128 - The English Abroad

A friend in Qingdao, Andy, was asking questions about Brits making the bed when leaving hotels and suggested I ought to write about that. The conversation covered two distinct topics, but I put them together here.


We met in McDonalds. Out of long habit I tidy the trays away. So does Andy; his excuse is twenty years in the restaurant business and he says, he sees a table and automatically tidies it. Mine is that I feel bad at leaving a mess and that frequently, in places such as McD’s, I’ll be offended by the mess left so that I’ll tidy a space around where I wish to sit so that I can enjoy what ambience there is without it being spoiled by litter. I feel much the same way about other litter, and I would tidy up at school  (but a little less so here than in Britain) and throughout Cornwall (an idea repeated elsewhere). At Safeway or Tesco one would automatically tidy up trolleys to their proper parking spot on the way in and when departing - I caused a minor laugh in NZ doing just that. Just this afternoon, C & I went somewhere for dessert (a different experience from ‘doing lunch’) and of course we tidied the table and returned the crockery. We were even thanked for doing that (unusual, here; both the tidying and the thanks).


Andy said he had heard that Brits tidy beds before leaving a hotel. An hotel, if you prefer. Well, I do. I’ve checked the room, I’ve made the bed - and I probably did that on getting out of bed, not just before leaving. More than once, I have stripped the bed of linen because I know things will be washed - though I’d do that after a longer stay in the one place and I’ve sometimes done that after talking to the maid. Thinking back, I’m far more likely to strip the bed when outside Britain and China. I’ll always leave the towels tidy. Is this pride? respect?  self-respect, perhaps? The chamber maid may well not care either way, and being especially tidy may not actually help them do their work.


Is this perhaps the sign of a considerate society? Then maybe that is why Andy asked, because China, though it is many things, cannot be described as considerate.


Andy asked where I might have stripped the bed and I thought I may have done that in India. Why there? Because the guy working the corridor was happy to talk - his manner was reminiscent of British ex-military and the bed-tidying sort of happened to be covered in the conversation as a thank-you for having the conversation. Indeed that conversation was not brief and I ended up talking with his supervisor to say thank you for her tolerance in letting him please a guest’s whims. Which reminded me  - still talking to Andy - that I had been repeatedly struck in India at the number of people who simply wanted to talk. Not like in China where they say “I want to practise my English on you”, but the far more genuine, “Please can we exchange opinions?” I suppose that might be why India is so much more political (and Political) than China.  I remember two more instances of this wish to exchange opinion, but first a little aside...


India, like so many large countries, has many languages in use. In its particular case, the official languages are Hindi and English. Indian English is steadily - as far as I can tell - becoming as distinct as Osstrylien, Kiwi, Seth Effriken or Chinglish; it is the language of government1. In my brief three weeks in country I was struck buy the breadth of the use of language; I heard several constructions I had not heard from any but my parents and some combinations of words that I though very effective but entirely new. The newspapers I saw were in English. Given this paragraph of qualifying statement does not mean everyone speaks perfect English - increasingly we can’t do that in Britain but the general level of education is rather higher than you might expect and there are many women with good education with that resource being largely wasted through other circumstance.



I’d just come down from the mountains (not with the tablets, but outside some for altitude sickness) and was in the first sizeable habitation - still rock streets, not tarmac, not pavement; silk sold by the bolt. I’d just bought a length of silk and an ounce of saffron for stupidly little money by UK standards, when a lady with excellent carriage stopped me and said she’d like to tell me her story. I thought she was looking for money. She read my face and said not so, just tell the story. I wish I remembered it better, but I found myself distracted by her poise, her diction, her eye-contact. It helped (or didn’t, depending what you want out of this) that a sari is classed in Britain as high-class dressing, so in one sense the visiting foreign twit was quite confused by apparently being hit on by a beggar dressed as a toff. I do remember recognising that at the time. She’d brought her little one from the village in the mountains - the far side of the mountains - and she was describing months not weeks on the road. She’d arrived here in the metropolis (hey, all is relative) and found some kindness and a place to rest and was blessed by warm weather (true; it was damn cold in the mountains even in August). Her little one had survived and no, she really meant it when she said she didn’t want money.

As I was telling Andy I realised she’d told me because she wanted it to be shared. There it is, but I apologise to all for not hearing enough of it.


The other similar incident was less than a week later, close to departing that amazing country. I’d been struck by the contrast of the wondrous five-star hotel I was staying at in Delhi with the  significant population sleeping under the nearby overpass. I apologised to one lady and small child stretched out on the pavement in the dark and within 50 metres of the hotel lobby and she responded with sufficiently good English that I held a brief conversation. Like the lady in the mountain town, she’d hit a bad patch but this was karma (her words not mine).


Maybe the next cycle through life would be less difficult. Or in my case, presumably the opposite.


Unless we really do make our own luck.





DJS 20140316


1 I knew what I meant when I typoed that, but the end result suggests that funny versions of English are required for government. On reflection, maybe that is true, after all. [Aye seh, eld chep, hoo woss that lyedee aye sore yew with larst naight?]

 However, © David Scoins 2017