8 Things I didn’t know about British Culture

Recently, my co-worker, Chip, traveled to London on holiday for 2 weeks. Having come back to work and animatedly describing his adventures and the oddities he encountered whilst there, I’ve begun reflecting about my own enchanting time in the U.K.

So I figured I’d keep it simple. Before I left for the U.K., I knew practically nothing about British culture or geography (okay, I did know a little geography, but still…) Over the course of my 13 months there, I picked up an assortment of tips and information.

I mostly learned these things through working at a pub, the Grey Horse Inn, Manchester’s (2nd) smallest pub, but others, I picked up just through living there and soaking it all in!

Working the St. Paddy's Day shift at the Grey Horse

Working the St. Paddy’s Day shift at the Grey Horse

A lot of my American friends have been fortunate enough to travel to England themselves, so they may already be acquainted with the following, but in general, I wouldn’t have really encountered any of these things or experiences without spending an excessive amount of time there (which is safe to say the same of any foreign place one might travel to).

So here we go – 8 Things I didn’t know about British culture

  1. Mirrors in the lifts

It’s pretty self-explanatory. Nearly every lift (elevator) has a mirror. Usually it’s three panels of large mirrors, covering the three walls. Even older buildings or less well-to-do buildings had mirrors in the lifts! I am a little curious, still, about this phenomenon, and welcome any possible explanations on this matter. It was quite nice to steal a quick look at yourself and smooth your hair out before arriving to your destination.

2. Lunchtime Drinking

Lots of it! It is quite normal for business men and women to lunch at their local pub and down a few pints before returning to work – I’d seen suits and skirts (but mostly suits) in and out of the Grey Horse between Noon and 3pm nearly every week day that I worked.

Hyde's Original Bitter...a staple lunchtime beer in Manchester

Hyde’s Original Bitter…a staple lunchtime beer in Manchester

3. Unisex restrooms

Yep, this one was found out through a bit of old-fashioned field research. I remember washing my hands in the restroom of a pub after having finished my business, when suddenly, a man walked through the bathroom door and proceeded into one of the stalls and closed the door behind him. Astonished but not appalled, I walked out of the restroom and saw on the frosted glass door those famous two stick figures: a unisex bathroom. After this encounter in early October, I had many more similar experiences. Not all bathrooms are unisex, but they are more frequent there than they are here in the U.S.

More common than you think!

More common than you think!

4. Leggings are IT

Leggings are everywhere. You can’t escape them. Leggings were a fashion limited to a small group of people in the U.S. when I left, but in Manchester, every single girl had a pair. Scratch that: every single girl had several pair. And they wore them every day. I felt extremely foreign and started feeling that others would know I was foreign just because I wore blue-jeans all the time. I felt like an outsider in the blue jeans!

Absolutely nothing wrong with leggings! Just different to see it all the time and everywhere.

Absolutely nothing wrong with leggings! Just different to see it all the time and everywhere.

5. Football is Life; Life is Football

That is all.

Okay, I’ll elaborate just a little: football (known to my American readers as soccer) is king. Some pubs have signs in the windows asking their customers to not wear football colours or jerseys in order to minimize the amount of drink and sport-related quarrels and scuffles. Many customers would ask me (the barmaid) what kind of pub we were: United or City. Choose your words wisely when answering this question!

6. Bus Etiquette

Emily Post could have dedicated a fat chapter of her book to bus behavior. I’ll mention just a few quick tips: (1) Buses are normally comprised of two columns of two seats side-by-side. If there is an empty pair of seats, do not–I repeat–do not take an empty aisle seat next to an occupied window seat.  (2) Have your money ready when boarding the bus. Nobody likes being held up by someone fishing around their bag or pockets for the change. (3) Don’t take up the seat next to you with your shopping bags, especially if seating options for others are dwindling.

If you put your feet up on the seat in front of you, at least put a newspaper underneath your shoes!

If you put your feet up on the seat in front of you, at least put a newspaper underneath your shoes!

7. Spirits Measurements

They are smaller. Much smaller! Our pub at one point was serving 30mL liquor pours, but due to new serving laws, we had to serve shorter and more measured pours, 25mL, which was the standard that the majority of Manchester pubs were serving.

You have been warned: Do not order a Long Island and expect your glass to be half-full of liquor! You will likely only get 25mL of alcohol total. To put the measurement in perspective, our standard pour in Michigan is 45mL. An extra 20mL for the same price, more or less!

Most pubs, however, will offer some sort of special on cheaper alcohols, such as doubling up on your liquor for £1-£2 extra.

I became quite fond of beer - all types!

I became quite fond of beer – all types!

8. Words

There’s a plethora of different words and phrases that are very British-centric that many Americans are already familiar with, but let’s see if you knew any of these:

A hockey ‘game’ or a football ‘game’ is not an event in that sense at all; it’s a ‘match.’ Though they know what you are inquiring after if you ask, “What time is the game?,” It’s better to ask “What time is the match?”

Fringe – Bangs
Bag – Purse, but if you say purse, it means wallet.
Pavement – Sidewalk. The word sidewalk isn’t even a word in British English.
Hoovering – Vacuuming
Fancy dress – refers to dressing up in costume, like Halloween costumes, does not refer to dressing up fancily.
Plaster – band-aid; bandage

Then there’s a slew of Manchester slang words, such as tarah, ta, sod off, shite, knackered, and nicked.

So, there you have it! I am missing my Manchester home away from home more and more and cannot wait to make the trip back. No definitive plans just yet, but I am looking forward to possibly traveling next year. What things did you learn whilst traveling or living abroad about your host nation or culture?

That’s all for now…more to come soon ;)

TTFN (Ta-Ta For Now)

TTFN (Ta-Ta For Now)

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From Student to Professional

I’m not going to waste much time going into excuses as to why I haven’t updated the blog nor posted since November, when I linked my final dissertation film to the world. I’ve been busy. Let’s just leave it at that and move on!

So, during my hiatus, I’ve been keeping myself quite busy. I went to Chicago, I went up north in Michigan, I got a job, I bought a super expensive camera, I played in a billiards tournament, I moved to Royal Oak…all in no particular order.

I suppose the latest and greatest, though, is that I’ve decided to start freelancing photography.

The logo that my very talented sister, Julia, designed for my business.

The logo that my very talented sister, Julia, designed for my business.

Getting paid to photograph people, places, and things was honestly something I never gave any serious thought to. I think I’ve always felt I never had the talent, much less, the ego, to consider asking money for my images, but with a new rent bill to foot and more photographic equipment calling out to me, I’ve decided to give it a go and see where it takes me.

For anyone who isn’t involved in photography or who doesn’t any photographer friends, photographic equipment is expensive. And by ‘expensive,’ I mean preposterously unreasonable. Good lenses start at around $600 and go up to $2,000. But a photographer will also need to accumulate lens filters, camera bags, microphones, and a tripod at some point, which, that grouping alone could all total +$500. All of these prices swimming around in my head have me wondering…is getting into freelancing even worth it? To truly flourish as a photographer, besides the ‘eye’ and business sense, let’s face it, good glass (lenses) and other equipment is a necessity.

Roll your eyes as much as you like, but I’m going to bring it up…I’m a Libra and will, guilt-free, read my horoscope every single week and a larger one, every month. Libras are not logical-minded business people. Many Libras think with their emotions and, while they may have grand business venture ideas, have little motivation or business-sense to make them realities.

Libras normally don’t jump to conclusions, whether it is concerning people, places, or ideas. But, having said that, once their mind has been made, it’s made, and they will do whatever it takes to carry out that goal.

So hmm…So what does my April horoscope say about all of this?

“The events that transpire now have actually been building since November 2012, when …new work and money seeds [were planted]. Perhaps an illustrious job offer or high-profile account will come to fruition. Whatever happens now will be for the best, even if you’re not crazy about having to ride the mega-winds of change. All of life, including your career trajectory, is a process. This may sound cliché, but that old Zen saying is true: every step of the journey IS the journey.
Whatever comes your way, address it directly and systematically. Tap a trusted mentor for advice. Pick up a journal and devote three mornings a week to writing about your dream job. Commit to a more positive frame of mind. This new opportunity to grow could mean sacrificing some of your freedom or that flexible schedule you’ve grown so attached to.”

I can take that! While the stars may be in favor of me committing to this new photography business, a famous and very true saying about photography is “You can be the best photographer in the world, and still starve if you don’t know how to run a business; or you can be a mediocre photographer and make millions if you are a good business person.”

So my photographic and creative skills are almost pointless without any business sense. Aaand, that, dear reader, is where I need the most help.

The transition from student to professional hasn’t been without its bumps. Most of my friends know that my life has been anything but stable and my schedule, anything but regular. Some of my current goals revolve around vamping up my productivity and organization. That being said, I need to devote more time to the business by getting more organized and becoming quicker and more efficient at my edits, rather than drawing them out over two or three weeks. I’m realizing that having a 9-5 job (which more often than not is actually an 8:30-7 job) is very time-consuming! Which sounds pretty obvious, it’s a job, but making that transition from student to professional is a big adjustment. There isn’t exactly a manual written on these sorts of things. And the warnings we experience from elders about these types of transitions are usually handed out between high school and college. Hell, I can even remember being told in 5th grade to prepare ourselves for 6th grade, or middle school, where we wouldn’t get recess anymore, and had to stay in class all day long.

Alas, life drives on and all I can do now is to enjoy being the passenger. When the opportunity arises, I’ll take the wheel, but growth should be steady and consistent, right? Right?

So here goes my shameless self-promotion: like my Facebook page, or don’t like it, but look at it. You could even be so bold as to tell your friends about me (I can guarantee I have the lowest rates in town)! Lastly, ask questions and make comments – What has your student – professional transition been like? What sorts of business tips do you have?

Until later, TTFN!

TTFN (Ta-Ta For Now)

TTFN (Ta-Ta For Now)

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“Two Blades of Grass”

Well, there you have it. The much-anticipated title of my film. Do you like it? It’s okay, I’m not sure about it either. Well, I thought I liked it at first, which is why it’s what I called my film, but now I’ve grown a bit detached from it and sometimes find it cringe-worthy. But maybe because it’s my film and I’m supposed to be critical.

So, I know this post is more than over-due, but it took a lot more out of me than I expected to fully settle back in to my home state and get into a routine again.

The theatre of the Bridgeford Humanities Building in Manchester

The film made its premier on Saturday, October 13th in Manchester. My main character Graham, and his girlfriend, Bethany, were in attendance, alongside the majority of my professors, coursemates, and their families. It was a pretty nerve-racking experience, seeing my film for the umpteenth time, but wondering what everyone around me was thinking, as it was their first.

Graham and Bethany listen to the panel discussion after the viewing

The Critics

Anthropologist Tony Simpson and filmmaker Gavin Searle sat on my panel, while one of my supervisors, Angela Torresan, moderated.

Defending my film alongside coursemates Jenni Smout and Jacob Harbord

One of Tony’s remarks was that he thought the scenes of Graham waking up and going to bed were repetitive and unnecessary. I questioned these, as well, for a bit, but decided to keep these shots as they paced the film and felt they reflected the countryside and ‘natural’ lifestyle.

Gavin called the film ‘experimental,’ referring to the opening and closing voiceovers, I assume. Which, if you didn’t read my last post, to clarify, were both written and recorded by Graham himself. For the themes of the interview questions I asked, I was inspired by the writings of anthropologist Tim Ingold on agricultural societies and perceptions of the environment. If you really want to read the particular text I’m referring to, click here.

And while Gavin found the relationship between George and Graham to be bitter and extremely unnatural, Tony felt that the relationship was quite touching and moving. He, along with many audience members, wanted to see that relationship further developed in the film. However, I didn’t want this strained relationship to be the film’s centerpiece, mostly out of respect for Graham and George. If Graham and George were both fully aware that I was creating a film about their particular uncomfortable relationship and their lives together on the farm, I think I would have no moral dilemma including those scenes or making that film; however, I did not feel it was ethical to portray that aspect in the film without making my intentions absolutely clear to my subjects. As an anthropologist, I will always respect them, their beliefs, and goals, before my own motives. As a filmmaker, however, I think it would have made for a very entertaining and compelling film indeed. But I cannot forget the strong anthropological background I have, which focuses on human study, which in turn, encompasses a plethora of ethical issues surrounding the treatment of human subjects.

As a person, it’s easy to judge others. As an anthropologist, it’s much easier. But also much more dangerous. In 1971, Alan Lomax published a set of rules or standards for future ethnographic filmmaking practices based on values of the American Anthropological Association and American society in the 1960s. Rule number one reads, “No one should be backed or encouraged to film in the field unless he is not only a competent but also an empathetic cameraman.” While our course has taught us competence, empathy is a to be skill learned and practiced. So it was empathy, then, that I strived for, ultimately this summer.

What would I change?

Well, there are some really simple technical issues I would change, such as some funky color, where color grading was rushed or botched, and some sound issues.

There are also some continuity errors that I recognize—no, I didn’t just miss them in the edit suite, I honestly tried to get around them, but there was just no solution, as the footage, ethnographically, was more valuable than the aesthetic. Most anthropologists will agree with this logic; many filmmakers, disagree.

As far as changing plot or sequences, these would be changes that would not be taken lightly. Given a longer editing period, I could have emerged with a few different versions of the film, had some time to play around with sequences, and develop certain areas further. But I had about six weeks to shoot, but only 13 days to edit. Large-scale documentary productions can have an entire team editing a project for months on end.

So, the film…

If you click on the image below, it will lead you to watch the film on Vimeo. But, before you click below, I add a disclaimer for those with arachnophobia. Please avoid 15:47—16:06.

I’d also like to add that there was a dedication prefacing the film, but it had to be removed for the web version due to festival submission guidelines. I would like to recognize here, though, that the film is dedicated in loving memory to my grandmother, Irene C. Shields.

Film basics

Running time: 25 minutes

Dir., Ed., Cam., Sound: Lara Stephenson

Music by: Eleanora

Location: High Peak, Derbyshire, England



I’d love to hear from you. What did you like? What didn’t you like? Any interpretations you’d like to offer? Comments? Questions? I’ll field it all. Please feel free to comment here, on the Vimeo page, or send me an email.

What’s Next?

As some of you may know, I’ve just returned to the U.S. and am currently on the job hunt. It’s been disappointing to say the least so far, but I’ve still got optimism that something good will come my way. I’m looking for jobs in production; I’d prefer documentary production, specifically camera work, but I’d love to be involved in any aspect of production. So, if you have any job leads, cast them my way. If you’re an employer, please feel free to browse this blog or check out my Vimeo or LinkedIn profiles.

TTFN (Ta-Ta For Now)

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Title-less but Confident

The editing of my farm project is well underway. It’s crazy to think that in just two weeks’ time, my classmates, professors, and complete strangers will be watching my final product in the auditorium downstairs. And shortly after that, it will be available for the world on the web.

Graham asked to be included in a part of the editing process, so I invited him to come by the editing suites at any point and we could look over some of the material together. Yesterday, he and his girlfriend, Bethany (who makes a brief appearance in the film), stopped by for a couple hours.

While I was a nervous wreck sitting beside them, watching their reactions and wringing my hands, it was all smiles, laughter, and reassurance from the pair, but best of all, approvals and blessings to carry on.

Graham and Bethany view my rough cut

Any of my lingering questions or hesitations have been answered and reassured, respectively, leaving me optimistic and more certain than I’ve ever felt before in the editing suite. With a lengthy list of suggestions, corrections, and edits to go over, I still have a lot of work on my hands, 20 hours of footage, and 200 decisions to make. While most of the crucial decisions have been made, there’s still much more to consider and explore.

Making batch lists off of my transcripts was time-consuming and frustrating, as they require a very specific format

Up next in editing will be producing a second cut of the film, which should see the timeline, or order of events, firmly in place, with some sound editing finished. The final steps include a final cut of the film, colour grading, sound mixing, and end credits.

I still don’t have a title for the film, at this point,  only laughable and absurd suggestions from Graham and other friends. I’m still open to suggestions at this point, but I feel like after my second cut, a title will hopefully become apparent and simply reveal itself to me as it did in Something Like a Tradition.

Both Bethany and Graham are planning on attending the screening, which is scheduled for around 5pm on Saturday, October 12th. If you are in the area, I hope you’ll come by and see my film (and my classmates’ too!), please email me for more information and the full screenings schedule.

Until next time, tarah!

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An Ending to a Beginning

Happy last week of filming to me! I’m approaching the last bits and bobs of my shooting: gathering a final interview, recording more of a baby chick in the yard (who grows an astounding amount each week), and just some general soundscapes.

Final day of filming

So last week, I gave Graham (my main character) an assignment. When struggling to think about how I could end the film, I decided to do something a bit experimental. I asked Graham to write an ending. Some sort of few lines or so that we could record so I could use it to end the film.

Now, this was not a easy assignment for him, nor was it for me to assign, since he doesn’t know what the film is about. And to be honest, at this stage, neither do I. I gave him some of the basic themes and plot I’m going for, but couldn’t supply him with much more information. If he wanted to, I told him, he could write a few different versions and together we could pick the best one.

Over the weekend, I called him and asked him to also think about writing an opener as well. I’m now at the farm and the opening and the closing have been written. I’m very pleased with what he’s written, especially since he didn’t have much information to go on! He only wrote one version for each.

The plan is to record these tomorrow, in the quietest room of the house. To be honest, reading what he wrote, it was quite touching. The actual content itself is quite sarcastic; I think the touching bit comes from the fact that he took me seriously and actually wrote something. And, even though I don’t know exactly what my film is going to look like or how the plot will go, his opening and closing statements have really helped to frame it for me. As I end my final days of shooting, I’m becoming more and more confident that I have a film. And the good news is, I have a feeling it’s just going to get better.

Following the story of a calf’s birth and her mom’s sale is a possible sub-plot among the greater themes

I took Graham and his parents out for lunch at the local pub (in white) to celebrate the end of shooting. Nobody does a better venison stew and carrot soup than the Fox!

I can’t celebrate too soon, though. Half of my classmates begin their editing this week. Eek! My half of the class begins editing September 18th. Until then, I’ve still got 20 hours of tape to transcribe, which amounts to about 60 hours of work.

So what do you think? Was asking him to write the ending and beginning not documentary? Will it work? Or fail?

Until next time, tarah!

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Rural? Exotic? Is it all relative?

Excuse me for my long and unexplained absence. After a death in the family and a visit back home to Michigan to be with them, I’m back in Manchester and ready to blog. I’m actually writing this on the train that goes from New Mills, where the farm is, to Manchester Picadilly train station. It’s quite a lovely train ride (cheap, too!), with sheep, cows, and horses dotting the landscape and canals cutting under us as we go over centuries-old bridges and pass house-barges along the way.

Foreign for some, local for others

Seeing all this for the first time, for me, was thrilling. I was struck by how beautiful it all was, even though I had only traveled 30 minutes outside of Manchester. I thought it was exotic. But what is exotic?

At the Undergraduate National Research Conference a couple years ago, I listened to a talk from a fellow anthropology student who had done her research in Perú the previous summer. She worked with street children, researching their social and family structure, but most interestingly, how these children perceived the local, the foreign, and the exotic. They dressed unnaturally in native south American clothing every day and roamed the streets of Cusco, posing for and with tourists for a charge. Tourists looked at children as exotic and vise-versa (she reported that foreigners for the children were those from the highlands of Perú or from Colombia, for example).

In an editorial from Mark Easton published earlier this summer, the rural landscape of Britain is dicussed. Specifically, how much of the UK is ‘built on’ and how much is ‘natural.’ He challenges the public assumption that England is majority town rather than country, and breaks down the findings from the National Ecosystem Assessment (NEA) as such: Less than 7% of the UK can be classified as urban, and within those urban areas, almost 55% of those spaces are composed of parks, sports grounds, canals, allotments, and gardens.


So, the pretty landscape I’m looking at out the window right now on my train isn’t so exotic afterall, is it? I somehow, though, get the idea that even for the English, it might be…

Though this is nice, it’s not where I spend the majority of my time

Rather, the majority of my time is spent here

The new survey and editorial has prompted me, and I believe, others, to think, where do I spend the majority of my time? That’s easy—on the bus, walking on pavement, in my dorm, at work, and on the train. So, the greenery shouldn’t seem exotic to me or to any other UK resident. I think Easton said it best in his conclusion: “The lesson might be that we need to celebrate the truth about our green and pleasant land. Or perhaps it simply tells us we really should get out more.”

I’ve only a few more weeks of filming left, and a lot to say, so keep checking in.

Until next time, tarah!

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Eyes of Silk

I think the world is a beautiful place. This planet never ceases to amaze me. We are surrounded by beauty every day. And this isn’t just because I just came back from one of the most picturesque countries on the planet…I was actually thinking about this on the bus last night, as I watched an odd assortment of people bobbing along to the rhythm of the bus, casually staring out the window, reading their newspapers, or perhaps cuddled against their loved one. They’re the sorts of people who would never be together in any other situation but the bus. And it’s these types of situations that I love the most; that make me really appreciate the world and nameless people and community that surround me every day.

The Isle of Skye (refer to the title of this post for its apt anagram) is one of those places that makes you think about how amazing the geological world of mountains, sea floors, and other physical forces are at work in the planet. It makes you imagine the earth heaving and swelling and then receding and contracting in these great Olympian movements that can only be captured in your own imagination, rather than in any scientific charted representation.

Glen Coe

River of Youth

Cairngorms National Park

From the Skye Bridge

Slighean a Ghlinn Mhòir

I heard tales of giants, faeries, gods, and kings who all once played a role in Skye’s creation and subsequent mythological and historical wealth. The island contained much more than, what I consider to be, ‘classic beauty.’ What I mean to say is that out of all the landscape poetry I read in high school, or out of the entire landscape gallery at the DIA, I haven’t been able to connect what I saw on Skye and in Scotland’s highlands to those pieces of art, despite all the good intentions of the artists. I, myself, can’t connect to my own photographs of the place! I can’t see the photographs as representing what I really saw, or, better, what I felt, on the trip.

Well, I suppose, in a few short sentences, my trip to Scotland certainly has inspired me to begin this farm film. I’m certainly not the first, nor will I be the last, to be inspired by Scotland’s landscape.

I began my filming today, actually. One of the most frustrating things, sometimes, about filming, is the uncertainty in your subjects’ actions. I encountered this for the ump-teenth time in the milking parlour today. Thinking that you’ll follow a piece of action doesn’t always turn out how you imagined it would in your head, because people are very unpredictable and don’t always do what you want them to. And asking them to do it again, for the sake of the film, well, that’s technically acting, and it usually looks like they’re acting.

Remember in Something Like a Tradition when, just after getting drenched and whipped, Patricia tells Woodee she loves him and gives him a hug? I loved that moment but I asked her to do it again because the radio microphone was in the shot and the shot was a bit jumpy. But the first time, the natural time, is the one that made the final cut in the movie, because the second time just looked so staged—and it was, to be fair.

So that’s one of the challenges I face as a filmmaker of both human and bovine subjects—the unpredictability of movement and, often, sound. It’s a task I need to either create techniques to get around (wider framing?) or learn to simply accept, appreciate, and cope with in editing.

Tomorrow Graham is going on a date and an appraiser is coming to look at some of the cows to determine their health for sale, so it should be a busy shooting day for me. On a side note, it is also the 4th of July, which is observed as our independence day in the U.S. In true American fashion, I’ll be celebrating in multi-cultural style with hot dogs for dinner and then heading down to the local pub, the Fox Inn, for Morris dancing, capped off by the Detroit Tigers vs Minnesota Twins baseball game on telly late that night.

I’m looking forward to this summer, so stick around, I’ve got plenty more coming.

Until next time, tarah!


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