Before you pull up stakes and start over somewhere new and different, get in touch with Sheela Kadam Bailey of the Argyle/Lantana area.
Shortly after her birth in India her family immigrated to the Sussex area in southern England where she grew up to become British through and through, and as is evident, proud of it. As a young adult she moved to Tennessee then in the 1980s she married a native Texan, and settled down to raise a family in the DFW area.
“I wasn’t born here,” she laughed, “but I got here as soon as I could!”
Moving around the English-speaking world was not as easy as it sounded.
“The first year was like a holiday or, as Americans say, a vacation,” she said. After that the surprise adjustments arrived, like speaking with the natives.
“The first time I heard the word pay-yen I thought the person was asking me for a pen.” She handed them a writing implement, but they shook their head, and repeated themselves, a pay-yen. “The customer pointed to a plaque of lapel pins, and said, “A pay-yen!” she laughed while she threw up her hands, and reenacted her moment of surprise and comprehension. “In England we call a jewelry pin a brooch,” she said (pronounced broach).
“I had to learn to say wah-ter instead of wooh-tah. My family in England insists I’ve acquired a Texas drawl,” she chuckled without a hint of American country-western pronunciation.
Then there was the first time she ordered tea in a restaurant. “A huge pitcher of tea filled with ice cubes arrived with a glass. I thought I had asked for a cup of tea, and I wasn’t sure what to do.”
Eventually she got a cup of warm tea then she asked for some milk, but failed to say “to use like cream in coffee.” The waitress returned with a big pitcher of milk and second drinking glass.
Sheela showed off her honest-to-goodness English phrasebook for Americans determined to adventure around Britain and vice versa. The book shed the light of day on head-scratcher colloquialisms like bangers, biscuits, sweeties, chips, and a car’s bonnet.
First time world travelers listen up!
On this side of “the pond” or Atlantic Ocean, we call big sausages, sausages. Our cousins in Britain call them “bangers” because every alert Briton knows cased sausages explode with a bang if the chef does not prick the casing during cooking. If your British guest asks for a biscuit he/she wants a cookie. If he/she asks you for a scone he/she wants a biscuit. Oh, and by the way, the English muffin is an American invention that almost looks like a crumpet, but tastes different.
Confused yet? There’s more.
“Sweeties” are bonbons we cowboys call “candy,” and chips – as in fish and chips – are French fries. American potato chips are “potato crisps,” and informed munchers know the very best potato crisps are made with 100% British potatoes!
Not to ignore the mechanics in the audience, British motor vehicles have “bonnets” where American cars have hoods. Pop the bonnet Guv, and let’s ‘ave a look shall we?
“The two biggest surprises when I emigrated were, believe it or not, drive-thru banking, and the lack of public transportation. I needed a car!” Sheela said with an amused smile, “but I loved Texas right away, and made it my home.”
In the spirit of doing as the Romans do she bought a pair of Lucchese cowboy boots that make the annual pilgrimage with her to visit family back in England.
“I do get bouts of homesickness. Every immigrant does,” Sheela says.
That experience gave her an idea 20 years ago. She opened a little shop in the heart of Grapevine, and called it The British Emporium, for Americans and homesick British, East Indians and South Africans.
East India? Isn’t that what Columbus called the islands in the Caribbean?
“That’s what Brits call India,” Sheela informed me without bursting into cowhand guffaws. “And,” she added “we British love Indian food!” She even taught Indian cooking classes once upon a time.
The large community of expatriate South Africans in the DFW Metroplex also wanted British ingredients and products. “If you can’t go home for a visit, the next best thing to cure homesickness is comfort food,” Sheela said. She also imported South African, East Indian, and Caledonian or Scottish products.
If you’ve ever salivated over a Ploughman’s Lunch in a British pub, you know how addicting Branston Pickle piled atop a thick slice of British cheddar on a slice of crusty bread is, and you know how hard it is to find a jar of Branston outside of Grapevine.
“Heinz,” Sheela said, “manufactures the British version of baked beans which excludes pork fat and barbecue flavored sauce (a chuck wagon condiment).”
All true British palates yearn for British baked beans except on days when those palates happen to be struttin’ their stuff in jeans and Luccheses.
Sheela noticed in America it was next to impossible to find British-style bangers in flavors like to-mah-to; Lincolnshires (say Lincoln-sheers) with chopped herbs (say the h as in Herbert); rich meaty Cumberlands, and of course spicy Irish bangers. She banished that problem at The Emporium.
“Oh, and proper British and Anglophile kitchens come with a Brown Betty!” she said. A Brown Betty is a rotund 3-4 cup teapot produced and traditionally glazed a burnt brown color by potters in Staffordshire, England.
“Tea steeped in and poured from a Brown Betty tastes…” Sheela closes her dark eyes, and searches for the right word, “bet-tah! It’s the pot,” she giggled.
Perhaps the composer of the kindergarten song “I’m A Little Teapot” was memorializing his/her Brown Betty?
Without missing a beat Sheela said her all time favorite comfort food is Cadbury’s chocolate. “Cadbury’s does not add ingredients to stop their treats from melting, and the experience on the tongue is exquisitely rich and melty!”
Despite the adjustments of leaving behind familiar places, ways, tastes, sounds and smells Sheela said, “America and Americans are delightful!”
Well maybe Texas’ summer heat is not delightful. “My brother says American air conditioning imparts youth, but I say the friendliness and supportiveness of the people more than compensate for the heat. My whole experience has been so touching, and I so wanted to give back to this wonderful community who welcomed me with open arms.”
The British Emporium is Sheela Bailey’s gift to Americans, and all the world’s English speakers who are far from home. Preview the store at www.British-emporium.com or go there in person at 140 N. Main Street in downtown Grapevine. She carries tourist souvenirs, British magazines, and English, Scottish, Indian, and South African groceries on shelves as well as in a small meat freezer, and a dairy fridge.
“The FDA won’t allow importation of British meats these days, though we can get them from Ireland,” she said.
American and Canadian meat packers have filled the vacuum and produced specialty British meats and ready-cooked foods. Pork pie anyone? Sheela said the products were as good as imported originals.
She showed off her “proper [English] bacon” which we would describe as thin-sliced boneless center-cut pork chop with just a hint of fat along its rounded edge. Crisp strips of smoked pork belly with more fat than meat are the American version of proper bacon according to Sheela.
Her British Emporium is family-owned and run like a typical small English shop. The place keeps Sheela and her family busy 7 days a week.
“My favorite non-work activity is family time away from the store. Nothing is more precious than family relationships,” Sheela said.
With abundant good cheer and international harmony the Bailey family also offers Texans British-related community events in tandem with bigger events like the recent royal wedding and the Olympics.
“We hosted two of Her Majesty’s Beefeaters in full costume during the Prince’s wedding. They were on a goodwill tour of the country, and were a big hit locally,” Sheela said.
And of course The British Emporium supplied Olympics fans with plenty of potato crisps in unique flavors while they watched the action.
What British attraction should every American try to see before they die?
Without hesitation Sheela said, “London; the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace; the Tower of London, and the crown jewels.”