It has been a rough week on the international front. Today, I went to drop off an application for summer work at Starbucks. Yes, I know I'm way over qualified. I need something right now that doesn't break any of the rules of my current visa. I need work that is guaranteed from week to week, and I need to be able to keep that work from interfering with the latest batch of revisions on the book. But I have to wonder whether or not I can really keep my mouth shut during the height of tourist season.
Today, I listened to an American woman telling her teenage son that he couldn't have 'whatever that @#%* is that they pass off as yogurt.' I found myself turning to the woman next to me and saying, 'We're not all like that.' My housemate reports that she watched an American man tell a waitress that he tipped in reverse. When the waitress asked if he'd like to order, he told her she was down to 10%. He'd tell her when he wanted to order. Never mind that tipping isn't compulsory in this country. And another friend reports that she was present when an American man turned to an entire bus queue and demanded to know why everyone was standing around doing nothing. He was further angered by the fact that those people were standing near the cash-point. Welcome to Europe where space is at a premium. Learn to cover your pin with you hand Buck-O. We all get to witness such events throughout the coming months. And the Americans who have come to interact with a different culture, the ones who please and thank you their ways through Bath, will go largely unnoticed.
I have the added disadvantage of sounding like a tourist. I find myself clarifying that I live here. No, really, I don't want a cheap airmail stamp. No, really, I want an all-day bus pass. No, really, I want chips not crisps. And as frustrating as I find it, I'm grateful that people are trying to keep me from being disappointed or discovering that I've paid too much.
The English (and I do mean the English not the Scots, the Welsh, or the Irish) are known as the great rude people throughout Europe. Often they're disappointed that no other country speaks English. They're frustrated when they've managed to book into a hotel that doesn't serve chips. They yell their words as though this alone will provide a translation for the locals. They complain of summer heat in Egypt, beggars in India, and stringent rules in the United Arab Emirates. And then there are those who don't, but theirs aren't the voices that I hear. There are days when I think I've not changed countries. Rather I hear the same things in a new accent.
And then I'm reminded of the things for which I am grateful. The health service, public transport, a working social security system (for which I do not qualify but which has supported for short periods many of my friends here), freely available custard, a slower pace of life, a willingness to make do and mend, recycling, maternity leave, and a sense of gratefulness. And I think that I am whinging a step to far.