on-line, they should be the kind that come in a plain brown wrapper; tightie-whities are just so, so unexciting.

    Asta: No Post Office in Sweden? Where do you pick up your pension checks?

  10. Post Office trauma is universal. I went on Saturday to a humongous queue and paid $128 to send 3 parcels to the UK. Ba Humbug!
    I would offer to send you a few USA Hanes undies but my husband goes through them like wildfire. Just today I threw a par away covered in little holes but I think that has to do with the fiddling men get up to!

  11. Pam: Stopping by the Post Office today on my way to work for one last thing. I'll probably be lucky to get to work by noon.

  12. What do you call 1,000,000,000 depends on where and when you were educated. If it was the USA then that is called one billion, if the UK before 1974 then it's one thousand million, if after 1974 then it's one billion. All is explained in .
    I will not use this opportunity to rant on about the creeping americanisation of the UK though.

  13. Thanks, Chip2nd! Now I finally have the answer: they call it a 'millard' and a 'trillard.' I can finally sleep at night ;)