Archive for June, 2011

Perfect

June 19, 2011

Last week I had lunch at a deli in Mayfair – the kind of place that sells aubergine salad and jars of jam with handwritten labels; across the street from the Marc Jacobs store and the Marc by Marc Jacobs store; you get the idea.

The women next to me ordered Pumpkin and Sage soup. It arrived. They tasted it. Whereupon one of them raised her hand to hail the waitress.

“I’m terribly sorry,” she said. “The soup is lovely, the flavour’s absolutely wonderful, but unfortunately… it’s a bit salty.”

The waitress apparently didn’t have the authority to deal with too-salty soup, so she left. Minutes later, the cook appeared.

“I’m so sorry,” she said, “I understand you don’t like the soup?”

The diner demurred. “It’s really very nice! Lovely flavour! I’m sorry, if it weren’t quite so salty…”

The customer apologized again, the cook apologized back, both customers again complimented the lovely but inedible soup, the cook offered chickpea soup instead, and just like that – after fifteen minutes of quiet waiting, face-saving niceness, and inexhaustible politness – the Affair of the Salty Soup was resolved.

One thing’s for sure. I do not have the patience to be English.

Cheer*

June 12, 2011

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In this photo, Jane appears to be giving me a hug. Actually, she’s keeping me from falling down. When the picture was taken, I was so drunk that 80% of my cytoplasm had been replaced by Pinot Grigio. All because I’d had two whole glasses of wine.

So: I’m a lightweight. I can’t keep up with the English. I don’t try. Still, I’m convinced that drinking is what makes life in England so much more relaxed and carefree than life at home.

Drinking is part of the culture here. Maybe even most of the culture.

Drinking is what keeps England’s lights on after 5 pm. It’s the manna that sustains English sex lives.** It’s the cornerstone on which friendships are built.

When you meet for a Sunday pub lunch, you start in the early afternoon with a bottle of red. You order a Sunday roast. Then you just sit there, drinking and talking, talking and drinking, until nightfall.

No one has to run errands. No one has to head home to retile the bathroom floor. No one is driving anywhere at all.

It is totally unlike Sunday afternoon in America. It is wonderful.

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* One more entry about drinking. After this, I promise I’ll stop.

** Of course, alcohol is the food of love everywhere. But England is such a reserved nation that without it, one fears the entire population might have awkwardly and quietly died out long ago.

Tipplers

June 12, 2011
Publicans.
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Sunday lunch.
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Chris and Alex at the Albion, a pub you shouldn’t miss.

Tipple

June 12, 2011

My job in England started the normal way: with a visit to HR. They had me sign forms for Her Majesty’s Revenues and Customs (somehow more romantic than the Internal Revenue Service) and explained benefits: vacation days, sick days, duvet days.

Um. “What’s a duvet day?”

The HR lady smiled brightly. “Unplanned days off. You know, when you don’t feel like getting out from under the duvet? A lot of people use them when they have a fuzzy head.” *

This was my first inkling that the British attitude toward drinking is different.

In England, you are never expected to outgrow getting drunk. Work mates going “down the pub” will linger for hours, without stopping first to eat. Women my size are capable of polishing off an entire bottle of wine. Plus whiskey. No wonder, then, that a hangover is a legitimate (and unembarrassing) excuse for last-minute cancellations.

I once heard a nutritionist – a nutritionist! – explain that you should avoid refined sugars because they stress the liver and “You want your liver in good shape so it can deal properly with Friday night.”

Toto, we’re not in California anymore.

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* “Fuzzy head” is British understatement for “the kind of hangover that means you have to clean your toilet later.”