In every country, there tends to be stereotypes and divisions that are created to classify people from each region. In the UK, there’s quite a divide between the North and South. The North of England, in particular, seems to be classified as working class and simple, while the South has a reputation for snootiness and being posh. As the saying goes, “cuando el rio suena es porque agua lleva.” This is a Spanish saying which gets lost in translation, but is quite similar to “where there’s smoke there’s fire”.
So, what’s this about bowls, you ask. Don’t fret, I’ll get there.
I’ve recently become a bit disillusioned with the way of life in England. I suppose it’s all part of the expat experience and with every high, there has to be a low. Such is life. As we say in Texas, “this ain’t my first rodeo”. Whoever thinks that the culture in every English speaking country is the same is in for a rude awakening.
What I’ve experienced as of late though has been a bit more than just your typical dose of culture shock. I’ve experienced first hand a massive divide between the culture around England. It’s still baffling to me that such a small country can have such a diversity of accents, ideals, and more than that, people. Of course, there are good people and not so good people everywhere you go. But after 3 1/2 years of living in the South, the veil has lifted.
The life that I’ve lived a few miles outside the city of Cambridge was what I perceived to be “English life”. I naively believed that outside of London everything was similar to Cambridge. Cambridge and the surrounding areas are beautiful, and for the most part, I’ve lived quite a peaceful life there. Albeit a life that has involved keeping to ourselves, not experiencing that “community” feeling that there is in mine and my husband’s respective countries of origin, and realising day in and day out how “an Englishman’s home is truly his castle”. The isolation that I have felt in the South of England is one that has been heightened by the fact that I am an expat. And in reality, I am an outsider.
I’ve learnt so much in an around Cambridge. I’ve made a few great friends there, learnt so much in and around its famous University, and have explored the area so in depth that I feel like I know it like the back of my hand. Cambridge is truly a global city, and I guess if I would have been able to fit in anywhere in the UK this was the place to do it. Sadly, not the case.
Um, wasn’t there something about bowls?
Yes, yes there is, my friends.
One late evening following a long drive we finally reached our destination in a little village in Lancashire (in the North-West of England). The other half and I made our way to a local pub, and after a delicious dinner, we had forgotten that one of our meals came with dessert. We casually asked if we could get the dessert to go. This would be quite the reasonable request to ask for in the U.S, but we were unsure that this would be acceptable to ask in England.
We asked anyway, and after being told that there was ice cream that could possibly melt in transit the first instinct was to think that we were being fobbed off in the passive-aggressive, and sometimes quite typical English manner. It had been quite the day so we said we didn’t mind much if the ice cream melted as we were staying down the road and opted for our banana split to go.
As we waited for someone to bring a styrofoam takeout container I was absolutely surprised to see two bowls. One was being used to carry the contents of our dessert, and one used as a makeshift lid to ensure that it all stayed in place. The bowls were then carefully, and very thoroughly wrapped in cling wrap to make sure that even if our ice cream did melt a bit there was no spill. We were then told to just bring back the bowls whenever we could, and that was that.
It might sound like the most simple and overhyped little anecdote. But I can’t even begin to tell you how that tiny act of kindness. or decency as you will, changed something inside of me. It restored my faith in humanity, and it made me realise that something like that would never happen to us in the South.
More often than not in the South of England, you are met with “no’s”, red tape, and a very strict set of social rules that are almost always adhered to. That seems to not be the case in the North. While the story is more than just about a set of bowls, they truly represent so much that I hadn’t felt in England before. Trust, kindness, and the humanness to recognise there are things in life that truly matter more than sticking to the social norms.