I'm a big fan of appreciating irony wherever it crops up in my life. It makes me laugh and keeps me at least slightly sane. It's a good thing since there seem to be just endless opportunities to recognize it. The latest instance being how it seems like I complained for eons of the claustrophobia of my very small hometown back in America and how a trip to the grocery store inevitably involves at least three to five conversations in the produce aisle, by the frozen foods, and again at check-out with very likely a friend, your former therapist, your kid's teacher, just to cite a few real life examples. It can be exhausting. But in other ways, efficient, as sometimes you see the person you've been meaning to call but never get around to it.
Quite to the other extreme, in my newly adopted English town, I couldn't throw a head of lettuce in the supermarket and hit anyone I know. And it's not for lack of trying. I'm outgoing, I talk to people in public places, and I smile a lot. But after three months of living here, I still don't know a soul. When we lived in Italy, and as I wrote about then, Italians can also be very difficult to get to know, but there the shopkeepers became my 'friends' and daily social outlet. But Italy has many more small shops where people can buy everything they need without ever going to the supermarket.
Here there is a cheese/wine shop, and the supermarket, which is where I must go for the majority of my shopping because the other shops, ie, the fishmonger and the hardware store, are so ridiculously overpriced as to be laughable that anyone would actually shop there unless the world were ending.
A fatal mistake Americans can make here is thinking that because we speak the same language, we understand each other. There are oceans in between our vocabularies and what we intend and convey with our words. I really should keep this handy little guide in my wallet at all times:
Don't get me wrong, I love the British. But making friends with them is an exercise in fortitude. It is an ongoing dance of two steps forward, three steps back. A mysterious labyrinth of enthusiastic beginnings that bewilderingly peter off down the garden path to nowhere. People love to accuse Americans of being shallow: "I couldn't believe it – he said 'how are you?' and just kept walking!" But really, with us, what you see is what you get. We are a bit more straightforward in our social interactions, for better or worse.
Another reason I always have to remind myself, that despite my friendly Midwestern manner, I can just as easily come off as 'that brazen American' to some if I make the gross social faux pas of starting a sentence with "I need" instead of "May I have?" or "If it's not too much of a bother?" or if I become too easily exasperated with, for example, the still often bungling level of customer service in this country. Not long ago, a British Gas customer service representative hung up on me when I complained about how long I had to wait since he repeatedly kept putting me on hold. Of course, I am fairly certain he was speaking to me from Mumbai or Bangladesh, so I'm not really sure what that says.
During the recent big storms and ensuing power cut, the only place open in town was the supermarket because of their big-ass generator they brought in. It was Christmas Eve and people seemed quite jovial and more open than usual. Nothing like a power cut to get people talking I say. But here, irony raises its head again: I heard another American accent near me and turned to check out the speaker, as we are not exactly a dime a dozen in these parts. My friend who was visiting from the States was with me and before you know it, the three of us are having a lively conversation and exchanging emails because not only is she American, but she's from Ohio, and not far from my hometown to boot, yet she lives here. As they say, wherever you go, there you are!
actor-writer-director, improviser, mother, traveler, life renegade