I come, to quote Men At Work, from a land in Australia. I emigrated to the UK 16 years ago in search of easy access to Europe (ahem) and a cultural education. And I am, generally speaking, a fan.
There’s a lot to love about the UK: its fun wit; the vigorously inventive swear words. Opening a crunchy packet in the pub and laying it out like it’s a big reward, instead of 26 Kettle Chips divided into eight parts. The National Health Service. Claudia Winkleman’s bangs.
But this country is disconcerting. Sometimes it’s surprising.
Of course, it is impolite to complain about an adoption home. ‘Then why don’t you go?’ It may well drown out the comments section, as people understandably balk at a foreigner showing their lordly approval of certain customs.
But, like spending the day at work with spinach between your teeth, sometimes the brief pain of hearing the truth is better than toiling in ignorance.
Katrina Conaglen moved to the UK 16 years ago and still finds it disconcerting. She explains what she finds strange and embarrassing and why the UK’s reliance on tea is downright aggravating.
Why do we always have to be making tea, drinking tea, offering tea as if it were a salve for all ills, whether it’s a slight hangover or having our arm torn off?
It’s a drink so offensively tasteless that it hits you in the ribs with nothing. A brown crayon dipped in hot water.
How the British flirt
The British “don’t have a great game when it comes to seduction,” says Katrina, relying on “knocking down too many in the pub and then smashing mouths.”
I’m going to stir up controversy here and say, ‘It’s not like that.’
The British don’t have a great game when it comes to seduction. When flirting happens, it involves teasing, a way of letting someone know you’re interested that I thought lost its face after high school.
More often than not, however, couples seem to rely on taking down one too many in the pub and then smashing each other’s mouths together on a vaguely sweaty, rocking walk home.
Whatever works I guess? I’m just saying that praise can be nice.
Putting fish and chips under heat lamps
Letting fish “sweat under heat lamps until someone comes to claim it” is a sin, says Katrina
This is a sin. Fish and chips are manna from a higher power. But then the British chippies take this edible paradise and leave it to sweat under heat lamps until someone comes to claim it, like a sad orphan puppy.
What should be a feather-light mass transforms into a soggy sarcophagus for a fish that, frankly, deserved a better end.
Bad tomatoes in supermarkets (and the rapid acceptance of bad tomatoes)
Like a sour red white delicacy, somehow possessed by the concept of defeat.
Newspapers declare a heat wave when it is 25 degrees in July
Or what we lovingly call “summer” in the Antipodes.
The railway system
The state of Britain’s railways is enough to make one despair, says Katrina
The efficiency (or lack thereof) and cost of train travel makes one long for Mussolini a little.
‘Was fascism that bad?’ One wonders, two hours into a supposedly short trip home.
The popularity of M&S sandwiches
People go crazy for an M&S sandwich. WhatsApp threads lit up with joy when new flavor combinations hit those fluorescent refrigerators.
All ignoring (willingly?) the fact that the cold kills the flavor and that those sad little sammies are bland pabulum.
The worst comes at Christmas, when suddenly every sarnie is filled with some kind of frozen pork and TOO MUCH cranberry. I wouldn’t mention it if it weren’t for the fact that the locals are completely evangelical about its quality.
Reader, they are not good. They are not cheap. They are mass-produced nonsense and the sooner we confront the propaganda, the happier our stomachs will be. To paraphrase Douglas Adams, a nice sandwich is not something sinful that only foreigners eat. You deserve more.
Washing machines in kitchens
Disconcerting: the presence of washing machines in kitchens
When I think “fresh lavender” I don’t jump into a room with a lingering smell of fried garlic and burnt toast.
Scottish pronunciation of place names
I live in England now. For a decade I was based in Scotland. The Scottish language is magnificent, as are the regional dialects, from the inscrutable cadences of Aberdonian Doric, the brusque glottals of Glasgow, to the fascinating Dundonian use of vowels, stretched and contorted like verbal mozzarella.
But I would swear that the pronunciation of place names is a ruse designed to embarrass foreigners. Is Milngavie a thoughtful guy? Is Culross cool? Is Kirkcudbright somehow kir-coo-bree?
Pure confusing deity, friend.
Arguing about whether the bun goes first with jam or cream
What’s up bun? Jam or cream first? Not as interesting as you might think, argues Katrina
This is a nation of Shakespeare and Austen; of Hume and Locke; by Jesse Armstrong and Armando Iannucci. It is full of thoughts, humor, insight and philosophy. There is much to discuss. But not.
Instead, let’s go through six rounds AGAIN of which soft dough is first placed on top of the sweet bread as if it somehow shines. Or matter. Everything is chewed, friends.
See also: discussions about the best cookies or the correct concentration of tea.
I attended my first football match in Edinburgh in the biting cold and had to suffer through a hot cup of Bovril to warm up (it tastes like stale bull sweat).
Some big guy on the field did something stupid with the ball.
A fiercely rude chant began among the crowd. Not directed at the visiting team, at the home team.
It fries my noodles that a crowd of people who probably hadn’t put on their sneakers for years felt it was okay to berate fit young people they said they LOVE.
The British complain about foreign influences infiltrating the culture.
The Beatles and the Rolling Stones took their musical inspiration from black American blues and rock. Ska started in Jamaica. Fish and chips come from Spanish, Portuguese and Dutch culinary traditions. The tea is from Asia.
So let’s not clutch our pearls when someone who just watched Friends says “trash” instead of “trash.” British cultural identity is not being slowly corrupted. We have always been a global village.