I remember my first day in Yorkshire really well. I was a young student on a cultural exchange with no idea that I was about to visit an area with such a strong and proud identity. My first experience of a Yorkshire pub was not a successful one. My command of English was very limited so when I was asked what I wanted to drink I asked for a glass of milk (one of only two drinks I could remember in English, the other being water).
The answer from the other side of the bar was quite blunt:
“We are not a milk bar”.
In case you were wondering, yes, the ‘F word’ was in front of milk. Unfortunately it didn’t end there…since I was struggling to understand the barman my response was quite naïve:
“Can you repeat that more slowly, please?”
I very quickly learned to ask for a pint of Yorkshire real ale. That was just one of many experiences a complete outsider can enjoy when arriving in Yorkshire for the first time.
It was the eighties, in those days there were no low cost airlines and northern airports were not an option. Having to fly to Heathrow and take a long drive made me feel like I was going to the periphery. However, heading north I was amazed by the beautiful landscape. I understood the meaning of the words ‘green and pleasant land’ from day one. I was also pleased to see people lived in houses or terrace houses, not in flats – this added to the character. The price to pay for such lovely countryside is the weather. I was quite surprised to find the locals were constantly talking about it. But since there is not a lot you can do about the weather, I took the positives and embraced it. I was really impressed by how proud the several miners I met were of their way of life. I recognized they were highly skilled and hardworking people and warmed to them. Something I did not get was the food and the very British concept of forming an orderly queue. At the low end, I was horrified with queuing in a fish and chips shop. I saw the products on offer as unhealthy junk food.
At the high end I thought it was not worth queuing for ages to get into a posh tea room. I stand corrected; I am a convert to both now (I still do not like queuing though). A roast dinner with Yorkshire pudding and two vegetables was another great discovery. However, eating your main meal of the day at 5 pm? I wondered what that was about. To make the treat complete there was just tea to drink, no wine in sight. The accent is the last thing I took home with me. Despite the fact that my two weeks amongst you all improved my command of the language, my teacher back home kept correcting my pronunciation. It is clear foreigners expect to hear BBC English. After living here for over 15 years and marrying a Yorkshire lass, I am a proud to be an adopted Yorkshire man. I urge each of you, like me, to become ambassadors of the county (although I imagine most of you are already).