Monday, August 27, 2007

Belittle Britain

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?


Anonymous Lynn said...

"I know this is a small thing, but I'm a small man.."

No way is that a small thing. Especially when you are talking about your money!

When you were talking about the Thai food I was thinking I would ask you what you thought about the Indian food since I have heard that it is so great there and you can get a good curry on the corner just as you can fish and chips. I'm wondering though, maybe the Thai food IS as the Thai's would make it? I don't know. The UK is definitely not famous for it's culinary delights. Unless of course you go for the likes of haggis and black pudding.

I've probably told you this before but your writing cracks me up!"Tasteless as a leopard skin top on a fifty-five year old Russian countess" LOL The imagery!

7:48 PM  
Blogger Basil Fawlty said...

Lynn, Indian food here is great...and part of what makes it great is its ubiquity. It's everywhere, at all prices and varying levels of quality. By contrast, Chinese food here is scarce and pretty bad.

Haggis isn't bad...ok, I'm lying: Haggis sucks balls!

Haha...I stole that leopard skin comment from a conversation a couple of friends (girls, of course) were having.

10:16 AM  
Blogger Cairogal said...

Bas, you can't get good thai in london? Or are you living elsewhere?

11:31 AM  
Blogger Basil Fawlty said...

I'm in Central London, and there are rumours of good Thai places, in different parts of the city. I'm sure some of them are decent, but they're nowhere near as good as New York. Probably because there are so few of them.

Same with Chinese food. The reverse situation is true for Indian food: you can get decent Indian food in New York, but it's not as widely-available as it is in London. More places means the standard of foood goes up.

12:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Try Busaba on Wardour Street in Soho. Line's always long and you have to sit at communal tables, but the food's brilliant!

4:48 PM  
Blogger Basil Fawlty said...

Thanks, Anon! I went to this interesting Japanese fusion communal place called Wagamama the other day, with a friend and her dad. It was good but I'm curious, where does that fall on the scale?

7:45 PM  
Blogger Cairogal said...

Love Wagamama! Same communal idea. Tried it in Covent Garden a while back-Dubai opened one up, too.

10:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wagamama?! BLEKH! The food (and service) in Wagamama is shite. The only redeeming item on the menu is the wasabi chocolate cake. Basil, go to Busaba!

6:17 AM  

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