“I can see how easy it is to think of us as quaint,” J. said, having read I can’t remember which of my blog posts.
I admitted that I was stretching the quaintness and she admitted that she understood that and we’re still speaking, for which I’m grateful because I like J. But the comment stays with me. I’m not sure if she was amused, hurt, critical, or some mix of them all, and I didn’t think to ask.
I’m not sure how I feel about the conversation, either. Is quaint even the right word? I do look for things to laugh about. Does that end up painting a picture of quaintness? I’m not sure, but I hereby officially admit that I’m exaggerating when I write about Britain. Or as a karate teacher I used to study with liked to say, over-exaggerating. Not by making anything up, but by ignoring the counterbalance: both the oddities of the U.S.—my home country—and the ordinariness of Britain.
But foreigners are always tempted to do that. The mailboxes are a different shape? How quaint! How charming! Or, if you’re looking for something to disapprove of, as some people are the minute they’re out of their comfort zone, How backwards! How ignorant! Mailboxes should be square, with a rounded top.
Besides, it’s harder to see the oddities of the culture you’re used to. That’s one of the gifts that being an outsider brings. Drop me back in the U.S. after almost nine years in the U.K. and I expect things I took for granted would look odd. But I’m not there. I work with what’s in front of me, always trying to remember my own absurdity as well, and if possible put more stress on that than on anyone else’s.
So for the sake of balance, here’s a list five of non-quaint things that happened recently.
- The sun rose this morning. It has no accent, respects no borders, and is not impressed by anyone’s nationalism. Thank you, sun. We all need to be reminded.
- My car’s oil pressure is low and I left it with the mechanic. [This actually happened a few days ago, but I’ll leave it in the present tense for the illusion of immediacy it creates—and out of laziness.] Probably my fault (bad car owner, wicked car owner). I’d let the oil get low, but I don’t think it was low enough to account for idiot light flashing on. This is distinctly un-quaint, and I feel distinctly idiotic.
- The mechanic just called. On Wild Thing’s phone, which is the number we gave him. That seemed to make sense at the time—never mind why—only Wild Thing’s not home right now and she couldn’t give me the number to call him back because it’s on her phone and she was using the phone to talk to me and yes, she could have hung up and written it down and called back but she doesn’t have a pen with her. Or paper. And the phone numbers here have a shitload of digits; they’re hard to remember. I’d look the number up but it doesn’t belong to a shop. The mechanic’s a local guy working out of his garage and using his cell phone. Besides, I don’t actually know his last name. Everyone around here swears by him and the garage I’ve used up to now just screwed something up for me. So Wild Thing called the mechanic to give him our home number, but he was on the phone too (it happens that way sometimes), so he couldn’t enter the number. All of that could happen anywhere. I’m not playing quaint with this, although I could. It’s just what happened.
- A couple in the village are coming up on their golden wedding anniversary. Yay them!
- I’m trying to remember how many years a golden anniversary marks. If I have to bet, I’m putting my money on fifty. Google could find someone who’d be happy to let me know, but I’d rather be amused by my ignorance.
- I am, not uncharacteristically, cheating on this list since points two and three are related and four and five are are too. Which is why I’ve added this as a bonus point—six items in a list of five. You can’t say you don’t get your money’s worth out of this blog. Which is a double negative, giving you even more bang for your buck.