On our recent trip to London I came to the realization that it would be much easier to point out all the differences between our two countries, but more rewarding to revel in our similarities. I choose the former, of course, since I don’t have all day over here.
The first thing is the language. I consider myself a student of English, about a C- average. Over there they have a different word for just about everything, so any knowledge of English is a waste of time. “Water closet” means the bathroom, and as a reminder, everything is smaller over there, so it may not be a walk-in closet. “Pissed” means drunk, not angry. Once I ran into an angry drunk and I had no idea how to describe him. “Fanny” means vagina- they don’t know whether they’re coming or going over there, enough said. Enough except for this: “bangers” means sausage, first sensible thing they said all day.
Currency is another tricky issue- the British pound cost us about a dollar sixty-five, not very friendly. The money itself is actually that much bigger, so it doesn’t fit into your wallet. The coins are fairly easy, a two pound coin is bigger than a one-pound coin, but all those little ounces or whatever they’re called don’t have any logical rhyme or reason, so you have to look closely to make sure you aren’t over-tipping. The bills all have a picture of either Queen Elizabeth or Harpo Marx, it’s tough to tell which without my glasses.
Of course driving on the right side of the road is something I missed very much over there, since I wasn’t in a car. There they drive on the WRONG side of the road, and almost ran me over about 50 times. Sometimes they actually had to chase me onto the curb to make it a close call. Spray painted onto the pavement at all pedestrian crossings is a sign that says, “LOOK RIGHT.” I tried about 10 different looks and settled on one that made me look witty, urbane and continental but I still was almost killed daily.
Fashion: girls here wear high heels, four to five inches, even if they are out jogging (no one jogs in London). Women are the same height standing or sitting down. Contrast with America, where people are often the same size lying down as standing up. All the men were wearing horn-rimmed glasses, and I have to say they did look smarter. I often see NBA athletes wearing fake glasses now at their press conferences, and it does NOT make them seem smarter, since you can still hear what they’re saying.
People don’t seem to have their noses buried in their electronic devices as much in London as they do here. I will never forget when I went to a New York bar one time and there were four girls sitting around a table, each one attentive only to her phone. I fantasized that they were texting each other: “Isn’t it great that we FINALLY got together?????”
People in London will come up to you and say something. I was startled by this odd practice, and it took me a while to get the hang of it. In New York if someone talks to you, it is often to ask if they can squeegee your windshield, even if you are walking. I’m used to being in my own little world. Even when I had just finished a major temper-tantrum at Heathrow Airport because there was NOT ONE sign telling us where to go when we got off the shuttle, and I was sulking in the corner, no less than THREE people came up to me and asked me if I was all right. Which made me feel even worse.
Mass transit in general was much cleaner and well-organized, other than Heathrow. The subway seats are cloth, something you couldn’t get away with here, because people need a place to put their gum. You can’t have any nice public furniture here in the U.S., because people draw penises on them. Americans will draw a penis on just about anything, and a person who is apt to draw a penis is never the same person who is great at art. Thousands of years from now when people are trying to decipher hieroglyphics in subway cars they will ask themselves, “Who is this guy with the big nose?”
History itself is something that Europe does awfully well. We visited the Tower of London, which was originally built in the 11th century when the Normans conquered England (there were many more people named Norman back then, so it wasn’t as embarrassing as it seems now). The Yeomen Warders (known as Beefeaters for no discernable reason) recount the comings and goings of various notorious kings & queens. I learned about King Henry VIII; my previous knowledge of his life was limited to the fact that he married the widow next door (she had been married seven times before). It’s a great place to take children, since the focus is on torture and death.
At the British Museum they celebrate centuries of British colonization resulting in the amassing of untold treasures of history. The exhibit on Mesopotamia was an eye-opener, especially since they apparently had the iPhone in 150 BC, eons ahead of their time. Ironically, they still do not have the iPhone II.
The weather wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. We went to Kew Gardens with our friend Mike, who is celebrating (if that’s the word) his and Jess’ first year anniversary living abroad. He is an expatriate now, just like Gertrude Stein, only taller. She was a broad too, obviously. Kew Gardens is in Queens in the States, and ironically it is the Queen’s in England, since it is a Royal Botanical Garden. There were more people saying the word “blooming” than there were plants actually blooming; instead it was like a really nice park. But since it is always cloudy and chilly they built a place called the Temperate House. It’s all glass and was probably sponsored by Windex. The indoor habitat gardens were also really neat, with some wonderful succulents. I just like saying that word, and I urge you to try it also. There was also a man-eating plant exhibit, and I tried to stick Mike’s finger down a pitcher plant. He almost took the bait, thinking there might be beer in it. There was a sign by the Venus fly traps that said, “Unless you are a slow-moving fly please stay away from me.” The same could be said by Nick Swisher in the outfield.
Everything is smaller in Europe. When our hotel room was discovered, during the Elizabethan Era, people were only four feet tall, having just finished evolving from cats. By the way, what an idiotic theory that is, that evolution. If people evolved from bugs, why are there still bugs? And why are there so many of them in our kitchen? And why did God consider it an improvement to have only two legs instead of six or a thousand, or not to be able to fly? I’m still angry about it. Hey at least we get to walk around erect.
Incidentally, the British Empire once reigned over one-fifth of the world’s population at the time, and at its height was over 70 feet tall. Begun in the late 1600s, the Empire had territories on six continents, with important colonies in India, America, Australia, Hong Kong, the Caribbean and many other locations around the world. After the end of World War II, Britain realized that it had spread itself too thin, and could not adequately defend all its holdings against internal and external pressures. In 1947 India was granted its independence, and throughout the next half-century Britain divested most of its peripheral interests, concluding with the independence of Hong Kong in 1997.