Becoming an Expat



The Craziest Christmas Nonsense at Lakeland

craziest christmas nonsense at LakelandChristmas! A time of goodwill, gift-giving, copious buying, and baking. I especially love that last bit, and I’ve been known to wander through Lakeland (as close to Williams Sonoma as I’ve found over here), admiring cake pans and trying very hard to talk myself out of more foolish purchases. But every now and then, Lakeland offers up something so utterly stupid, even I can’t help but laugh and mock them. And because it’s Christmastime, they’ve got LOADS of bizarre things on offer. Behold: the craziest Christmas nonsense at Lakeland. Let’s have a look and a laugh, shall we?

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Thoughts on the Indy Ref

800px-Flag_of_Scotland.svgJust over a week ago, I received a lovely gift in the mail: my voting card, which meant I was able to go vote in Thursday’s independence referendum. And I was stoked to vote. I haven’t been that excited to vote since my first presidential election. This was a big deal with serious ramifications for my life, my husband’s life, and our son’s life, and with the polls as close as they were, it really felt like every last vote made a difference. I crossed my ballot and really felt like I’d made some sort of difference.

We woke on Friday morning to find out the polls were right: the country leaned ‘no’, but just barely. A staggering voter turnout resulted in a 45-55 split. If this were a US presidential election, the Supreme Court justices would have immediately begun pulling on their robes and rolling their eyes while campaign staffers on both sides squinted at each and every ballot. But it wasn’t like that here. Each side accepted the result with good grace (though Alex Salmond’s sudden departure suggests the SNP wasn’t quite so accepting behind the scenes. And I’m sure Cameron and a few others down in Westminster had to change their shorts before going in front of the cameras do deliver the usual ‘well fought, well fought’ patter.), although I’ve heard talk of at least one clash in Glasgow, one of only two cities to firmly go Yes. But although it seems like everyone’s acting like grownups here, there’s no denying there’s some work to be done. Nearly half the country is right now ranging from disappointed to outright enraged or oddly freaked out (I’ve actually seen Yes supporters on Facebook talk about how ‘terrified’ they are right now). Many Yes voters, who already hated to current Westminster government, are now even more resentful of what they view as Westminster’s scaremongering tactics, which they doubtless attribute the loss to. Never mind that many of the points the No campaign, Cameron, and business leaders were making were legitimate concerns regarding currency, pensions, relocating nuclear weapons, and the complexity and cost involved in setting up an independent nation. Anti-English sentiment has always featured rather heavily north of the border. It’s going to take some doing to bring things back to an even keel.

But although Scotland is going to remain part of the UK, the nationalists haven’t been defeated, not really. The Yes side’s unexpected popularity gave Westminster a serious kick in the ass. It woke people up to the realisation that Scotland was not happy with the status quo, and more needed to be done. And, in a panic, Cameron promised new powers to Scotland that fall a bit short of devo max (which should have been on the ballot in the first place, but two years ago Cameron was so cockily certain of victory he refused to put it on there. That’ll teach him.) but give Scotland more control over setting income tax and controlling certain benefits. This particular Hail Mary has already caused some consternation south of the border, with some politicians protesting over the unfairness of Scottish MPs at Westminster having a say in these matters in England, whereas English MPs can no longer do the same in Scotland, and the Welsh starting to agitate for similar control in Wales. Leader of the House of Commons William Hague in in charge of sorting out the details, and a draft plan of the implementation of the reforms is due on 25 January (Burns Night). Many are wary that Westminster will renege on the deal or water the powers down to almost nothingness, but honestly (and bear in mind, I’m not a political expert by any means, so this is purely me speculating) I think they’d be hard-pressed to do that without risking setting off another independence battle up here, and one they could very well lose on another round. You can only kick someone so long before they turn on you, and they already just barely managed to hold the union together.

So that’s the state of things here. Nothing much has changed in daily life, other than all the ‘yes’ posters suddenly disappearing from windows. But like I said, there’s work to be done, and now all eyes are on Westminster, just daring them to try and screw Scotland over. The ball’s in your court, Mr Cameron. Don’t fumble. We throw hammers and giant tree trunks for fun up here. You want us on your side.

What to Expect When You’re Expecting (in the UK)

stork signAs those who regularly follow this blog know, Mr Anglophile and I recently welcomed Little Anglophile, who, of course, is the perfectest little’un ever to make guest appearances on a non-parenting blog. Becoming a parent is a crazy thing, both during the leadup and the aftermath, but luckily here in the UK, we have a lot of support to make that transition as smooth as possible. For anyone curious about what it’s like to start a family here in the old country, here’s what to expect when you’re expecting a little Brit.

Antenatal Care

Unless you’re having a complicated pregnancy that requires specialist care, you’ll be looked after by midwives all the way through your pregnancy and delivery. Your first appointment is called the ‘booking-in’ appointment. The midwife (you may see the same one for all your appointments or bounce between different midwives at the same practice) will take all the pertinent info on your and your partner’s health, as well as some family history, and carry out some routine checks, like taking your blood pressure and drawing blood to test iron levels and such. Once you’re in the system, you’ll be scheduled for your first scan after 12 weeks. For that, you typically have to go to a hospital or other centre where they actually do ultrasounds. At the first scan, they’ll give you an official due date, and if you choose to run the tests for Down’s Syndrome, they’ll do that during this appointment as well, mailing you the results a week or so later. You’ll have another scan—the rather frighteningly named anomaly scan—around 20 weeks, when your baby will be checked for issues like spina bifida. You can also find out the sex, if you choose. If your pregnancy is progressing normally, these are the only two scans you’ll have. If you want more, there are private clinics you can visit, but you’ll have to pay out of pocket (usually a couple hundred quid, from what I hear).

If you’re having your first baby, you’ll have around 10 midwife appointments (if you’ve already had one without any complications and this pregnancy is progressing normally, you’ll have fewer appointments). Appointments are scheduled more frequently as your due date nears (about every week to 10 days close to the end), and as things progress, the midwife will measure your bump and check the baby’s heartbeat.

In your last couple of months, your midwife will tell you about NHS-provided antenatal classes, which are brilliant for a couple of reasons. One, they’re run by midwives, so they’re a great opportunity to get some questions answered. Two, they’re the perfect place to meet other local parents. I still meet up with some of the other mums from our antenatal class. And in case you’re worried about having to burn vacation or personal time on all these appointments, fear not: employers have to give you the time off to attend antenatal appointments and classes, penalty-free.

Maternity Leave

At some point, obviously, you’re going to have to let your employer know that you’ll be taking time off to nurture the next generation, and that’s when you’ll start planning your maternity leave. As someone coming from the US, this was a seriously eye-opening time for me. You’re entitled to up to a year off work after you have a baby, and many women take the full time. I don’t know anyone who’s taking less than six months. By law, you have to take off at least two weeks. Dads are also entitled to two weeks off, though that’s typically unpaid. The laws are changing to allow parents to share the leave, if mum wants (or needs) to return to work and dad wants to take a few months off to be the full-time parent at home. During most, or possibly all, of your maternity leave, you’ll be paid in some way. The organisation I work for offers an enhanced maternity leave which pays full salary the first few weeks, then switches to either half pay or statutory maternity pay for most of the rest of the leave. There are only a few weeks at the very end of the leave during which I’ll be receiving no pay, so it’s a pretty sweet deal overall. Companies that don’t operate like this offer statutory maternity pay, which is 90% of your pre-tax pay for the first six weeks, then £138.18 or 90% of your pay for the next 33 weeks (whichever amount is lower).

As an added bonus, even though you’re taking time off work, you still accumulate your vacation days for the year. You can then either tack those onto your leave (so you get another few weeks of leave, at full pay) or you can make them part of the leave itself, so you have fewer weeks of pay-free maternity leave.

Giving Birth

I’m not going to lie: there’s a bit of social pressure to go natural with childbirth here, so that’s the route a lot of us choose to go, if possible (I don’t think anyone in our antenatal class admitted to planning on getting an epidural, though surely some ended up going that route in the end). When it comes to giving birth, you have a couple of choices: you can give birth at home, with the assistance of a community midwife; go to a midwife-led unit in or near your local hospital (the Lothian Birth Centre, in my case); or, if you are having any medical interventions like a c-section or epidural, the nearest hospital maternity unit. Obviously it’s an entirely personal choice, but I can say from experience that they do all they can to make the birth centres the most attractive option in the hospital. This is what the rooms at my birth centre look like:

birthing centre

No joke, they all had lovely giant tubs, pull-out sofa beds, flat-screen tvs, birth balls, giant private bathrooms, the works. The midwives there were also trained in aromatherapy, which was nice and all, but didn’t seem to make much difference for me. If you go the natural route, your pain-relief options include the birthing pool (which helps a lot more than you think it will), gas and air (useless for me, but I hear others liked it), the aforementioned aromatherapy, and a morphine shot, which was awesome right around labour hour 50. The midwives at Lothian were brilliant, though I do recall bickering with mine over the lighting levels (I wanted it bright, she was inclined to turn the lights down). Just make sure you stand firm if you feel really passionately about something, ask all the questions you want, and make your partner your advocate, because at a certain point you’re not really going to be in the best shape to be speaking up for yourself.

I should mention that before you go into labour, you’re usually encouraged to write up a birth plan. Definitely do it, if for no other reason than it gives you and your partner a chance to really think about what this is going to be like and how you’d ideally like to see it go. But accept the fact that at some point, the plan is likely to go off the rails. You may decide you need more pain relief, or something might happen that necessitates further medical intervention. Don’t get too attached to the plan and get upset if you have to deviate from it.

Also: bring snacks. And reading material. You need to keep your strength up. I recommend trail mix and nuts, and maybe something starchy like pretzels or rice cakes in case you need something to settle your stomach. As for the reading material—you’ll have some lulls to fill every once in a while. Reading aloud is something you can get your partner to do. Which reminds me: give your partner things to do. Obviously they’ll be holding your hand or whatever through contractions (hopefully, anyway), but in between times, they can sometimes feel a little helpless. I put my husband in charge of music (I obsessively made both a soothing and a motivating playlist, which both got some great use) and had him reading aloud to distract me.

After Delivery

You’ve had your baby, congratulations! If you’re home, you’re probably going to just relax in bed or wherever. If you’re in hospital, you’ll be moved to a recovery ward. In my hospital, it was a tiny ward with four beds in it, all curtained off for privacy, and a communal table in the middle where we could have meals and frequent snacks of tea and toast brought round by the midwives (which seemed so amazingly British to me. I’m pretty sure from now till the end of time, the taste of toasted white bread spread with Flora buttery will remind me of having my son). The ward is staffed by midwives, as you can imagine, and they’re constantly circulating to help you out and provide advice, which is particularly great in those early days of breastfeeding (which is hard, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!) Each midwife has a different trick to share, so take advantage of that, it’ll help! And no question is too silly, ask away!

Once you’re discharged, you’ll have a day or two at home to regroup before one of the community midwives comes around to give you and your baby a checkup. Yes, that’s right, they come to you. Does anyone in the US do that anymore? The midwives typically come around periodically over the next 10 days to make sure everyone’s doing ok, that you’re healing up and baby’s eating well and putting on weight. You can have them come as often or as little as you like. If all is well, the midwives will then be replaced by a health visitor, who similarly will come by to weigh the baby and make sure mum is doing well both physically and mentally. If everyone’s healthy and happy, the visits will taper off and you can start attending weekly free clinics in your neighbourhood. There, you can weigh your baby and ask staff nurses any questions you may have. And meet with other parents, which is important.

Astonishingly (to me) every last bit of care I received was completely free. No copays, no hospital bill to deal with at the end. And I absolutely can’t fault any of the care. Socialised medicine is actually pretty brilliant.

Breastfeeding

As I mentioned before, breastfeeding is hard. Yes, it’s natural, but it’s also a skill both you and the baby need to learn, which is why the midwives in the hospital are so helpful. After you leave the hospital, the visiting midwives and health visitors can help you out with issues you might be having, and if they can’t help, there are free breastfeeding clinics you can go to, where experts can give you advice and ease your fears. For me, the most helpful thing was to keep reminding myself to stay calm and not immediately get frustrated if it took him a little while to latch on or whatever. If you get all tense and upset, the baby will too, and that’ll just make things harder for both of you.

Out and About

It’s great spending tons of time with your little one, but you do want to get out of the house at some point, so definitely look into things you can do with him or her. Ask other mums you know about classes and activities in your area—in some areas you’ll actually find plenty of free things you can take your baby to, like yoga or playgroups. In others, you may have to pay a couple of pounds for these. Some cinemas (in the cities, at least) also offer baby-and-carer viewings of the latest films, so you can go see X-Men without feeling badly if your baby starts crying in the middle of it (the Odeon near me does a particularly good baby cinema—they come around to your seat to take concessions orders and then give you biscuits before the show starts!). Local libraries also run biweekly Bookbug (Scotland)/Bookstart (rest of the UK) sessions for babies and toddlers, which are basically music and rhyme time and are totally free (the Bookbug and Bookstart programmes also gift free books to all babies and small children in the UK, which is pretty awesome). If you can’t find any classes you want to take, get in touch with some of the other parents from your antenatal class or get together with friends who have had kids. It’s enormously helpful to be able to chat with others who are or have recently been in the same boat as you. It can ease fears and provide a lot of answers to questions or concerns you might have.

Scottish Sunrise

To anyone who complains about the weather here, take a gander at the view I got from my bedroom window this morning:

rainbow

That gloriousness is what the rain-one-minute-sun-the-next climate here gets you. A beautiful morning surprise.

Happy Sunday!

Crafty Christmas: Wee Stocking Garland

The thing with being a knitter is, eventually, you’ll find yourself with all these little bits of yarn that aren’t enough for a full-scale project. So, you have to find itty bitty projects for them instead. The charm of the itty bitties is that they’re just so darn cute you want to keep making them, and they come together so fast (I was able to churn one of these out in the time it took to watch an episode of Revenge) that you can crank out a lot of them in a pretty short period. I thought, at first, that I’d be making little ornaments for the tree, but as stocking after stocking came out, I thought, ‘hey, why not make a garland for the mantelpiece?’

And that’s just what I ended up with:

Cute, huh? And pretty simple, too, especially for those who already know a bit about making socks. I got the pattern out of a book called Socks, Socks, Socks, and it can be easily adapted to other needle sizes and use whatever colours you have on hand. Have fun!

Wee Stockings Garland

Tools
1 set of 4 size 1 (US) double point needles
lace yarn or a couple of strands of a 4-ply sportweight yarn in the colours of your choice

Leg: Cast on 20 stitches and divide between 3 needles. Work K1P1 rib for 3 rounds, then switch to stocking stitch. Knit 15 rounds.

Heel: Slip 1st 10 stitches of the next row onto 1 needle, set other 10 stitches aside. Working only with the stitches on needle 1, work as follows: (RS) *Sl 1 K1; repeat from * (WS) Sl1, purl across row. Repeat these two rows until a total of 11 rows have been worked.

Turn Heel: Continue on 1st 10 stitches, starting with a WS row. P5, p2 together, p1. Turn work. Sl1, k1, ssk, k1. Turn work. Sl 1, p2, p2tog, p1. Turn work. Sl 1, k3, ssk, k1. 6 stitches remain. Do not turn.

With a spare needle, pick up and knit 4 stitches along the side of the heel and slip them to the first double-point needle. Knit 10 stitches across the instep of the stocking and hold on a second needle. Pick up and knit 4 stitches along the other side of the heel, then knit 3 heel stitches. There are 24 stitches total, and the beginning of the round is at the centre of the heel.

On the first needle, knit to the last 2 stitches, k2tog, knit across 2nd needle, ssk the first two stitches on 3rd needle, k to end of round. Work 1 round even, then repeat the decrease round. Repeat these two rounds until a total of 16 stitches remain.

Work foot even until it measures 1 1/2″ from back of heel.

Toe: Slip 1 stitch from the beginning of needle 2 to needle 1; slip 1 stitch from the end of needle 2 to needle 3. There are now 8 stitches on needle two and 4 each on needles 1 and 3. On first needle, knit to last 2 stitches, k2tog; on 2nd needle, ssk, k to last 2 stitches, k2tog. On 3rd needle, ssk, k to end. Work 1 round even. Repeat these two rounds until 8 stitches remain. Break yarn and graft stitches together.

When you’re done all your little stockings, cut a length of yarn or thin ribbon the length you’d like and string them on, knotting to keep them in place. Hang and let everyone admire your handiwork!

Things You Won’t See in the States

300px-Red_Public_Phone_Boxes_-_Covent_Garden,_London,_England_-_Thursday_September_Thirteenth_2007The U.S. and the U.K. share a lot of things–a common language (mostly), part of a shared history, slang, music and entertainment, most large companies. But then there are moments where you see something you never saw stateside, and you realize you’re in a totally different place now. Things like:

Someone unicycling up Inverleith Terrace in the morning (not that there probably aren’t people unicycling in cities in the U.S., but I’ve never seen one

Roomy cabs driven by people who aren’t on the phone all the time

Bagpipers playing the Star Wars theme and We Will Rock You (you’d be surprised how well both those songs work on the bagpipe)

Cheap candies all flavoured with actual fruit

Wellies as fashion statements, even on sunny days

Clotted cream ice cream from Devon

Actual castles in the middle of bustling towns and cities

A man in a sweatshirt, work boots, and a khaki kilt just chilling with friends at a pub

Red phone boxes that people are fiercely proud of and will actually protect

Major museums with free admission (and by that I mean–all the major museums are free)

Pudding bowls for sale in every cookery store

Heated towel racks in every residential bathroom

Teeny tiny combination washer/dryers in your flat

This is an incomplete list I’m sure I’ll be adding to, but in the meantime, feel free to add your suggestions in the comments.

And just in case you didn’t believe what I said about We Will Rock You working on the bagpipes…

Places to Eat: Number One at the Balmoral

number1Yesterday was husby’s birthday, and birthdays and other special occasions mean a night out at a good restaurant. On the recommendation of my chiropractor (man, how yuppie does that sound?) I secured a reservation at Number One at the Balmoral.

I’ll have to thank Stuart when I see him next.

The Michelin-starred restaurant did not let us down in any way. The moment we walked in we were cheerfully greeted and taken to our table, where bottled water was already chilling. Food-wise, you have two options: either do the Chef’s Tasting menu for 70 pounds or order a three-course meal a la carte for 64. We chose the a la carte option because there were dishes on that I was dying to try. I also ordered a lovely glass of Pinot from the wine list, which is extensive if you’re getting wine by the bottle but a bit limited when you’re just going by the glass. Oh well. We settled down, soothed by the cozy atmosphere and Billie Holiday music and waited for the meal to begin.

First up: a trio of, I suppose, pre-amuse bouches, all of which were light, delicate, and lovely. Then came the actual amuse bouche, which was a tiny fritter in a light veloute. Well done on the fritter, which could easily have been heavy and greasy but thankfully wasn’t. Nobody wants a grease bomb hitting their stomach before a three-course meal.

I opted for the foie gras starter, which was served with a gingerbread biscuit and peaches–an intriguing combination that worked beautifully. The acidity of the peaches helped cut the richness of the foie (which was cooked to crisp-outside, melting-inside perfection) and the warming gingerbread contributed spices that always pair nicely with foie gras. Husby had the fig tart (figs are FABULOUS right now) with pigeon. Their pigeon was much better than my first attempt with it. Definitely juicier, and playing nicely with the sweet, ripe figs on a paper-thin pastry square.

For mains, we both leaned hearty. Husby had sirloin, served with tongue, sweetbreads (the lucky bastard) and a truffle sauce. We’d never tried tongue and were a bit wary, thinking it would be inevitably tough, but it was perfectly tender and interesting, in a very good way. The truffle sauce was handled with a light and deft hand, so the truffles didn’t overpower the dish (a common problem with truffles, I find). My main course was grouse, which has just come into season, with chard and a velvety celeriac puree.Comforting, warming, and gamey without being too aggressive, it was an excellent meal for a chilly fall day.

And finally, the desserts. I went for the lemon souffle, which has to be ordered a little early, unless you want to wait 25 minutes between your main and final course. I took the sommalier’s suggestion on the pudding wine and it turned out to be a perfect one (as one would expect). The towering, fluffy souffle arrived alongside a tiny scoop of iced tea sorbet and a cloud-like, lemony cream-cheese mousse topped with granola.

Husby’s strawberry parfait was an absolute work of art–a Study in Pink, if you will. Someone’s clearly been studying their molecular gastronomy in the kitchens here, and applying it well. The parfait was rolled up in a thin strawberry-flavoured gelee, with strawberry mousse spheres scattered amongst the cardamom beignets. It was absolutely stunning, and delicious, too. Pure taste of summer.

Number One is touted as one of the best restaurants in Scotland, and it shows. No detail is left unattended to, and though the place is rather classic in its designed (think dark wood walls), it doesn’t feel stuffy. Service is cheerful, unintrusive, and helpful, and though the dishes are beautifully modern, there are charming old-fashioned flourishes as well, such as trolleys that are wheeled around the dining room with bread and cheese selections. Afterwards, a cab was called for us, and we headed home, fully satisfied, but not overly stuffed.

According to my husband, it was a wonderful birthday.

The Edinburgh Military Tattoo

If you come to Scotland in August for anything, come for the Military Tattoo. It’s a hell of a show (and since you’re coming here in the first place, I’m going to go ahead and assume you already like bagpipes.)

I’m not a night owl–I’m lame, so there are few things that will tempt me from my cozy home at 10:30 at night, and yet, there I was, climbing to the very top of section 11 in front of Edinburgh Castle, husband in tow, settling in and excitedly waiting for everything to start. It was definitely worth staying up for.

There was a dance paying tribute to tartan weaving:

And a nod to the new Disney/Pixar film Brave (Scotland’s really excited about that)

And, because this is Scotland, we had to be reminded of the fact that this is the land o’whiskey, with one of the prettiest dances of the evening:

The Australians showed up and rocked out. They started off singing and playing some old traditional tunes and then turned the whole arena into a disco as they launched into Highway to Hell. The Australian military is clearly the coolest on earth.

 

The Americans were playful too, paying tribute to comic book characters and superheroes through the years:

A group of highly talented drummers/Three Musketeers extras from Switzerland paid tribute to binary code:

 

I’m going to assume that they were tapping out some super-important message in code as well, just to bring it all together. The King’s Guard from Norway was there, just to prove there are no hard feelings over those centuries of Norse invasions:

 

This part becomes even more impressive when you realize these are not professional soldiers at all, but conscripts doing their compulsory year of military service. Well done, gentlemen! There was also a piece celebrating the industrial revolution in dance that was much cooler than Danny Boyle’s strange phallocentric celebration of earth-rape during the Olympics opening ceremony. Sorry, don’t have video of that one, just take my word for it. And, of course, at the end, everybody came out — bands, dancers, and a shetland pony (sure, why not?) to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in a restaging of her coronation at Westminster Abbey:

After that, we took a few solemn moments to pay tribute to those who have fallen in service to their country (you can’t read it, but the projection on the castle is the tombstone of the Unknown Soldier in Westminster Abbey)

And, finally, the pipers played everyone out with a rousing rendition of ‘Scotland the Brave’:

Fringe Survival

edinburgh-fringe-festivalThe annual Fringe Festival has officially begun, which means overwhelming numbers of people and shows. Whether you’re a local or an out-of-towner, you’re going to have to contend with both at some point (unless you go on holiday for the entire month of August, which is, incidentally, when the rest of Europe goes on holiday).

I’m spending the month of August voluntarily diving straight into the Fringe: I’m reviewing plays for FringeGuru.com; I did my first one, Female Gothic, yesterday (it’s great, by the way, go check it out) and I probably have another one lined up for today. I’ve already gotten a taste of what Fringe-season Edinburgh is like and I’ve quickly adapted to it (no choice, really, it’s either adapt or get run over or buried in flyers!) Here are a few things I’ve learned.

Pace Yourself. This is definitely number one. There are thousands of shows on, and the Fringe is only one festival happening in August (there are also the International Festival and the Book Festival). The Fringe catalogue of shows alone is half an inch thick. Unless you don’t need rest or sleep, if you try to see everything that sounds interesting to you, you’ll die of exhaustion. My suggestion: pick one festival (say, the Fringe) and focus on areas that are of particular interest to you (maybe comedy and theatre). Read the descriptions of those shows and pick some to go see. This is not to say you might not add to your list later — there are plenty of free shows happening, and flyers are being thrust at you from all sides as you walk down the Mile, so surely you’ll hear about something else you want to see — but at least this way you’re not spending weeks just trying to get through the show descriptions.

Take Time to Enjoy the City. Edinburgh’s awesome. Yes, the Royal Mile’s cool, but there are lots and lots of other neat areas to discover that aren’t choked with people right now. Take a break from all the darkened theatres, stretch your legs, and explore the New Town (not just Prince’s Street) or Leith. Loathe as I am to encourage crowds of people to head to my neighborhood (what can I say? I like it quiet and I’m a little selfish), my neck of the woods, Stockbridge, is incredibly charming. Lots of little restaurants that won’t be too crowded, and cute boutique-y shops you won’t find anywhere else (which is not something you can say about George or Prince’s Street). Pop into one of the free museums — they’ve got some great exhibitions on now.

Bring Good Walking Shoes. For some reason, the locals are fine with tottering about on crazy high heels. That’s because they’re slightly insane. This city is very hilly and cobblestones are still a very popular paving material, particularly in the older sections (where almost all the Fringe activity is going on). Those heels that make your legs look great will inevitably get jammed in a crack in the street and you’ll either faceplant or find yourself desperately trying to tug free while a bus bears down on you. Wear flats.

Don’t Complain About the Weather. Seriously, this is such a cliche anyway. We know it’s cooler than it is in the U.S., that’s why we have jumpers and jackets. We know it rains, that’s why we have cute wellies and brollys. You can find all of these things at John Lewis, British Home Stores, or any of the department stores right on Prince’s Street, so go ahead and kit yourself up and get used to carrying an umbrella around at all times.

Get a Sturdy Umbrella. Speaking of umbrellas: get a good one. Rain and wind go hand-in-hand here, and that cheapo you bought won’t last a second. Invest in a decent umbrella or you’ll regret it fast.

Brace Yourself for Flyers. Getting around the Royal Mile or any of its side streets is like running a paper gauntlet. Hands appear from all sides, thrusting flyers at you and begging you to go see this or that show. You can do a few things here: focus straight ahead, refusing to make eye contact or acknowledging the flyer-givers; perfect an incredibly fierce stare that warns people not to approach; murmur a polite refusal; just take the flyers (though by the end of a 100-yard walk you may have more than you can carry). Whatever you do, remember that these are all artists trying to promote their shows or students working for minimum wage to promote a show, so don’t be a jerk to them no matter how annoyed you are by all the offers.

Try the Haggis. Just once, to say you did.

How about it, Fringegoers? Any other tips to add?

The Chap Olympiad

Image: Matthew Lloyd/Getty Images

Oh Britain, I love you. Don’t ever change.

One of the things I love about this country is its sense of humor, and the fact that it’s not afraid to make fun of itself from time to time. To that end, we have the Chap Olympiad, billed as Britain’s most eccentric sporting event, dedicated to celebrating “athletic ineptitude and immaculate trouser creases.” Honestly, it’s like something the crew at the Drones Club would have come up with.

Held annually in Bedford Square in London, contestants show up dressed to the nines and let their inner Bertie Wooster out for an afternoon in such events as Ironing Board Surfing, Umbrella Jousting, the Cucumber Sandwich Discus, and the Butler Relay. Sure, at least one of the events might have been a bit racist (Foreigner Shouting, in which contestants had to try and buy an item from a non-English speaking shopowner without killing said shopowner in frustration) but it seems like it’s generally a lighthearted (and well-dressed) afternoon. This year’s event was held on the 7 and 8 of July and you can see pictures from the day here. To learn more about the games, get tickets for next year, and catch up on past years’ events, visit thechapolympiad.com.