|English journalist visits on exchange|
|Friday, June 8, 2012|
If you were one of the folks who passed my table at lunch one day last week at The Pizza Machine who thought it appeared I was having lunch with a bloke from England, you would be exactly correct.
I’m sure it was entertaining to hear my southern drawl and Simon Faulkner’s northern English accent coming from the same table. It might have been difficult to tell if we were speaking the same language.Faulkner, 27, was in the last week of a month-long visit to Middle Tennessee along with four other countrymen as part of the Rotary Foundation’s Group Study Exchange (GSE). The program provides a cultural and vocational exchange opportunity for businesspeople and professionals between the ages of 25 and 40 who are in the early stages of their careers. He has worked the past four years as a government reporter for the Grimsby Telegraph, a daily newspaper with circulation around 20,000. It’s a position to get his “foot on the ladder” for his journalism career.
Four young professionals and a team leader traveled from England to Nashville to participate in the GSE. In addition to Faulkner, the other professions represented on the trip were a university lecturer (who spent the day with Karen Mitchell at Volunteer State Community College), an elementary school teacher (who spent the day with Principal Danny Sullivan at Union STEM) and a museum educator (who spend the day with John Garrott at the Sumner County Museum and other historic sites in the county). The Team Leader, a retired headmaster and education consultant, spent the day with William E. Hovenden, headmaster at Sumner Academy.
“We had a bit of a hiccup on the way here,” Faulkner said explaining that his group was sent to the wrong terminal building at JFK Airport in New York City. By the time they arrived at the correct terminal, it was too late. Their luggage caught the flight out but they didn’t. The group spent the night in NYC before they caught an early flight out the next morning and was “reacquainted with their luggage” in Nashville.
They quickly began a whirlwind day of meeting people and making a presentation to the Rotary Club in Pulaski that afternoon. “As you can imagine, it was baptism by fire,” is how he explained it.
In the coming days, the group visited clubs in Murfreesboro, Green Hills, Downtown Nashville, Savannah, Jackson, Memphis, Dyersburg and Brentwood. In the middle of all that, the group attended a two-day rotary conference in Franklin. Faulkner ‘job-shadowed’ journalists at The Daily News Journal in Murfreesboro, The Savannah Courier, The Jackson Sun and several papers in Nashville including The City Paper, The Nashville Post, the Nashville Scene, The Nashville Business Journal and The Tennessean.
In between business visits and Rotary meetings, the group was served “gigantic volumes of food that played havoc with the waistlines” and did their fair share of sightseeing.
The visitors had the unique experience of getting to know Americans, and their pets, by staying in homes of Rotarian hosts.
“The thing that struck all of us is how generous and welcoming the people here have been and how interested they are in meeting people from other places,” he said. “I think overseas Americans have the reputation as being quite insular, as if America is the world and the rest of the world doesn’t exist. Yet people seem very interested and intrigued about events going on elsewhere. One of the first questions I was asked by one of the Rotarians at the airport was “oh, you’re the journalist. What do you think about the French elections?’ So that showed that Americans are interested in what’s going on in the world.”
He also noted that Americans seem to love his accent. “One waitress said ‘by the way, I love your accent. I could listen to you speak all day.’” he said.
Faulkner had mixed reviews for southern food. “We had Bar-B-Q for like the first four days,” he said. “It’s very different here, plus we don’t get the okra, the potato salad, the baked beans. We generally have burgers and sausages on the grill and maybe a salad if you are feeling adventurous. We focus on meat and plenty of beer. We had dinner at one house and they had six desserts, which must be a record.”
“In England we have a very strict notion about what is sweet and what is savory and the two should forever remain apart,” he explained. “It’s been a bit striking to come to breakfast and see scrambled eggs with strawberries, for example.”
And he’s not a fan of southern style biscuits and gravy. “Your biscuits are different from our biscuits. What we call a biscuit, you would likely call a cookie. So when I hear we are going to have biscuits for breakfast, it doesn’t sound good. And your gravy is different to ours. Our gravy is like a beef stock liquid you would pour on to meat and vegetables. Your gravy is more of a thick, white sauce. I’m not a fan, I must admit.”
Located in North East Lincolnshire, Grimsby is on the east coast of the United Kingdom and is described by Faulkner as a “working class city and …one of the most deprived areas in the UK,” mostly due the death of the local fishing industry.
As a government reporter, Faulkner noted that local politics in England seem a bit more divisive than what he has discovered in Tennessee. The major national parties, the Labour Party and the Conservative Party, are involved bringing their partisan ways to the local level.
“I enjoy politics, and I really enjoy the meetings, which is unbelievable to some people, the conflicts and the arguments,” he explained. “I enjoy the challenge of walking a tightrope to maintain my relationships with the leaders of the parties. They may despise each other but I have to maintain a good working relationship with both of them. Sometimes I feel like the piggy in the middle.”
Our conversation included stories of financial shenanigans, power struggles, votes of no-confidence and failed coalitions. “There is always squabbling going on in our local government,” he said.
Falkner said that he didn’t notice a lot of difference in the journalism world in the United States. “When I walk into newsrooms here, I can recognize them as newsrooms much like the ones back home,” he said noting that the biggest difference was that American reporters didn’t use shorthand which is required in England since no recording devises are allowed in courtrooms and public meetings.
The school teacher in the GSE group noted the U.S. schools are much larger facilities than those in England but with smaller classroom sizes. The teacher also noted that U.S. schools had more flexibility than the rigid one-size-fits-all structure in England.
Before we parted, I asked my new friend what he liked best about his reporting job. “On the general level, being a reporter, I enjoy the variety of it,” he said. “From one day to another you might be doing anything. You get the opportunity to do things you wouldn’t normally get to do. Like this trip to the United States as well as a trip last year to tour and report on the Auschwitz Concentration Camp Museum in Poland. It’s an interesting job.”
By Randy Cline