Monday, November 23, 2009

From LAX to Heathrow

October 7th 2009

Air New Zealand to Heathrow is a throwback to how flying used to be. Oh – not in its heyday. I don’t mean to evoke images of coiffed stewardesses, and passengers dressed for a party. I’m talking about how flying was 5-10 years ago, when you had leg room and an empty seat next to you in coach class.

It’s great. Except that I can’t use my cell phone during the flight. It’s not just during takeoffs and landings anymore. Apparently my little cell could interrupt the navigation at any time and cause us all to come crashing down. The British man sitting in the window seat of my row (I have the isle) says that’s “a load of rubbish” and that the airlines have a deal with the phone companies to not let passengers use the phones…something about roaming charges. I don’t understand the reasoning, but I’m always up for a conspiracy theory when there are idiotic rules around.

The British man is in his 40’s has curly blonde hair and a classically ruddy complexion, like he just came off the rugby field for a pint. What I like about him – and this is a very English characteristic – is that we can pop into and out of conversation with no pressure or expectation to continue it. I can respond briefly and directly, end the chat there, and there’s no harm or cultural foul.

If you’ve ever sat on a bus or train in the U.S. and gotten into a conversation, you might have noticed that the conversation doesn’t end until one person gets off at his or her stop. It’s awkward. There is a pressure to be friendly once a conversation or any verbal acknowledgement has begun. Not so for the British, God bless’m.

I can’t take the credit for this observation. I’ve been reading “Watching the English” by Kate Fox, a cultural anthropologist. I’m going to try to be very observant while I’m in Oxford to see if I can spot the British behaviors she discusses in the book. Maybe I can keep a few of her rules of conduct in mind so I can more easily fit in.

But, no. I have already failed. The plane hasn’t even landed and I’ve made an inappropriate response to a remark about the weather.

The British man, sure enough, brings up the weather. Specifically, how miserably cold England is and how his wife, who lives in LA, can’t stand it. I, not recognizing the weather conversation pattern immediately, botch it by replying that I really like England even though it’s cold. My first mistake is in not agreeing with him that the weather is miserably cold – the codified response. My second mistake is stating that I like England. The man replies with a completely shocked “Oh? Why?!” Like, how could anyone actually like England?

According to Watching the English, the English habitually complain about England. You’ll never get an Englishman to say something positive about his homeland; it just isn’t done. And then there’s me staring wistfully at the airline stewardesses with their beautiful soft English accents, wondering if they have any idea how lucky they are to be English.

And that, right there, is proof that I am not English. I claim to be. I have the raw genetic material for it. But fundamentally I am not. I love England too openly and enthusiastically to be anything but American. I could never bring myself to complain about it.

-- 8 hours later - -

Pancakes at Midnight

Forget what I said about not complaining. Just as I am trying to get to sleep, take my contacts out, get comfortable and put on my little eye mask, the lights come on and they announce breakfast. Apple pancakes with apple crème fraiche. At bloody midnight. But, it’s 8am in England. Bloody England.

1 comment:

Lauren :) said...

I had a similar conversation (to your weather thing) during an interview with a guy from a Connecticut newspaper. He thought I was totally nuts when I told him I wanted to try living there for a bit. Clearly he'd never watched "Gilmore Girls" and knew nothing about Stars Hollow.