On Foreign Shores, Part Two

"And I turn to her and say Texas. She says what? I said Texas. She says what? They've got big long road out there.
Warm winds blowing, heating blue sky, and a road that goes forever. I'm going to Texas." -- Chris Rea

My two weeks here in Solihull are coming to a close and as I ponder a return to the former colonies now known as the United States of America, I must consider those things I will miss about England. Along with a few things I won't miss so much.

The weather. Counterintuitive, I know, but the time I have spent in England has coincided with some fairly spectacular weather. In June, it was sunny and very spring-like the whole week. This visit has been very fall-like with trees turning colors, brisk cool mornings, and sunny skies. Back in Tejas as of this moment, the forecast for today calls for a high of 33. That's Celsius, course. If you tell someone here that the temperature will climb into the thirties, they give you the same appalled look that would accompany the news that your hometown had been overrun by zombies and vampires. Thirty-three (alias 92 Fahrenheit) strikes most Englishmen as relatively apocalyptic.

In contrast, my cab drivers, most of whom hail from India, hear that I am from Texas and ask immediately how warm it is there. When I tell them mid-thirties all last week, they sigh wistfully and say something like, "That's nice."

Football. Or soccer as we Yanks tend to call it. For the record, I have been a fan of the game since college. It was a big thing at Ottawa University and as it happened, a lot of the varsity players lived in my dormitory so I was fairly immersed in the game. Later, one of my classmates played for the Wichita Wings indoor team and I attended a great many Wings games over the years. Here, there's a professional match of some kind on the TV every single night. I was also able to attend a match in person which was a lot of fun.

Learning the slang and customs of football culture has been a challenge, too. Reading an article that describes a match in the local papers is just amazing - like a foreign language. One of my favorite things at the Birmingham City match was the custom of dissing substitutions. When a player is substituted, they announce the names and in response to visitor substitutions, thousands of BCFC fans in unison call out, "'OoooOOO?" As in 'who the hell is that bloke?' It's pretty funny, actually.

Civility. This is not a knock on the manners or civility of other cultures I have visited. I work with a group of generally well-mannered people and overall I would say the service sector in Texas is warm and friendly with a lot of 'Y'all' and 'Sugar' and 'Honey' and other ways of conveying warmth. I like that, even if it is somewhat quaint and antiquated. But here's an example of how England differs: In all my other onsite visits in the US and other places, it's normal to get a request like, "Randy, I need you to rewrite that line to read 'blah-blah-blah'". What I get from the client here is, 'Randy, I hate terribly to create more work for you, but would it be too much trouble to rewrite that line to read 'blah-blah-blah'?"

In short, the English have an uncanny way of making you feel important and respected even when they're loading you up with a ton of menial work. Another example of the warmth and friendliness I have discovered has been around the taxis. While they never have the slightest problem finding my hotel, they always have some challenges finding the office in which I am working this visit. When I am in the taxi on my way to work, that's fine as I can guide the driver to the door. When I am at the office waiting for them to find me and take me to the hotel, it proves frustrating. Twice this week, while waiting for a long-overdue taxi driver to find me, I've had offers to drive me to where I need to go. One was from one of the workers here at our client and the other was from a hotel concierge the day of Eidh when all the Muslim drivers were taking the day off. In both cases, the offered ride proved unnecessary, but the offer was nice.

All those things have been really nice aspects of my time here. There are, of course, a few things I will not miss all that much. Among them …

The food. To be honest, I don't have an opinion on English cuisine because I'm not exactly sure there is one. The closest thing to English cuisine I have found is Indian food, which for the record, is pretty good here. Bryan, the Scottish finance director, told me that having no cuisine of their own, the English have tried for a millennium to colonize one. First they tried to capture France with its legendary cuisine and after centuries of effort, they finally gave up, sailed halfway around the world, and colonized India instead. Later, one of the other directors casually reminded me that Bryan is Scottish and said, "We captured Scotland, tried their food, and promptly sailed as far from that as we could and captured something else."

Lunch at work has been disappointing. My client favors a few small choices - a nearby sandwich shop is viewed as a special treat. It isn't. Mind you, the sandwich trays they bring have very tasty cherry tomatoes and some spectacular strawberries, but the sandwiches are disappointing at best. They also include Scotch eggs which many here view as a delicacy. This basically consists of a wedge of deviled egg surrounded by fried sausage surrounded by fried bread. I've concluded that 'Scotch' and solid food don't go together. Scotch should only come in liquid form with the suffix 'whiskey'.

In my experience, the best food in England is either Indian or American. They make good pub food here - but the pub food I mean is American burgers and chips (fries). I tried a plate of nachos in the bar. They had a salsa that tasted like ketchup with onions in it and had sliced jalapenos with so little bite to them, I wasn't sure they were real. But the burgers were pretty good. I find myself wishing the client would send someone from this office to Austin. I'd take them to Chuy's or Gloria's. My counterattack to Scotch eggs would be to introduce them to breakfast tacos. Torchy's, perhaps, or Taco Deli.

I can only imagine the befuddlement.

Traffic. Mind you, I've been in taxis and not driving a rental. If they'd have put me in a rental here, I'd have killed myself and several others within minutes. Roundabouts are insane. Listening to Google maps audio instructions (with an English accent) is a hoot: "In the next roundabout, take the second exit and proceed straight to the third roundabout where you will take the fourth exit and proceed to the right." Put a roundabout in downtown Austin some morning and by noon, half the cars in the city will be fused into a pile of twisted metal right in the middle. I freely admit, the traffic seems to move fairly well, but it is almost as terrifying sometimes as it was in Bogota and that's saying a lot.

Football, or the lack thereof. Here, I am referring to American football, both NCAA and NFL. Being in Big 12 country in Austin, I do manage to see the K-State Wildcats play nearly every weekend in the college season and I love that. I'm a huge fan of Bill Snyder and his old-school values-based approach to coaching. Living in Austin, I don't get to see the Chiefs play as often. This season started well, though - I saw them play Houston in week 1 (because I ALWAYS get to see Houston games in Austin) and then I saw them play Denver on Thursday night of week 2 (because I ALWAYS get to see the one Thursday night game). In week three, I would have been able to see them three weeks in a row - unprecedented for living in Austin - because they were on Monday Night Football. But on TV here, NFL coverage is sporadic. Sunday evening, starting at 6 PM, I got one game - and it was Carolina vs. New Orleans which I cared nothing about. I could have stayed up to see something else I didn't care about, but went to bed. The Chiefs game on Monday night was broadcast here … on Tuesday evening. By that time, I'd read the recap of the game and concluded I really didn't want to watch Aaron Rogers destroying the Chiefs defense.

So in short, during my two weeks here I didn't get any enjoyable moments of either NCAA or NFL action. The closest I got was replays of Tyler Lockett and Daren Sproles (both K-State alums) running back kicks for TDs. Baseball does not exist in England, either in real life or on the telly. There is no such thing and mentions of baseball produce blank stares. I've kept up with the Royals clinching the AL Central from afar on the internet. I did catch some rugby World Cup action. I saw the All-Blacks of New Zealand crush Namibia and later watched the US play one great half against Scotland. The Scottish were apparently not taking the game too seriously in the first half. They came out for the second and promptly scored four or five times in the next fifteen minutes and that was that.

And that has been my experience here in Blighty.

I want to come back when I'm not working. I know there is a ton of history here to soak up and explore and I just haven't had a minute to explore it. I have only been in London long enough to travel from the airplane to the bus that heads to Birmingham. I'll repeat that in reverse tomorrow, then jet home to Austin. It's really been almost all work and extremely little play during these two weeks. It comes with the job. Travel like this really doesn't count as glamorous. You get a hint of the world traveler mystique. Just a hint. It's like being able to smell tikka masala from the restaurant next door while you're trying to choke down a Scotch egg.

I desperately need some verde enchiladas, chips and creamy jalapeno dip at Chuy's.


Tie a yellow ribbon 'round the old oak tree, yanks. I'm heading home.