As I cower in my Brooklyn apartment, emaciated and terrified, I can't help but think back to what a friend back in London said to me when I first told him I was getting married and moving to America. "I'll tell you what, old chap," he said as he snapped his braces and leant back on his servant. "I've met an awful lot of foreigners in my time, and most of them couldn't be more peculiar if they painted themselves puce and grew tits on their shoulders. I've lived in Belgium, for Christ's sake. But for all our shared language, Americans are the oddest of the lot. I wouldn't want to be you, my old mucker. Not for all the bumbershoots in Hertfordshire."
"Englishman in New York" has been in my head every day since I got here. God, I hate that prick.
That was three months ago. Now I find myself in a country in which we all speak the same tongue, and yet every tiny task is so fraught with misunderstanding that it's less stressful just to barricade myself indoors and live on a diet of bathroom mold and cockroaches.
Here is a sample day in the life of a foreigner in your charming fucking country.
7:00 AM: Time for tea!
Things don't start well. Staggering from the bedroom, I make a beeline for the kettle; like most Englishmen, my morning tea injection is the only thing that will reduce the shivers to a manageable level.
However, I soon discover there is a technical problem with my wife's electric kettle: The cable is missing. Being an excellent problem solver, I hold the kettle above my head and turn it upside down, causing its cold contents to cascade onto my forehead and thence into my dressing gown, where they venture downwards past the nipples, over the Pudge Hummock and deep into the forbidding copse of pubes where no living soul should ever venture. This is not how a morning cuppa should start.
7:15 AM: Electric kettles are for COMMUNISTS
Eventually I realise that the kettle has no electric power at all. America, futuristic land of wonder and 24-hour drive-thru liquor stores, has never heard of an electric kettle. After some furious Googling, I discover that these arcane steam-devils are the province only of the incurably pretentious or the nauseatingly rich, since they cost around 10 times more than in England. My old 6.99 kettle had clear sides and a blue neon strobe light which turned the preparation of Old Grey into a throbbing epileptic discogasm, and here I am, manhandling an ancient cast-iron cauldron which might be acquainted with the concept of "boiling" but has no intention of trying it this century.
And I really do mean every single bastard day.
Well, I say it's ancient; the handle is nevertheless composed of some kind of futuristic superconductor that wastes no time in relieving me of my fingerprints, causing a pleasant D-Major chord to float from the window as the feeble whistle of the kettle mingles with my piercing, bloodcurdling scream. And when the agony is over, there's the unique pleasure of trying to decode the milk. Half-and-Half? Two percent? One percent? In England, we have Full-fat, Semi-skimmed and Skimmed. You know where you stand with those proportions. American milks sound like members of an underage hip-hop act; except for Heavy Cream, which I still believe is some kind of radioactive lactose isotope.
Even the colours of the cartons are different. This is only a little thing, but believe me, when you are a creature of routine (and who the hell isn't), little things like this can start to pile up quickly.
7:30 AM: Good luck dressing yourself, buddy
But hey, cultural differences aside, clothes are clothes, right? At least I can leave the house with a solid pair of trousers over my pants, dressed in my favourite vest and jumper. But I'd better not ask my wife to bring me any of those things, otherwise she will look at me as if I've just opened my mouth as wide as possible and emitted a continuous high-pitched farting noise.
"You can hear it in my accent when I talk / I'm an agonizingly annoying little piss-copter"
Clothes, you'll be relieved to know, all have the same names in America. The only trouble is that those names refer to different clothes. To make things easier, here is a little table categorising the main differences.
This is assuming I have any clean clothes at all, seeing as there are no washing machines in this entire city. Now, I know not all America is like this, but Jesus. What century are you living in, New York. In England, no one actually uses launderettes any more. They're charming anachronisms inhabited by doddery old perverts who just need a place to masturbate in the warmth. Most of the machines haven't been switched on since 1959 and many are now comfortable nesting places for owls.
8:00 AM: Facing the outside world
But anyway. Clad in my fetching purple jumpsuit and training bra, I am now primed to brave the hooting house of horror that is New York. Unbeknownst to me, I seem to have moved here just when the National Honk Festival is reaching its climax. All around the city, drivers are headbutting their horns for no other reason than the joy of being alive; a joy almost denied me when a truck emits a mind-buggering blast of pure noise from behind, propelling my body straight into the path of an oncoming car.
8:05 AM: Road safety? Where we're going, we won't need... road safety
And here's how I first learn about the American traffic system. Not only does everyone drive on the other side of the road (let's not drag up that old chestnut again) but it's also fine for cars to turn into your lane when the "walk" sign is lit. I cannot convey the sense of impotent moral outrage I felt when I learned of this fact the hard way, nor the clammy sadness as a rapidly-cooling stream of urine emerged from my trouser leg, punctuating my homeward trail with tiny puddles of shame.
Currently Googling for "STING HORRIBLE CAR ACCIDENT FANFICTION." Note to self: Learn how to filter out results from own website
Maybe you can explain the honking. After all, other countries have a reason for letting off their horns. Greeks do it because they have no traffic "rules" as such, and every journey to work is a thrilling race through carnage and flame. Italians honk because of their wonderful philanthropy, believing that there are no strangers in this life: only prostitutes you haven't picked up yet.
But Americans seem more like the protagonist from Memento, rediscovering every few seconds that their car has a horn and thinking, "Holy shit! What do I do about this? The world must be told!"
Also, it's apparently legal for American cyclists to run you down at any time. I can only assume that there is an amendment in the Constitution that permits murder provided you do it on a Fixie.
8:30 AM to 6PM: Let's go right the hell on to work
Finally, I am out of the Death Zone and into the Zone Of Perpetual Terror. I've been drenched, burned, ridiculed, deafened and ran-over twice, but it's all worth it, because I now get to spend nine hours in constant fear of losing my job. In England, provided you're not in the service industry, it's ludicrously hard to get sacked. Americans, however, have this thing called At-Will Employment, which basically means that an employer can fire you if he's uncomfortable with the size of your eyebrows.
On the flip side, if you manage to become an employer yourself, holy balls can you get rich. This is my plan, which I will put into action as soon as I've found a way of keeping my damn facial hair under control.
6:30 PM: Purchasing things from your fine establishment
After collecting my ulcers and leaving the office, I begin to feel the pangs of hunger. And then, almost immediately, the backwards vomit of dread. You don't realise how dependent you are on brand familiarity until you find yourself plopped in another country where almost all of the brands are alien.
Let's try to make a basic stew, for example. We'll start by buying a cube of Oxo. Except there aren't any. Oh well, move onto the potatoes; a couple of nice floury Maris Pipers should do the trick. Except that there aren't any, and when I ask the nice lady which potatoes are "floury," I can see her silently forming the syllables with her mouth over and over again, as if she finds the word intensely erotic.
Know who isn't intensely erotic? Sting.
Things don't improve when I ask her for the location of the rocket, courgettes and aubergines, although judging by her mouth movements she is now shuddering her way through a full-blown orgasm, so I should probably just leave her to it.
Besides, I just saw this thing called "Hungry Man," and I'm certainly a hungry man right now, so let's just cut the shit.