It happened twenty months ago. But who’s counting? Well, I’m counting. Twenty months ago I met my boyfriend, James. James is English, and he was working in New York where I lived at the time, and we met. And pardon the crappy metaphor, but sparks flew: They did. They flew. And impossibly and ridiculously, we committed on that first non-date of a date to an international, monogamous relationship. We did long-distance for a year and a half, and two months ago I moved from New York to London to be with him.
So first off, pip pip and cherrio from London, and all that. Second off, I’d like to address all that is horrible and wonderful about, not just cohabitation (or “cohabi-tay-shh” as I am wont to call it), but specifically, cohabitation with an Englishman. Because what you picture – at least what I pictured – is mornings spent cuddled in bed as a light rain falls against your windowpane. A light rain that will clear, of course, as you peruse the eminent Guardian Newspaper together. You will stroll arm in arm down scenic and historic streets, sipping tea, eating scones. A pint at the pub before dinner. National healthcare. The BBC on local stations. Shakespeare done with real English accents.
But, oh, my Yankee friends, it is not so. It does not go like that. As I alluded to before, it isn’t all bad. It’s just that, neither is it idyllic. It isn’t, as the saying goes, “All good.”
1. Dental hygiene. I’m sorry! I am. I know this is terribly cliché, but it is also the straightforward truth. My boyfriend’s dental hygiene is not what it ought to be. Frankly, the issue is not the brushing, it’s the flossing. It doesn’t happen. I’ve purchased all manner of floss for the gentleman – un-waxed and waxed, cinnamon, mint and neutral; also, there’s a wide variety of contraptions in which dental floss is sold these days, and I’ve tried each one of these as well – and none of it takes. He won’t use it. He won’t use it, and I’m forced to picture scraps of food slowly destroying his gum line. It’s lots of fun.
2. The Royal hatred. My experience with the Brits has revealed polarizing reactions to the monarchy. Many of the liberals – or the Labor Party as they’re called over here – believe the institution is ridiculous. My boyfriend, it bears mention, is a left-leaning Labor party member, and so he too finds it all offensive, problematic, ridiculous. Were he here now he’d say, “Listen: If we have a kid, and that kid saw the reigning monarch on TV or on a stamp or a coin or whatever, and that kid says, ‘Who’s that?’ and we say, ‘That’s the king/queen.’ He/she’s technically the leader, the head of our country. He lives in a fabulous palace with untold riches and is waited on hand and foot by servants.’ And then our kid says, ‘Wow! How do I get to be the king?’ and we say, ‘You can’t, sweetheart. You have to be born into the right family.’ It’s that leadership-through-birthright crap. It’s so problematic. It’s so offensive.”
The thing is, I don’t disagree. I don’t disagree on principle. However, when I’m in bed at night, and I’m watching E! Entertainment Television, and there’s a Kate and Will special that comes on, I want to watch it. I want to see her fashion, I want to hear the debate surrounding her seemingly evident anorexia. I want to theorize on whether or not she has a genuinely decent relationship with her husband, and whether or not they laugh together. But here, you see, James cannot indulge me. He tells me, “Everything they represent is wrong. So please: Do not make me look at their faces.”
3. What do you want for your tea? Did you know that a large portion of the English use the word “tea” to mean both “tea,” as we know it, but also “tea” means “dinner?” As in “What do you want for tea?” Or “What are we having for tea?” It’s the lack of logic that frustrates me.
4. “You only like American TV.” It is true that, as Americans, we don’t grow up watching much British TV. However, the British do grow up watching American TV. What this means, at least for me and my boyfriend, is that he has a real taste for the American sitcom, but I lack a taste for the British. He finds this offensive, and it has become a regular part of my day, being told I ought to expand my taste. My logic works like this: “But we both love Seinfeld and reruns of Roseanne. So let’s stick with that, shall we?” But he disagrees. He feels I owe it to both myself and to him to invest time and affection in shows like “Peep Show,” “The IT Crowd,” and “Her and Him.” So I’m trying. I am.
1. The freckles. Admittedly, this is more an Irish thing than an English thing, but the places are geographically close, and so it’s also kind of an English-y thing: The freckled redhead. Well, my boyfriend’s a redhead. A classic, freckled redhead. Aside from the daily delight that is the visual of bright orange pubic hair, the real treat is in the freckles. He’s covered in them. I never thought I’d care about it one way or the other, but the fringe benefit is that when I’m struggling to sleep, I’ve got something to count that’s more boring, and more original than sheep.
2. The healthcare. I alluded to this one before. Call it unromantic if you must, but it’s big and it’s wonderful and real: If you date a Brit, fall in love, and marry one, you get yourself some free, high-quality healthcare. So am I with him because of this? No, ma’am. But it is a thrilling prospect.
3. The accent. You haven’t truly lived until you’ve heard a real Englishman – who, if I may rudely boast, has quite the strong singing voice – cover “Twist and Shout” at karaoke. The experience is deeply satisfying. As it is every time he, with his strong Northern inflection, refers to me as “gal.”
4. The dental hygiene. Let us end where we started, shall we? Never in my life have my teeth looked so white, so clean, so straight. All in all, they feel … fancy. And I must admit to you, I like it. It’s the kind of thing a gal – pronounced “gaal”, with the North English inflection, natch – could really used to.