On April 5, 2016, I started learning Welsh. (I’m not normally so precise, but I have an unbroken Duolingo streak and can count.)

Around that time, I discovered the S4C website and I looked for things that were 1) relatively easy to follow, 2) had English subtitles, and 3) would hold my attention.

So, soap operas! I figured the dialogue would be mostly conversational–the hi, bye, how are you? things you get in language courses…plus bonus vocabulary about who is sleeping with whom. And so it is. But I didn’t reckon on LIKING soap operas, though. There are other shows that I’d count as soaps, but two are the most like daytime soaps American audiences are familiar with (even if they air at night in Wales): Rownd a Rownd  (airs 2/week) and Pobol y Cwm (airs 5/week). Both shows are 20 minutes long and divided into two segments. Rownd a Rownd just celebrated its 21st birthday and Pobol y Cwm has been around for 42 years.

The shows are pretty different from American soaps. For one, the actors look like real people. For another, their professions in the shows are realistic, like farmers or contractors or plumbers or small business owners or mechanics. There’s a lot of what we’d consider blue-collar jobs. No one is independently wealthy (that I can tell; the richest person on Rownd a Rownd seems to have built his business). I love that. The most exalted profession in both is teaching. What might be something worthy of a class-conscious letter to Dear Prudence (“Dear Prudence: Help! I’m a teacher and I’ve fallen in love with a mechanic/climbing instructor/plumber! How can I tell my family and friends? Should I dump him because he can’t discuss Marxist theories of history?”) is no. big. deal. And I love that, too. I don’t know if that’s an across-the-board Welsh TV thing, a Welsh thing in general, or something else, but it’s nice.

Rownd a Rownd is set in North Wales. Pobol y Cwm is set in South Wales. There is a huge difference in how the language sounds from north to south, and there are some vocabulary differences. (The most critical seem to be the words for a cup of tea and now.)

But…it didn’t take long until I realized there were more similarities than differences between the shows. Heck, there probably are more than this, but I’ve only been watching for about six months.

  1. Hair salon: In PyC it’s run by Sheryl, who employs Dani, kinda. I think? In RaR it’s run by [obvs] a different Dani, who employs Jac and Lowri.
  2. Mechanic: In PyC the mechanic is Gethin. In RaR, it’s Rhys. I don’t think Rhys has come across a dead body in his shop yet, though.
  3. Local Shop: It’s like a mini-mart/grocery in both. In PyC it’s owned by Elaine. In RaR it’s slightly more complicated, but it’s run by Philip.
  4. Pub/Restaurant: In PyC, it’s the Deri or Cafe Meic. In RaR it’s Copa.
  5. Teachers: In PyC, Tyler and Ffion are teachers and Gaynor is the head teacher. In RaR, Mathew and Llio are teachers and Jim is the head teacher.
  6. Guys with shady pasts and rhyming names: Gary (PyC) and Barry (RaR).
  7. Pregnancy plots: Sara (PyC) and Carys (RaR).
  8. Juvenile arson of beloved buildings: Chester targeted Bethania, a chapel (PyC). Gareth went after the Parry’s/Sgram/Dani triumvirate (RaR). Consequences: Chester went to Welsh Juvie, and Gareth just disappeared from RaR.
  9. Painkiller addictions: Kath (PyC) and Carys (RaR). (I also watch Gwaith/Cartref, and lo, there is another painkiller addict.)
  10. Gay couple: Tyler and Iolo (PyC), Rhys and still-mostly-closeted David (RaR).
  11. A super annoying old person: Megan (PyC) and Arthur (RaR).
  12. Teenagers learning to drive: Courtney (PyC) and twins Erin and Wil (RaR). It didn’t work out for Courtney.
  13. American-themed clothing:  I find it kind of jarring to see things like a Yankees ball cap or a US university’s sweatshirt (or whatever), but both shows do it.

Both shows, like all soaps, have a ton of characters. Pobol y Cym’s all seem to have slept with each other. Sometimes when one of the old characters shows up for a few episodes, I get completely confused. This happened recently with Angela, the mother of the now-deceased Courtney, and I was left to puzzle out a very complicated family tree knot.

Attempt #1

Not quite right.

Attempt #2

Still not quite right, but it’s the best I can work out.

One thing I like about Rownd a Rownd, or did like about it until Christmas, was the existence of more than one long-term relationship. I can’t think of any (at least nominally) long-term monogamous relationship on Pobol y Cwm, but I’ve missed 41 years of the show.

I tried to work this out, too.

I can’t even. I’m sure half of this is wrong.

I could do the same thing with Rownd a Rownd, but I think at this point my head would blow up. (Also, the Rownd a Rownd website has a really useful guide to the characters, and I have been able to figure a lot out.)

In any case: I get a kick out of these shows, and also get a kick out of summarizing the plots for my husband when we are out. Bonus, of course, is that it’s a great way to learn the language.