Five minutes from the Pittsburgh airport and four minutes into my Turkey Sausage Breakfast, I find myself at a Bob Evans sitting across from Patricia, a woman from England who is a new hire at our company and in the “States,” as they like to call it, for program training. At that moment, I am getting a feeling similar to the one I had when my parents explained that Barney wasn’t a real dinosaur when I was little. Disappointed. Sad. Slightly panicky about what other great disappointments life has in store for my poor, feeble soul.
Let me explain why.
When I was little, I thought British people were the bomb diggity. How could I not? I had grown up listening to the soothing voice of Julie Andrews, admired the great Angela Lansbury during my weekly viewings of The Pirates of Penzance and Beauty and the Beast, read ALL of the Georgia Nicolson books at least five times, and my mother encouraged us to partake in the British “afternoon tea” with the various tea pots and cups she had acquired over the years. She taught us to always drink our tea with milk. We were totally British but, like, not.
Naturally I wanted a British penpal and I found her at the impressionable age of eleven: Charlotte. Charlotte was from Essex and sent me PG Tips, strawberry gummy “sweets”, Cadbury chocolates, you name it. The girl was pretty much my British food dealer. I became engrossed in the British culture and royalty and by the time I was in middle school I refused to partake in Fourth of July celebrations because I knew my true home was in England. I never got to meet Charlotte in real life, or the other penpals from England that I would have later, but it was always my dream to meet up with a British person that I had befriended online in “real life”. The friendship ideally would lead to me visiting them at their cottage in the countryside where I would drink tea and eat home-made scones in their garden while wearing fascinators and bitching about the Queen. I so wanted this. I wanted to bask in a person’s British awesomeness but more importantly I wanted to be British, damnit.
Back to Bob Evans and Patricia.
Patricia, although young and cheerful-sounding on the phone, seemed to lack that particular joie de vivre in real life. Her clothes were frumpy and obviously not from Top Shop, Madewell or H&M so I couldn’t talk British fashion with her. She had whiskers. Bleached, but still present. She was NOT the super adorable, well-dressed and well-spoken 24 year-old who she had replaced and who I would have absolutely loved to meet in person. She didn’t crack jokes and seemed to lack any semblance of a sense of humor at all. No, Patricia was not the ideal real-life British friendship that I had always dreamed of.
I tried everything to tap into her good side and make conversation in the hopes that she wasn’t as boring as I thought (seriously, I try not to judge people). Heck, I even made jabs at American tea while my boss was in the bathroom. That’s right, America, I bashed you in front of a Brit.
“Oh my God,” I said as I poured more coffee into my cup, “I seriously hate the tea here. Lipton? CRAP! You guys have all the good stuff over there.”
Patricia just looked at me and blinked a few times.
“Yes, it’s true the flavor doesn’t, um, empty as well into the cup with your teas.” That was seriously the end of this conversation. Even after I had listed off all the British teas I tried, Patricia was not impressed at my distinct and — dare I say amazing — taste in her motherland’s beverage of choice.
I then tried filling the incredibly awkward silence at our table by asking if she had kids, to which she responded no. I asked if she had pets, to which she replied, “I actually don’t have…anything living… that I’m responsible for.” Hmph.
I guess expecting every British person to be as fabulous as Charlotte or Patricia’s predecessor is like Europeans expecting every American to be fat, rude and loud (although a good amount of us are). It’s not fair to assume everyone is the same, and I realize that. But my God — after more than a decade of being an Anglophile and using the Queen’s English in school just to confuse my teachers at times and watching every episode of Coupling and Father Ted, you think the universe would have sent me someone that could have opened my eyes to such a wonderful country a little bit. I was so… underwhelmed.
As we left Bob Evans — the most American dining experience we could provide at two in the afternoon — we waited for my boss to pay for our meal. A server asked if we were ready to be seated, to which I explained that we had already ate. Patricia turned to me with a wrinkled brow and said, “This is quite an odd place.” Standing there, watching my dreams of a kindred British spirit crumble, I nodded my head in agreement. Yes, considering my expectations and what I had always imagined my first “real life” British meeting to be like, this was an odd place to be indeed.