It has been eleven days since the Heathrow immigration officer stamped my work visa, thus affirming my expropriated Englishness. For the annals, the food here is better than reputation and, tracking over the past decade, is improving steadily. Of course while the arc of history may bend towards refinement, Britain’s culinary graces have a ways to go still. Not a fortnight in and I might well kill a man to steal his bottle of Tapatío.
Meanwhile, I am striding through Week II at Lab49. My demonstrably smart London colleagues have welcomed me into the fold but nevertheless share a consternation that I would leave San Francisco to join them. This confusion (and shock, is it?) prevails among Londoners at large, who are strikingly pessimistic about their charming metropolis and cannot grasp Johnnys-come-lately. One amiable Scot here at the Lab (we will call her Agnes) adores America and has a particular fascination with my City by the Bay. Now, Agnes loves her native Scotland and lobbies heavily on behalf of Tunnock’s Teacakes. (Verdict: delicious but painfully sweet.) She is neither cultural turncoat nor dewy-eyed Americaphile. All the same, when we struck up conversation about her last trip to San Francisco, she revealed unusual yearnings for the Red, White & Blue.
To be sure, both Britons and Americans rigorously enjoy dissecting the peculiarities of cross-pond customs and regional dialects. (Pick up some dish soap at the chemist, please.) However Agnes took us beyond typical small talk by describing her first trip to Walmart. Sure, at Walmart you can buy a shotgun, tractor and cantaloupe under the same roof, but that’s not what enchanted our Scot. Walmart, her walls dripping with Post-its and Sharpies of every conceivable color and size, fulfilled an as yet unknown stationery fetish deep within Agnes. Where a UK shop carries standard Sharpies in black, red, and blue, Walmart in her glory offers Sharpies long and short, thin and thick, retractable and chiseled, twin-tipped and laundry-safe…and in a rainbow of colors, plus metallic. Agnes has a fever, and the only prescription is more Sharpie.