When I first moved to Chicago I started documenting the differences between living here and in the UK. I never really finished the article in its entirety, and only re-discovered it recently, looking rather sad and lonely on a portable hard disk – so rather than leave it on the top shelf to gather dust, here’s the first piece for your reading pleasure (hopefully).
“But how do you make a cup of tea?” – Introduction
The British citizen is considered by some a strange creature; He or she is by nature an adventurer, casting a net far and wide, pushing the boundaries of discovery to the four corners of the earth. Influencing and being influenced by cultures and civilizations older than his own. Documenting and sharing his new found knowledge to the world, with enthusiasm and vigor… However when he gets to his far-spun destination, tired and hungry, he wants to find a restaurant whose staff speak English, serve sausage, egg, bacon and mushrooms sandwiches AND know how to make a decent cup of tea.
What follows is my experience of living life in Chicago, a wonderful and exciting city with plenty to offer the native and the visitor alike. After living in the sleepy Oxfordshire countryside in the UK for all but six months of my first thirty-five years of life (those six months spent in Chicago), I made the jump to the Windy City and have never looked back.
Everything but the Kitchen Sink… and an electric kettle…
Electric kettles are an essential kitchen utensil for any Brit worth their salt. At birth, the parents press “My Little Kettle” into the newborn’s hands, along with a bag of Darjeeling or Earl Grey and small jug of milk. Those children not able to make a half-decent cuppa within the first six minutes of birth are sent to reform school for a period of no less than one year to perfect the art of tea making.
Electric kettles are designed to give us Brits boiling water in the quickest time possible and satisfy our addiction to the black leaf. Fortunes have been made and lost on new technologies aiming to make the perfect tea experience and reduce the waiting time – what Brit who was born prior to 1980 can’t help but remember the “Teasmade” – an alarm clock linked to a device that boiled water and tried desperately to make the tea for you. Sadly this device didn’t cut the mustard – the tea was usually awful and people usually fell asleep (usually through tea deprivation during the night) leaving a tepid cuppa to those who dared run the gauntlet when they stirred (and that wasn’t the tea either).
There are those who will cry “but electric kettles are also used for boiling water for cooking or making cups of coffee” – true, you could do that… it has been suggested that any coffee connoisseur will tell you that only the absolute amateur will consider freeze dried coffee (also known as “coffee in carpet form” in the coffee inner circles).
These wonderful, time saving devices are in every British home – should another Brit visit your home and said kettle is amiss you may hear the comment “So when you do plan to complete the kitchen? And how exactly do you plan to make a cup of tea?” – It’s THAT serious.
Now picture the scene; Stood in the kitchen department of Macy’s on State Street in Chicago, on of America’s larger department stores, where they devote half an entire floor to the culinary art – where you are presented with a bewildering choice of cutlery (they call it silverware), crockery, devices to make you kitchen life quicker, smoother, faster … they have food processors whose mixing bowls are bigger than my toilet and coffee makers that could service entire nations for weeks on end … but could I find an electric kettle? I would have more chance finding the original copy of the bible and Jesus at a table close by doing signings. For those of you reading this that are British I’ll leave you for a moment to soak in that horrific revelation….
NO ELECTRIC KETTLES!
Later that evening I told the story to my American fiancée – a truly unique and wonderful woman who, if proof were needed of that fact, understands Billy Connelly and laughs her head off at Eddie Izzard (amongst her countless talents) – she even gets my sense of humour (hence why in part she is my betrothed). Her response was “A what now?”
I explained again what it was I was looking for and why it’s so damn useful to which came the response “You want to plug a teapot into the wall? Why not just boil a pan or stove-top kettle? Only old people use electric kettles honey…” “NO!!! You don’t see!! I feel incomplete without an electric kettle – something that brings me fresh boiling water for my tea in around two minutes with the flick of a switch with ample water spare incase any other British friends pop by, without which they will say “So when are you going to finish the kitchen?” etc…..”
Don’t get me wrong. Here in America there are just so many more things that make your day easier. You want a toaster? No problem! Not only will it make the toast in 20 different browning combinations but also give personal astrological predictions for the day if you pee in the cup provided. You want to do the laundry? Pah! We have all the machines that will untangle and de-fluff your clothes with laser guided precision. But kettles? What a waste!
(post script: I found loads of kettles in Target, so British readers can rest easy – and surprisingly I still don’t own a kettle. Who knew!)