My wife and I were recently sipping a cuppa while discussing the Queen’s Honours List. Specifically, we were wondering whether the honoree who lived with 3,000 rescued hedgehogs should be knighted, or merely get an Order of the British Empire along with free home deodorizing.
It was at that moment I realized I really had turned Brit. While I had no desire to riot at soccer matches or stiffen my upper lip, I definitely felt I had made the move symbolically from Chicago to Chichester.
I could blame my wife for that. After all, British passport in hand, she had married a Yank who thought a “bap” was a hit on the head and not a slice of soft bacon inside an even softer bun. Now, just a few years later, I was no longer giggling at pictures of Prince Charles opening a butcher shop while waving a mutton chop like a broadsword. So what happened to the guy who would laugh uncontrollably as the royal family made small talk with horses?
I’m not sure when I started to change. It might have been when our friend Judy Bell, at a dinner in Wales, suggested that rather than deciding between the clotted cream, Devonshire cream, and ice cream on my sticky toffee pudding, I take all three. Or it could have been when I sat at a breakfast table in Hedgerley Dean, Buckinghamshire, with half a dozen country gentlemen discussing the best ways to eradicate vermin on their property. (I suggested trying to get the vermin to take up knitting.)
Eventually, I decided my change of nationality began when I suggested to my spouse that we rush off to see a revival of the play “The Entertainer.” “Fine,” she said, prepared to drive into San Francisco to pick up tickets. “What theater is it at?”
And that’s when I realized it’s not so bad being a Brit. You tend to do things like climb Mt. Everest or fly 12 hours to see a two-hour play without a lot of fuss. Even though you have to wear sweaters to bed, it’s still the kind of country where your spouse one drizzly morning says, “Shall we walk to India or the mailbox?” A civilization where, before you set off on either stroll, you sit down for something “light” for breakfast like a “fry up” – fried eggs, bacon, sausages, beans, tomatoes, mushrooms, bread, and, if possible, water.
Now it is true there are some things in England I wish had disappeared with the colonies. Roundabouts, for instance, are maddening traffic circles from which a minimum of a 114 streets emerge, none with a name. Toasts at weddings tend to last longer than some marriages, while toast at breakfast is required to sit in a rack for two hours before it can be eaten.
Even I blanched at the waitress in the London restaurant who offered “potted squirrel” as one of the day’s specials. (My wife and her brother were, for some reason, happier when they found out it was “grey squirrel, not red.”)
But, in general, I am pleased about becoming, at least in my travel agent’s mind, a British personage. And so, as I sip my tea and contemplate how much breakfast food can fit into my frying pan, I now know what the English have known for decades: The queen carries no money, none, in her pocketbook. Not even a coin for the parking meter.