A COLONIST RETURNS TO THE COMMONWEALTH
It has been a while since I was last in England. I traveled there as a teenager in the 1970s to see London and the usual tourist sites. I went again to see different parts of the country during my military career. I neglected English travel during the 1990s to favor more exotic destinations. But finally this year I returned as a businessman, bringing two employees with me. I thought you Czechs might enjoy reading an American's view of England. Anyone will be quick to notice a few differences between us Yanks and our English cousins!
Language is a good place to start. I will readily admit that the English are more careful to use correct grammar than Americans. The English also love the letter "U" and put it in many words in which we do not. For example, "favorite" is spelled "favourite" in England, although we both pronounce the word the same way. American choral teachers often praise the English pronunciation of vowels, and encourage our singers to imitate it. But the English seem far less conscientious about the pronunciation of their consonants! They often omit the beginning consonant sounds from their words, making them hard for Americans to understand!
Perhaps this problem with consonants has something to do with the teeth of Britons! Although the English have many good qualities, good dental health is not one of them. Of course, because I am a dentist, I may notice it more. It is rather rare to find a Briton with a complete set of teeth that are neither extremely crooked nor filled with big cavities nor fillings! Perhaps it is the fault of their socialistic dental care system.
But after having criticized the English about their teeth, I must say something good about them. They are very honest people. Writers have often commented upon the English inclination to "do the right thing." Nothing demonstrates this better than the relatively low crime rate in England. English policemen do not even carry guns! This is truly amazing to Americans. I lost an expensive camera at a convention, and an honest Briton turned it in to the security office. One day I lacked proper bus fare into town, and the hotel owner lent me a Pound Sterling for the bus. Such acts of trust are rather startling to us!
The English have never been famous for fine food as have their French neighbors, and that has not changed over the years. Here is the biggest difference between English and American restaurants. In England, people usually go into a pub to get alcoholic drinks, and serving food seems to only be a sideline! In the US, one goes in a restaurant primarily for food, and incidentally might buy an alcoholic drink while eating. Priorities are reversed between our two countries.
There are more McDonald's in England than previously, but still not nearly as many as in the US. Probably because American-style fast food restaurants do not serve alcoholic beverages! Goodness, those British drink a lot of it compared to us Americans! The USA has been waging war against alcohol for many years. A person must be 21 years old to drink legally in our country; England only requires 18 years. The US taxes alcohol very steeply, so drinking is expensive compared to Great Britain. A liter of Russian vodka costs about twice as much in the US as in Great Britain.
When not drinking beer or other alcohol, the favorite English drink is tea. Americans drink a lot of tea, also. But the English drink only hot tea, and Americans drink mostly iced tea. The average Briton is disgusted by the thought of drinking tea cold! And needless to say, we Americans are astonished when we are served large glasses of soft drinks without any ice! But I must admit, our love of iced beverages is very unusual in the world.
In my previous article about street names, I wrote about the differences in city street design between various nationalities. I had forgotten how the British were fond of traffic circles, or "circuses," as they like to call them. Traffic circles are uncommon in the US, but one finds them all over England. Their purpose is to avoid intersections with traffic signals, and they succeed in doing that. But they are extremely confusing to pedestrians. The British dig "subway" tunnels for pedestrians under traffic circles. A skater like me has to go down a set of steps to the tunnel, which winds around and has junctions underneath the street. It is easy to lose one's sense of direction, so one is never sure upon which street one will emerge!
The comparison of British and American life is very interesting. It was long ago discovered that populations that are geographically isolated develop different genetic compositions over time. The same can apparently be said for language and culture. Although we Americans long ago inherited a common language and legal system from the English, there are many differences between us peoples now.
Here is my favorite picture, taken in a suburb of Birmingham. I guess that when the world finally comes to an end, this is where it will start!