Sunday, 11 January 2009


One thing I forgot to do over Christmas was add another incident to my catalogue of what makes living in Britain so great. In the run-up to the holiday, of course, the queues at the Post Office grow to mosntrous sizes, which makes them even more attractive to the English to join in, just for the fun of it. I can't believe that everyone in the queue ahead me is someone who has never posted a letter before, but sometimes it seems that way. For example, this year I got into a 14 person queue, with two clerks at their windows. About 15 minutes later I was first in the queue, with a woman filling out a form, and needing help line by line, at one window, and a gentleman with a bag of Christmas cards at the other.

He pulled one small stack from his bag, took the top one off, and said 'France, please'. The stamp came, he stuck it on, took the next card: 'South Africa, please'. Then 'Australia', 'Holland', ooh another 'France', 'Ireland' which the clerk asked 'northern or southern Ireland...'ooh another France' and so on. At no point did it occur to the clerk, much less to him, to actually sort the cards and ask for the necessary stamps all at once. The idea that France and Holland might require the same postage might have blown either of their minds.

It's like it the old days before all the bar staff was foreign, when you were waiting at the crowded bar in a pub, or even worse, during the interval at the theatre. The person ahead of you asks for 'two pints of lager'. The English barman or maid returns with the two pints, asks, will there be anything else, and the person says,'a pint of bitter'. The process repeats, with the person asking for six more drinks, one by one before ending with a large vodka and orange juice with ice and lemon please'. The English barman would come back with the screwdriver, then say, 'anything else' go fetch the crisps, peanuts or whatever, and then try desperately to reconstitute the order in his/her head to ask for money. Finally, after waiting through all this, and somehow maintaining your status as next-to-be-served in the face of haughty elbows and waving twenty-pound notes, bar person approaches you.

Thinking you are being kinder to them, as well as saving time, you say 'two pints of bitter, a pint of lager, half a shandy, a large whiskey, and a pint of Guiness please'. The bar person draws the two pints of bitter, comes back, puts them down and says, 'what was the rest?' You repeat the order, he/she comes back with the shandy and says 'was that a bitter or a lager?' The lager arrives, then 'was there anything else?' And only after fetching the whiskey, which has to be poured through a British automatic measuring system, twice, to ensure no one gets a drop more than the legal minimum, does he/she start the Guiness, which of course takes three times as long as anything else to pour.

Now at this point there are two paths we can take, depending on how English the server actually is. The purist will simply hover lovingly over the Guiness, not serving any of the other people frantically trying to get attention (not to mention drinks), nor taking your payment, but just gazing admiringly at the slowness with which the dark liquid eases its way into the glass. But the slightly more active, or more xenophobic, Englisher will see this as an opportunity to leave you, and the Guiness, hanging, while serving other people. Eventually,having stopped the tap to let the Guiness settle, coming back to top it off, then going away again before delivering it, and taking your money, then finishing off the next customer before returning with your change.

You could try saying 'I'm in a hurry, I've got Christmas cards to post' but it wouldn't have done any good.

No comments: