Archive for January, 2012
I went to a hairdressing salon in Cambridge the other day and ended up having quite an interesting chat with my stylist. He had dual nationality himself (in his case, Italian and British) and we spoke at length about the differences, both big and small, that there can be between countries.
He quizzed me at length about the differences I’d found between Australia and England and wouldn’t stop until I’d told him the absolute truth. Which was? Well, I ended up telling him I thought there were two main cultural differences and the second one I was dubious about sharing (and am now), because I hadn’t told anyone about it before, though I’d been thinking about it for some time.
The first difference was class-consciousness. I was quite shocked to find class-consciousness is still huge in England. In fact, on the online mothers’ forum I sometimes hang out at over here, there are actually a huge number of topics titled, ‘Am I middle or upper-middle class?’, ‘Am I working class?’ etc.. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I first saw this. The Australian in me couldn’t help thinking, ‘Um, who cares?’. What they do with this information when they finally work out where they stand, I have no idea.
The second difference was (oh, boy, I’m sure I’ll get roasted for this), is that the English are extremely hung up on WWII being their finest hour. Quick disclaimer: of course, I completely understand that this was a huge, important time of change for Britain and, as a nation, it’s extremely important to remember what happened and honour those who lost their lives. And I think Australians do this very respectfully. The problem is, the English seem to cling to this era as if it’s all downhill from 1945. 1945 was some time ago now. And while I think Ms8 needs to learn about both WWI and WWII at some point, she doesn’t need to have the ins and outs thrust upon her at such a young age (yes, she is ‘studying’ WWII in grade three!). I know it’s a difficult economic time to do it, but it feels like they need to look forward as a country, rather than back. Still, who am I to judge (ripping off a wartime poster for a blog and book title)?
After I’d bared my soul and waited for people to torture me with hairdressing clippers, my stylist seemed satisfied and moved on to asking about the language differences between Australia and England. I thought it was interesting that he asked this, because, of course, we speak the same language. Sort of. I told him there were all kinds of small differences, like my son picking up the word ‘poorly’ and saying ‘loads’ instead of ‘heaps’ – silly little things like that, but that the big one for us has been the English, ‘all right?’, which freaked us out from the very beginning and continues to freak us out more than halfway through our stay.
My first introduction to the English ‘all right?’ was when my husband and I toured the local gym in the week that we moved into the old mill. A young, fit guy took us around the place. ‘This is the pool, all right?’, ‘This is where all the classes are held, all right?’, ‘This is the reception area, all right?’ on and on it went. My husband and I kept looking at each other, slightly worried. Was he trying to pick a fight?
We soon learned that gym guy wasn’t trying to pick a fight at all. Within a week we had worked out that the English, ‘all right?’ is simply the Aussie version of, ‘how’re you going?’. A basic, all round, goes with anything greeting. I’ve learned to translate it in my head now, because I find the ‘all right?’ still confuses me months and months down the track. I’m never quite sure what to say if I don’t translate and find I come out with stilted, ‘Um, yep!’s and ‘Er, okay’s.
The truth is, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to get over the confrontational feel of the English, ‘all right?’. Just the other day, I realised why. Mr5 was sitting on the floor busying himself with some cutting out. I went about my business and when I glanced at him again, he was busying himself with cutting the carpet. ‘Are you all right?!’ I said to him, quite loudly, in disbelief. And that was when I realised why the English ‘all right?’ stops me in my tracks every single time. To my ears, it’s a phrase to be used when everything is certainly not all right and somebody is off to the corner for five minutes.
Likewise, we’ve also learnt not to use the Aussie, ‘how’re you going?’ because it tends to make the English similarly confused. Just like I do, they come out with a strange variety of ‘Um’s and ‘Er’s. If they know my husband is a doctor, sometimes they seem to think he’s asking after their latest condition and we’ll get a five-minute rundown on their verrucas and colonoscopy results.
Trust me, nothing will make you remember to translate your ‘how’re you going’s into ‘all right?’s more than a five-minute rundown on someone’s verrucas and colonoscopy results.
We have visited quite a few cities on our trip now and I’ve quickly come to learn one thing for sure — my husband has a knack. I wish I could say it was for finding fabulous restaurants with last-minute cancellations, the most luscious of chocolate desserts within a 50m radius of wherever I happen to be, or overpriced hotel rooms on sudden specials. Sadly, it’s none of these things. No, my husband has a knack for making quick left or right-hand turns and suddenly landing us on…
Rue des Muggings.
We’ll be walking along a seemingly normal street, where normal, everyday things are happening. Families are out and about. Men and women in suits on their way to or from work. People shopping. Friends having coffee. And then, he’ll say, ‘It’s this way…’ and, bam, just like that we’ll have left normalville and be on Rue des Muggings.
This can happen to us in any city in the world. It’s happened in New York, in London and in Paris. Hell, it’s even happened in Tokyo, where crime is scarily low and the streets are safe.
Just not for us. Because, like I said, he has a knack.
So, last weekend, we went to Leicester (this is the bit where you look a bit goggle-eyed and say, ‘Why?’ like every English single person we told we were going to Leicester for the weekend said)*.
On our first evening, I navigated our way to a brilliant Indian restaurant recommended on TripAdvisor for dinner. And then, for some reason (okay, probably the two g&ts reason) I let my husband navigate back to the hotel.
We ended up on a lengthy overpass that, for a little extra ambience, ran the length of a deserted multi-storey carpark. We couldn’t see much, because of the broken street lights, so I stopped to take a photo (I figured with the light of the flash we could make the picture an educational experience later on and have the kids count the syringes on the ground).
Like I said, Rue des Muggings.
He’s lucky he also has talents in other areas.
* If you’re wondering, we went because they have a space museum in Leicester and our kids are studying space at school. Also, the Holiday Inn had a pool and an £85 per night including breakfast special. And if you’re still curious, Leicester was kind of like Toowoomba, just with a little more broken glass and vomit.