How to be Vegetarian in Japan

How to be Vegetarian in Japan

Although people had warned me that it might be a struggle to avoid meat and fish in Japan, I must admit I didn’t quite appreciate just how difficult it would be to find vegetarian food there before I went – that is to say, vegetarian food which constituted towards full, wholesome meals. For the first half of my trip I really struggled, and mainly survived on rice balls and pizza flavoured crisps (don’t tell Grandma). However, after slowly discovering more and more vegetarian and vegan options hidden in the corners of menus, by the end of the holiday I was fuller and fatter than ever.

I wrote this blog article so that you know what to eat if you’re planning on going to Japan and avoiding meat or fish when you’re there…there’s no time to be hangry when there is a beautiful country to explore!

Your Basic Vegetarian Food Groups

1. Onigiri

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Whenever you’re stuck for something to eat, get yourself to the nearest Family Mart or Lawsons and pick up some rice balls. They tend to either be plain rice with a small amount of filling wrapped with seaweed, or flavoured rice without the filling or the seaweed. Both versions are delicious and provide a great lunch or snack. The vegetarian flavours in the filled onigiri are seaweed (two varieties) which have a green label, or pickled plum. The rice balls without a filling tend to all be vegetarian – in any case you will be able to tell if there aren’t because you’ll see the bits of meat mixed in the rice from the outside.

2. Sushi

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Famously sushi often contains raw or cooked fish (apparently tuna mayo is extremely tasty) however you can usually find veggie versions in both supermarkets and restaurants. I really recommend conveyor-belt sushi restaurants for eating out – you can clearly see from the menu what you’re getting, and even better the vegetable sushi is the cheapest going! Keep your eye out for sushi with cucumber (my favourite), pickled radish, spring onion and egg, which seem to be common. Just whatever you do, don’t go for the bean stuffed sushi, it is terrible.

3. Inarizushi

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So technically this is a type of sushi, but since it is so delicious it deserves its own category. Inarizushi is made of abura-age (fried tofu pouces) stuffed with vinegared rice and flavoured with soy sauce. It has a pleasant sweet taste and is very moreish! You can find these in supermarkets on their own or in mixed bento boxes, making it very convenient as a picnic food, and are also found in some restaurants. This was my favourite savoury snack in Japan!

4. Vegetable Tempura

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I was told about this dream by my sister before going on holiday, and we discovered it on our second night there. Simple and effective, tempura is literally something on a stick which is deep fried, giving it a crisp batter and is often accompanied with a dipping sauce or salt. It turns out you can make tempura out of anything, including shrimp, sausage, meat, tofu, aubergine, potato, cheese, asparagus, onion, tomato and quail egg. At more casual tempura restaurants you can choose precisely what selection you want – giving you complete veggie freedom – however if you go to restaurants with set menus, sometimes they will only have an option for mixed tempura (including shrimp). I found that in this instance you can ask for only vegetables and they will happily accommodate your request, but it would be worth checking this before you all sit down and order drinks.

5. Okonomiyaki

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Basically a pancake made with the usual ingredients of eggs and flour as well as shredded cabbage, this dish makes a very hearty meal. It is often sold as a street food, but can also be ordered in special restaurants where you have designated hot-plates in front of you to cook it the way you like it: an extremely messy and fun experience! Hiroshima Okonomiyaki is another version of the pancake with added yakisoba noodles. You can find both of these pre-prepared in some supermarkets too – just be careful that they aren’t hiding pieces of pork, which are sometimes added for flavour.

6. Instant noodles

When you’re in dire straits, and you just need a big hot meal, turn to instant noodles. Japan has the biggest selection of instant noodles in one corner shop that I have seen in my lifetime, you are honestly spoilt for choice. Some have meat in, but if in doubt the curry flavour is a safe bet for since it only contains vegetable stock. There are also some pot pastas which are conveniently titled in English so you can get your tomato and basil fix too, and you can fill them up with boiling water provided by the supermarket. Convenient!

7. Tofu alternatives

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Japan doesn’t really do vegetarian meals on purpose, however often they do it accidentally by including tofu in dishes as a protein alternative to meat. Keep an eye out for these dishes, especially as part of soups or sides, because you are sure to find them on a few menus.

At our ryokan (traditional inn) the chefs kindly swapped my fish for tofu however with a week or so of warning – above is the delicious meat-free meal they made for my breakfast, featuring fried tofu.

8. Tomato Ramen

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This food is not particularly common, nor easy to find, however if you come across it you must try it, because it will change your life. A mash-up between Japanese and Italian cuisine, it basically features ramen noodles, vegetables and other ingredients in a tomato-based broth. Since being vegetarian means you can’t sample traditional ramen (which is made of a broth using meat or fish) this is a great alternative to try some of the food you’ve heard so much about, in a strangely familiar fusion dish. You can also add cheese, satisfying the dairy craving you’ve had since arriving!

9. Sweet Treats

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The deserts are to die for in Japan, and happily usually vegetarian friendly! Although the soft textures can take some time getting used to, the subtle sweet flavours are heavenly. I recommend shaved ice with syrup to cool you down in the hot weather, which is a traditional snack, and to have a matcha tea with a cake in a traditional tea house. It is a must-have for any stay in Japan!

Recommendations for vegetarians

1. Eat at western-inspired restaurants

I know you came here to sample the “authentic culture” and the “local cuisine”, but if you’re tired of accidentally eating bits of fish, then treat yourself to a nice big meal in an Italian restaurant or British pub (yes, they have those, and they are hilarious). There will always be a vegetarian choice of pizza, chips or garlic bread on the menu, and you will be very grateful for it despite being able to eat the same meal in Britain any day of the week.

2. Eat the sides, not the main course

Often in restaurants you can order your main meal and choose from lots of extras, just like in the UK. If you don’t mind confusing the waiter, order lots of sides instead of a dinner. You can make up a good meal out of grilled vegetables, salad, rice and noodles this way if you can’t find anything appropriate on the main menu.

3. Cook

One of my favourite meals there was when we tried cooking our own dinner in our apartment using the ingredients on offer at the local supermarket. It was loads of fun to work on something together and we saved some spending money too. Get yourself some sake and have a wild night in…

4. Bring a meat-eating friend

They will never get tired of eating free food, trust me. It’s super useful to have someone on your team willing to try the weird and wonderful things you spontaneously buy, and give them the okay. I really appreciated my sister taking on my unwanted food when I bought the wrong stuff, I hate wasted food!

5. Explain yourself

Don’t assume that restaurant staff know what ‘vegetarian’ or ‘vegan’ means – it is not a well-known diet choice in Japan! Always explain yourself fully when ordering food and be specific about what you want.

6. Your enemy…

…Is dashi (fish broth) and bonito (fish flakes). They are used in loads of dishes in Japan and are to be avoided at all costs if you want a pure veggie diet. You should be able to tell if a dish has them in though because of their smell.

7. Go pescatarian. Yes I said it.

If you’re not too fussy over what you want to eat, and want to concentrate on more important stuff than searching for a restaurant you can all agree on, then being pescatarian for your holiday would certainly make your life a lot easier. Since the Japanese diet is heavily based on fish, it would open up your options to accommodate most of the menu in any restaurant. However, using the pointers above you won’t have to go to this extreme if you don’t want to.

Useful Phrases

It’s worth learning these phrases before you go to save yourself some unpleasant mouthfuls…

I am vegetarian. Watashi wa bejitarian desu

Is this vegetarian? Kono bejitarian wa?

Does this contain meat or fish? Kore wa niku to sakana ga haitte imasu ka?

Does this contain fish stock? Kore wa sakana no dashi ga haitte imasu ka?

I don’t eat meat and fish. Watashi wa niku to sakana wo tabemasen

I don’t eat meat, seafood, eggs and dairy products. Watashi wa oniku to shīfūdo to tamago to nyūseihin wo tabemasen

Or if you can’t remember that: No meat or fish? Niku mo sakana mo nai?

Yes, it is okay. Hai, daijōbudesu.

I’ll have this please. *point at menu* kore kudasai

No thank you. Kekkō desu.

Obviously I was only in Japan for two weeks and have only scratched the surface of what delicious foods they have to offer the vegetarian community! If you have any tips and foodstuffs to share, please let me know.

Thanks for reading.

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First Impressions of Japan

First Impressions of Japan

Below are some observations of what I found unusual or interesting about Japan from my visit there. I hope they entertain you and give you a glimpse of my experience in this wacky and wonderful country! If you’ve been to Japan and want to add anything to this list or share your own stories, please do in the comments section, I’d love to hear about it.

 
• People are really polite and go out of their way to be helpful, to the point where it can even become inconvenient, such as showing you how to get on a train you don’t want or directing you how to take the best photograph.
• If you ask for directions, you will probably be led in person right to your destination.
• Most people are very petite and it is rare to see someone slightly overweight, making it impossible to fit in as large westerners!
• There are vending machines absolutely everywhere, selling every kind of soft drink imaginable as well as beer, cigarettes, chocolate and even cooked food.
• The main train stations are massive, and we got lost more than once whilst trying to find the right exit.
• Each train station has its own little jingle which plays when a train arrives. Lots of these are from well known songs, and some can be quite majestic.
• In rural areas especially, there are lots of cyclists who never use the bike paths and choose to disturb pedestrian walkways. Instead of ringing the bell to ask you to move, they artfully weave in and out of the people who are walking.
• There is matcha tea flavoured everything!
• The toilets range from being very high tech (with self-opening, self-flushing, music playing and rinsing capabilities) to basic squat toilets. Sometimes in one bathroom there is a choice of both to suit what people are most comfortable with.
• Every street is lined with loads of cables and power lines, which make quite impressive silhouettes in the evening.
• Most things, such as shrines, shops and museums, close early around 4 or 5pm outside the city centre, making lazy lay-ins impossible.
• Except for in certain night-life areas, in the evenings the streets are completely silent and barely anyone is around.
• Women dress very fashionably – mostly in loose, plain clothing – and have immaculately clear skin.
• People can smoke in bars and drink on the street, which takes a while getting used to.
• People rarely talk on the train, but often have a nap instead. I also didn’t see anyone eat or drink at the station or on the trains.
• Of all the Japanese manners I learnt before arriving, very few were followed by modern Japanese people, such as not displaying public affection or ordering the same drink in the first round.
• If in doubt, nodding and smiling gets positive feedback in all social interactions even if you can’t say anything other than “sorry”, “please” and “thank you”.
• Despite there being no rubbish bins to be found, the streets are very clean and tidy. Our hosts were strict on waste disposal and it seems to be taken very seriously here.
• The rural landscape consists mainly of forested areas instead of the meadows, farmland and shrubbery of the UK countryside. It is very beautiful.
• People are obsessed with cute animals here since pet ownership isn’t as commonplace – meaning cat, hedgehog and owl cafes are common! However animal welfare for both pets and livestock is questionable…
• Every single temple and castle we visited had been burnt down due to lightning or war and rebuilt.
• Food is either soft, sticky or slimy. Finding hard food in a meal is a rare treasure!
• The Japanese diet relies heavily on rice, which constitutes for the bulk of both savoury and sweet food.
• Zebra crossings alert you that you may walk by playing various bird noises.
• Ponds often have thriving communities of terrapin and koi fish who beg for food by gathering under bridges and opening their mouths.
• You can buy a decent meal out for £7.
• As a hobby or treat, Japanese people hire traditional kimonos and accompanying outfits, and walk around pretty parks and temples in them taking selfies.
• Animals are huge, especially butterflies, wasps, fish, crows and ants. Strangely the cats are still skinny though.
• People seem to be quite pious and often visit shrines and temples to pray. There are all sorts of good luck charms you can buy from shrines to help with love, study, wealth, family and health.
• Nothing is done by halves in Japan, and everything from adverts to shop signs to themed cafes are taken to the extreme by being loud, bold and obvious at all times!

 

Read more about my travel experiences such as what you come to appreciate living in Cambodia, or Misa’s story of starting a business as a young Cambodian woman in rural Battambang.

 

Thanks for reading!

Why is Art so Expensive?

Why is Art so Expensive?

As an artist and someone working in the creative industry, I often hear the complaint that pieces of art for sale are very expensive to buy. We wonder why on earth this bit of paper costs that more than a flat screen television, or how someone can put a figure on the price of an oil painting in the first place. This is a very difficult topic, especially since art is often perceived as a decorative item as opposed to something which usually goes much deeper. However, from the perspective of art being a decorative item, we can still learn as to why artists charge so much for their product in comparison to that floor lamp you’ve had your eye on.

Essentially, to understand why art often carries a large price tag, you have to view the artist as someone who provides a service, similar to a plumber or a financial advisor. Much like helping you fit a shower unit or advising you on your mortgage, the artist has a certain set of skills which you want to use to benefit your life, and their rates depend on a multitude of factors which relate to this.
I’ve listed below some of the things which go into an artwork and contribute to its value…

 

Materials

Starting from the basics, to create each piece of work requires materials and tools to put it together. These need to be accounted for before the piece is priced.
An oil painting, for example, will need a canvas, paint, terps, linseed oil, brushes and other materials that the artist may use. Material costs can add up quite dramatically, and before you know if you’ve spent your weekly budget in the Range!

Time

Time is the most precious resource that anyone has, including artists, and often they will use this as a measure to determine the price of their pieces. The more experienced an artist is, the more value they often give to their time because they understand this relationship better, but also may have a greater number of other responsibilities or commissions to juggle.

Training

A piece of artwork is often seen as an individual item, however behind every piece of artwork there are many, many years of training and practise. This usually includes college, further education, and / or thousands of hours of personal development to refine their skills in their specific medium. (Just imagine what University costs alone!)

So when you are buying an artwork, you are not just buying the physical drawing or painting but also the expertise that the artist has developed over a long period of time which gives them the skills necessary to make your piece in the first place.

Earning a living

Most commissioning artists don’t earn a living from their work alone – but we can safely assume that the ideal situation would be for them to make a living from their creative projects if they could. In any case, the artist wants to be able to sell their work at a fair rate which is appropriate to an average wage.
If you imagine a very modest wage of £15’000 a year, that would mean that they would have to sell £1’250 worth of artwork each month. If the artist is selling their work for £125 each time, that means they have to make and sell a whopping 10 artworks in 4 weeks! Therefore, providing that the artist is not a machine, the price of the artwork needs to be much higher in order for them to earn a reasonable living wage from the pieces they do make.

Attic Art

Another reason why individual pieces of work are high is that – however skilled and well known the artist may be – that will never sell all of their work, or even the majority of it. A lot of what an artist makes is either to develop their skills, or is created to put in the market place but never gets bought. If you factor all the time and resources that an artist will put into all the pieces they don’t sell, the pieces that they do gain value in order to compensate for this.

Presentation and transportation

If an artist sells their work framed, or exhibits their work in gallery spaces, they will need to factor mounting and framing into their costs too. They will also need to account for the costs of delivering the pieces to its new home, which can be very expensive for large or heavy items, and for sending overseas.

Commission fees

When you come across an artwork in a gallery or magazine, you may see the price and naturally think that the artist is being a bit greedy. However it is worth remembering that the price that you see will not be the amount that the artist receives for their piece.
When submitting their work for an opportunity to be showcased online, enter a competition, apply for an award or have their work in an exhibition, artists are usually required to pay an entry fee. This fee varies depending on the quality of the opportunity and can range from a few pounds to £50 or £100.
On top of this, when a piece is sold, the gallery or curator will take a commission from the overall price to cover their time and effort in creating the exhibition. Usually this is between 20 and 50% depending again on the type of opportunity.

Taxes

Don’t forget like all law abiding citizens, artists need to pay their taxes! So factor in that about 20% of profit from each artwork sale (excluding costs of materials) goes back to the taxman.

Craft

When considering buying an artwork, it is important to remember that you are not buying a normal decoration, like a standing lamp or a cushion, nor are you buying a throw away commodity like a phone case which deteriorates and is replaced over time. What you are taking ownership of is something completely unique. It had been made by hand and no-one else in the world will own anything like it. This makes it not only valuable to begin with, but gives it the potential to gain value with age.

 

The thing to take away from this article is that a lot goes into creating artwork that contributes to the cost of their piece. If an artist was to factor all of this into their prices, no one would be able to afford them! When you buy or commission artwork from an emerging or professional artist, you are always getting an extremely good deal which is much less than the real value of the work.
Although you are not buying something that will heat your shower or solve your money problems, you are investing in something unique, which you desire, which will not only benefit your living space but is also a great investment that increases in value over time. Plus, you will be feeding the starving artist  – how kind of you!

Thanks for reading.

Business and Art Working as One: the Echo Exhibition

Business and Art Working as One: the Echo Exhibition

Experiencing the Echo Exhibition opening night really showed me how businesses of any specialty can support and progress the artistic world, and I think that it is a fantastic blueprint for the future of commercial fine art. Here is my experience of the fantastic Echo Exhibition that opened last night…

About the exhibition

The exhibition is homed in, and supported by, Prettys – a solicitor firm in Ipswich ran by people with genuine enthusiasm towards the arts. Prettys host a biannual exhibition, where they basically deck out their lovely office space with artwork from University of Suffolk artists and invite lots of people from the local area to see it on the opening night.

Luckily for us, this year the work featured in the exhibition was exclusively from the Waterfront Studios – which is a space for artist alumni of the University of Suffolk to rent inexpensive studio spaces within the university.

Each year the role of curator changes, and this time the Echo Exhibtion was curated by the lovely Sarah Bale and Julie Dodds, who share a studio space at Waterfront Studios. They were responsible for selecting and collecting work and installing the two story labyrinth of Prettys’ office with 24 artworks – a mammoth task which they managed to accomplish with tireless enthusiasm and energy.

Where do I come in?

Although I don’t personally rent a studio space (although I’m looking forward to that point in the future!) I happily fell into the exhibition since I work for a creative company called Pop My Mind which is based in the Waterfront Studios. We work in a shared office space in the middle of the artists, meaning we are constantly met with the hammering and drilling noises of Carlos’ jewelry making (the ‘Mad Dentist’ as we like to call him), the cheerful conversations of Sarah and Julie from the corner, and the smell of turps from Adam’s paintings in progress. It’s a really awesome space to work in (even though I can get easily distracted from all the exciting things happening around us) and since my co-workers and I are also artists, the curators kindly included our work!

I entered four artworks into the exhibition which were included: three portraiture ink paintings and one illustrative piece. Plus I also snuck in another ink painting when Sarah and Julie were scavenging for more artwork on the day of the opening night, since Prettys opened up another room for them to fill!

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Me and one of my pieces which was included in the exhibition, called Empty Tension

The private view

The opening night drew in loads of interesting people from the local area, including Prettys staff and contacts, friends and family of the artists, creative people from around Ipswich, and even the Major of Ipswich! There was a lovely buzzing atmosphere as people discussed the artwork and their connection to the event, and despite the amount of rooms which the work was spread between, there were many tight squeezes through doorways and quite a queue at the buffet table.

It was lovely to see my pieces integrated into the exhibition among some outstanding work from the Waterfront Studios artists. There was such varied and high quality work throughout the exhibition, and I found it especially nice to see people’s artwork which I had seen in-the-making now finished and out of the studio context. Having them displayed on walls around the office really brought them to life: Sarah and Julie did an amazing job of matching complementing artworks together and arranging the exhibition so that it seemed both professional and homely.

Ten pieces of works were sold that evening alone, the first one being a stunning portrait of Frida Kahlo by portrait artist Adam Riches (see it on Twitter here). My co-workers and I actually bet on Adam that he would be the first to win – which obviously means we have excellent taste! A few artists also got commissioned that night from visitors of the exhibition looking to furnish their lobbies with some fine art.

A huge congratulations to my boss Oliver Squirrell too, who won the ‘Best in Show’ award for his photographic print (below). This is an award with a paid prize, given out twice a year by Prettys Solicitors to the favourite piece of artwork as selected by their staff.

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Oliver aside his winning piece

How this benefits the artists

As an artist, one of the key things to grow (both in terms of developing your practice and your creative career) is through exhibition exposure. Being involved in exhibitions like the Echo Exhibition is a really valuable experience which connects you to people in the community who you might not have the excuse to talk to much before – as well as a means to meet loads of other art lovers who may be interested in your work and want to support your progress. The biannual opening event by Prettys is looked forward to by lots of people in Ipswich – after all, who doesn’t want to spend an evening drinking wine and looking at artwork?

This valuable exposure of your pieces to like-minded people, and space to mingle and chat, is really what makes exhibiting work in professional ground exhibitions so exciting! The award from Prettys is also a lovely added touch since it is a great way of rewarding an artist for their merit whether their piece is sold or not.

A win-win situation

In my opinion, getting the art world and the business world talking is very important. Being an artist is a not an easy profession or hobby – especially when trying to make a worthwhile living out of your creativity – and it can be difficult to get on the first stepping stone of your creative career without support from the community.

No matter what we do as our day jobs, we should all support the things we are passionate about wherever possible, which is just what Prettys has done. The office has now been furninshed with some diverse and skilful artwork for half a year, and the artists have had their work seen by loads of people and even sold due to this. This win-win situation is a fantastic way of making art relevant and commercially viable; I definitely think that other companies should follow their lead and bring the arts as a significant aspect to their business to improve their own workplace and the creative industries too.

To see some of my artwork, please see my Instagram, Facebook or Twitter for my current work!

Thanks for reading.

 

 

Where to Find My Art

Where to Find My Art

Hello there,

If you’ve found this blog in search of my artwork, then please let me point you in the right direction!

Although I sometimes post my creative projects on this blog (such as my advent illustration project or my sketchbook from Cambodia), I usually use this page to discuss art in general, culture or bits and bobs that I’ve picked up and want to share.

To see what artwork I create and what I’m currently up to in my creative practice, please go to my social media pages which are full of works in progress and finished pieces!

Instagram | Facebook | Twitter

 

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I you’re interested in having your own bespoke artwork in one of my styles, I also do commission work. Feel free to get in touch about this (or just to say hello!) via email at karisviola[at]gmail[dot]com – I’m always happy to have a chat.

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Otherwise I hope you enjoy exploring my blog and/or artwork on social media. Have a great day and thanks for reading!

Instagram | Facebook | Twitter

You Know You’re Becoming a Responsible Adult When…

You Know You’re Becoming a Responsible Adult When…

• You don’t feel the urge to excuse yourself to the room at large every time you go to the toilet.

• You start thinking that owning a house may actually be a good investment (as opposed to cutting into your travel budget).

• You now own a decorative candle which you never intend to light.

• You no longer feel self-conscious when wearing completely black outfits. In fact, you embrace the style wholeheartedly.

• You can no longer stomach large quantities of sweet or fruity drinks on a night out, and have developed a strong aversion to amaretto.

• You have managed to pay your own way at meals out with parents (although it still felt a little strange).

• Nine times out of ten, the idea of an evening in is far more exciting to you than a night out.

• You finally understand what “that Friday feeling” is.

• Your desires now include having a good credit rating and a house plant.

• You have planned the date of your decision whether to have children or not (and mildly dread it).

• More than once, you have referred to teenage boys as “youths”.

• You are beginning to appreciate the rewards of having a clean house, despite losing out on such thrills as discovering forgotten fajitas underneath the laundry basket.

• You have resorted to talking about the weather when conversation topics were painfully low.

• You now refer to your female friends as “women” instead of “girls” or “bros”.

• When selecting wine, your immediate choice is not necessarily the cheapest one.

• You have established a deep love and duty towards Aldi and have been spreading its teachings ever since.

• You have become acutely aware of your dwindling metabolism and have done what you always swore you would never do – take up jogging.

 

If you like this list blog then check out my other one on 20 awkward moments at your first grad job. I’ve also written a quick practical guide on how to be lead a more fulfilling life if you want to have a gander.

Thanks for reading!

A Guide to Modern British Manners

A Guide to Modern British Manners

British etiquette is often difficult to understand and put into practise for people who have not spent long in Britain (and for a good portion of the British population too). However, being polite is important in any culture to communicate properly and to be able to get what you want without hassle. Although these manners are flexible and do not apply in more informal situations, they are still worth knowing for this reason.

I have written what I consider to be the important rules of politeness below. Hope you enjoy and feel free to give me your take on what British manners are in the comments below!

The Three Golden Rules

• Say the magic words. If you ask for anything, say “please”. If anyone gives you anything at all, whether it is your change, a cup of tea or a car, you must always say “thank you”. In British culture, you cannot say thank you too many times. Ideally you should be saying it before, during and after someone gives you something in order for the message to fully get across.
• Apologise. British people will apologise for the smallest thing, including for apologising too much. Sometimes, you say sorry not to acknowledge your own mistakes, but to acknowledge that someone else’s mistake is okay. For example if someone treads on your foot, you should say “sorry” to communicate “I acknowledge that you didn’t mean to hurt my toe, and I’m fine with that”.
• Don’t make a scene. Staying respectful and calm is an important part of fitting into British culture. People often comment that British people are more reserved than other cultures, and that’s mainly because talking loudly, squealing with laughter or arguing in public is seen as inconsiderate in the UK since it can bother other people around you.

Out and About

• Do not stare at people…unless you are having a conversation with them, in which case you should make eye contact when they are speaking.
• It is considered extremely rude to spit on the street, cough up phlegm, cough or sneeze on someone, and otherwise do something which could create mess or spread germs in public. Overall, personal hygiene is considered very important in Britain and being clean and presentable in public is essential to fit in.
• When on public transport with few seats left, it is polite to offer your seat to elderly people, or people with wheelchairs or babies, who would benefit from the seat more.
• It is polite to make room for other people. Being aware of your surroundings, and allowing for people to get passed you, is key to being the perfectly mannered person. For example, it is considered kind to hold the door for someone, to let other cars waiting at a junction onto the road, and to allow people to queue in front of you if their needs are greater than yours. Even the most subtle of movements to give other people more room will be noticed and appreciated by most British people!

How to treat strangers differs in different places in Britain – for example in the south strangers will rarely strike up a conversation with each other, whereas in the north chatting to people you don’t know on public transport is quite common. People in the countryside are also much friendlier than in cities. If you’re unsure, smile at someone and say hello, and allow them to make the next move.

Eating

Often these rules aren’t followed, especially when eating with peers. However if you’re in a fancy restaurant or with people you want to impress, sticking to these guidelines means you can’t go wrong:
• Use a knife in your right hand and a fork in your left for main meals, and a spoon in your right hand for pudding.
• Make as little noise as possible whilst eating, because is extremely annoying to British people when they can hear someone chew!
• Eat with your mouth closed. No-one wants to see your food after it has left your plate.
• Keep your elbows off the table (quite an old fashioned rule, but some people still follow it).
• When eating out, always try and pay for your meal. If someone offers to pay for your food, it is customary to have some back and forth conversation saying “I’ll pay”, “no don’t be silly”, “no I insist”, “well I am happy to contribute” etc. before someone submits. This is because often British people will offer to pay for someone else’s meal out of instinct when they don’t actually want to – this dialogue is essential for figuring out whether they are making a genuine offer or not.
• Get the waiters’ attention my making eye contact – not by waving your hand around. In Britain it is polite and expected to treat restaurant staff as equals, not as servants.
• Tipping. It is not essential to tip in the UK, although if you’re eating in a nice restaurant it is polite to give the waiter / waitress 10% of your meal price, which is usually a pound or two per person. If you are eating out around the Christmas period, it is nice to tip more, since these people are giving up their holidays to earn money.

Visiting Someone’s Home

Adults in Britain will often socialise by going to each others’ houses during an evening and having a meal there. I’m pretty sure that this kind of thing will apply to most cultures, but here’s a few tips for what to do in this situation in Britain:
• Bring something to the table. It is customary to bring a small gift for the host when visiting someone’s house. A good gift is food or drink that you can share around during the event, for example a bottle of wine or a box of chocolates. Note: the host will probably have cooked a dinner, so don’t bring something which would affect the main course.
• Take your shoes off when you’ve entered the house.
• Compliment their home – this is a natural kind thing to do when entering someone’s home, although the compliment obviously has to be genuine.
• Engage in conversation (don’t look at your phone for long periods of time).
• Help to clear the table, and if you’re feeling particularly polite offer to do the dishes.
• Don’t overstay your welcome. You have to realise that the host can’t go to bed before you leave! Don’t stay too late, and look out for clues that the host is tired or is hinting for you to leave.

General last pointers

• Never insult anyone. It is extremely rude and inconsiderate to point out someone’s flaws both to their face or behind their back in Britain. For example, you should never call someone fat, ugly, annoying or boring. British people are quite sensitive and will take these things very personally. Of course people still do insult others, but it is generally considered petty.
• Don’t ask personal questions. If you don’t know someone very well, don’t ask things such as what their age is, how much they weigh, how much they earn, or their opinions on politics. When you’re friends with someone, naturally the closer you are the more you share this kind of information.
• Listen during conversations. Don’t interrupt what someone’s saying, and ask the person you’re talking to questions, or as some people call it “passing the ball in conversation”. To talk about yourself for long periods of time if considered bad etiquette in British culture.

British manners, like in most cultures, comes from a combination of tradition, old superstitions and consideration for other people around you. They are not set in stone and are adapting all the time.

Please comment below if you think of any more manners to add to the list!

If you like learning about my take on manners, read the article I made on Cambodian Table Manners! If you want to read more about my thoughts on culture, I have written a few articles including one discussing selfie culture and its roots in Are Selfies Bad? and about cultural stereotyping in Susceptibility to Single Stories.

Thanks for reading.

Advent Illustration: Behind the Scenes

Advent Illustration: Behind the Scenes

This year I created an illustration a day from the first of December until Christmas day – depicting 25 things of what Christmas means to me.

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Day 13 – Making Christmas Cards

The idea came to me when I was illustrating another advent calendar with ‘traditional’ Christmas icons such as snowmen, gingerbread men, bells and angels. When I was making it I thought that despite being the symbols usually associated with the festive period, they don’t relate at all to my personal experience of Christmas. For example, it rarely snows in Yorkshire in December – so snowmen are out off the question! Scenes such as church choirs performing and bells ringing are also very far removed from my own memories of the season.

I made these illustrations to represent what my Christmas is like, and what is significant about it for me. This meant that the drawings often showed spending time with my family, eating a lot of food, and enjoying / enduring the traditions of the holiday.

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The winter cold is an inevitable part of the Christmas season! This was Day 17 of my advent illustration.

My favorite illustrations were Winter Walks, Getting the Sniffles and Making Mulled Wine. I felt that the illustrations were quite strong, and these were all things that happen every December without fail – despite not being traditionally ‘Christmassy’.

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Day 10 – Making Mulled Wine

Each illustration took about 2 hours to complete – plus or minus some time depending on the level of detail. Things such as drawing expressions or trying to create a likeness of a real person took significantly longer, whereas drawing scenes with just objects (such as Day 4 – Mince Pies with Brandy Butter) was a lot quicker.

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Half-way through an illustration – drawing in pen over the initial pencil sketch

I didn’t realise that it would take me this long to draw each picture before I started, which meant that I had to alter my daily schedule to fit them all in. Often I would wake up early before work to get a head start, and got into the rhythm of drawing through my lunch break with a sandwich in one hand and a pro-marker in the other. Before the weekends, I would create a few illustrations in one intense evening and set up my social media posts for Saturday and Sunday so that I could actually have a social life too!

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Working in my lunch break at a cafe on Day 10 – Winter Walks

Due to the time constraints, I went straight into each picture in pencil and then pen without planning the layout on a separate piece of paper beforehand (like I normally do for illustrations and comics). This meant that the pictures weren’t as good quality as I had wanted, and some were experiments that I pulled off with varying degrees of success.

At the start of the project, I chose a colour palette and stuck to it throughout the illustrations. I incorporated the traditional Christmas colours of red and green, but also added warm tones of pink, brown and orange. These colours not only gave off a nice cosy vibe to me, but were also ‘practical’ natural colours which I could use in most situations easily. For instance, the pink and brown I could use for skin, hair and eye colour in the cartoon characters, and the greens and oranges worked well for outdoor scenes.

The only time I broke this colour scheme (by incorperating two blue tones into the mix) was to illustrate Day 8 – My Blue Velvet Dress and Day 15 – The Trip to the Attic, to depict shadow in a more accessible way.

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Keeping the pink and gold from the original colour scheme, and adding dark and light blue

A few days into the advent, my friend, talented watercolour artist Rebecca Freeman, joined in the challenge and drew 25 illustrations of what Christmas means to her. Follow her Facebook art page here for more illustrations!

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Day 16 of Rebecca Freeman‘s advent illustration

Overall, making an advent illustration a day was very fun – although I have to admit there were a few moments I felt I’d bitten off more than I could chew, or wanted to slack off for a night! By the end however I managed to create 25 illustrations, and post all – except one – on time on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook each day. Unfortunately, Day 5 was 18 minutes late due to it falling on date night – my bad.

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My  invariably messy desk on Day 23 of the advent challenge

Many thanks to everyone who has liked, commented and otherwise sent me good vibes throughout this process! Your support was a huge motivation to stick to it and finish the project.

Click here to see the full album of advent illustrations on my Facebook page.

If you haven’t already, feel free to follow me on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter for updates on my art in progress and more pieces. Also keep an eye on this blog for a variety of articles on art and other topics that interest me.

Want to see more of my artwork? See my previous blog post showing my sketchbook in Cambodia.

Thanks for reading!

 

 

How to Lead a More Fulfilling Life

Some practical tips which I’ve found successful in making me feel more energetic, productive and satisfied in day-to-day life. They may work for you too!

  • Get up early. As much as this pains people, making the most of the daylight hours can make you feel way more on top of things, thus more productive and satisfied. Plus, sunlight is good for your mental health!
  • Maintain a regular sleeping pattern. This means you will have more energy day-to-day since your body is not confused all the time. It also helps with things like your metabolism and digestion if your diet remains fairly regular too.
  • Utilise empty time. Use the time you’re waiting for something, like the bus or your doctors appointment, to do things you enjoy. Why stare into space when you could be reading, blogging, or making plans?
  • Volunteer. Volunteering is one of the most fulfilling things you can do (without having children or whatever). It means getting involved in something you love, helping out a good cause, and meeting some of the nicest people from all different walks of life. Plus a lot of places now support volunteers with reimbursements for travel or meals, so that you don’t lose money whilst volunteering.
  • Set yourself targets. For example, you could set yourself a target of buying Christmas presents before December, completing a painting in a fortnight, meeting one friend a week or cleaning your room in an evening. Completing a pre-set goal is the surest way to feel like you have used your time well and gives you boosts of motivation.
  • Watch less TV. Chilling in front of the TV is nice for a short while, but it is a big drain of your time if you’re trying to lead a more productive life. I always think of it as investing time in other people’s lives instead of your own. Use your normal TV session to do things which give you a better quality of life, such as meeting friends and family, instead of just filling time.
  • Make everything an event. It’s not pop over after work, it’s a Curry and Games Night. It’s not a night in, it’s Me Time with a hot bath and a cheeky cider. We’re not going to town, we’re going for truffles in Tracey’s Tea Shop and exploring Saint Nic’s Market. Giving specificity to the activities you do makes you look forward to them way more, and gives you more satisfaction after completing them.
  • Allow twice as much time to do things than you think. Whether it’s driving to the station, baking a cake, or going to the shops, it always takes way longer to do things than you expect. Give yourself more time so you don’t get stressed or be late for something important.
  • Take breaks. All this productivity aside, you really need to give yourself time to chill out amongst this so that you don’t go crazy. Just make sure you set yourself a time limit for it – whether it is an evening in or a week on holiday – otherwise chill time can turn into laziness or purposelessness, and that doesn’t feel good at all.
  • Enjoy the everyday. What you do every day such as showering, getting ready, traveling to work, sleeping and eating may not feel that special, but it is important to appreciate it since you spend a good percentage of your life doing it! Respect your meal times by giving yourself enough time to eat and making yourself nice food. Get enough sleep, buy thick toilet paper, make some cracking car CDs, and do whatever else you can to make yourself feel comfortable in everyday activities.
  • Be nice. Strangely enough, being nice feels nice. Be helpful and friendly to those you come into contact with. Don’t let your bad mood affect those around you, try to make fewer judgments about people, and be sincere. Being nice has both long and short term benefits, but mainly it makes you and the people around you have a more positive day.

 

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Me on the left as Peter Rabbit at the Cheltenham Literature Festival

This is my method for leading a more productive and fulfilling life. If you have any tips on how you make the most out of your day, please comment below and I would love to add them to the list.

Thanks for reading!

20 Awkward Moments at Your First Grad Job

• Forgetting to bring an essential item on your first day of work
• Misreading a client’s body language and going in for a hug instead of a handshake
• Being a ‘superior’ to someone who is older and much more competent than you
• Accepting everyone else’s coffee offers but forgetting to do your round
• Attempting to appear sober in front of the boss at work socials
• That awkward conversation where every colleague explains to every other colleague why they don’t want to add each other on Facebook
• Pretending you know what VAT does and how it works
• Trying not to act surprised by the large sums of money that businesses deal with
• Trying to resist pointing out an innuendo during a business meeting
• Curbing your enthusiasm for food at all times
• Being the youngest attendee by a good 20 years at business networking events
• Accidentally making cutting sarcastic remarks during said networking events because you’re nervous and trying to be funny
• Having to politely laugh off sexist remarks in order to be professional
• Negotiating when is the appropriate time to start using winky emojis in emails
• Trying not to mention that you’re a bit hard up at the moment incase your boss thinks you’re hinting for a pay rise
• Having to ask your colleagues permission for a glass of wine at work-related events
• When the conversation moves to, and skirts around, how you got the job and the other people who applied for it
• When you get tongue tied whilst interviewing someone because they’re too attractive to handle
• Trying to discretely stuff your packed lunch box with samosas at the end of an investment meeting (because wasting food is something you simply cannot stoop to)
• Trying to hide your crazy cat lady nature until it’s too late for them to fire you

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One of my comics, demonstrating that these awkward moments are far better than not having a job, let alone an enjoyable one!

If you want to see more of my comics and artwork, go to my Facebook page, Instagram or Twitter.

Thanks for reading!