Friday, October 17, 2008

VIII: Hard to Explain

I missed the last bus, I'll take the next train.
I try but you see, it's hard to explain.
I say the right things, but act the wrong way.
I like it right here, but I cannot stay.
I watch the TV, forget what I'm told.
Well, I am too young and they are too old.
The joke is on you, this place is a zoo.
You're right it's true...

I went to the doctor today. Don't worry, it's nothing serious. Last weekend, I went in to the Tollgate Lodge Primary Care Center to register for NHS (National Health Service) and after the nurse spent about 20 minutes interviewing me about my medical history, she told me to make another appointment for a proper asthma examination.

Like every other asthma-related doctor's appointment I've ever had (and I've been going to these since I was about 13), I had to go through the whole routine... "take a deep breath and blow as hard as you can into this peak flow meter so we can measure your lung strength and air capacity." Over the years, I've seen this meter evolve from an archaic piece of medical equipment into a 'highly-sophisticated' digitized version.

So it was safe to say that I expected the nurse to open her drawer and pull one of these babies out. After all, this is London, not some third world country. But instead, she came back to me with a laughably pitiful model - the kind that comes with a disposable cardboard mouthpiece (which looks like a mini-toilet-paper roll) and where you have to manually reset it by pushing the pointer down with your fingertip. It looked like something you'd find in a children's toy medical kit. Remember those? We all had them, the black Fisher-Price doctor's bag that includes a stethoscope with big red plastic tips on the earpieces. All that was missing from this thing was its lack of McDonald's colors.

She also had a giant ziploc bag full of different sized TP rolls... which she subsequently slipped her ungloved, maybe even unwashed, hand into to grab one for me. BTW... if you haven't put two and two together, this is the part that I have to put my mouth on. Thank God I didn't ask her for a flu shot.

So what if I'm spoiled and used to the luxuries of sanitized medical paraphernalia? I guess this is just an example of "the price we pay" for having nationalized health care. And in case you're wondering... here's the prognosis: I still have a mild case of asthma.

Anyway, that's my little anecdote for the day... though I'm not quite sure why I've required myself to have one. Oh who cares. I promise this won't go on too long because the only thing I really wanted to do with this post is to list some of my favorite British idiosyncracies. In other words, I'm copying Kim. Perhaps this is my chance to lay down all the little things about London life that I can't necessarily explain in my usual colorful way. So here goes (in no particular order of importance):

1.) When grocery shopping, you have to bag them all yourself. Sad, but true.
2.) Fries are chips, chips are crisps, cookies are biscuits, cream cheese is soft cheese (or simply Philadelphia), jello is jelly. Also, "Lay's" brand crisps are "Walker's" here - except the graphics on the bag are exactly the same... down to the typography.
3.) They have tea time, not coffee breaks.
4.) Cigarettes are fags (though most people already know that).
5.) Products that exist in the US are given a different brand identity. Example: I finally found Vitamin Water, but the usual citrus-flavored "Energy" that I like is called "Spark" here.
6.) Soda is significantly flatter and blander here than it is in the US.
7.) When ordering fish and chips at a restaurant, it commonly comes with peas.
8.) There is a borderline irrational, national obsession with chips... they even come with breakfast.
9.) "All right?" is code for "Hello" or "How are you?"
10.) Even girls call girls "love."
11.) "yeah?" follows nearly every question in casual conversation. Example: "See you tonight, yeh?"
12.) People here drink lots and lots of alcoholic cider and Foster's beer.
13.) Every true Londoner owns at least one pair of boots, one peacoat and an umbrella. Sorry Chuck, I have to trade you in on rainy days for these:

14.) Londoners make fun of everyone else. Southerners are trouble, midlanders are hicks, northerners are just plain insulting, and if you're from Newcastle you might as well kill yourself for being a "jordie."
15.) Having a pint (of beer) is just part of the culture... at any times of the day, during lunch hours or after dinner. It doesn't even matter.
16.) British network television includes health programming that shows anatomically-correct body parts without censorship. Boobs, bush, penis, what have you. I actually just saw a show where they were teaching a bunch of 12-year-olds how to use a condom.
17.) If you're a tourist, you're probably into "west end" attractions. If you're a local, you'd rather do "east end" things.
18.) When walking down the street or riding the bus, expect to hear at least 5 different languages being spoken on any given journey.
19.) Please jaywalk. Or else you'll annoy somebody.
20.) Bic lighters are hard to find. Having one makes you slightly cooler than the guy using matches or a cricket.

Okay, that's probably enough for now. I have to get ready because I'm meeting some friends at the "Drunken Monkey" dim sum bar in Shoreditch (EAST END) for dinner and drinks.

Love and bollocks! (I totally stole that from James.)


Justin Cowles said...

Your doctor's visit sounded dirty. Did you go to a back ally hospital?

I like your list o' cultural differences. Now I know what to expect and I'll start using those expressions through out my daily life. Can't wait to come over and start the real U.K. experience!

Kimberly said...

BWAHAHA! i love your list! by the time the year is up, we'll be able to combine all our finds into a fab new travel book! We'll make millions, I tell you! let's do it, yah? :-)