Due to some arbitrary mandates that were not even remotely hinted at while researching how to get married in the county of Kent, I, as a foreign national, am required to spend 8 consecutive nights in one residence, the last day of which must fall 15 days before the wedding. And while spending 8 consecutive nights with Earl is really awesome, being unexpectedly and compulsorily asked to do so on relatively short notice is decidedly less awesome. However, having done this translatlantic thing for 2 years now, it’s really given me an opportunity to shape my formerly amorphous opinions about the differences between our two countries. And since I adore lists and have a bad habit of rambling, you get two posts for the price of one topic! Read now and get a bonus pie recipe!
Reasons to Hate England
1. The Roads. Maybe I’m spoiled by the sprawling real estate available in the US, but I’m rather fond of the feature we Americans have where both cars traveling in both directions can fit on the road at the same time. The first time Earl drove me around his idea of country roads, I finished the ride gripping my seat in white-knuckled terror. He zipped along a road barely wide enough for his own vehicle, never mind the cars coming at us from the other direction, at 50-60 mph. I can’t say that I appreciate the UK using imperial units instead of metric here, because had the speed limit been posted in km/h, I could have remained blissfully ignorant of the fact that he was comfortably going double the limit. Nearly all the cars lining the roads had their side mirrors turned in. I can only imagine how many severed mirrors line the road after new drivers make their way through if this precaution isn’t taken.
Then there’s the matter of crossing these seemingly innocent roads. Granted this is a problem completely because of my American upbringing, but I have a habit of looking the wrong way while crossing. As a result, my encounters with English roads have been unhappy, and if not for highly alert and courteous drivers, likely fatal.
Before traveling by car on English roads, I heard “country roads!” and expected pretty pastures, old hedgerows, lots of sheep, and uneventful crossings, and instead I got near-death misses with other cars, near-death sudden turns, and near-death near deaths crossing the street.
My advice: Trust that your driver knows the roads better than you do. Close your eyes if you must. If crossing a street, follow a local who knows what they’re doing.
2. The English Concept of American Things. I get so tired of hearing Europeans and Australians both talk about how shit American beer is when the only thing they know about American beer is Coors Light, or Bud Light, or Miller Light, or whatever watery swill counts as export beer. Shit, I haven’t even insulted my own mouth by drinking any of those beers. Even stopping by Sainsbury’s to see what comprises their idea of American microbrew imports is underwhelming: Goose Island (Honker’s Ale, so meh), Sam Adams (meh), and Brooklyn Brewery’s Meh Lager (not even close to one of their heavy hitters, like the Chocolate Stout). But, microbrewery distribution isn’t even available in every state; I can hardly expect the UK to be able to get their hands on decent beer from the likes of Stone, or Bell’s, or Russian River, or Founders, or Southern Tier, or Firestone Walker, or Three Floyds, or The Bruery…You know, I could do this all day. I’ll move on.
In this area of England, I’ve seen an establishment called “Texas Pizza”, which I suspect is an affront to both Texas and regions known for pizza (most notably, Chicago and New York, but also to some extent, California, St. Louis, Detroit, and New Haven). Yes yes, at this point Italians are warmly welcome to write about their hatred of the American concept of Italian things. To wit, I had a Florentine friend (“Firenze. Not Florence.”) who expressed righteous indignation when he discovered that we habitually put chicken on pizza. But that’s the kind of indignation that leads to the bewildered “What the fuck are you doing?” look I get on my face when I see a place called “Texas Pizza”. Oh, sweet misguided Englishfolk. If only you knew the joy and beauty of Texas BBQ, Tex-Mex food, and Southern Food as a whole.
I’ve also passed by a store called “The American Guitar Centre”. I can accept that “Centre” is spelled with the British English spelling because I’m sure the guitars are American and not the centre itself. However, the display window is completely full of ukuleles. When I think of American guitars, I think of Fenders. Gibson/Les Pauls. Maybe a CF Martin. I think of slides and resonator guitars and dobros for blues and bluegrass. I think of amps and effects processors and obnoxious shoulder straps (mine is fuzzy and pink). I do not think of jauntily painted ukuleles and advertisements for ukulele lessons. OK yes, Hawaii is a wonderful (penultimate) state in our union, but just as Texas doesn’t represent pizza, and Bud Light doesn’t represent American beer, Hawaii hardly represents American guitars.
My advice: Just smile and go along with it. Nod understandingly when English people get miffed when you say “British accent” and they rant about different accents within one county, let alone one region, let alone one country, let alone one sovereign state. Or when people don’t know the difference between “English” and “British”. That’s a fun one to touch off too.
3. The English Concept of Hot Weather. I was going through my Facebook feed the other day and noted some people commenting about how it would reach 95°F (35°C) back at home in the US. I took a look at my phone’s local weather app, saw that the high in Earl’s town would reach 71°F(21.67°C), saw 2, maybe 3 clouds in the sky, and decided to read outside along with a pound of cherries Earl had bought for me at the grocery store. While enjoying the wonderfully humidity-free splendid day, a woman walked by me talking on the phone, and was ostensibly asked “How’s the weather?” or something similar, because she said, “It’s like, really hot. I mean it’s like the hottest day of the year, it’s unbeLIEVable.”
My advice: Just smile and go along with it. Weather is one of the safe topics of conversation, and it wouldn’t do to just one-up people. “Oh yes, it is very hot, I agree. I can’t believe how sweaty the backs of my knees are” is a perfectly good reply.
4. English Washer/Dryers. Why the fuck does it take 4 hours to do a single load of laundry here, and at the end your clothes STILL aren’t dry?
My advice: Don’t do laundry. Just recycle and turn inside out as needed and go home and wash your laundry, efficiently, there.
5. Chinese food. Maybe the Chinese population here isn’t as widespread and diverse here as it is at home. And granted I live in an area that probably qualifies as The China Away From China, but at home I have my choice of Hong Kong food, or Taiwanese food, or Shanghainese, or Hunan, or Szechuan, or Cantonese, or hell, Taipei-Tokyo with Taipei dishes on one side and Japanese on the other. I can think of 3 places off the top of my head to get shaved ice, 3 other places that specialize in Peking Duck, 2 places specializing in dumplings, 2 others specializing in xiaolongbao (soup dumplings), and so on. And that’s just in one county! Here in the UK, you probably have to go to London in order to find decent Chinese food. Otherwise you get what I encountered: weak sauces, overcooked meat, and apologies from the proprietors for the lack of spinach because *furtive look* the white people in this area don’t eat real Chinese food.
Sometimes it’s heartbreaking being bilingual.
Additionally, if you found yourself craving overcooked meat swimming in limply-made sauce with vegetables no more exotic than say, the green bean, at 2:30 pm, you would be shit out of luck because Chinese restaurants close between 1:30 and 5:00 pm. What about us poor souls who only wanted to buy some rice and refrigerate it in order to cook our overworked fiancés some stir-fry for dinner?
My advice: Get Chinese food in London or take the advice of a trusted Chinese local on where to go. Trust the places with roasted animals hanging in the windows. Ensure that you make it to this trusted establishment during its bizarre open hours.
The monopoly over the word ‘pie’ that
savory savoury pie holds. However, it can hardly be blamed when savoury pie here is so delicious. As such, have Jamie Oliver’s Shepherd’s Pie recipe, from his book Jamie’s Great Britain (thoughtfully given to me by Earl’s mother). I’ve never made it, but I have eaten it and it is quite delicious.
1 kg (2.2 lbs) quality boneless shoulder of lamb
2 tablespoons flour
freshly ground black pepper
2 lugs (turns?) olive oil
1 red onion, peeled and roughly chopped
2 sticks celery, trimmed and roughly chopped
1 carrot, peeled and roughly chopped
50 g (~2 oz) higher-welfare (humanely/pasture-raised) pancetta, roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 small bunch fresh rosemary, leaves picked
400 g (~14 oz) tinned plum tomatoes, chopped
250 mL (~1 cup) organic lamb or vegetable stock
1 kg (2.2 lbs) Desirée potatoes
200 mL (¾ c + 1 ½ tbsp) milk
2 knobs (2 walnut-sized wads) butter
1. Preheat the oven to 190°C/375°F/gas 5.
2. Trim any large bits of fat off the lamb, then cut the meat into chunks and put small batches into the food processor until minced roughly. Place the mince in a bowl, then add the flour and seasoning and toss until evenly coated. (Or, buy ground lamb because we can do that now).
3. Heat a large pan and, when it’s nice and hot, add the olive oil and lamb mince and fry until browned all over. Add the onion, celery, carrot, pancetta, and garlic to the pan, and throw in a large pinch of rosemary leaves and the tomatoes. Pour in the stock and stir well so the mixture doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan. (Or, don’t pour the stock in, let it stick until it’s a little caramelized, and then pour the stock in to deglaze!) Leave in the same pan or transfer to an ovenproof dish, cover and bake in the oven for an hour.
4. Meanwhile, peel the spuds, boil them in salted water until cooked through, then drain well. Heat the milk gently then pour over the potatoes. Add a knob of butter and mash well until smooth and creamy. (By ‘mash well’, Jamie Oliver means ‘Use a ricer and mash the motherfucking shit out of these potatoes and leave not a single lump, because otherwise someone will write a hate blog post about you).
5. Melt the remaining butter in a frying pan. When it starts to bubble, throw in the rosemary and fry until crisp. Drain, and add the rosemary to the mashed potatoes with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
6. Take the lamb out of the oven, spoon over the mash, then turn up the temperature to 200°C/400°F/gas 6 and bake for about 20 minutes or until bubbling and crispy and brown on top.
7. Serve to American simpleton. Enjoy the fawning and the fact that she will endure at least 5, maybe 6 things she hates about England as a consequence just to visit you.
Bonus Bonus Hate: Earl did an editing sweep of this post and noted that I’m far more comma-happy here than normal. “Not incorrectly, but not like you” were his words. I blame this overabundance of commas on my immersion in the UK as well. Fucking British comma infections.