Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Californians. Happens all the time.

After Her Majesty’s Garden Party, 2002

You don’t have to travel overseas to see them, and I can’t imagine that Americans have a lock on boorish behavior. But when you are overseas and you run into members of your own tribe who are acting immaturely, you still wince.

There was the elderly Nebraska man in a restaurant in London standing up and yelling loud enough to be heard up and down the Strand, “Goddamn it! We rescued you Brits from the Jerries in World War II and you can’t even come up with the goddamned Miller Lite!”

If Rob Reiner had been there, he’d have had a good follow-up line, like the one he gave his mother in When Harry Met Sally. When the waiter returned to our table, we simply assured him that not all Americans are assholes.

But our faith in our fellow countrymen was tested again soon. A week later found us pouring through the seconds tent at the Spode China factory in Stoke-on-Trent. We hadn’t seen any other Americans since we’d left London, but made up for that when we got to the Spode works. (It seemed that all the American women traveling in West Central England were in that tent.)

While we were sifting among the stray unmatched dinner plates, bowls, tureens, cups and serving platters, my wife struck up a conversation with an attractive woman who was the embodiment of what one expects of someone from Newport Beach, California. Blond. Tanned. Casually affluent in the way people from that area can be, but also, as our Southern mothers would have said, a little too “loud.” The lady bragged about all the five-star places where she and her husband had stayed and about how horrid the British people and food had been. (Part of their dispute had to do with how the British had failed to grasp the importance of tanning beds.)

When we got to the check0ut, our armload of dishes lay in the dark shadow cast by the volcanic pile of crockery the California lady has amassed. We quickly paid for our things and were on our way out of the tent when a racket of screaming erupted back at the checkout area. A blanket of obscenities delivered in California Valspeak quickly fell on us all.

American Express had refused to honor the California lady’s purchase. She was apoplectic, at once yelling into the telephone receiver at the Amex representative who would not relent in refusing the charge, at the Spode cashier and at anyone else within earshot. I can’t imagine that anyone within a few blocks of the Spode works missed a word of the dispute.

We paused briefly to see how it would end, and then decided it was a better idea to retreat to more pastoral precincts. On the way out we started to apologize for our fellow American’s rude behavior to the Spode employee who was watching the gate, but she just winked at us and said quietly, “Californians. Happens all the time.”

After Her Majesty’s Garden Party was taken in 2002, the year of Queen Elizabeth’s Golden Jubilee celebration. On the afternoons when Her Majesty was hosting garden parties at Buckingham Palace, thousands of commoners from all over the sceptered isle lined up outside the gates in their finest and most colorful party attire. We especially enjoyed the big hats and decided that these two ladies, who were enjoying pizza after leaving the Palace, reminded us of Edina and Bubble from Absolutely Fabulous.

1 comment:

  1. You really do understand why Americans are considered so obnoxious overseas when you see something like that. Love this photo--I could definitely see Edina and Bubble here!