My ancestors arrived on the shores of the United States after surviving the unthinkable pitching and conditions of the Atlantic Ocean below deck, probably far below. They left the UK to seek a better life.
They left the potato famine. They left small farms in Essex. Some were Huguenots who had fled to England to escape persecution in France. I have never forgiven these people. What were they thinking?
They left a country that I love very much. I have suffered from Anglophilia for many decades and have never sought a cure. The first time I stepped off a British Airways flight at Heathrow Airport in London, I knew I had gone home. This feeling was so strong that I returned several times over the next two decades. The UK was a giant magnet that drew me to it with great force.
During various visits I have been reminded that the courtesy of most Britons is so strong that one will agree to almost anything if asked. I’m talking about a young woman who helped visitors to this airport to board buses to outlying towns.
On one visit, I found my way to the training area at Heathrow in an attempt to get to Reading. The red bus sat there, idling in the October sun. His luggage compartment was open and waiting for my bags. I had just finished loading them when a lovely young woman approached me. She wore a uniform with a badge indicating that she worked for this bus company.
“Madame, madam,” she trilled, “yes, you in the back of the carriage!”
I turned to see her floating towards me. “Ah,” I thought, “now I can get my ticket.” But when I tried to accomplish this, her peach and cream complexion darkened slightly.
“Madam, I am terribly sorry, but it is not possible for you to get into this car. (Note: Brits often speak in italics when dealing with Americans.) He is scheduled and leaves in 15 minutes. »
Simple exhaustion led me to say “What???” I’m sure I was drooling.
“He’s leaving soon, and all reservations are taken; you will have to wait two hours for the next departure.
“Duh…lots of empty seats…give me one?”
“Again, I am terribly sorry for any inconvenience, but since we have already radioed our Reading station with passenger numbers, we simply cannot add any more guests. I will call someone to collect your luggage.
She did and very politely asked me to wait. Intense jet lag sent me into a sweet madness that led me to hum loudly various Broadway tunes for two hours. Finally, Miss Congeniality took me away to sell me my ticket and store my luggage. I still stammered my gratitude as I fell into a seat on the bus. I heard her say once again, “…I’m so sorry for any inconvenience…”
This incident happened about 30 years ago. I have thought about this several times and have come to this conclusion: extreme British courtesy can make you more than willing to do whatever is asked of you. Even to your discomfort or detriment.
When the bus arrived in Reading, I woke up abruptly, wondering where I was. Once I made sure I wasn’t in a plumbing remote country, I realized I had fallen asleep the instant I sat down. I also noticed that my purse was wide open next to me with my money, credit card and passport strewn all over it. I had paid for my ticket and then I had not put my money aside. There he was sitting.
Twenty people were in the bus with me. No one touched my purse or my money. Everything was where I had left it. I like to think that this was not an isolated incident.
Blanche DuBois said, “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.”
Susan Keezer lives in Adrian. Send him your good news at [email protected]