If the US is a sexy, blonde cheerleader with perfect smile, golden brown tan and more than a hint of availability, then Britain must surely be her brunette geekette of a younger sister, the one with the odd mannerisms and bad teeth. I've always had a soft spot for good old Blighty and had visited here many times; so imagine my surprise when I found myself wondering why the hell the Brits did certain things in certain ways. I mean, is there such a thing as delayed culture shock?
They're not big things and goodness knowns I applaud individuality wherever I can find it..but some of these are worth a mention, for their stubborn insistence on standing their ground in the face of my plodding casually through the day. For the sake of brevity and because I don't want to come across as (even more of) a whiner, I've picked out just five of those things that have stood out:
1. Coins: the Brits love them. You have your smaller denominations (much as you do in the US)..but then it carries on from there. Any change you get from shops or newstands or coffee places will invariably be a collection of 50 pence coins, pound coins and 2 pound coins. And they're heavy too. Were I to trip and fall into the Thames, I'd expect whomever's in charge of my estate to sue the treasury, because I'm sinking right to the bottom.
2. Trashcans: in the US, and even in Egypt, every desk at work has a trashcan. Not so in the UK. You have to get up, walk to the kitchen and dispose of your litter there. I see a certain logic there: it can't be too healthy to spend eight hours a day at a desk that houses a mini-waste basket filled with all kinds of aromatic refuse, from this morning's bagel to that overripe banana you decided you didn't want. But still, what that's done is it snookered me into hoarding my garbage until I happened to be getting up to go. So now the trash is above my desk, as opposed to under..
Incidentally, there are no trashcans in the street or in tube stations.
3. Four seasons in one day. The joke about England is that it never stops raining, but even that I could understand. The problem is that rain is no guarantee of sustained wetness and bright sunshine is no promise of enduring dryness. In the space of five minutes, you could go from nibbly cold (less intense than biting cold) to face-warming heat and back again. In the words of Bobcat Goldthwaite, who made this world?
4. When I call my bank in the US and I'm prompted to key in my pin number, each entry is accompanied by a certain beeping note to let me know that the system is receiving my keystrokes. Guess what? Here, you're greeted with the sound of silence, and I don't mean the Simon and Garfunkel song. From the time they tell you to key your pin in, to the time you're done, you have no way of knowing if you doubled-pressed a key, skipped a digit, if the system was even turned on or if you'd lost your connection even. I know this is a small thing, but I'm a small man..
5. I knew this was coming but there's no way you can brace yourself for this kind of drop-off: The standard of Thai food here should be debated in the Commons and people should be sent to the tower for allowing it to be. It is abysmal. Limp as a Viagra focus group. Tasteless as a leopard skin top on a fifty-five year old Russian countess. As plain and bland as a teenage Basil. It's simply a gastronomical crime against nature, a cry for help, a call to arms for all the foodies out there. I can't bear it anymore because it enrages me to think that I may very well never taste another well-made pad thai with cashew salad. And such a simple thing to fix: bring some Thai people over and give them license to kill anyone who has besmirched their good culinary names!
That said, the step up in Indian has been remarkable, but why should I settle for substitutes when I am so used to having it all?