Learning British from Lala

For my entire sensible life, I have defended the superiority of “English” measurements, now almost uniquely American, spurning metrics at every turn. I dutifully memorized the conversions, like 1 inch equals 2.54 centimeters and all, but those were mere abstractions. I never thought in terms of a 6’8” friend being 203.2 cm tall; or of a charm not quite an inch tall as 23 millimeters high. The Brits and the entire Metric world seem to exaggerate everything—they have national passions for big numbers. And we Yanks hoard the dwindling treasure of our terminal uniqueness. We are drawn to the romance of biometrics, forever seeking the one true Average Length Foot. American measurements objectify a quest: a quest for average perfection.

I consider myself quintessentially American, and I like quests for all sorts of things. Last year I undertook a quest for a perfect travel mug, but I decided the failure of a thing to exist exempts the quest-taker from failure, and I had to move on.

I have been fairly brilliantly successful in my quest for palatable gluten-free foods, and interesting, healthy meals without that over-rated class of food known as vegetables. I have yet to find a bank that doesn’t lie about the real reason it’s changing all its customers’ credit card information.

The most fun of my current quests is for charms—those small representative objects, usually gold, silver, or stainless steel—with which to adorn a charm bracelet for this stage of my life. In a way, collecting charms is a way I can acquire an art —“microsculpture”— collection that takes up a very small space. My husband has authorized a generously sensible budget for my acquisition habit.

My current acquisition in progress I have named Lala, which is Romani for “tulip.” Romani, of course, is the traditional Gypsy language. Lala is actually a sterling silver Spanish Flamenco dancer, about 0.9 in. (23 mm) high, that I have purchased from a British jewelry seller. The British seller did not thank me initially for my purchase, but rather for my offer. An aspiring purchaser offers to purchase something, and the proper British seller accepts the offer once the offeror’s credit card authorization is complete, a process that may take several seconds. Once the offeror becomes an actual purchaser, the seller becomes effusively chummy.

No fewer than four emails full of links and contingent links with which to track Lala’s journey immediately arrived in my inbox. Lala has now been twice despatched: first, when she made the physical departure from the seller’s shop to a mail-preparation facility in Chelmsford, UK; then, her big despatch came when she was dispatched (pardon my American), via Royal Mail, to San Francisco. (Microsoft Word is indefeasibly Yank, and I have had to add “despatch” to its ethnocentric little dictionary to avoid its insistent re-rendering to “dispatch.”)

I try to imagine what my 23 mm Lala would see on her trans-Atlantic flight, but probably precious little, bundled and boxed in a mailbag, even if she has a window seat, and is traveling with the Royal Mail.



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