Don't think of it as a cop out. Think of it as a special feature.
I moved this weekend.
For the past seven years, I lived in Edinburgh, a Scots pretender with an American passport and a thoroughly English accent. I learned that haggis was delicious, that deep fried Mars bars weren't half bad, and ultimately, that Irn Bru wasn't the orange death vomit I had previously thought it to be. The people in my neighbourhood knew me; I made friends in the office, and I was on first name terms with the people in the local store.
And now that's gone. I'm in England again, making a new life and a new livelihood. I know the city - I'm in Oxford, where I grew up - but all my memories are wrong. The city has changed, most of the people I used to know have left, and even the stores I bought at and the places I visited are now just whispers in the alleyways, forced out by endless Gap outlets and style bars for the businessmen and rich kid students.
It seems almost sad at first, like someone has murdered the Oxford I knew and replaced it with a Stepford town. But then, slowly, as the days go by and you unpack your boxes and you get used to the climate, a realisation dawns. This isn't sad; this isn't a tragedy. This is an opportunity. I can be anyone I want to be - or a combination of people, a different personality for each occasion. People like ...
Businessman Ben likes to wear Armani and secretly trawls the charity shops for second hand gear. His beautiful gold watch is a fake, and he wears a big on his finger. Nobody gave it to him and it's not a symbol of love; he just feels like having a big-ass ring. It looks cool when he talks on his mobile phone, which he does often, especially when he drives.
He keeps his hair cut very short, which accentuates the male pattern baldness he refuses to acknowledge he has. Every so often he'll go out to a club or a chain bar like Walkabout or one of the upmarket Wetherspoons; he'll gel his hair and wear an Armani suit in an effort to pull the ladies. He tells all his friends that the ladies love him, and he flirts shamelessly with anyone who'll talk to him, a snide sneer-grin smeared across his face.
At night he listens to Joni Mitchell and writes poetry no-one will ever read.
Anarchist Crusader Ben
Anarchist Crusader Ben has £50 dreadlocks and a very expensive marijuana habit. Spray cans don't come cheap, either, and he'll be out stencilling or painting murals most nights. The council will spend money covering up his work that would otherwise go to schools or hospitals, but he doesn't care. He's making a stand, man! And also he hopes that someone will discover his art and put it in a gallery, like that famous Swiss graffiti artist, whatever his name is.
He experiments sexually with men, not because he's attracted to them, but because he believes that gender boundaries are nothing more than a construct.
At night he listens to Ani DiFranco and writes stories for low-budget anti-corporate newsletters with names like "The Sunflower News" and "Fuck This".
Ladies and gentlemen, hold the phones: I have the solution to America's obesity epidemic at my svelte fingertips, and rather than cashing in and selling out in return for endless riches and my very own millionaire pot belly, I'm going to share it with you for free. Listen very carefully.
Stop putting sugar in everything, morons.
It's obvious as soon as you put something in your mouth in America; sugar is in almost everything you eat. There's sugar in bread, for example, which is something almost nowhere else in the world does. What do you put on your bread? Honey roast turkey and ham. And mustard. With sugar in it.
There's sugar in your drinks, there's sugar in your ketchup, there's sugar in your coffee cream and the snacks you chew on between your sugary meals. There's even sugar in your toothpaste, which is definitive proof that you've taken the sweet thing way too far. Forget illegal wars for oil; America has historically fought long, fierce battles over the sweet stuff, for no other reason than you want more of it. You love it.
Thing is, though, it's making you round.
The smell is everywhere. It seems to be most prevalent in the summer, when the wind has died down and it's warm enough to detect the odours of flowers in the breeze; it's not flowers I'm smelling though. It's beer, from the breweries on the edge of town, wafting through the city air.
When I was a student I never really noticed it much, but these days I smell it on the way to work. I see it in the faces of the people slouched in bank doorways, on buses going home and in dark corners where they think we can't see them. It's on the breath of the kids smoking in the back, and it's on the minds of everyone sat behind their desks as they churn through another day's administrative tasks. When they leave for the day, the desire to go for a pint is universal; maybe they'll have a microbrewery ale or maybe they'll settle for cheap lager, but they'll be there, in a smoky room, the tar clinging to their lungs as they slowly poison themselves. It's an escape, as is the heroin the ice cream van in my neighbourhood sells as it trundles through every evening at nine. The only difference is that one is more socially acceptable than the other.
As I make my way through the city each morning, neon signs advertise fish and chips - big, hot chunks of potato, not little crispy discs from a bag - cooked in lard or beef dripping. I could go more upmarket and get a takeaway all-day breakfast, which is sausages, baked beans, fried eggs, bacon, tomato and mushroom. It's delicious, but as testified by the overweight, pale-skinned people sitting under the sterile fluorescent lights, it's not good for you.
Scotland suffers from a mild case of multiple personality disorder. On the one hand, it vies for independence from England - the English, in fact, are a bunch of wankers, far inferior to the Scottish. On the other, life in Scotland is much harsher than it is down south, and as Renton famously pointed out in Trainspotting, they're the country who let themselves be colonised by wankers.
There's a boy in my way. He can't be more than twelve, probably ten or eleven, and he's deliberately blocking my path. "Alright mate," he says confidently, presumably mimicking his parents, "can you spare us a fag?"
I explain that I don't smoke, trying to keep my English accent to myself as much as I can, and walk past him. He asks for money for smokes, but I don't give it to him; I might have when I was younger, but I've grown an annoyingly selective moral backbone over the past couple of years. Bloody university degrees. As I walk down the road and up my front garden path, I can hear him shouting to his friends about how he'd like to fuck some girl he goes to school with.
I bristle as I open my front door, and then leave the below-freezing outside world behind me. Suddenly the air doesn't smell of breweries and abattoirs, and I can hear someone watching The Weakest Link. Empty bottles of Coke and Irn-Bru are on the living room table. We have ten or fifteen half-empty bottles of liquor on the kitchen counters.
California this ain't.
Now that President Bush is running the United States into the ground socially and economically, it's a viable time to start looking elsewhere for that perfect home you've always wanted. Perhaps you want to live in a place where Christianity isn't shoved down your throat like so much Coca Cola, or where the de facto way to go to the store isn't your SUV. Perhaps you want socialised medicine and decent public schools, and television uninterrupted by advertising.
Why not try the United Kingdom? Aside from the bitter cold, the painful unfriendliness of the people and the shit food, it's the perfect place to live!
Or perhaps you're sick of socialised medicine - six hour waits at the emergency ward - and the bitter cold, the awkward transport system and the cynicism pulsing through everything like a destructive virus. Perhaps you want sun, a less reserved culture more open to innovation, and all the HBO you can eat?
Why not try the United States? Aside from the oppressive government, the soul-destroying fundamentalist religions, the collective willingness to let the disadvantaged fend for themselves and the endemic obesity, it's the perfect place to live!
We at Rum and Monkey realise that this is a big move. The United Kingdom and States are two countries separated a common language, as Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw or Winston Churchill once said (the rivalry is such that both countries want to claim attribution). We know all too well the cultural frictions that can occur.
Here, then, is the Rum and Monkey cultural guide to getting by in the Coalition of the Willing.
It has often been said that Americans eat far too fucking much. This observation is, by and large, correct: walk into a restaurant and you'll be presented with a giant menu full of cheap meals, which will be presented to you on bulging plates bigger than hubcaps, loaded down with sundries and sauces. They even give you food to eat between the food; tortilla chips, breadsticks, popcorn, pork rinds and french fries are de rigueur. Some restaurants even go so far as to give you food to eat between the food between the food, and food to eat between the food between the food between the food, ad infinitum until you start to notice fractal patterns in the grub you're devouring. By the time you've ploughed through the metric ton of fatty flesh on offer, you'll look like Michael Moore and have six hours to live.
On the other hand, British delicacies include congealed pigs' blood and the heart, lungs and liver of a sheep cooked in its own stomach. You pays your money and you takes your choice.
The British are very proud of their culture. They once enslaved the world, bringing English to India and curry to Cumbria. Brushing aside their invention of the concentration camp in the Boer War, they created a rich commonwealth filled with war, suffering, destitution and monarchy. Their embarrassing reluctance to enter the wacky world of full democracy by removing support for their inbred figureheads is just another apple on the tree.
However, they also created the Beatles, mostly the best rock band of all time. Fate may be teasing us (and trying out patience) by killing off the two talented ones, but in fact this musical heritage is rich and varied. Britain is incredibly strong in the arts. Theatre and music are heavily promoted by the government, which tantalisingly stops short of giving them enough money to produce anything world-class. Every so often something beats the system and takes on the world; witness Jonathan King, the Spice Girls, Right Said Fred and Joss Stone.
It is a commonly stated fallacy that America does not have a culture. It does; because the country was founded on immigration, pieces from all over the world have fused into a unique mix that cannot be replicated.
Benjamin will never work in this town again.