Friday, 22 January 2010

Starch and Scones and Stereotypes

The British, it must be noted, starch their sheets TO DEATH.

I entered my room to find my bed stripped, my comforter folded, and my fresh, immaculate pillowcases standing at attention. I hazarded a poke. Neither a ripple nor wrinkle resulted. The poor things had stiffened into blinding white boards of hard linen discipline. Why, Britain? I'd never known the chief purpose of bedclothes to be strictly salutatory. It was a beastly task to make my bed on that note. Yikes. Calm down with the starch, guys. Blanketry, not potatoes!

Another observation: If a group of unknowning American students goes on a late Sunday afternoon quest for traditional afternoon tea, they will likely encounter the two following obstacles...

1) "Haven't you reservations, then?" the stout matron at the Old Parsonage Inn queried, cocking her head and considering our breathless, tea-craving posse with ill-concealed bewilderment. To enjoy afternoon tea in a hotel or another like establishment, apparently one must make reservations. Ah. Well. Britain, land of tea, we would not have guessed that of you until we encounted three more polite refusals (including a chap who offered tea but professed a current scone shortage).

2) "Cream tea, then?" the waiter at Queen's Lane Cafe (on High Street, quite aways down, we finally found a welcoming tea place), asked. Cream tea. Ah, um. There are, you understand, many variations of tea. Cream tea, high tea, very high tea, champagne tea, and other ambiguous terms abound. All depending on times, seasons, regions, and prices (of which Americans are very much ignorant). Luckily, the Queen's Lane offered only cream tea, which my companions and I accepted with tired smiles. Cream tea in this case: steaming Earl Grey tea with two fist-sized scones packed with raisins, mini cups of strawberry jam and clotted cream on the side.

It may as well have been high tea, so stuffed with only one scone was I. "Sconed" rather than stoned. Ha. And I had cheated a bit and bought a pink lemonade Snapple with my tea. Delectable, delicious. Yum.

In between confused revelations concerning this odd nation, I've been enjoying my classes (and enjoying meeting new people, actually). Hamlet, Sherlock Holmes, The Mysteries of Udolpho? Familiar with such topics, I am oft the most vocal student in the class. Freakish. And I'm growing quite attached to Betty and Ka Young, both from South Korea. Angela and I were talking to Ka Young one night about how she learned American English in Korea. We advised her not to copy American habits, however, and then I asked, "What would be the worst habit of Americans?"

"Um, guns," she answered. And we all burst out laughing at the thought of American citizens as gun-toting, violence-crazed maniacs. For that matter, Ka Young mentioned that Americans view all Koreans as about to fire missiles at the U.S. at any second. "Only North Korea government," she told us. Well, good to know you're not personally packing nukes, love.

Funny how people have such sterotyped ideas of each other. People are people. And we truly do all laugh in the same language.

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