Monday, May 6, 2013

I'm In Love/Hate With England

I hope you won't dismiss this as the grumpy ramblings of a parochial provincial Pro-America bigot, because I don't think that's who I am. (Is there any less-valid objection one can make to this charge?) I'm in the Mother-Country for the second time in my life. My first visit was occasioned by my daughter's graduation from Oxford. This visit is occasioned by my daughter's marriage there. Would I have chosen to take my vacation--or should I say "holiday"--in England otherwise? Probably not. Am I a better person for going? Probably so.

When I was a tender lad just out of grad school I had a job working for part of the gubmint solving math problems like the ones Alan Turing worked on during WW2. Though the Poles did all the heavy mathematical lifting solving the Enigma machine, they handed over their work to the Brits after Hitler and Stalin overran their country. Nevertheless, the Brits at Bletchley Park managed to advance the state of the practice of electronic digital computing enough to build the special-purpose devices that yielded ULTRA sources. (The US work in developing MAGIC sources from the Japanese machines--that yielded advance warning of Pearl Harbor--was a more significant cryptanalytic result.) This sounds like I'm damning the Brits with faint praise, but that's not my intent. They did cool stuff that advanced the art of cryptanalysis.

My point is that they had help.

They lent help to the US during the War and thereafter in the Cold War. Thus I made friends with several world-class mathematicians from the UK.

We got on famously and I learned how to speak some British. In the states the pavement is that asphalt-covered surface that cars drive on while pedestrians stay on the sidewalk, whereas in the UK the pavement is for pedestrians and the cars drive on the tarmak. Unless they're semi-tractor-trailers, you know--18-wheelers, in this case they're called articulated lorries, or artic's. I picked up on boot and bonnet instead of trunk and hood.

But I missed some important distinctions which grew to grate on my nerves when I came to visit a couple years ago. And that I'm reminded of right now.

I think some language committee somewhere negotiates useless language variants: one reasonable, the other goofy. Then they toss a coin to see which country gets the goofy one. Half the time the US gets the sensible one, and half the time the UK.

It's an amusing diversion to collect these differences, but it's relatively annoying to live with them. And that inspire's the hate part of my love-hate relationship with England. When I'm here it's like a linguistic pebble in my shoe.

When I walk up to a clerk in a store, I'm not "sorry." S/he will just have to "excuse me."

There are other linguistic differences I can elaborate upon. For instance, the Brits sensibly say, "Weak bridge," along with a weight restrictions. I can't imagine an American bureaucrat admitting that even the most shabby, ramshackle bridge is "weak."

The key point here is that the US and UK are different. And different is not necessarily good or bad. Sometimes it's good, or bad, or neither. And when it's neither I start making grumpy sounds like this.

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