Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Why Do People Travel with Blinders On?

TUESDAY: Today's sandwich is another cheese treat. I was out duck hunting this weekend -- searching for stencilled ducks on the fronts of cask ale pubs, that is. And in the countertop fridge at the Fat Cat in Kelham Island, along with the usual pork pies made with Kelham Island Bitter, there was a lone package of cheese made with Kelham Island Pale Rider from the Staffordshire Cheese Company. Naturally I had to have it.

And my sandwich is simple: Kelham Island Beer Cheese with a bit of chopped red pepper and spring onion and a sprinkling of dried thyme. The beer is cheddar-ish, only with the wonderfully sharp taste of curd soaked in ale, and the texture is moist and sticky, almost like Stilton. It's a joy, and I agree with the landlady: it would be gorgeous with biscuits.

Although I usually try to write about my American take on British life, there is something on my mind that relates not only to all expats but also to all international travellers. A young British friend is currently spending a year travelling around the world, with her first few months spent in South America. Because this person is intelligent and has travelled to distant lands before, I was hoping to see photographs of interesting places and people and to read about the unique cultures and features of these new places. Sadly all that has appeared on this person's Facebook page are photos of herself smiling happily at the camera with her very British-looking grinning companions, all having the time of their lives in the sun. Considering that before she left she'd already uploaded over a thousand photos, most of her and her friends all smiling and having the time of their lives in the sun, one can't tell she's journeyed any further than perhaps Cornwall.

What a total disappointment. I'm reminded of a couple of British friends who have travelled the world, and how I always get that sickened feeling in my stomach when I hear about their recent exotic holiday spent by the swimming pool of a Brit-populated hotel enclave, reading books they could read at home and being excited to find the hotel stocks their British newspaper, when outside the walls the daily life of a foreign culture offers its rare and intriguing finds and discoveries. The same thing occurs with a lot of Brits I've met who holiday solely in Spain -- not to seek out the medieval towns or Moorish architecture or the Pyrenees landscapes, but to lie by a similar pool surrounded by like-minded Brits.

Why spend all that time and money travelling to a foreign country when one can pursue the activities one plans to pursue at home instead? When I lived in America and travelled to Europe, the last people in the world I wanted to hang out with were fellow Americans. In fact, if I found myself on a train in Belgium or Italy that happened to be carrying a group of loud Americans, I always kept my mouth shut and found myself a nice quiet carriage where I could sit peacefully with the local commuters as well as other lone foreigners like myself. And here I would have the opportunity to write about the amazing sites I was photographing, the people I was meeting and observing, the customs I was learning, and the unique experiences I was having, far away from not only America but from its newspapers, TV programs, and cuisine. I was in that country because I wanted to experience that country. Why else would I be there?

Now that I live in Britain I still feel basically the same way. Although my original intention of moving to another country was because I felt myself a citizen of the world and not a flag-waving American, I have gradually come to realise that I am still an American living in Britain, and my accent and personal history will never change. But I wear my foreign experience, naivety, and accent well, I think, amusing my British friends with my occasional lapses of knowledge and slips of the tongue. But I eat Marmite and chip butties and I read the Guardian every day and I always talk to total strangers in pubs and I thank the bus driver when I debark, even if he or she drives like a homicidal asshole, and I do all those British things because I'm a British resident.

I wouldn't have it any other way.

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