The differences between the UK and the US are far more vast and broad than I could have ever imagined. Things have different names, are pronounced differently, look and even smell different. There are very few things the same once the surface is scratched. I made idle comment one day that only the color of the sky was the same - but then the clouds rolled in and I stood corrected. Even the clouds in the sky are of a different shade as they climb in layers between the homes and sky. With no other Americans near by, often a US native can feel completely lost in a place like Scotland. The thick accents strip away the feeling of comfort - but adventure is all about leaving our comfort zones behind and discovering whats around the next corner.
Walking through the grocery stores is about the same - some people rush about to grab last minute things for fixing dinner while others take their time and fill their carts with enough goods to last a month for a small family. I wander from aisle to aisle studying; learning the differences, trying to figure out what different things are.
What is "Caster Sugar," I wondered. I needed sugar to put in our morning coffee. It sat next to a box of "Icing Sugar" that looked to me like powdered sugar. I knew from my years of baking, cooking and working in restaurants that brown sugar was soft and maleable while granulated sugar was coarse and grainy, crunching between the finger tips. I couldn't open the bag of sugar right there in the store, so instead I kneeled down and picked up the small bag. I held it in my hands. I looked at it a long time. I weighed it in my hands, held it to my ear and shook gently to see what it sounded like. It sounded like the right stuff, but I couldn't be sure. I pinched the bag lightly and ran my fingers against one another, being sure to catch some of the sugar between them as I did. It grated as granulated sugar would, so I concluded that Caster Sugar was in fact Granulated Sugar. After all, "All Purpose Flour" was known as "Regular Flour" in the United Kingdom, maybe Caster Sugar was just another name for what I needed.
I looked up just in time to catch two older ladies staring at me as though I had green antennae on my head and another noggin growing out of a lump on my shoulder. I could only imagine how strange it looked to see a young lady kneeling on the floor, shaking a bag of sugar close to her ear and pinching the bag like a baby's bottom. Slightly embarassed, I stood up and went to find the milk. After carefully avoiding the two older ladies, I finally purchased the Caster Sugar and left the store. The entire way home I felt I was forgetting something. It wasn't until I was nearly back that I realized that I had forgotten the cigarettes in my worry about getting the right kind of sugar.
"What's this?" He held up the Caster Sugar with a puzzled look on his face. "Baking sugar?" For a brief instant I panicked. Had I gotten powdered sugar after all? No, I clearly remembered the grainy texture I felt and heard in the bag. What was it then? Was it the dark sugar like the Demarara we sometimes get in the States? Was is something entirely different? Oh, what had I done? I felt so stupid for a moment. I knew then that I had made a mistake, but for the life of me I had no idea what mistake I had made. They were the only two kinds of sugar I saw in the entire store. I told him that and explained that I had no idea what Caster sugar was.
He smiled at me, told me "It's Baking sugar," and noticed I was getting rather upset with myself. Patiently, he told me "It's ok," and reached over to open the bag of sugar. He was going to show me what it was so that I would know in the future. Out into his hand poured granulated sugar, but in a far smaller grain than I was accustomed to. I could only imagine (with my knowledge of Physics and Earth Science) that since the grains were smaller, they would fit more compactly into a space, meaning the measurements would be off when trying to bake a cake or sweeten a coffee. The measurements would be sweeter with less space between each grain and more grains filling up the measuring spoon. I hung my head in shame. How could I have not known the difference? I could have just called and asked - but I didn't. I was too determined to figure it out on my own. I had too much pride to ask for help.
I made another trip to the store later on that afternoon for sugar and cigarettes, but I had a friend with me then. She showed me where the sugar was (lowest shelf under the coffee and tea) and by the time I made it back to the house my pride was restored. I put the sugar where it went and composed myself on the couch to watch television for a bit while my hands warmed up from the cold weather I faced on my short walk. A commercial came on just then (or an advert, as they are called here in the United Kingdom) advertising something I was very familiar with - Pantene Pro-V shampoo and conditioner. It was a comfort seeing something I was accustomed to finally. I knew exactly what Pantene was; I had used it for years.
"...make your hair soft and manageable... Pan Ten shampoos and conditioners..." I did a double-take. Pan Ten? No, the bottle and advert were spelled the same as they were in the States, Pantene. Well, I said to myself, that's just one more difference I'll have to get used to.