My daughter and I were discussing the differences between America and England. She had read a blog or two about Brit’s abroad and living in the US. I thought that they must be interesting and then wondered why I hadn’t thought of doing something similar.
I have always enjoyed living in England. Growing up and watching Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce playing as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle‘s great double act, Holmes and Watson made me long to tread those foggy streets of London. When I was given the opportunity to live here courtesy of Uncle Sam, I couldn’t believe my luck.
I will point out that I have actually lived in the United Kingdom longer than I lived in the country of my birth. I have thought of this castle filled country as my home for at least the last eighteen years. I got out of the USAF as part of the force downsizing drill in the nineties and not too long after applied for citizenship. Luckily for me, I did not have to ‘give up’ my status as an American citizen so I’ve always had the best of both worlds.
Despite the fact that I came to this country with a cloud over my head (that would soon be replaced by the real clouds that so frequently fill the sky in this country) I felt that just walking the streets was a great adventure. For years I would be driving somewhere and see the ruins of a castle or a picturesque thatched cottage and think, “Wow, I can’t believe I’m living here!”
Of course I have now lived here so long, that I don’t have many occasions where I have trouble with the local language or have to learn about traditions or quaint practises of the country. I have, though, developed a strange accent. One that is an odd blend of Arkansan, American, and English. I live in Suffolk, one of the more rural areas of East Anglia, where you can get trapped behind a tractor for miles on a narrow, two lane road and the local populace all talk like an English version of country bumpkins.
It is a beautiful countryside that still plays havoc with my sinuses, despite having lived full-time in the county since 1990. And each year I await the rape and mustard season with dread knowing that my eyes will water and itch and my nose will steadfastly refuse to work properly until the blasted stuff is harvested.
But back in 1982, I didn’t know about rapeseed and mustard and how much it can affect you. I only knew that I really needed a change of scenery and the positive press I got from my commander made it sound a bit like heaven. I got my orders and flew to RAF Mildenhall, the “Gateway to Europe” and arrived on the 5th of July 1982. My sponsor, a Staff Sargent from my new unit, met me and helped me get settled in my room.
I had an invite to his place later in the day for a barbecue and he left saying he would come back and pick me up later. I wandered around the wide open base. In those days RAF Mildenhall was pretty much open to the public. The only part of the base that was fenced off was the flight line area. Everything else was easily accessible by everyone.
At the edge of Mildenhall’s archaic base housing was a bus stop and a place called Mickey’s T bar. It boasted American style food and seating. I went in and ordered a double cheese burger. When the owner brought me the burger he pointed to an American style mustard bottle and said if I needed mustard on it, to help my self. I grabbed the squeezable bottle and lathered my cheese burger with mustard.
I then went to a table, sat down and took an enormous bite of instant fire. Eyes watering, I looked at the burger I’d just taken a bite out of in surprise. I hastily grabbed my can of coke and gulped the entire thing down in an effort to stop the burning in my mouth. I carefully put the cheeseburger down on my plate. I went back to the serving counter and bought another coke and asked why the burger was so damn hot.
The owner looked at me oddly and said, “Well of course it’s hot mate, I’ve only just cooked it.” I explained that I didn’t mean temperature hot, but spicy hot. He then started chuckling.
” You didn’t put mustard on did you?”
“Yeah,” I said, “Of course I did.”
“Well that’s not Yank mustard, mate. It’s English. We like our mustard a bit hotter than you lot like yours.” He continued chuckling to himself and after he sold me my second Coke stopped and thoughtfully rubbed his chin. “You know, I probably should mark the bloody thing. We get quite a few of you Yanks in here straight off the plane. Did you just get here?”
I nodded and he offered to make me another cheeseburger, no charge since I’d ‘ruined’ my first one. I said he didn’t have to do that, as I could just scrape off the excessive amount of mustard that I had put on. I finished my burger and wandered back to my room for a nap before the barbecue that afternoon.
My first day in England and already I’d learned two valuable lessons. Not everything was what it seemed here and don’t put too much mustard on your burger.
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