Blogging about Japan, food, parenthood, music and life!
I have found, to my honour and delight, that I have already gained a few readers from Japan and other far flung countries.
Now, this blog should not only give an insight into my strange Anglo/Japanese life, or an overview of Japan for an English audience… it should also occasionally give an overview of England for my non-English readers.
As it happens, I witnessed a vignette yesterday that perfectly encapsulates the British ethic, so let me share it with you.
There is a coffee shop that I frequent in a town not far from where I live. Hubby and I dropped in there yesterday morning, as I still hadn’t had any breakfast and we needed to kick start the day with a hot drink.
It is not a fashionable, edgy or sophisticated coffee shop. In fact, I like it because stepping inside is like travelling back in time about 25 years; the décor, the baked goods on offer, the prices – are all from more innocent times.
Upon our entry, a uniquely British expression of ‘polite lack of interest’ and panic crossed the faces of the people waiting to be served. They instinctively shuffled into a neat line to ensure there was NO misunderstanding about who was in the queue, and the chronology of service. The ‘lack of interest’ thing is just good manners. Looking at a stranger for more than a millisecond is a sign of deeply rooted psychosis. Probably.
We ordered a bacon sandwich and a couple of hot drinks without too much trouble… although I did feel slightly bemused when the lady at the serving counter said, “Was it a bacon sandwich, love?”
“Yes, please”, I nodded.
“And was that with sausage or with bacon?” she asked, as if it would be perfectly normal to order a bacon sandwich and expect her to put sausage in it, not bacon.
So, the food and drink was ordered. Hubby sidled up to me and whispered out of the corner of his mouth, “Erm. She charged me £4.50 for a bacon sandwich, a coffee, a doughnut, and a peppermint tea!”
A swift look at the menu board and prices confirmed that this was several pounds less than it should have been. Now I’m not saying that people are worse at mental arithmetic in England than, say Japan, but… Oh what the heck! That’s exactly what I’m saying.
And no, we didn’t tell her. Yes, we’re terrible people.
Next challenge – to find seats.
This isn’t a café. It just has a shelf table up against the plate glass window, with a row of 6 high stools, for those who have the temerity to stay instead of taking their food away with them.
Nightmare scenario. First stool – free. Second stool – taken. Third stool – obviously free, because only stalkers sit right next to you when there are other seats available. Fourth stool and fifth stool – an elderly couple. Sixth stool – free.
It looked as if we weren’t going to be able to sit together! Horror!
However, there is a clause in British Public Seating Behaviour that allows you to sit next to perfect strangers, as long as it is to allow pairs or groups of newcomers to stick together (and as long as you arrange your face into a suitably apologetic hybrid of a grimace and a smile).
The seated customers shuffled, moved bags and coats, and smiled modestly without meeting our eyes (psychosis -remember?) and we sheepishly accepted the two seats together at the end of the row. We kept our heads down while the disturbance we’d caused subsided and normality was restored, and then the door opened to usher in a little old lady in a tweed coat.
She came up to the counter, rubbing her gloved hands together, and she was making that peculiar swishing/blowing noise, through her teeth and pursed lips, that people make to convey how cold they are.
“Ooooh! It’s chilly today,” she exclaimed, rather cheerfully, given the subject matter.
The server stared at her customer with a cold and steely eye for a shocking couple of seconds. (Please see my theory about psychosis) Then she actually tutted, in the manner of an old-school teacher hearing a wrong answer, and snapped belligerently, “It was colder yesterday. MUCH colder.”
The stern gaze continued to bore into the little old lady, until she dropped her eyes, breathed out slowly and conceded, “Well, yes. Yes, I suppose it was. Yes… of course you’re right…”
Grimly satisfied with this, the serving woman turned away to pick up tongs and a paper bag.
“What will it be?”
“Oooh! I do like those lardy cakes – is that what they’re called?” Little Old Lady twittered with embarrassment.
The stony countenance of the serving woman softened for a moment and she replied, “Yep. Lardy cakes. The ones with raisins and sugar. Yep, they’re nice, they are.”
“Oooh! I’ll take a couple of lardy cakes then. Do you have any today?”
I snorted some bacon sandwich into my lungs at this point, so I missed the rest of the exchange.
I hope you’ve learned some things:
- Queues are sacred
- Don’t stare at people unless you have issues
- Don’t sit next to strangers
- Allow people to sit together, however, or you come across as an arse
- Do NOT engage people in weather talk unless you know exactly what you’re talking about
- Bacon sandwiches are lush