English Christmas crackers. Photo by net_efekt (Flickr CC)
A friend phoned me up the other day – a friend from England. A really good friend, from way back when, but we hardly see or speak to each other nowadays.
“Can you give me your postal address?” she asked.
“Oh, yeah, sure. But why?”
“Dur,” she said. “So I can send you a Christmas card, of course.”
“Oh,” I said, “don't bother.”
“What do you mean, Jacinta?” she asked, her voice hard.
“Well, they don't do it in Germany. So I'll just throw it in the bin anyway. So really you're just wasting the price of a stamp and a tiny bit of the world's remaining rainforest. Just don't bother. Let's just pretend you did.”
There was silence for a while.
“Fucking hell, Jacinta. If anyone else said that, I'd be totally offended. It's a good thing I know what you're like.”
“I'm just trying to save you money,” I said.
“Hmmmn,” she said. “So, let me tell you about my new fella.”
But there are some mad things British people do that are SO FUCKING WEIRD that after being in this country for, say, seven months, you can't remember ever having found them normal.
Here's a scientific list. Pay attention Amok-fans:
I am sorry but what a load of fucking bullshit. You don't speak to someone for years and years and years and years of your life, you don't even know what their current “partner” and three youngest children look like, you never speak to them, you never see them, you never call them up, you never have coffee with them, you don't know them, they are essentially strangers whose names you vaguely recall, and then every year, without fail, you send them a Christmas card.
The weird thing is you don't even write any news or information or secrets or anything worth reading in the card AT ALL. You just write “Dear Jane, Graham and kids,” at the top and “Love from Sue and Donald!” at the bottom.
It is the most meaningless tradition in the history of meaningless traditions. It is so meaningless it makes that Lantern Festival seem really worth doing. Then other strangers whose names you vaguely recall send you cards.
You put these cards on the mantelpiece, and wait until Christmas is over before throwing them away. Sometimes you get a load of string and hang a load of them on the wall above the mantelpiece. God, British people are barmy. They're bonkers. They're fucking insane.
“Oh, shit,” said my mother one year.
“What's the matter, Mum?”
“Chris and Trudie from Swansea have sent a card again. They didn't send us one last year, so I thought I'd give them a miss this year. Have we got any of those Save the Children ones left? I hope I make the post.”
Bat-shit insane, the whole fucking country.
Aren't they mad? Adults sitting around the table, eating turkey, with a load of paper crowns on their heads. Still, I am looking forward to it, a little bit.
The jokes are the best bit. The cheaper the cracker, the more rubbish the joke I always find, although I must admit that the one year my mum did buy really expensive, “luxury” crackers from Marks & Spencer, one of the jokes was so crap that she went back to the shop to complain. I think it was something to do with a sturgeon.
Every time I go home, I step onto the plane, and I think to myself: “When we arrive in Stansted, there'll be all these people wearing cardigans instead of proper coats, don't be shocked, Jacinta. They're just made of sterner stuff than the Krauts, or maybe coats are more expensive, or maybe the weather's a tad milder. Don't be shocked, Jacinta. Don't be shocked by the cardigans.”
But when I get home, I always am. I look around at all these kids – and adults, grown adults – wandering round, outside and everything, with cardigans on, in the middle of winter. They're not fucking coats. Put a fucking coat on, you mad bastards.
I can't wait to go home, though. I only booked my ticket last week. I never feel as homesick as I do that first minute after I've booked my ticket home. Suddenly I feel all “abroad” again. I can't wait to see them all, all those mad psychos who make up my home country. And I can't wait to see all those even madder psychos who make up my family most of all.
I'm not gonna eat any mince pies, though. I really fucking hate those things.