04 October 2015

The stories of two nations
divided by a common language

“Folks don’t always lock their bikes” … bicycles outside Sidney Sussex College in Cambridge last month (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

It is amazing how conversations can eventually turn to rugby these days. After preaching at the Harvest Eucharist in Christ Church, Taney, this morning [4 October 2015], I found myself renewing many old friendships.

I had referred to my homesick travels through Wexford the previous day [3 October 2015], and inevitably some of the conversations tried to locate me.

We talked about boats in Courtown, crabbing in Cahore, former Rectors of Wexford, shared friends in Wexford, old family connections in Bunclody, and rugby in Enniscorthy and Wexford.

Some of the conversations managed to drift across to Achill Island or even (in one corner of the Sinnamon Hall) to Calne in Wiltshire.

But inevitably – and not only in male company – the conversations returned to the outstanding performance of Ireland in the Rugby World Cup.

A walk around the lake at Farmnleigh after lunch in the Boathouse Café (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Autumn flowers in the grounds of Farmleigh this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Later, two of us crossed the city to the Phoenix Park fora light lunch at the Boathouse Café in Farmleigh, followed by a walk around the lake. But I was back home in time to be ensconced in a comfortable position to see Ireland playing against Italy.

Despite a weaker than expected Irish performance throughout the game, it is comforting to see Ireland is holding on to its standing in fourth place in world rugby placings.

On the other hand, I find it difficult to comprehend how many Irish people are rejoicing at England’s exit. Looking at Facebook postings, it seems many Irish people were cheering for any side playing against England, and the gloating is both unhealthy and unneighbourly.

I have always felt comfortable in Ireland and in England, and while I am as aware as anyone of the differences that separate us, they are nothing compared to the shared similarities that should always make us the best of friends and the best of neighbours.

Five weeks ago [29 August 2015], while two of us were walking back to Trumpington after lunch in the Orchard in Grantchester, two pretty villages close to Cambridge, I heard the delightful observation: “There is something very, something very English about England.”

Yes, there is something very English about England, as there is something very Irish about Ireland. But the similarities are greater than the differences, and the differences do not create the same chasm as the one that exists, for example, between England and America.

Both Winston Churchill and the Irish writer George Bernard Shaw are credited with saying: “England and America are two countries divided by a common language.” Last week, the Revd Sally Hitchner, Chaplain at Brunel University, drew attention to a modern take on this saying when she reposted a Facebook posting by Scott Waters of Florida, who shared some interesting observations on a recent holiday in England.

I was amused by his observations that “soccer is a religion, religion is a sport,” and that in England “you’re defined by your accent.” What he says about trains and the hospitals, and very interesting comparisons of English and American experiences of racism and policing. Most telling of all, his repetitive observation: “There are no guns.”

He wrote:

I was in England again a few weeks ago, mostly in small towns, but here’s some of what I learned:

● Almost everyone is very polite

● The food is generally outstanding

● There are no guns

● There are too many narrow stairs

● Everything is just a little bit different

● The pubs close too early

● The reason they drive on the left is because all their cars are built backwards

● Pubs are not bars, they are community living rooms.

● You’d better like peas, potatoes and sausage

● Refrigerators and washing machines are very small

● Everything is generally older, smaller and shorter

● People don’t seem to be afraid of their neighbours or the government

● Their paper money makes sense, the coins don’t

● Everyone has a washing machine but driers are rare

● Hot and cold water faucets. Remember them?

● Pants are called “trousers”, underwear are “pants” and sweaters are “jumpers”

● The bathroom light is a string hanging from the ceiling

● “Fanny” is a naughty word, as is “shag”

● All the signs are well designed with beautiful typography and written in full sentences with proper grammar.

● There’s no dress code

● Doors close by themselves, but they don’t always open

● They eat with their forks upside down

● The English are as crazy about their gardens as Americans are about cars

● They don’t seem to use facecloths or napkins

● The wall outlets all have switches, some don't do anything

● There are hardly any cops or police cars

● 5,000 year ago, someone arranged a lot of rocks all over the place, but no one is sure why

● When you do see police they seem to be in male and female pairs and often smiling

● Black people are just people: they didn’t quite do slavery here

● Everything comes with chips, which are French fries. You put vinegar on them

● Cookies are “biscuits” and potato chips are “crisps”

● HP sauce is better than ketchup

● Obama is considered a hero, Bush is considered an idiot.

● After fish and chips, curry is the most popular food

● The water controls in showers need detailed instructions

● You can boil anything

● Folks don’t always lock their bikes

● It’s not unusual to see people dressed different and speaking different languages

● Your electronic devices will work fine with just a plug adapter

● Nearly everyone is better educated then we are

● If someone buys you a drink you must do the same

● There are no guns

● Look right, walk left. Again; look right, walk left. You’re welcome.

● Avoid British wine and French beer

● It’s not that hard to eat with the fork in your left hand with a little practice. If you don’t, everyone knows you’re an American

● Many of the roads are the size of our sidewalks

● There’s no AC

● Instead of turning the heat up, you put on a jumper

● Gas is “petrol”, it costs about $6 a gallon and is sold by the litre

● If you speed on a motorway, you get a ticket. Period. Always

● You don’t have to tip, really!

● Scotland, Wales, Ireland and Cornwall really are different countries

● Only 14% of Americans have a passport, everyone in the UK does

● You pay the price marked on products because the taxes (VAT) are built in

● Walking is the national pastime

● Their TV looks and sounds much better than ours

● They took the street signs down during WWII, but haven't put them all back up yet

● Everyone enjoys a good joke

● There are no guns

● Dogs are very well behaved and welcome everywhere

● There are no window screens

● You can get on a bus and end up in Paris

● Everyone knows more about our history then we do

● Radio is still a big deal. The BBC is quite good

● The newspapers can be awful

● Everything costs the same but our money is worth less so you have to add 50% to the price to figure what you're paying

● Beer comes in large, completely filled, actual pint glasses and the closer the brewery the better the beer

● Butter and eggs aren’t refrigerated

● The beer isn’t warm, each style is served at the proper temperature

● Cider (alcoholic) is quite good.

● Excess cider consumption can be very painful.

● The universal greeting is “Cheers” (pronounced “cheeahz” unless you are from Cornwall, then it’s “chairz”)

● The money is easy to understand: 1-2-5-10-20-50 pence, then-£1-£2-£5-£10, etc bills. There are no quarters.

● Their cash makes ours look like Monopoly money

● Cars don’t have bumper stickers

● Many doorknobs, buildings and tools are older than America

● By law, there are no crappy, old cars

● When the sign says something was built in 456, they didn’t lose the “1”

● Cake is pudding, ice cream is pudding, anything served for desert is pudding, even pudding

● BBC 4 [he means Radio 4] is NPR

● Everything closes by 1800 (6pm)

● Very few people smoke, those who do often roll their own

● You’re defined by your accent

● No one in Cornwall knows what the hell a Cornish Game Hen is

● Soccer is a religion, religion is a sport

● Europeans dress better than the British, we dress worse

● The trains work: a three-minute delay is regrettable

● Drinks don’t come with ice

● There are far fewer fat English people

● There are a lot of healthy old folks around participating in life instead of hiding at home watching TV

● If you’re over 60, you get free TV and bus and rail passes.

● They don’t use Bose anything anywhere

● Displaying your political or religious affiliation is considered very bad taste

● Every pub has a pet drunk

● Their healthcare works, but they still bitch about it

● Cake is one of the major food groups

● Their coffee is mediocre but their tea is wonderful

● There are still no guns

● Towel warmers!

● Cheers

“The English are as crazy about their gardens as Americans are about cars” … country flowers in a country garden in Chesterfield, a tiny village south of Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

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