Alternate Title: An Ode to My Friends from the Other Side of the Pond
A strange quirk about expat life in Latin America is that you spend exponentially more time than you ever had before with people of the Anglo / Celt nations from the British Isles.
You obviously like Latin culture or you wouldn’t be in Latin America. Same thing goes if you’re in Asia, Africa or the Middle East. But sometimes you want be around other English speakers. Not Peruvians who studied abroad for a semester, not Germans, not Italians, not French – nor their derivatives such as pseudo-Krauts and pseudo-Frogs (Dutch, Danes, Belgians, Swiss). I’m talking bona fide native-English-speaking gringos.
So you make friends from California, Texas, New York, everywhere. You make Canadian friends, and you make lots of Irish and British friends. Unlike your fellow Canucks and Yanks however (if you’re from the South you can try to explain why you’re not a Yankee, like pissing into the wind), the Anglos and Celts have quite a distinct culture despite the same language.
Living down here, you learn a lot about them. They have an advantage in this respect since they learn a lot about us from Hollywood movies and American music. But if you don’t watch BBC News once in a while, you’re going to be at quite a loss. Until you live down here for years that is, and rack up the days and nights partying with them.
Imagine the possible cultural clashes arising in a room full of redneck Mississippians and liberal Seattleites for example, with Midwesterners and East Coasters thrown in to boot. Being America, I know the assumptions and what could be touchy subjects. But with the British Isles, the cultures are much more distinct and the sensitive subjects much more sensitive about which you, the average Ugly American, are mostly ignorant.
The British Isles have a quarter of our population but hundreds of years of history and wars and potential piles of shit to step in if you don’t know the terrain. And if you think the Orangemen are a basketball team, then you don’t know the terrain. Having seen Braveheart 10 times doesn’t make you educated in Scottish history.
But it’s not all about being politically correct. You learn their slang and some of it even creeps into your way of talking. They will change your English. They changed mine. You’ll realize how American you are in some respects and become proud of those. And you’ll come to like some of their ways.
Overall, it’s fun having them for friends. Granted that’s coming from a guy who published a book about an Irishman in Bogota with several chapters written in his phonetic Irish accent. But most Americans and Canadians agree and also enjoy the Anglo / Celts’ company. A good time is had by all, and everybody’s lives are enriched.
So on this particular Saturday a soccer game is on the agenda at the Irish pub. For some context, see my write-up on Lima City of Kings: Molly’s Irish Pub in Miraflores.
An important part of the Special Relationship is giving each other a bit of stick. And there’s going to be many of them and just one of me, so I need to be ready. I’ve been doing this for 10 years, so I don’t have to prepare much about soccer being a girls’ sport in the United States. I publish it here on the blog, I tell it to Peruvians and gringos whether watching soccer or not. It’s at the top of mind.
But I start to think of the other digs and jokes I’ll be making as I select a shirt. I was leaning toward a collar and trousers because I’m almost 40, but I want something that screams American to all the paddies and brits. So I put on my “Built Ford Tough” t-shirt with Levi’s and Chuck Taylors. Game on.
We need to arrive at the pub early to get a table. The crew is me, Irish Gerry and English Paul. Paul is from Liverpool, who is playing in what is described to me as the Super Bowl of soccer, and he’s a fan. He’s wearing their red jersey that doesn’t say Liverpool, but “Standard Chartered.” He’s emotionally invested in the game. He’s going to be jubilant if they win, or mopey if they lose. Gerry’s from Dublin, but like everybody in the bar from the Isles he is cheering for the Premier League champs to beat the Liga duopolists.
I didn’t even know this game was happening until they invited me the evening previous. But I was going to be drinking on this particular Saturday either way, so here I am.
We get to the pub and grab a table near the telly. I’m talking to the Irish manager when I see one of those full breakfasts go by. I won’t use the descriptive adjective for which nation invented it right now (coming later). But I ask him how much one of those breakfasts costs in the United States. He doesn’t know. Zero dollars, I say. You couldn’t sell that shit. Nobody wants it. It’s priceless, you’d have to give it away.
Ugly American scores early. Of course I’m speaking loud enough for the adjacent tables to hear me, and the lads see what type of mood I’m in.
Despite that joke, I had never actually eaten a proper Breakfast. So I ordered one.
Before the Breakfast arrives I introduce myself around the room a little, an English chap, a Scotsman, another Irishman. As you know we Americans aren’t really into the footie, I explain to them, it’s something for our daughters. It’s played by women, which is why Team America dominates the women’s World Cup.
“Trust me,” I say, “you don’t want Americans to start playing soccer. Because if we do, your sport is no longer your sport. Watching soccer will be like watching Olympic basketball. You’ll all be fighting for silver.”
I promise these new friends of mine that I’m going to try not to shout during the match when the players fall down and writhe in agony, making those faces, and the replay shows they weren’t even touched. I understand that while we see it as a pussy sport, you guys don’t. Makes you wonder about our cultures, huh? By the way mate, are you living here in Lima or just passing through? Add me on FB or shoot me an email, I’ll send ye my Lima Travel Guide in PDF.
I go back to our table when the Breakfast arrives. I gotta be honest, it was delicious as soon as I saw it. Before I even tasted it, just looking at what was on the plate and planning my attack, I was already happy.
First I eat the black pudding, which is known in most of Latin America as “morcilla” (but “relleno” in Peru). It takes some getting used to for us Americans because we’re not used to the taste of blood. But once you get used to it you get cravings, as I do.
As I’m eating the black pudding I start building a nice sandwich for the two pieces of white toast. I start cutting up the grilled tomatoes and white sausages to stack with a soft-fried egg and little mushrooms. Absolutely delicious, hearty sandwich. Then I clean up the beans, second egg, tomato and mushrooms with the fork. There are two pieces of a heavier bread, not a soft sandwich bread. I eat that with the butter and jam for a nice, sweet finish.
It really was spot on. So to be fair I make a big show of meself licking the plate. There’s a bit of sauce from the beans, tomatoes I had cut up and the soft-fried eggs, and I lick the mixture off the plate. I vow to learn how to make a proper Breakfast and to show all the Americans why it’s so great. I call the manager back over and tell him all this too.
I point out that former English champion Ricky Hatton had a proper Breakfast on the morning of every professional fight, and I’ll drink to that.
By the way, I says again, what is the difference between an Irish Breakfast and an English Breakfast?
The manager had tried to explain it when I ordered and basically evaded the question. But now that I’ve eaten everything on the plate, and in fact plan to prepare them at home, I need to know.
The manager is busy and scurries off. The Englishman at the other table says that the Irish breakfast comes with soda bread, and he turns back to the telly. That’s not it, I say to Irish Gerry and English Paul. I have immigrant relatives from Ireland, I know soda bread, I ate it as a child, and that bread on my plate wasn’t it.
Paul sees I’m not going to let the matter go and finally gives me the goods. There is a dispute between the Irish and the English about who invented the Breakfast. So in Ireland it’s an Irish Breakfast, and in England it’s an English Breakfast. It’s kind of a touchy subject as is much between the Irish and the English. But it is the same plate, there is no difference.
That is a minor case of stepping in it, easily forgiven for an open-minded, intellectually curious American like me. For a more hazardous tale, see My Last Pint in Ireland (from the archive), contributed by an old friend from St. Louis who became an expat personality in Bogota known as “Joey” for a few years.
I tell Gerry that my soccer jokes aren’t going over so well with this crowd. He smiles and nods, and he remarks with a smirk, “You’re starting to like it.”
By game time I’m drunk. The place has filled up to standing room only, but I managed to meet a half dozen of the Anglo / Celts before it got to the point where we had to defend the table. I’m sizing up the room and conclude that, despite my previous plans, I am not going to scream at the TV when the soccer players are rolling around on the ground in agony.
These are not Peruvians, or Argies or Caribeños or anything Latin. At least a handful are over six feet tall and 16 stone. They could be competitive rugby players, or hurling, or the combat sports. Hell, the heavyweight boxing champ right now is British (disputed until he faces the American contender) and the top UFC earner is Irish.
The dudes in this bar are soccer fans, but they aren’t necessarily soccer players. I realize that while I can probably hold my own against any one of them, I could very well be put in a hospital if I had to take on two or three at the same time. So I don’t want to piss off the entire bar. I’m going to tone down the soccer bashing.
Despite that decision, I accidentally let something slip when Mohamad Salah went down in the first half. He had been on the ground for a while, clutching his head, and the room was loud as everybody wondered if he was OK. But I could tell he was crying, and I said to my Gerry and Paul at a volume for the table, albeit granted an American volume, “Is he fuckin crying?” just as the room got quiet and the screen showed a close up of Salah. Yes, crying.
Just as this image came across the screen, the whole bar got quiet by pure coincidence at the exact same moment to hear a loud American accent say, “Is he fuckin crying?”
Is he fuckin crying?
If my voice were typeface, it would have looked like that inside the bar during a moment of silence. I didn’t get any dirty looks or anything. They probably just shook their heads, “That loud Yank.”
As the game went on I asked Gerry and Paul how much of a loss Salah was for Liverpool. He’s their top scorer, they explain, basically their entire offense. So it was devastating.
I was tempted to ask, “Liverpool’s best player is a Paki?” But given my breadth of expat experience and cultural exchange with the Anglo / Celts, I know that “Paki” is a bad word over there. If you’re not up on the word, you certainly know that the UK and Western Europe have many millions of immigrants and native-born citizens descended from Pakistan, India, Turkey, Morocco and all the Muslim world. The catch-all slang term for them is “Paki,” and it has become a bad word. It’s like what is known as “the N word” in the States. Just don’t say it.
The only people who would think it’s cute to year an American saying “Paki” would be white ex-cons and poorly educated laborers, and suffice to say those guys aren’t in Lima or anywhere in Latin America.
Gerry confirms in a low voice that, yes, Liverpool’s star player is what I’m alluding to. Interesting.
Now their only hope is Senegalese winger Sadio Mane, who does score a beautiful “golazo” as we say in Peru, but ultimately wasn’t enough to win the game. Here’s the moment when Liverpool tied the game 1-1.
Later in the game I took the liberty to shout at the Real Madrid players as they writhed in agony, but in Spanish so it wasn’t so obviously the ugly American.
Paul was not happy at all after Liverpool lost 3-1. He and the other Brits blamed it on the goalie, who certainly made two mistakes which resulted in goals. But I couldn’t let Paul or any of the other Liverpool fans I met later leave it at that.
I pointed out that Salah was hurt in the 30th minute. They are wrong to think that was an accident completely out of their star’s control. Why is he getting hurt in the 30th minute? Do you know who doesn’t get hurt in the 30th minute of the Champions League Final? Ronaldo. Messi. That’s part of why they’re champions.
Paul didn’t like me telling him that, but the truth hurts.
For a little salt on the wound I point out the golazo of the day, Gareth Bale’s bicycle kick that took the lead 2-1. I mean, come one, if somebody is doing that to you, it’s a feat of champions.
After the game when everybody was drunk I couldn’t help taking a picture with this Scottish chap. He was one of a big gang of Scots who showed up in kilts, pulled-up socks and those glengarry hats. They were in town for the friendly against Peru a couple days later (Peru won).
But not only was this one wearing the full Scottish get-up, he also had a t-shirt featuring the pro boxer from what I assume was his gym. Or maybe his promotion company. Or maybe just his hometown of Edinburgh. I couldn’t understand a word he said, which is true of most Scots, especially when they’re drunk. But they understand us just fine. The other two in the pic were weegies, not too drunk. They translated for me a little, so we all bonded.
But a good rule of thumb for Scots in kilts is to just take a picture with them, smile and nod. Then move on.
And speaking of language, the Englishmen ironically do not speak the best English of the British Isles. In fact the best English is spoken by the Irish. My Irish friends from Bogota to Lima are the main ones who have changed my own English.
One example is my eliminating the American pronunciation of “beautiful” (biu-da-ful) to a cleaner “beauty-full,” which is easier for Latins to understand. And some of the abrasive, cowboy slang like “awesome” has disappeared in favor of words like “lovely.” Definitely no more “fuckin A” unless I’m trying to be an abrasive cowboy among other ugly Americans. It’s hard to eliminate “kids” completely, especially with other Americans, but the proper word is “child” or “children.”
And their English is always becoming more American. For example Gerry’s standard greeting since moving to Peru has become the americanisimo, “What’s up dude?” And the English have to make adjustments from words like “motorway” to “highway” to accommodate for our sheer numbers.
With so much to say about the English, Irish and Scottish, what about the Welsh? The truth is I’ve never met one. Not in Latin America or the States. So I can’t really say much beyond what I know from my informal education, which is that Wales is home to some of the biggest shitholes in the UK.
The poorly educated among us may be inclined to believe that the — um, don’t say the P word! — “immigrant” communities of London or Manchester are the biggest shitholes. But Cardiff is like the Detroit of the UK and Wales is the Rust Belt, but Cardiff wouldn’t even have the many cool things to see and do in Detroit. So maybe more like Youngstown or Scranton.
But jokes aside, the real reason I bring up the Welsh is because Wales has provided me with a trump card that works on any nation in the British Isles: English, Irish, Scottish or Welsh. They all love my identical twin brother.
As hard as this may be to believe, that is not me in the picture. It’s retired Welsh footballer John Hartson. Never heard of him? I hadn’t either. Nor would any American unless you’ve been following the Premier League since the 90s.
A couple years ago Gerry’s old friend Acko came to visit Lima. My wife and children were in Arequipa when he arrived, so I was out partying and I even showed Acko around for a full day when Gerry had to work. So Gerry says to Acko afterward, “And what do you think of Colin?” And Acko says, “You mean John Hartson?”
Gerry only told me about that after Acko fucked off back to Dublin. But I went on a deep dive into this Hartson character. I read up, I watched his interviews on YouTube. His career, his playing style, his battle with cancer, everything I could find. Long story short, he played for Arsenal and West Ham for many years before being snatched up by Celtic, a Scottish league club that caters to the Irish community in Glasgow. His greatest moment probably came at 19 years old when he scored Arsenal’s only goal against Real Zaragoza in the 1995 UEFA Winners Cup (equivalent of today’s Champions League final).
Someday I’ll dedicate a whole post to Hartson. Someday he and I will be reunited. Because we were obviously lied to. Either I was born in some shithole hospital in Swansea or he was born in Chicago, and we were separated. Evidence? Just look at the feckin picture!
I’ve gotten a bit off track here, but Gerry is actually back in Ireland at the moment with instructions to bring me a Celtic jersey. Doesn’t have to have #10. My mug alone in that jersey will be a hit with all the lads at the pub, good for a great laugh.
Have you enjoyed this post? See Expats > Regular Gringos.
Moral of the Story
Thanks for reading if you’ve made it this far. If you’re American, that’s how to be the ugly American that the Anglo / Celts have come to know and love. Be who you are. In fact, I turn it up a notch when I’m with them. Extra ugly, that’s how they like it.
If you’re English, Irish, Scottish or Welsh who has crossed paths with me down here, maybe for just a beer, maybe for many beers many times, I want to dedicate this post to you. You personally helped inform it. I’ve enjoyed your friendship.
Back to you Americans. Don’t apologize for our politics or anything. Don’t try to be like them. Don’t say you’re “Irish,” even if your last name is Callahan. I know what you mean, as do all the other guys at your neighborhood tavern who don’t have passports. The Irish themselves may know what you mean, but the Brits do not. They may even get annoyed and start an argument. Say you are “Irish-American.” They get that.
Getting hip to the ins and outs of British Isles has the intrinsic reward of enjoying their rich culture, but it can also help you avoid missteps. And there was no greater misstep in recent history than the one committed by our very own ugly American embodiment, the poorly educated President of the United States Donald Trump.
I’ll disclose my bias against Brexit not only for being an over-educated globalist, but also for my commercial interests. Peruvian Naturals herbal supplements are available on Amazon throughout the EU, shipping from Amazon warehouses in the UK. Depending on how Brexit is done (soft or hard), I may not be able to ship seamlessly from the UK to Germany, France and the rest of continental Europe (or even Ireland) when people buy on Amazon in their own language.
Regardless of what I pay each year in UK VAT, and regardless of whether I have to hire Kraut or Frog tax accountants and customs brokers to continue doing business in the EU post-Brexit, the point is that I was watching Brexit very closely for the entire campaign. I knew who Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage were and the fake-news propaganda they were pushing. I was watching during Scotland’s independence referendum. I was informed on the subject.
It doesn’t matter if you are Leave or Remain. The point is that I watched Donald Trump make the speech above in real time, from SCOTLAND of all places, and it was obvious he had no clue what vote had just occurred. He was visiting his golf course when his handlers told him a big vote just took place which he should address. He had to say something.
That’s why he looks like a third grader giving a book report on a book he didn’t read, just babbling on long enough to bore people to death and get out of there. He had no idea what the vote was, and hence this awkward and untimely speech in Scotland.
Don’t be that guy. It’s one thing to be an ugly American talking shit but who knows a thing or two, and is open to learning. It’s quite another to be an ugly American who’s kind of a doofus.
Want to get hip? The best thing you can do if you get your news from cable television programming is to incorporate BBC News. I personally think the NewsHour is the best bang for your buck if you only have an hour or two per week, but all the American outlets over-emphasize American news. For world news and especially Europe, you gotta tune into a little BBC.
Read modern writers like Irvine Welsh, Frank McCourt and Zadie Smith. Read English history. The Magna Carta and what happened in England from the 15th through 18th centuries ultimately set the stage for the American experiment and what is now known as “neoliberalism,” which has lifted billions out of poverty and brought prosperity to places like Peru, which were shitholes for centuries.
Get Peruvian Naturals anywhere in Europe, ships in a jiffy from the UK (while the current legal environment lasts):
- Peruvian Naturals on Amazon UK
- Peruvian Naturals on Amazon.de
- Peruvian Naturals on Amazon.fr
- Or buy Peruvian Naturals in the States
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