I was rudely awakened from my pleasant sleep next to the gentleman who had been farting for the last ten hours. “We will be arriving at Heathrow in approximately twenty minutes.” The flight attendant spoke with an accent that I raced to identify. It sounded like English but was obviously being spoken by a recent immigrant who had learned the language from someone gargling. I listened again. It was truly horrible to the ear and virtually impossible to understand.
Then it hit me. This poor woman was speaking with the same mangled tongue of my good friend Alx Bns, the British chap who had been miseducated at Oxenford and had come to learn proper English in California, where in the last few years we’d only barely been able to get him to say “dude” and not have it sound as awkward as if he’d been asked to inventory his mother’s underwear drawer.
I listened intently as the lady tried to communicate without vowels, but gave up as it was time to deplane and make our connecting flight to Vienna. We were steered into a cattle chute where it became clear that we were indeed in jolly old England and not in the nasty old USA because instead of massively-gutted, tatted-up TSA derelicts who purloined the not-very-valuables from our bags, we were inspected by neatly dressed little people in suits who actually used words like “sir” and “madam.” There were giant signs telling us to take all liquids out of our bags but I figured they were kidding and plus with all these angry passengers behind me whose ankles had swollen up like the Chunnel, there was no way they were going to dig through my massive Ortlieb messenger bag just to get a tube of sunscreen.
As I went through the line my bags were pulled off the belt and a sour, tailored young lady quickly shifted from jolly old England to pissed off bag checker. “Please open the bag, sir,” she snapped.
“Yes, ma’am,” I said as Team Swollen Ankles queued up behind me. I reached into the top of my massive, 3-foot-tall, bright yellow Ortlieb messenger bag.
“Don’t touch the contents, sir!” she barked.
“Yes, ma’am,” I said.
She reached into the bag and began removing the contents. About a hundred impatient, swollen ankles glared at each item. First came the sweaters, which I’d thankfully folded. Then the t-shirts, which were more wadded than folded. Then came the rather colorful socks, which started getting people’s attention. “What’s next?” they wondered as she drew each item out like a magician pulling bunnies out from behind a pants zipper.
Finally she hit pay dirt, which was my underwear. My underwear are not for public display, but they got displayed in public. The ones with the red hearts. The ones with the flowers. The psychedelic ones with the swirls. And of course the baggy cotton ones with a hole in the ass. Now the swollen ankles were enjoying the show and wondering when the really embarrassing stuff would come out.
That’s about the time the un-jolly lady discovered the little can that had set off the bomb alert, which was my bike tool can stuffed with CO2 canisters and a multitool that could have been used as a weapon if, for example, you wanted to slowly disassemble the airplane’s fuselage. While all this serious underwear inspection was going on, the jolly old Englanders had also spotted another likely terrorist, this time a woman in her 80’s in a wheelchair. Waving me on, they focused all of their attention on her, trying to locate the bomb she must have secreted somewhere in her belongings, somewhere between the respirator and the wool blankets.
We had a ton of time to kill because the planes were all delayed from the “morning fog.” I imagined that thick fog was quite the rarity on London Town, and understood how such an unusual phenomenon could essentially close the airport. We walked to the departure lounge, which was surrounded by expensive stores and which contained a shop called “Coffee Nerd.” I went up to the counter and ordered an espresso. “That’s a funny name for a coffee shop,” I said to the clerk.
“It is?” she answered, trying to trick me with her non-American English accent.
“Yeah,” I said. “It’s funny but cute, you know. I like it.”
“What’s cute about it?” she asked.
I waited a few seconds to interpret what she said into Ameriglish. “You know, ‘nerd.’ That’s funny. A coffee nerd. We’re all coffee nerds, right?”
She tried unsuccessfully to hide the fact that she was talking to an idiot. “What on earth are you talking about, sir?”
“Nerd. Coffee nerd. The place you work at. Here, where we are standing. It’s a funny name.”
She watched my face to see if I were making fun of her or if I were truly this big a simpleton. She concluded the latter. “That’s actually not the name, sir. If you read it a bit more slowly you’ll see it says ‘Coffee Nero.’ Like the Roman emperor.” Then she checked herself, realizing that a person who couldn’t read four letter words probably wouldn’t have ever heard of Nero, or Rome.
I may have blushed a little as everyone looked away, very Britishy, allowing me to wallow in the shame of public humiliation, each customer deliciously enjoying it as they politely pretended not to notice. I scurried away to enjoy my coffee, which, as something of a coffee nerd, I can tell you was excellent.
Fascinated by the fascinating fascinations of British culture I was disappointed that we only had three hours to sit around and look like silly Americans, but there seemed to be an endless supply eager to take our place, all of whom were very intent on shouting and displaying various badges and emblems from sports teams and colleges, which I suppose is redundant.
Determined to understand more about the cheerful British folk it seemed best to study them from 37,000 feet, where everything was a tiny dot sunk in what looked like a boggy patch of green mud. The British Airways chap (this what we in California call a “dude”) displayed much British culture by welcoming an entire plane full of Austrians in English, which I suppose was better than German, as the language the Austrians were speaking sounded less like German and more like dogs barking with snouts full of peanut butter.
The plane banked and headed for the English Channel. Pretty soon we’d be in Vienna. As the rain pounded the plane and an infinite shag carpet of clouds stretched off forever, It didn’t look like I was going to need the sunscreen.
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