America is a land of hyphenated identity—
A melting pot, as it were, of cultural identity.
African-Americans and Asian-Americans, of course,
And gay-, Muslim- and Native-Americans are a force.
But Americans are also Irish, Welsh, and Scottish.
We have Germans and Swedes, but no Americans are English.
Strange, the English travelled to America to set up colonies
Take the land, kill a few million people, and do business in tea.
The English brought the Africans and many other immigrants,
But not one person, it seems, became and English-American.
Today’s Americans think the English lost the Revolutionary War;
The winners were English, too, but no one remembers that far.
So the white Americans who remain are of European descent,
But they are simply called American with no adornment.
Only if they want to declare they come from the original colonists
Will they call themselves Anglo-American with a nod and a sniff.
They call me a misanthrope and mock my isolation
I like solitude, but I don’t hate human interaction
I want to hear your stories, dreams, and travails
I want to share your secrets but not your pale ales
I think we could be soul mates, and there’s so much I want to hear
I want to talk for hours, but I don’t want another beer
I’d love to learn about cricket, rugby, snooker, and, yes, football
They require much more concentration and skill than any American sports at all
I know your team’s usually a contender, but this season they’ve had bad luck
The refs are all on the take, and the new management sucks
I’m looking forward to learning about scoring and champions cheers
God, I want to learn all the team statistics, but I don’t like beer
Yes, the weather is really crap, but tomorrow is supposed to be fine
It hasn’t been clear for a week, but at least the snow has been light
In another month or so, it will be nothing but steady rain
You should have bought the cottage your cousin sold in Spain
I’d like to learn more about what’s changing the atmosphere
But I’m going to be running home soon, because I don’t like beer
It’s a beautiful grandbaby. She’ll probably play for United
And that’s a lovely pram you bought. I can tell you’re excited
You’ve every reason to be proud. I think she’s the spit of you
It sounds like the delivery was tough going there for a few
I want to hear more about how death is always so near
And I’d stay to delve into it, but I don’t like beer
I’m sorry I don’t like beer. I think it is something genetic.
It’s just too bitter for me, but otherwise we’re copacetic*
It’s not that I’m a loner or wallow in desolation
You’re a great companion, leader, and inspiration
I think you’re just great, but I have to get out of here
I love people, I really do, but I don’t like beer
Last night, I was attending a gig at one of my favourite Manchester venues. One of the people from the venue was standing near the stage, which put him right in front of the passage to the venue’s comfort facilities. I usually use my best British English, but I slipped and said, “Excuse me, I just need to get to the rest room . . . toilet. I need the toilet.”
I wasn’t fast enough; he immediately said, “You Americans always seem to need a rest. I have a sofa if you need a quick lie down.” He followed with, “Americans don’t like to say ‘toilet,’ do they? Why is that?” I said, “Well, I think some Americans think it sounds a little crude.” (Note: I come from a family that was reticent about mentioning this process at all. The word “facilities” seemed too direct for us.)
He then said, “For Americans, ‘toilet’ refers to the actual device, doesn’t it?” “Yes,” I said, “If you ask Americans where the toilet is, they are likely to tell you it is in the bathroom.”
“Ah, yes,” he said, “When Americans ask to use my bathroom, I tell them ‘Sure, but don’t soak too long. Tea will be ready soon.’”
Goodness, how long does it take to make a cup of tea?*
*Yes, I do know the answer to this, but that is for another post.
Someone recently asked me whether I thought people in England drive too fast. The question took me by surprise because, no, with but a few notable exceptions people in the UK do not drive fast. It probably isn’t for a lack of a speedy impulse but for the restrictions UK traffic calming measures impose.
Yes, the UK keeps traffic slow through the use of ubiquitous speed cameras, speed bumps, winding roads that twist and double back for no discernible reason, one-lane two-way roads, and lines of parked cars on both sides of all public roadways. (Yes, there are motorways, but I rarely see one.)
All this combines to make travel in the UK quite slow indeed. It is a cliché to say that Americans think 200 years is a long time and Brits think 200 miles is a long way, but it became a cliché because it’s true. In the US, I would generally estimate my arrival time by allowing one minute for each mile. If I needed to travel 15 miles, I would allow 15 minutes (20 minutes if it was important enough to have a few extra minutes). In the UK, 15-mile trips regularly take 45 minutes or more, even without major traffic disruptions. A 200-mile trip is not something to be taken lightly.
For the most part, Brits are patient and courteous in traffic, taking turns and letting one another pass in a fairly equitable arrangement. You occasionally run into a rude and selfish driver, of course, but it isn’t the rule. Brits will tell you they are known for their ability to queue (stand in line) in an orderly, polite, and efficient manner.
If they are better at standing in queues than other cultures, it must be because they have so many opportunities to do so. Queues abound, and they are not famous for moving quickly. Things generally move faster in the US—except the post office. I typically get in and out of the post office much faster in the UK than in the US.
Life in the UK is mostly slower than what I’ve been used to, and I like it that way almost all the time. Sometimes the American in me breaks out and I get exasperated with pointless waiting, but every American has to be an ugly one from time to time, even if we are trying to dispel stereotypes.
Of course, Brits can lose their patience, too, when pushed too far. And that’s what Northern Rail has done. By making everyone late to absolutely everything, Brits in the northwest now have to rush around all the time, getting a taste of the American goal of always shaving a few minutes off travel time and being perpetually irritable. Surely, something will have to be done.