I had lunch with Margaux today and we talked about how she wanted to travel from the time she was only 10 or so. Matt, her husband, also had the travel bug from early in life. It’s funny that some people get bitten so early, and without any particular context. My parents had never traveled, and yet I knew from the time I was small that I wanted to travel to far away places.
Faraway places with strange customs. And that doesn’t nececessarily mean countries with inadequate power supplies or uneducated citizens. England provides plenty in the way of strange customs, it seems to me. I just had an email from my dear friend Emma, whom I’ve known since we lodged together in the Eaton Square house where a famous murder had fairly recently taken place (do a search on “Lord Lucan” if you’re curious). It was an email from one of the people on the Parish Council, which she is, to my surprise, a member of. Pretentious, she said, and quite right; the person said he might not make the meeting as there was a chance he’d be flying to the States to meet with President Bush (is this, these days, something to boast about?).
One of the other people cced in the original message was Lord Something, and I remembered how awed I was by titles when I first went to England. My family certainly never moved in those circles–even though my father’s name was Earl–but somehow I found myself that first year at an Oxford student supper party where the guests were a Lord and Lady.
Eventually I learned that there were many types of Lord and Lady. Emma’s mother was a Lady, but when we first met she was a Viscountess, and only after her father-in-law died did she become the Countess of Strafford (and, surprisingly, the illustrator of my first book). I was terribly nervous the first time, and as it happens the last time, I addressed Emma’s step-grandfather as Lord Strafford. Over time, I’ve become quite accustomed to the idea of titles, as just one of the many differences in English life and culture.
Much more important is knowing the rules about, and meaning of, whether you put the milk in first and then pour the tea, or whether you add the milk after pouring the tea. (Emma never, ever puts the milk in first. But I do. In rebellion, and on the authority of the Tea Council.)