Tag Archives: UK

Two people divided by a couple of pieces of bread

Whether it’s a sarnie, a butty, a filled bap or a crusty cob, I’ve mentioned before that I love a sandwich. And I’m fairly evangelical in my love of the bread-based snack product. So much so that I’ve even managed to convince The Special One to try (and enjoy) pre-packaged grated cheese and onion sandwiches.

However, our recent trip to the UK has revealed that there will always be a couple of essential differences between the two of us when it comes to the fine art of the sandwich. We’re working through it in counselling now, but I thought it was best to share the information with the group, so that fellow transatlantic partners don’t have to go through the same trauma. May our hell be your salvation.

1. All sandwiches, regardless of type of bread, filling or chosen condiment, start from essentially the same point from my perspective: remove bread from packaging, and slather in butter. This is not optional. The only exception to this rule is peanut butter, but given that peanut butter should never be used under any circumstances (least of all on a sandwich) so that shouldn’t pose any problems. Weirdly the only sandwich which The Special One has ever used butter on is a peanut butter sandwich. There’s no accounting for taste. Or indeed, lack thereof.

Oh, and for the record, mayonnaise is not butter in a creamy white disguise. It is therefore not a butter replacement and should never be considered as such.

2. Apparently cheese’n’onion crisps may be considered by some to be an unacceptable sandwich filling. Likewise sage and onion stuffing, on some arcane principle that putting a breadcrumb-based product between two slices of bread is somehow ‘bread overkill’. I fervently disagree. Carbohydrates have their place, and that place is ‘on my sandwich, thank you very much.’

The tragedy is that despite these two foibles, The Special One is comfortably the greatest sandwich maker in America, and a definite contender for the world crown. Her ability to make a sandwich that satisfies to the very last bite continues to astonish me. Clearly we have had to compromise though. The compromise that works for me is that on the occasions she makes me a sandwich, I get her to tell me that she’s put butter on it. I then don’t open up the sandwich to check that she’s telling the truth, for fear that the grim reality might cause me to stop eating it. If a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy can work for the US military, it can damn well work for me.

Expect the unexpected

Like Drew Barrymore and her endless ability to score the lead roles in sappy rom-coms, A Brit Out Of Water would be nothing without a stereotype. Don’t get me wrong, I like to tell it as I see it, but sometimes you just have to fall back on good old-fashioned exaggeration to get your point across. I am, after all, a man.

For instance, where would all the fun be if I didn’t characterise the British as ever-so-slightly repressed stuck-in-the-muds with a predilection towards moral superiority and a penchant for inbreeding. And if I didn’t insist that that the sun never shines and that black pudding is compulsory by law on Tuesdays and Fridays, you’d probably not even believe that I was British in the first place.

Meanwhile all Americans have cameras with lenses longer than their arms, eat sandwiches filled with enough meat to feed a small army, and have a commitment to pronunciation that can at best be described as ‘perfunctory’. Obviously, most New Yorkers are brash, rude, and wouldn’t know the phrase ‘thank you’ if it came up to them and whacked them in the head with a bag full of bagels.

If stereotypes were to be believed, of course, the French are garlic eating surrender monkeys whose all-encompassing arrogance makes them the most self-involved nation outside, well, Britain. Certainly, legend would have it (and occasional experience has confirmed) that as a general rule they’re not particularly patient when it comes to dealing with foreigners who get in their way. So when The Special One had a small vehicular malfunction on our holidayvacation on a narrow and hilly road last week, and the traffic built up around us, I expected the honking horns to rise to a rousing crescendo within a matter of moments.

Not a bit of it. Everybody got out of their cars and gathered around us, offering advice and comfort as we sought to get a car with the power of a small lawnmower over the brow of a particularly steep hill. There was practically wild applause as we finally got going, the locals waving us on our way as they joyfully returned to their cars. Stereotypes count for nothing in this beautiful part of the world, I can tell you.

Unless you’re talking about back seat drivers, that is. Fourteen years without having sat behind the wheel, and I still managed to offer a barrage of misplaced advice and unhelpful tips. I’m just grateful that The Special One didn’t have a bag of bagels with her…

In search of a slogan

Everyone loves a good slogan. Whether it’s a movie tagline like “Just When You Thought It Was Safe To Go Back In The Water” or an advertising jingle such as “A Mars A Day Helps You Work, Rest & Play”, nothing sticks in the head like a catchy slogan. I can guarantee that absolutely every Brit reading this blog will have sung the Mars tagline to themselves in the last five seconds, such is the power of a pithily written motto.

Like every good chocolate bar or Hollywood blockbuster, some countries have managed to get in on the motto act with a short sentence that sums up their raison d’etre. Never ones to miss a chance to show off their all round liberalism, the French opted for “Liberté, égalité, fraternité” (or ‘liberty, equality and brotherhood’, for the benefit of my Freedom Fry eating friends). Senegal weighs in with “Un peuple, un but, une foi” which sounds great in French, but when translated into its English meaning of ‘One people, one goal, one faith’ starts to sound uncannily like a Queen record. And who can argue with Guatemala’s “Libre Crezca Fecundo”? Or ‘Grow free and fertile’ to you and me.

Of course, America sticks with “In God We Trust”. Which seems a little rich given that they won’t even give me Good Friday off work. Maybe they should consider some kind of addendum such as “In God* We Trust (*Other gods are available)”? Their Latin motto of “E pluribus unum” (‘out of many, one’) is a little more melting-pot friendly perhaps, although rumours that the slogan refers to the number of accepted votes for Al Gore in Florida in the 2000 presidential election could not be confirmed at time of going to press.

The British were seemingly too busy with colonising the rest of the world to bother particularly with a motto, and by the time that they got around to it, all the good ones had already gone so they decided not to bother. Sure, the royals attempt to insist on “Dieu et mon droit” (or ‘God and my right’) but given that it makes precious little sense, I think most people would be just as happy with “Britain: Finger Lickin’ Good”.

Apparently Gordon Brown has launched some kind of task force to attempt to find a motto for the UK, having clearly decided that the issues of health, education and crime are nothing like as important as finding a catchphrase to put on our tourist literature. Given that he seems willing to put it to a popular vote, we’ll probably end up with something along the lines of “The UK is like well skill, LOL!! ROFL LMAO!!!”

After going to a sushi place today to grab some lunch, and finding that it has shut down about six weeks after it opened, I reckon that America should probably change its motto to “Nothing Lasts Forever”. I’ve had trips to the toilet that have lasted longer than some restaurants in this city.

Are there dollars in your pocket, or are you just pleased to see me?

When you’re a Brit exiled in America, it’s difficult to avoid the fact that the dollar has about as much value as the Zambian kwacha. For a start, whenever your friends come to visit, you have to endure the tales of how they spent sixteen straight hours shopping, and bought two pairs of jeans for the price of a bag of Maltesers. If I hear the cry of “of course, everything’s so cheap over here” one more time, I swear I will shove their over-active credit card where the sun doesn’t – and more importantly, wouldn’t want to – shine.

The flipside, of course, is that when you earn your salary in dollars and you spend any time in the UK (as I am doing for work at the moment), you find that buying a sandwich costs about as much as a Paul Smith suit. And don’t even think about having that bag of crispschips to go with it. It’s no wonder Americans don’t leave the country that often.

But the fact that the dollar is barely worth the paper it’s printed on isn’t my only problem with the US currency.

When I got to the UK earlier this week, I collected up all my dollar bills, carefully folded them up and placed them neatly in my wallet. OK, that’s a lie. I grabbed them all, scrunched them into a ball as I normally do, and stuffed them into my jeans. My pockets bulged in a frankly inappropriate fashion, such was the sheer amount of paper involved. Though I hadn’t counted it, I was fairly sure that the cash would be enough to get me a taxi home from the airport at the weekend, and still leave me change for a bagel.

Having changed jeans this morning, I totalled up the cash and found $13. It’s barely enough to get me out of the environs of JFK, let alone to buy me breakfast at the end of my journey.

It’s fair to say that the United States has an obsession with paper currency. If ever the country decides to get its arseass in gear about saving the environment, they could do worse than look at the amount of paper used to create their notes. And given that every TomBrad, DickDirk and HarryLarry in bars and restaurants gives you your change in dollar bills to ensure that you’ve got no possible excuse for not tipping, walking around after a night out can sometimes feel like going for a stroll with a ream of company letterhead in your back pocket.

Personally I’d love the US to abandon the dollar bill in favour of a coin, yet repeated attempts to introduce the dollar coin into general US circulation have failed. Probably because you’d need to be an Olympic standard clean-and-jerk weightlifting specialist to carry round all your change after an evening in a bar.

Sadly I think we’re stuck with one dollar notes for a considerable time for come. I’m seriously considering getting a large rucksackbackpack to carry around a week’s worth of change in.

Maybe when it’s full, I’ll be able to use the cash to buy a single round of drinks in Britain?

I can but dream.

What’s for lunch

I’m currently in the south of France, basking in the glorious sunshine in the odd moment or two when I’m not working. The few days I’m here are an opportunity to catch up with the latest developments and debates in the industry in which I work, as well as to spend time with colleagues and acquaintances that I haven’t seen for a while. And inevitably, that means ‘doing lunch’.

Meeting people and spending time getting to know them is a pretty essential part of my job, and as a result, I’ve had more than my fair share of business lunches. Sadly they can’t all be like today’s lunch, which involved seafood, good company and plenty of chatting – all in a swanky restaurant on the beach with the sun gleaming majestically off the sea a few yards away. There are worse ways to earn a living, I can tell you.

What struck me today is that eating out at lunchtime is different wherever you are in the world. When I first started out in my career back in the UK, I had a number of lunches that could potentially have had books or plays written about them, such was the bacchanalian excess that ensued on more than one occasion. All in the name of (professional) relationship building, obviously. Drinking at lunchtime in Britain is a commonly accepted part of doing business, and although not everybody does it, it’s certainly not frowned upon in most companies. Unless your business is ‘driving trains’, of course.

In the United States, business lunches are much more transactional and, well, professional. There is a more firmly established agenda, and conversation is much less likely to deviate from work matters. Not that that’s a bad thing. It’s actually a more open and transparent way of doing business that admits that two people can have a professional relationship without first having to talk about the recent downturn in temperature, or whether the other person’s dog is properly house-trained.

Certainly, the very prospect of alcohol with lunch generally seems to be frowned upon in America, unless you know that person very well. Even at lunches with friends, the ordering of a beer tends to lead to your companion sighing wistfully before not-so-subtly mentioning the magazine feature they’ve recently read on Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.

Here in France of course, not ordering at least a bottle of wine with lunch as my colleague and I did today can lead to near instant deportation. But to be fair, the stillflat water that we opted for instead meant that we could concentrate far better on the glorious food placed infront of us. While the British focus on the booze, and Americans on the business, the French just make sure that they get the food right. Which to my mind shows they’ve got their priorities in exactly the right place. And probably explains why they’re perfectly happy to sit there for two hours enjoying the experience.

Now if you don’t mind, it’s almost time for dinner. After the meals I’ve had over the last few days, I should probably phone the airline to see if I can get an extra wide seat.