Diane Reisinger had been to England twice before, but it wasn't until the other day that she was introduced to winkles, the tiny sea snails which are eaten with ordinary straight pins at English seaside resorts.
Winkles and chips at Whitley Bay is about as far off the usual track for American tourists as one can get, but Reisinger and 380 other visitors from in and around Atlanta had no intention of being ordinary tourists. When they arrived in Newcastle last week.
They were the first planeload of envoys from Friendship Force, a private program very publicly promoted by President Jimmy Carter, which is arranging exchange visits between ordinary Americans and their counterparts in other countries in an effort to "promote peace in the world."
The Atlantans have lived in the homes, visited the workplaces and met the relatives and friends of their volunteer hosts. The same chartered jet that brought the Georgians here took a load of Geordies, as inhabitants of northeast England are Known, to Atlanta for a similar 10-day visit.
The Georgians have been having doubts about the uniqueness of "southern hospitality" since they arrived here. They have been astounded by the friendless not only of their hosts, but of people on the street determined to make them feel welcome.
"Whenever you go and visit some body, they always give you something," marvelled Reisinger, branch manager for an Atlanta bank. She has been given a silver jubilce plate. The first bloom off a new strain of rose named for Queen Elizabeth II, and a child's own porcelain figue with Josephine McAlhone. who has made a special effort to show her guest her everyday life. They have spent evenings with friends and relatives. Even though McAlhonc took time off from work during the visit, she took Reisinger to see her colleagues in a local government office and shared with them "the typical British lunchtime, liquid lunch in the pub."
The warmth of the Geordies' welcome reflects in part their enthusiasm for the supreme Georgian of them all, who chose to visit northeast England when he came to Britain for the London Economic summit in May.
For the Geordies, Carter's "Howay the Lads" will live on as a symbolic statement of comradeship in the way President Johm F. Kennedy's "Ich bin cin Berliner" reassured doubting European hearts.
They fiil that Carter, in a way, has paid more attention to their neglected region than have British politicians themselves
"The northeast absolutely adores him," said McAlhone.
"Our hostess has a scrapbook which she's making of Jimmy Carter's visit, of our visit and of the queen's visit." said Claire Underwood, who works for an Atlanta church.
Neither the British nor the Americans have suffered any great cultural shocks during the visit. The Geordies knew enough about the United States, McAlhone said, to disregard advice that Americans' diets consisted only of coffee and hamburgers.
But, McAlhone confessed "I didn't think they drank so much tea."
She wasn't as surprised as Dock Davis, an Atlanta lawyer who also farms in Franklin, Ga. He discovered that his host grew turnip greens.
Still, there was enough difference between the native dishes of Georgia and Geordieland to require explanations of unfamiliar wares in bakery and butcher shop windows and enthusiastic descriptions of squash, grits, cornbread and covered-dish suppers.
After a noisy welcome at the airport, Newcastle gave the Atlantans ans official civic reception, and there were organized tours and programs for the first five days. These were optional, however, and many of the visitors and their hosts elected to spend the time getting to know each other the way the visit was intended.
Those visitors with rather public occupations got a chance to show them off. A Decatur, Ga., policeman directed traffic while dressed in his American uniform. Atlanta radio and television newcasters took over similar spots on the BBC's regional programs based in Newcastle.
About half the Georgians may see the queen on Thursday when she visits Durham, about 15 miles south of Newcastle, on one of her jubilee tours. A special area will be roped off for them, according to the Rev. Wayne Smith. Friendship Force's president, and some may get to meet the queen personally.
Before then, the Georgians have four days free to go wherever they want. Some elected to see the usual tourist sights in London. Others planned to scatter throughout Britain to search for their "roots." One woman was going across the North Sea to Norway on such a genealogical quest.
For some of the Americans. there has been a realization of different material standards and values.
"The people I live with don't have a telephone or a car." said Underwood. "It doesn't bother them to get on a bus, carrying a picnic lunch including hot tea and carrying swimsuits, and to ride two or three buses across town to get to the beach. I kind of like that.
"When they talk about money," she said of the Northeasterners. "they're talking about necessities. When we talk about money, we're talking about luxuries."
And not only did Underwood find "that tea is okay with cream in it." she also discovered a "sense of history" from visits to places like Durham Cathedral.
"When I saw those flags hanging in the cathedral, I couldn't believe they were in shreds," she said. "At home we don't have anything that old."
The Atlantans are the pioneers of a nationwide program which organizers hope will be exchanging 250,000 Americans and 250,000 foreigners a year by 1981. The target is a flight a month from each state.
Like others to follow. the Atlanta delegation was quite deliberately assembled to reflect a "cross-section" of people - blacks and whites, representatives of a broad range of occupations, more than half had never been overseas before. Even so, it's not the average group that includes the U.S. president's mother-in-law, and the state lieutenant governor.
Each applicant for the program pays $250 and must find someone at home willing to act as host for a foreign visitor. To prevent the scheme being used just as a cheap trip overseas, applicants will have to accept whatever country is assigned to their home city. They also are limited to one suitcase and won't be able to spend more than $50 for purchases.
Friendship Force tries to match visitors with hosts of similar occupation or interests.
There is a certain evangelical tone to the program. Members of the party are officially called "ambassadors" and a Friendship Force promotional pamphlet says applicants should be "dedicated Americans." It also quotes Smith, a Presbyterian minister who is the organization's unpaid president. as saying: "When we live with other people. break bread with them, walk in their footsteps, a lot of good things can happen."
Friendship Force grew out of several exchange trips between Georgia and Brazil when Carter was governor. Smith. then a missionary in Brazil, initiated the program.
Although the organization is private and non-profit, Rosalynn Carter's position as national honorary chairman keeps the Carter connection well in mind. Friendship Force is based in Atlanta.