Looking back on it, my experience at that English wedding in France eight years ago was my first lesson in the power of the enigma in British society. Confronted with a mass of Jimmy Choos discarded and languishing poolside, I felt as inadequate as my outlet mall dress. And yet there was an interest in me that was disproportionate to my to dazzling personality and clothing budget. It was fuelled undoubtedly by the polite upbringing of the guests, but also by the fact that I was from L.A.
Husband had benefited from this in reverse as a Brit in L.A., not least in nabbing me. I admit to the “every Englishman is Hugh Grant” perception I had back when we first met. Imagine my surprise when I arrived in England and learned that Liverpudlians are best known for, well, stealing things (The Beatles aside). There was also an education to be had in the great North / South divide in England. It’s the reverse of the San Fran / L.A. thing, with the South self-proclaiming their cultural and economic superiority.
In the Cotswolds, my American-ness has been a benefit to both husband and me. Despite the rap the states have taken on the global stage, it’s rare enough for an American to take up residence in the Cotswolds that it generates friendly curiosity. Husband in other circumstances could have been a walking target in our rural idyll—a scouse, urban lamb amongst the posh, country lions. Twelve years in L.A. and an American wife threw him a lifeline, even if he still subject to occasional good natured chiding.
Our friend, B., confirms the foreign spouse halo-effect has been active for generations now. He was raised in a Liverpool pub by a single mother and achieved fame as a cartoonist. His success afforded him access to a new, privileged social circle who didn’t know quite what to make of him. The toffs knew what to make of an artist—in fact the word toff once denoted a generous benefactor. But a cartoonist? B. credits his Neapolitan wife for providing the touch of foreign mystique required to throw a social set stifled by their own class pre-conceptions into accepting disarray.
As B. found, the beauty of being an outsider (or by association in husband’s case) in the Cotswolds has been the distancing effect from the rigors of British social strata definition. There is, however, an art to maintaining the enigma, especially when there are so many traps to fall into: where you drink, what paper you take, football or rugby (cricket is assumed).
The venue in which you choose to drink in our Cotswold town says a lot about you, and I’ve therefore decided the best policy is to drink in them all. While I favour the wine bar, I can also choose from a biker friendly, half-timbered pub; a traditional if occasionally tourist pub; an upscale coaching inn; or a concrete block establishment grandly known as the sports and social club, which is convenient when taking in a summer cricket match on the adjoining field.
Papers are trickier. They’re collected from the local bakery, so your selection is subject to public exposure. This is Telegraph and Times country although the bakery stocks a few token Guardians. Thankfully my choice, the FT Weekend, is ideologically vague. It has a whiff of city banker about it, and no one needs to know that I buy it for the Life and Arts section.
On the matter of football (soccer) vs rugby, I’ll start with a saying R. the barman taught me not long after we first moved in: “Rugby is a hooligan’s game played by gentlemen whereas soccer is a gentleman’s game played by hooligans.” I probably don’t need to say the Cotswolds are in the rugby camp. Husband is, however, from Liverpool, home of a legendary football team, and my loyalty remains with the hooligans.