The Little Things

And we’re back.

Our English trip wasn’t one of big gestures – Barb was there to work, and I was there to generally poke about the surrounding countryside and do a bit of research, so this wasn’t really one of those sightseeing trips where we come back loaded up with photos of famous landmarks. Instead, it was one of those trips where you get to appreciate the little things.

For instance, we loved sitting down in one of Oxford’s cavernous dining halls each day for breakfast, sitting at the long wooden tables on long benches, just as students and professors have done for generations. We enjoyed strolling around Oxford, peering through gates at secret gardens and around corners at long alleyways lined with old shops and restaurants.

I loved lounging on the sofas at the country club in Teddington, with five newspapers spread out around me — including, always, at least two of the red tops, most of which were All Michael Jackson, All The Time. And I tried not to laugh at the nickname one particularly snarky columnist had given the King of Pop: the People’s Pedophile. Yeeks.

I loved coming across those casual words or turns of phrase that are part of the everyday language to the British, but completely foreign to those of us on the other side of the pond. A word I am particularly fond of is “gobsmacked.” Why say “surprised” when you can say “gobsmacked”? I’m still trying to work it into conversations.

On the other hand, I also had to laugh at what we called “Americanisms That Aren’t.” These usually occurred in newspaper columns or on talk shows, and almost always began with the four words, “As the Americans say…” followed by something we never say. Writing in The Telegraph, for example, one columnist mentioned a particularly boring financial report and concluded that, “it is, as the Americans say, a ‘thumbsucker.’” What?

The British also have the market cornered on a charming form of passive aggression. On a bus ride from Oxford back to London, for example, we sat several rows behind a young man who spent the entire 70-minute ride talking on his cell phone. As we were all climbing off the bus in London, an older gentleman who had been seated in front of the chatter turned to him and said flatly, “I had to listen to your noise the whole way.” End of discussion.

One pleasant little surprise, too, was the number of books being advertised on billboards. In the train stations in particular, there were as many ads for books as there were for cell phone services or energy drinks.

Finally, there are no free refills. Order a Diet Coke, and they’ll uncap a small bottle, fill up a glass for you and put it on your tab. Order another, they’ll do the same. And can someone tell me why the British seem to have an aversion to ice? Most times, drinks were served at room temperature or only slightly chilled. When one waiter finally asked us if we wanted ice, we said yes with almost too much enthusiasm – only to have our drinks put down on the table with one cube floating in each. Let’s just say I was gobsmacked.

Ah ha! Used it!

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6 responses to “The Little Things

  1. And can someone tell me why the British seem to have an aversion to ice?

    Because their refrigerators are made with Lucas wiring.

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  2. The room temperature drinks…

    Congratulations, you have just discovered the great cultural divide between England and Australia. The English drink warm beer.

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  3. The warm beer I expected (and, in fact, most beer was actually served cold, with the exception of some of the ciders. Not that I was trying lots of them. *ahem*). It was the room-temperature soda and juices that were so surprising. Even if you reached for a soda in a fridge in a deli or pharmacy, the drinks were rarely better than cowboy cold.

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  4. Having lived in Europe now for twenty years, I’ve grown accustomed to soft drinks without ice and (forgive me) have come to prefer them that way. And yes, if you ask for ice, you’ll get one cube. Why (they wonder) would you want another one?

    Visit a McDonald’s or Burger King and you’ll get one tiny packet of ketchup. Ask for more and they’ll treat you like an addict. Funny as it may sound except to Americans who live here, when I go out I take a bottle of ketchup with me.

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  5. I’m glad you had a nice trip.

    I don’t do the ice thing, either, even in my iced tea. So that suits me just fine.

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  6. Stephen: We were usually provided bottles of ketchup in a bucket stuffed with all sorts of other condiments, including the oddly named “salad cream.” And for some reason, they always called it “tomato ketchup,” to differentiate it from … uh, rutabega ketchup, I guess.

    Wendy: I can’t help it. I’m an ice junkie — and the more crushed, the better.

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