It’s comfortable, hanging out with an old friend — you understand one another, speak the same language; and differences in age, culture and personality only make time together more entertaining and worth the while. Spending a month traveling the United Kingdom was like that, per se, as the Brits say.
May, no pun intended, was a particularly political month in the United Kingdom, as it was in the United States.
Brexit dominates British news similarly to how Trump’s antics dominate U.S. news. The division created amongst disagreeing factions — whether to leave the European Union, with or without a plan, or schedule a revote — is uncompromisingly bitter and indignant. The takeaway: As messed up as the United States is, other countries are dealing with their own problems, most of which go beyond the real or perceived impositions caused by U.S. policies.
On a lighter note, these distinctions and curiosities stood out:
- Office building and hotel floors start with “0” or Ground Floor and go up a flight to “1” and so on.
- As challenging as the opposite directions of streets can be for U.S. drivers and pedestrians, it is convenient that cars can park along the curb facing either direction on both sides of the street.
- The countryside within Ireland, Scotland and England is truly extraordinary. Fields of brilliant yellow rapeseed vegetation used to make canola oil flow across the landscapes, which are dotted with picturesque clusters of contented cows, sheep and horses; and accented by photo-friendly clouds above.
- In the city of Galway in Ireland there is a discreet, yet breathtaking international organ donor commemorative garden called the Circle of Life — a profound and unique tribute to both living and deceased donor/heroes.
- Every city includes an HMV music store, signaling that possessive-minded music enthusiasts have not been completely forsaken for downloaders. There was even a lone Tower Records in Edinburgh (where the clerk was unimpressed when told I lived down the street from the original Tower Records store in Sacramento.)
- Street musicians or buskers are prolific and mostly really good, particularly in Dublin, Howth and York. They take their work seriously and perform as though the busy street corner is a stage.
- The “Mind the Gap” warning when getting on and off UK mass transit is every bit as common (the ubiquitous logo even appears on T-shirts) as New York subway’s famous “Stand clear of the closing doors” warning.
- Local television, besides BBC news, comprises a steady diet of reruns of U.S. sitcoms like “Everybody Loves Raymond,” “The Big Bang Theory” and “Frasier.” Mixed between are treats like the unique British send-up “Mock the Week” featuring a panel of comedians; promotional trailers for the acclaimed “63 Up” documentary series which has followed a group of individuals over five decades; and the intense drama “Virtues.” Fortunately, the subversive U.S. comedies “Family Guy” and “Angie Tribeca” air regularly, lest Brits think all U.S. TV is shite.
- Pretty much everything Brits, the Irish and Scots say sounds cool. It’s hard not to smile as you remind yourself that the “accents” are real.
- While nighttime in Dublin’s Temple Bar area (which includes a good chunk of the city’s 752 pubs) was nearly as wild as New Orleans’ French Quarter during Mardi Gras, nothing compared to the hooliganism at London’s Trafalgar Square the night before a huge football match. Police served only as attentive bystanders as raucous fanatics burned torches, drank and tossed beer cans and bottles, and chanted and cheered loud enough to disrupt the theatre district blocks away.
- And finally, it was fun to pick up some new word choices: pavement for sidewalk, give way for yield, no bother for no worries or no problem, and as noted earlier, mind the gap for watch your step.
Though we share the sameness of language, generally speaking, once again the cultural diversity and tolerance that results from international travel has proven to be the most illuminating education in the world.