Thanksgiving is over in the USA, but today’s blog is about things I’d like to give thanks for about life in the UK. My American forefathers may have fled Britain in order to obtain more religious freedoms and economic opportunities, but here’s what they’ve missed out on by not just hanging in there:
Hear me out on this one… I am grateful for British right-wing extremists. I don’t like them, but I’m grateful for them, the way you’d be grateful for being shot with a realistic-looking water pistol. Sorry BNP, UKIP, Britain First, you’re just not that scary. I’m from America, where we’ve got front-runners for the Presidency who want armed teachers and a national surveillance database for all non-Christians. Your garden variety xenophobia is, by comparison, almost cute. Awww, look at the widdle BNP’ers picketing to leave the EU! They’re not even open carrying semi-automatic guns! Bless their little racist hearts.
Wall to wall carpeting
The British love carpeting and so do I. Not rugs – carpeting. Wall to wall, cover everything (even the cat) carpeting. You’ll notice it first in pubs, but then you’ll see it everywhere from hotels to the Houses of Parliament. Sometimes you’ll even find carpeted bathrooms and kitchens. It makes the whole country kind of warm and fuzzy, and it’s great if you tend to fall down a lot, which I guess explains why pub floors are covered, and come to think of it, the Houses of Parliament as well. Thanks!
People with cool names
First names here are pretty dull- for example all the women in the UK seem to be named Lucy, Charlotte or Kate. But the last names (also known as ‘surnames’) are awesome. There are Pointers, Blowers, Bakers, Husseys, Barkers, Poots, Poppers, Popplewells and Potters out there, just waiting to meet you! It’s like everyone is a potential character for a James Bond film or a Charles Dickens novel. Thank you Britain, for giving the world Derek Honeybun and Benedict Cumberbatch.
Eccentric old chaps
When American men get old and cranky, they give up trying to dress well, they grow beards, move into wooden shacks and take up writing anthrax-filled letters to send to politicians. In the UK, older gents do things like buy themselves a new ascot to go with their old blue corduroy suit. Suddenly they find themselves using a smoking pipe, or perambulating around town with a silver topped cane. Or maybe they’ll take up an interest in trying to invent a better way of dispensing loo roll (toilet paper) or learning salsa dancing at the village hall. Or maybe they’ll just go down the pub every day. No matter which, I’m grateful for all the dapper and unconventional old gentlemen in the UK, and I hope to emulate their example one day. I just need an ascot and some money for a pint.
Wigs and crazy hats
Americans love spectacle, but Brits love pageantry, and pageantry apparently requires wigs. Passing a law? That calls for a wig. Arguing a case in a court of law? That’s also a wig. Are you newly appointed Lord Mayor of something? You’ll be needing a wigging, or at least a tri-corner hat. I’ve teased in the past about the British inclination to festoon themselves with wigs, but truth be told I’m jealous. I want one. Please, someone wig me. Then I will truly give thanks.
In America, you must hide your dorky-ness if you ever want to have a romantic partner, or even any friends who are non-geeks. Here in Blighty, you won’t make friends unless you have every episode of Space 1999 on DVD and do cosplay on weekends. Brits read comic books, attend science fiction conventions and write fan fiction openly, in public, without fear of getting beaten up by their peers. In America, our heroes are all named John, and they shoot first and ask questions later: John Rambo, John Wayne and John McClane from Die Hard. But in the UK the ultimate heroic icon is Doctor Who. Not a cowboy or soldier or New York City cop armed with a manly weapon and a willingness to kick ass. Instead, they worship a scifi “time lord” who abhors violence and uses a sonic screwdriver to open doors and hack computers. It’s like a nerd utopia here. And those of us who are a bit less cool, like to dress up as Deadpool from time to time, and aren’t named John, well, we are thankful for it.
They’re better here. Not just some of them. All of the apples are better. They’re smaller, tastier, and far crunchier. American apples seem by comparison to be weird, tasteless apple-shaped melons. Yankee apple-melons have even been banned in the EU due to their dangerous chemical mojo. Every time I take a bite of a nice British cox or bramley, I say to myself “mmm, I like this country- thanks.” How do you like them apples America?
Everyone gets to be on TV here
What’s cooler than getting to be on TV? I’m not talking about the old Andy Warhol maxim about how everyone gets to be famous for 15 minutes. What I mean is, that in a small media-saturated country like this one, anyone and everyone gets a chance to be on TV. Sing in a church choir? Songs of Praise would like to videotape you. Are you a professor with some obscure expertise? You’re invited to a morning show to discuss Australian agrarian policies for a news segment. Are you a veterinarian? There’s several reality shows right now that would like to follow you around with a camera as you tend to your ill kitties. Selling your flat and thinking of moving to the Algarve? There’s at least a dozen shows that would like to document your decision. You don’t have to be a supermodel, politician or an actor to get on the telly here. Everyone gets a turn, gardeners, bakers, clay-throwers and even bloggers. In fact, Expat Claptrap is going to be made into an 8-episode ITV4 show. I’m just waiting for the phone call to confirm. It’s coming.
British people are lovely- they’re generous, liberal and generally very likeable. But they’re also socially awkward. Kind of like Hugh Grant in that Hugh Grant movie. Or Colin Firth in that Colin Firth movie. Why would I be thankful for this? Because in this country, just by virtue of being an averagely-socialised American, by comparison, I’m like some kind of veteran, suave chat-show host. I have superior “firm handshake” and “look you in the eye when I’m talking to you” skills to almost any Brit, and that makes me feel like less of a social misfit here, especially since I’m a foreigner. Or maybe it makes me more of a social misfit since no one here is like that? I don’t know, but either way, I’m grateful because there are times when I get to feel like a cross between a UN diplomat and Cary Grant just by being able to introduce myself and complete my sentences when meeting someone new.
Things close here on Sunday. Shops are open for a while, from like 12 until 5. But then everything closes. Everything. There are no 24 hour waffle houses. No “we never close” signs on shops. Even the TV stations go off the air at reasonable hours. Sundays are for relaxing, and maybe a trip to the pub with a newspaper. Thank you Britain, as otherwise I’d be spending Sunday evenings trying to be productive instead of you know, blogging this rubbish.
No whining, whingeing or complaining
Ironically, I’ve complained about the British unwillingness to complain before. But it’s only when you move abroad and look at America from the outside that you realise what whiny little b*tches some Americans can be. “Oh noes – the immigrants are coming! OMG the Obamas is trying to take away my assault rifles!” Americans seem to have given up trying to improve their country, they just complain, blame and demand better customer service. “Why should the Walmart workers get $12 an hour! Why don’t they get a job?! Why aint you saying Merry Christmas, is you some kind of Muslim Communist with your ‘happy holidays!?’ The gays in the military is making us impotent! Government healthcare is worse than Hitler’s armies!” etc…
I don’t claim to be immune to this. I’ve complained in these pages about everything from the taste of Ribena, to my inability to get a sandwich that didn’t come from a factory. But I hope some of that British stiff-upper-lipness is rubbing off on me. I’ve even complained about British people not being willing to complain. But I admire their fortitude. British people who have awkwardly fallen down, literally or metaphorically, won’t spend a lot of time whining. Instead, they will get up off the carpet, fix their ascots, finish their pint, and get on with their quiet Sunday- heading home to watch Dr Who, with nary a complaint.
I want to be more like that- and I am grateful to the entire UK for the example, and for letting a bloody whinging Yank like me into the country in the first place.