This email arrived from an ex boyfriend with distant cousins across the pond, after he read what I wrote about London. I thought it was entertaining enough to post. He starts by suggesting that my contention about no Costcos over there may not be correct.
I think that England has Costco
because a lot of the food at [my cousins's] cold and drafty “castle”
was Kirkland, the Costco house brand.
I have always liked the
English thing about using a lot of extra words for something we have
one word for: in Berwick-upon-Tweed I found myself hesitating before a
sign which read “Gents Wash and Brush Up.” When I ventured inside I was
relieved, in more ways than one, to find the usual assortment of useful
Also moving companies are called rather ominously “removers.”
An English lady [my ex] and I met in Tucson at the B&B we were
staying at asked whether our son was in “a residence hall.” I had to
actually go from there to “dormitory” and then just to “dorm” before
comprehension struck me.
When I went to England the first time on my own, I stayed at [my
cousin's] cousin’s family’s country house outside of London. It was
close enough so that the children remember looking out the windows at
fires from bombs in London. Their father was one of the British rowers
who conducted a failed raid on the coast of Africa in an attempt to
kill Rommel. It opens the famous movie, Rommel, made with James Mason.
The raid, as shown in the movie and in real life, failed, the team was
caught, and he spent the rest of the war in a German prison camp.
For my benefit I guess the family had gathered a bunch of local
jeunesse, all Oxford and Cambridge types for me to meet. I was just off
of nine hours of drinking and flying on a student charter flight, and
just sat there in that large room, with great French doors opening out
onto lawn, seated in an enormous overstuffed sofa covered in chintz, a
pattern of huge flowers, and with every table top containing a vase
with more flowers in it than I had ever believed could have come from a
The young men talked, and I felt very stupid. They seemed glittering in
their facile use of words and long arching sentences, all the pronouns
right, and often with a wonderful cadence in the ear. After Exeter and
Harvard and a year at Michigan Law, I felt totally uneducated, a mere
rube, someone from the colonies with a mediocre education.
I thought about it for a long time that summer, playing the tape of the
afternoon in my mind. Somewhere during the course of the summer, about
half way, I figured out that these young men really were not more
educated than I was, but boy, could they say what they knew better!
It was a hard lesson for someone who thought of himself as glib.
I also found understanding most people quite hard. [My cousins's]
mother, Helen, a lovely, lively and funny lady, had a voice which
sounded like a British phone. She didn’t talk as much as she sounded
like the phone, brrrr-uppp, burr-upp, in a very high tone.
Also the slang is totally different and often very class oriented.
“NOKD,” for example, which is “not our kind, dear.” It ‘s the dear that
makes it funny and useable. I remember [my cousin's] sister telling me
that on the lists for young men eligible for invitations to deb parties
were codes such as “TPF” for “tiny prying fingers” and “NSIT” for “not
safe in taxis.”