Monday, February 3, 2014

Notes from Britain

Three weeks late, but frankly I'm surprised only that. With all this exciting international travel, this is gonna have to turn into a more personal blog for a little while...
  1. The British seem to be very stubborn about the necessity for everyone else in the world to learn their language before visiting. First, in the customs line, a group of Chinese tourists were standing together trying to figure out which line to get into, and finally one came up to the Heathrow staff member, pointed to their boarding pass, and said "Glasgow?", obviously asking "Is this the right line to get into if I'm going to Glasgow?" The staff member, instead of nodding helpfully, scoffs disdainfully and says, oh so informatively "Use your head! Everyone else here is waiting in line." (apparently oblivious to the fact that there were half a dozen other lines to choose from as well.) I tried to nod and point helpfully, but then luckily an English speaking Chinese tourist jumped in and explained that they were in the right place. Later, walking through the departures lounge, I saw two foreign people trying to order a muffin from a coffee stand, and the woman asked if they wanted a box, which they didn't understand. A normal person in this situation would have done the internationally understandable thing of pointing to a box, raising their eyebrows to indicate a question, and repeating the question. Instead, she just said the same thing again louder, and then gave up and put it in the box anyway. Then even I, an English-speaking American, was treated like a dirty foreigner when I asked where I needed to go to rebook my ticket, since I'd missed my connection. The conversation went like this: "Pardon me, I missed my connection; could you tell me where I can rebook my British airways flight?" "Airline connections are downstairs." "Oh - what are airline connections?" "AIR-LINE CONN-EC-TIONS." "Um, ok, and that's where I can rebook my flight?" "Follow the signs." It's apparently inconceivable that anyone wouldn't know that's what they call the rebooking desk for all airlines, rather than the direction to go towards other flights or something...
  2. The British Airways staff, on the other hand, were super friendly and helpful. Ahh, that wonderful profit motive at work again...
  3. A sign in the US saying "A day without wine is like a day without sunshine" (in Heathrow) would be scandalized for promoting alcoholism. It's so unbelievably obvious that the cultural treatment of a substance will dictate how responsibly it is used. But you still get people like David Brooks who rationalize their socially conservative gut instincts with unbelievably transparent B.S. like this... David, with this single article you've destroyed your credibility with me. Now when I read your articles praising the social constructs of organized religion and stable families, which I agree with despite having no personal interest in organized religion or stereotypical 1950's families, I'm going to know that you're just rationalizing your preferences instead of uniting left and right with the aspects of social conservatism that serve the left's interests.
  4. The British are so proper I feel perpetually like a loud slob. It's bizarre that they can be so puritanical about those things but so unpuritanical when it comes to alcohol.

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