Monthly Archives: June 2011

No Joke

My work dinners and related events often end up sounding like the start of a joke. I give you, for example, last night:

Two Irishmen, a Brit and an American walked into the Bar at Jamie’s Italian and ordered mojitos. The Brit said…

(Aside 1: Mojitos because it was unusually hot here. I hesitate to say “unseasonably” because it is the dead of summer, but it is sort of un-Britishly. Aside 2: my lovely Irish companions happen to have been female, is there no gender neutral term for Irish persons?)

Tonight it was even hotter, and we had a group pub outing planned. My group is always a sort of mini-UN in terms of countries represented, but we had the addition tonight of two people visiting from Glasgow, both of whom happened to also be American. This seemed to cause a bit of a reaction in the two Brits present (for completeness, the others attending were from the East Asian contingent, one from Thailand and one from Malaysia). One of the Brits in particular started riffing on the stereotypes that one country has about the people from another. I believe this was originally all directed at perceptions of the French, but don’t quote me on that.

Now I have to note at this point that the two Americans visiting from Glasgow were very different in their experiences: one was a long-termer like me, and the other a recent arrival. It was the recent arrival who ended up actually supplying the punchline to the story, at some point after one of the two Brits had left. The conversation was much longer than I can record here, and there was much more self-defending and other-bashing than I could possibly get across. The Aussies were particularly hard-hit by the slagging off. But, as usual for a former colony of a once great empire, the biggest rivalries were the US-UK ones. And it went something like this.

Recent Arrival Glasgow-based American: But what are some examples of British food?

Me: Spotted dick.

RAGA: (chokes and sputters)

Brit: It’s a sponge with raisins in it. Not at all nice.

Other Glasgow-based American: But pudding doesn’t mean the same thing here at all.

Me: Yes, it’s just dessert.

Brit: Really it’s in the vegetable section where the UK-US word differences get interesting.

(Discussion continues regarding courgettes, aubergines, swedes, etc. Food topic continues and somehow we end up discussing dinner time in Spain.)

Someone (I don’t recall): Yeah they eat dinner at 8 pm or something, don’t they?

Me (having just been there in January): No, more like 10.

Brit: Why do Americans eat so early? By 9:00 the restaurants are empty.

Me: Well, where I come from (the midwest) we’re on East Coast time for business purposes, so everything ends up being earlier in clock times. My parents are often at work at 7 am.

RAGA: Oh you’re from Minnesota? I’m from Texas.

Me: Same time zone.

OGA: At least you’re from same states where they change for daylight savings with the rest of the country, I’m from Arizona where they refuse to change and it confuses everyone.

Brit: What? They just don’t change right there?

Me: Yeah, I’m pretty sure Indiana is that way too, I went to university in Michigan and it was always confusing as to whether Indiana was on our time (Eastern time zone) or on Chicago time (Central) depending on the season.

Brit: That’s nuts.

OGA: Well, it’s a big country. The entire UK is, what, the size of Pennsylvania?

RAGA: Yeah, well, at least we HAVE different time zones!

Yeah, I’m still–several hours later–needing to not have a beverage in my mouth at the moment that I think of that delivery lest I start squirting said beverage out of my nostrils. Maybe you had to be there, but there was something about a looooong conversation of you-vs-us and cultural stereotypes culminating in a defense of American greatness over Britain because of the fact that we were big enough to need time zones that just completely cracked me up.

Advertisements

Anglophiles ‘R’ Us?

As the dust settles on my approaching 5th anniversary of living in the UK, and I have to deal with the paperwork of applying for permanent residency, I am faced with the reality of trying to understand how I got here. And I think I might have found an answer, in the form of a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta (no, stay with me, really!)

I was, I confess, an Anglophile child. My favorite children’s books all took place in London. I recall the kids of “Ballet Shoes” having to walk to the V&A as something I understood long before I knew what the V&A actually was. I was obsessed with “The Secret Garden” and I had no idea what moors were.

So clearly I was a strange child, especially in Minnesota.

But I now suspect it all came to a head in the eighties when I was a primary school student at a school in Northern Virginia at which we, for some inexplicable reason, did a performance of the Gilbert and Sullivan comic opera HMS Pinafore as the school play in which I portrayed the character “Josephine”. I was 10.

If you have any reason to doubt this thesis, and I’m sure you do not, I leave you with this:

If that does not instill a sense of English patriotism in you, I don’t know what more to say.

Knowledge is Power. Or at least less fear.

I was home sick today. I’ve had a stomach bug since Saturday. I am trying very hard not to link this to the salad I had, with raw cucumbers on it, when I was having a nice pub lunch outside in the gorgeous sunshine on Friday, with my very good friend and her darling little six month old baby. And yes, it was a Friday, and I was playing a bit of hooky. My job is flexible like that. When you work late into the night many days and all day on the weekend, sometimes you can then have a nice pub lunch on a sunny Friday afternoon when your friend with the baby just happens to have the car. But I digress. So I was not feeling very well this morning, and I knew that this was probably not just the stomach bug, but a combination of the bug and that of the stress I’ve been feeling for the last few weeks over the fact that my visa expires in the second week of October and I have to apply for permanent residency.

The story actually goes back even a little further. A week ago Friday I had dinner with one of my fellow Americans, and she had just received her passport back in the mail with her permanent residence visa. She made a point of ceremoniously handing over her Life in the UK study manual for me to use for my own application process. She also made a point of heckling me for being ridiculous about how big and scary this thing had become in my own head. Sometimes good friends do things like that. They heckle you when you need it.

So I took advantage of being sick in bed this morning with my laptop and my orange juice and I bit the bullet on that thing I’ve been needing to deal with. And I downloaded the forms and the information for this application for residency. And I read them through. And I started making lists (mostly mental at the moment, but I’ll make a check-list soon) of the things I need to gather in support of my application. It’s all fairly benign, as several people have told me (but I refused to listen), and of course I now have information and know what I need to do. It’s slightly logistically complicated, because my US passport also needs to be renewed, and I have to squeeze all sorts of things in this summer where I’ll need my passport. Like taking the Life in the UK test. So it’s not over yet, but at least I know more about what I have to do. I might wake up tomorrow and, for the first time in a while, not feel sick.