A Day in America According to a (Baffled) Foreigner

6:45 PM: Perplexed by prices

I arrive at the till with my Hungry Man, trying not to look at the obvious misprint that follows the word "calories" on the box. The price sticker says $3.50, which is causing me some trouble because I'm not actually sure how much money I have. There are plenty of coins in my pocket, but some of them say "Dime" on them and don't say anything else. I'm going to assume they are five cent pieces because they're the smallest, although Christ knows British currency is no yardstick for this. I should just be glad I'm in a country that uses the decimal system: Until 1971, Britain's currency was base-16 and the principal unit was the Goat.

Regardless, I have what I think is exactly $3.50, and with relief, I see that the lady has recovered from her mid-shop crotch explosion and is now ready to serve me, so I give her the Hungry Man and then groan with exhausted exasperation as I see $3.80 appear on the screen. There is no longer any logic to my persecution. At this point, I have to assume that the entire world simply hates me.

It will later be explained to me that no one actually includes sales tax in their price tags, and I will then explain that this is flamingly retarded like everything else in this stupid country, and it will finally be explained that in conclusion I am an asshole who probably wants to sleep on the couch tonight.

6:50 PM: Confused by a credit conundrum

But right now, all I want is my goddamned Hungry Man. As a last resort, I give Mrs. McClimax my credit card and stand back waiting for the next thing to go wrong, which it does with remarkable speed. "Crebid O'Debbid," she mumbles, lips rubbery from the afterglow.

"I... uh... beg your pardon?" I ask.

"Credible Debbie," she responds.

I am now in serious trouble. As an English person, I cannot ask someone to repeat something more than once, because that would be embarrassing myself and causing a fuss. My only option is to do a slow half-nod, but for god's sake not to look as if I'm actually saying "yes" to anything. So I try this. I tilt my head up noncommittally and pray she will show mercy.

She does not. "CREDIT," she blares, staring at me in a way that makes me want to crawl back inside my mother, "OR DEBIT."

No one likes their toast done on one side, Sting. No one. Also, this is the last Sting picture in this article.

Now I understand why this made no sense to me. No one ever asks you that in England. Your credit card does not have the potential to magically change into a debit card when out of view. It is either one or the other. You do not have to wrestle with a quantum paradox every time you purchase some crisps, and I don't believe I will ever understand why this has to be different in America.

With the flippancy of total incomprehension, I tell the lady that my credit card is a credit card, and then I ask her if she needs any further elucidation on this point. The rest of the transaction proceeds in stony silence, but I don't care. I've got my Hungry Man, and the day is over. I am going home.

7:30 PM: Attempting conversation with one's American wife

But even after the Hungry Man palpitations have subsided and I'm fairly sure my arteries aren't going to snake out of my body and strangle my brain, the pain still isn't over, because I'm not allowed to go to bed without getting laughed at for a good hour-and-a-half first.

Conversation with my wife often ends with fits of hilarity on her part; hilarity which will ultimately result in her brutal murder and distribution to the various local dogs whom she adores so much. The reason, you see, is that all my English idioms are just so blooming cute that they make her crack up whenever I'm attempting a serious conversation. This would be fine, provided I was able to laugh back in her face with equal force. The problem is that I can't. And here's why:

English people have been reared on Americana since the day they were born. I spent my toddling years watching Sesame Street, and when I reached the appropriate age of maturity (seven-years old) my sister introduced me to Aliens and Nightmare On Elm Street. As I stumbled through the rest of my "childhood," hollow-eyed and weird, I already understood American slang, and I knew who was a cultural icon in America and who wasn't. We all did.

But it doesn't work both ways. Aside from the slang barrier, Americans have absolutely no idea about English celebrities. Not unless they're That Guy From Love Actually, or they've starred in an English sitcom funny enough for it to be remade with completely different cast, characters, story and overarching ambiance. This is understandable, since most English celebrities are really ugly, but it does make our conversations somewhat lopsided.

I mean, LOOK at the fucker.

In an ironic reversal, I now feel like that lover who has noted down all of his partner's tastes and phobias, knows what her friends do for a living and can talk with eloquent comprehension about every aspect of her life, but he never gets the chance because his lover doesn't actually know they're going out, or even that he exists. England is basically the pathetic stalky "friend" of America who will one day snap, threaten America with a knife and end up getting buggered in jail by a swarthy continent sporting a teardrop tattoo.

12:00 AM: To sleep, perchance to write a pithy and moving conclusion to this article

And so another day ends in this totally normal, totally bewildering country. There's an old saying that Britain and America are countries divided by a common language; but in reality, they're divided by everything humanly possible, and the pettiness of the divisions don't make them feel any less alien.

My wife is indifferent towards you, Sting. But I hate you so much. I just wanted you to know.

Still, as I pull up my all-American comforter, wondering why in Christ we couldn't just buy a duvet (in England, duvets are ten-a-penny, much like the fabled mechanokettle) it occurs to me to wake my wife up and tell her that no country is right, and no country is wrong; we are simply different, and it's our differences that make us strong.

And later, as I stare blearily at the clock from my position on the living-room couch, it also occurs to me that I can pass the night by buying some whiskey from the 24-hour drive-thru liquor store and then firing a gun right outside my bedroom window. I think I'm going to like it here after all.

When not writing sting dismemberment fanfiction, Tim Cameron is a gaming addict trying (and failing) to go straight. Feel his pain at www.thesillyaddiction.com

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