I moved to Britain from France five years ago, and I still haven’t left, so you people must be doing something right. As I begin my sixth year in this green and pleasant land, however, I feel compelled to look back on a few of the more unexpected shocks (good and bad) of the transition.
Now, I’m not talking about the obvious markers – inexplicably red telephone boxes and buses, crumpets, premature darkness, far better swearwords than my American forebears, etc. (Oh, and obviously your cars are backwards and you drive on the left. But there’s nothing more to be said about that.) I’m talking about things that were deep, genuine surprises.
1. You don’t have bakeries.
I spent a full hour on my first day in Cambridge, wandering the streets, desperate for a loaf of bread. Call me a country bumpkin (I mean, I have eaten frogs’ legs and torn baguettes with my hands and everything!) but it’s not like I was looking for a cobbler or a blacksmith. It hadn’t occurred to me that the bakery as an institution could be considered pretty much obsolete.
2. Split taps
Medieval. Bizarre. Completely flummoxing. I alternately burned and froze my hands/face for about a week before devising a sort of barrista’s deft mixing of hot and cold in the cup of my hands. (Remind me to patent some sort of dual-ended adapter. Also, the accompanying choreography – it’s sort of like a Hawaiian hula, but with more hand-cupping. And pain. Lots of pain.) Also, you don’t have electrical plugs in your bathrooms. What is that about.
Afternoon morning Drinking being culturally acceptable pretty much all the time
I thought Pimms was a kind of biscuit. I also though drinking began around 6 pm. I was wrong on both accounts. I swear, I have no intention of reinforcing wild national stereotypes, or anything. It’s just that I have drunk at lunchtime with vicars and grandparents, at breakfast picnics with physicists and rowers, late at night from a choir master’s hipflask.
I do realise this list may give the impression that my visions of Britain were entirely determined by the location of my first three years there, but I have also drunk cheap white wine before lunchtime on a ratty patio in Rugby, and given rousing renditions of the entire back catalogue of Disney songs in the streets of Edinburgh, and seen a middle-aged, respectable-looking lady fall off a barstool in Kent. So there.
Of course, some of the best things I learned in Britain have little or nothing to do with Britain at all:
1. How to dance with indie knees
2. It is acceptable to dry one’s hair in the daytime
3. Cow tipping is a thing.
Imagine what I’ll have learned in another five years…
So there you go. I have started a blog. Future posts may or may not include the following topics:
1. The thrills and perils of gigging alone
On being bought drinks, being accidentally spat on by your idol, and not knowing all the words. (Also, Matt Berninger from The National probably doesn’t want to sleep with you.)
2. Casual feminism for the modern (wo)man.
On Caitlin Moran, Princess Leia, Anna Calvi, and finding it is, in fact, impossible to eat a Yorkie bar without a great deal of damage to one’s soft palate.