Oh The Madding British
January 16, 2013
13 things I hate (or secretly love) about the British.
The British and the Indians; it’s like we’re broken lovers. Once friendly and intimate, things changed along the way, and needless to say, we are now part of each other’s lives forever, sharing cultural influences in obvious and subtle ways.
As a young person growing up in the late 90s, many aspects of British culture made their way into my world. History books and the BBC aside, there were TV shows like Mind your language and Fawlty Towers which explored British traits like understatement and reserve, racial stereotypes and their so-called obsession with class. I journeyed with the Magic Faraway Tree and The Famous Five, drowned in the drama of Charles Dickens, had my thoughts influenced by Bertrand Russell and grew to be a steadfast fan of JRR Tolkien. British romantic comedies like Notting Hill and About a Boy kindled my inner romantic, and I am eternally devoted to The Beatles, Led Zeppelin and The Smiths (I call them the musical rock of my ages.)
If you visit East Ham in London, you’ll notice the lax attitude towards road rules, the numerous South Indian restaurants and surprising lack of white people. Melton Road in Leicester is flooded with sari, and jewellery stores, and Manchester’s Stockport Road offers plenty of brilliant Indian-inspired grills and buffets.
Life as an NRI is like being the kohl-eyed girl with the ethnic nose pin, beret and wellies to match. While I live with my foot on either side, here are my observations on being stuck in the middle.
1. Pay extra-special attention to manners: Usually, this is a good thing; it’s the excessive apologising and thank you-ing that weird me out. I live in perpetual fear of being rude. I am now learning to excuse myself when I pass someone, apologize if my gaze lingered a second longer than intended, or respond in thanks when an officer hands me a parking ticket!
2. Have a natural penchant for queuing: They seem to melt into neat lines at every possible nook and corner: take-away counters, public restrooms or grocery stores. I find this disturbing considering I come from a culture with a taste for the horizontal-queuing mentality (many short queues at once are faster than a single line), ‘push-pull-shove to get there,’ and ‘oops, I didn’t see the line.’ In fact, the British love their queues so much that the art is a mandatory learning and included in the citizenship test for immigrants.
3. Enjoy their alcohol. And I’ve seen the drinking start pretty early in the morning. If you head to a pub at 10 am, you’ll see what I mean. Apparently, it’s also quite normal to guzzle a beer at lunch and then head back to work.
4. Are seriously cool about nudity. Open a page of a popular tabloid. There, you have it; a topless young thing sprawled across ‘Page three’ in abandon. Some newspapers even call it their defining section. At my local swimming pool, I found myself in the unfortunate company of a gang of middle-aged naked ladies discussing dinner plans. Fun!
5. Have super-adorable names for stuff: Barbie is a barbeque, beeb is the BBC, chippy is a ‘Fish & Chips’ shop, cozzy is a bathing suit, fairy cake is a cupcake, a knuckle sandwich is a punch in your face, fries are called chips and chips are called crisps. At the risk of sounding ridiculous to people back home, I find the odd ‘cheers,’ ‘dodgy,’ and ‘crikey’ creeping into my vocabulary.
6. Are accepting of wishy-washy food accompaniments. These include an assortment of supremely tasteless boiled veggies which may accompany any main course like leeks, turnips, Brussels sprout, cabbage, parsnips, spuds, peas and radish. (Yuck!)
7. Can be wondrously insensitive to the cold. Couple of days ago, I see a guy taking a run minus a jacket and it’s snowing! (How?) Also, I have to mention the women who are clubbing in nothing but teeny tube dresses and sky-high heels. Afterthought: Can somebody please teach me how to pull off the shorts and sheer tights look?
8. Are surprisingly fond of drama. Reality TV shows like X Factor and Britain’s got talent are huge. But then, there are also the idiotic ones: Young, Dumb and Living of Mum, Sun, Sex and Suspicious Parents and How to look Good Naked.
9. Eat funny-sounding things which taste funny. There’s haggis (spiced sheep organs wrapped in intestine), faggot (minced pork organs), Bangers and Mash, Bubble and Squeak (shallow-fried leftover veggies from a roast), Toad in the Hole (sausages in Yorkshire pudding batter), black pudding (coagulated pig’s blood), deep-fried Mars bar, and the very suspicious spotted dick (Relax, it’s a steamed dry fruit pudding served with custard.) Jellied eels, a traditional Cockney favourite, deserve a special mention, a traditional Cockney favourite (fun fact: cooking the eel releases proteins which solidify into a glorious jelly. Yum!) and my favourite, the Stargazey pie (Whole sardines are baked with egg and potato and placed with their heads poking through the crust to release oils into the pie.)
10. Are of course, openly fascinated with royalty. Within seconds of the news that the Duchess of Cambridge was pregnant, several parody Twitter accounts appeared in Twitterverse (@Royal_foetus, @IamRoyalbaby ), every online magazine, from fashion to obscure science journals were immersed in mass speculation. I suspect there are entire discussion boards on the internet devoted to the baby’s hair and eye colour. The latest on this front is the active buzz about her due date.
11. Can be pissed off when they honk. In India, we honk when we feel like it. It can be anything from boredom to disliking the sign and things at the back of a car. There was this memorable time in India, when I heard a bus driver (so overcome by his powerlessness at being stuck in a jam) honk for 10 minutes straight like a painful outpouring of morbid frustration. So, it was understandable when I felt like I was slapped in the face for committing the crime of crossing the road with my headphones on and failing to realise the light had turned green.
12. Are not-so-crazy about the movies. It took a couple of visits to the theatre to come to terms with the palpable silence in the air. I booked first day tickets to the Dark Knight Rises, anticipating an unavailability of tickets for days (as is the case in India), but found the theatre hadn’t filled up on the first day. I now miss the noise of the movie-going experience in India, especially those ‘superstar-type’ regional flicks made complete by the obnoxious commenting, whistles and catcalls, which ironically made me want to throw something to shut them up at the time.
13. Love and hate us at the same time. This is apparent in their obsession with changing visa rules every year. I understand they want to tighten laws to attract the ‘right kind’ of immigrants, but, all the same, the latest census shows only 45 per cent of London’s population identify as being ‘White British.’ Go figure! PS: So, why not be kind while changing your mind few hundred times about who to let in and out of you?’