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Greetings, cakes and road crossings

Do you know the most common form of greeting an acquaintance in England? It’s Are you alright?

On the surface, it is just another way of saying How are you? But to a person who is not familiar with its widespread use, it may have a connotation of expressed concern about one’s well-being. It is as if Are you alright? suggests an immediate You don’t look that well following it.

Except for the service sector, Natasha’s interaction with natives is limited to seeing fellow parents when dropping off or picking up girls from school. She has not developed appropriate reactions at hearing previously unfamiliar idioms. So, when another parent greets her with an Are you alright?, she can’t help it but descend into a mild state of panic. Is my hair all messy? Do I have something in my teeth? Am I bleeding somewhere?

She’ll learn, I am sure.

On an unrelated topic, depending on how well you know me, you may or may not be aware of the fact that I do not eat sweets. Never had a proverbial sweet tooth. Always skip dessert in restaurants, unless une assiette du fromage can be had. Always upset hostesses with apologies when a dinner at someone’s place comes to the final course. Consume maybe three scoops of ice cream during an entire year…

However, there is one single cake that I eat – and never pass a chance to have a go at it.

We call it Napoleon in our family, but it is of a different variety than the one by that name that is found in bakeries. It is made according to my late grandmother’s recipe, of which Natasha is the only current guardian. The process is quite effort-consuming, and the cake rarely made an appearance more than a couple times a year on my memory. But my attachment to it since young age is much stronger than my overall dislike for things sweet.

I normally get the cake on my birthday, but being in Amsterdam for the week kind of interfered with that tradition. So my loving wife prepared a surprise for me – apparently, with full collaboration of the two junior chefs in the family, – by my return from the business trip. Ah, heaven!!!

Since the rest of my family can gorge themselves on cakes and other sweets endlessly, my cake comes with the rule of everyone allowed to have a piece only when I am having a piece. Otherwise, I would get a very little portion of the cake – approximately, one piece at the very beginning. Therefore, my girls have been exhibiting superhuman restraint today waiting for me to get off work…

Now that she has her provisional driving license, Natasha did not waste any time in scheduling a theoretical exam and dived head-first into studying. English laws of the road are not really more complicated than American ones, it is just that there are more types of road signs and markings, and seemingly more insignificant specific situations that are anally codified, when a general rule could cover them just as well.

Some things are outright silly. Everybody obviously knows what a zebra crossing is, right? But English rules also specifically name pelican, toucan and puffin crossings, which all refer to slightly different types of pedestrian traffic lights.

When Natasha first told me about this over the phone, I misunderstood her. I thought that the British completely lost their marbles and established specific signs for the areas where the birds in question are found in large quantities. Sort of like deer crossing warning triangles that you often encounter on American roads.

It goes to show how strong is my predilection to ridiculing British approach to various things, that such strange comprehension wedged itself in my brain. Upon coming home from work, I read through the respective chapter of the rules and realized my mistake. And it makes me think that I owe an apology to the people of the United Kingdom. No matter how many preposterous or non-sensical concepts I encounter, there is no way that you can compete with my occasionally warped imagination. 😳

Posted in Expat Archive