Leaving London part 2, preconceived ideas about the English working class

As I am writing this, the content of our flat is currently being stored in… I am not sure where, to be honest. Even D, who negotiated the contract with the moving company, is not fully sure, but we believe it’s in England. June 2009 036

So we moved. We spent the entire last week cleaning and going through everything we had collected in our two years of London life and threw away a lot, but there was still a lot for the movers to pack and bring down the 4 flights of stairs that separate our lovely rat trap, as we called our apartment, from the street.

Yes, I did say pack. When you move internationally, the removal company is held accountable for the content of your boxes. This is why they usually insist on packing everything themselves, which means means that you end up standing in the middle of your apartment, not doing anything while strangers rummage through your stuff and wrap it.

So after a week of getting everything ready for the movers, we had our leaving drinks at our local pub on the eve of the move. Although we were pretty much ready to go, we felt quite nervous about the movers, hoping they wouldn’t hate us too much for the 4 flights of stairs or at least that they wouldn’t take it out on the heavy Italian designer sideboard D had fallen in love with a few years ago – it must weight 100kg/200 lbs.

Sharing our fears with friends on that night, we received the exact same answer from everyone and I do not think I had ever seen such a unanimous crowd: buy tea. Yes, tea. "Offer them a lot of tea. It must be very strong, and very sweet. They’ll feel like you care about them and the sugar will give them the quick energy they need for those stairs." Really? That simple? They even agreed on the brand I had to buy.

So after going to bed at 3 on that evening, I woke up at 7 to run to the grocery store and buy some PG Tips, working man’s tea par excellence (and sold for $7 a box in Brooklyn, New York) along with some milk and sugar. I was getting so excited about this cultural experiment, I almost bought stuff to make bacon sandwiches as well.

A few hours later, the movers arrive. While I was expecting two big, thick accented, 40 something men from Essex, I see two young, fit, thick accented young men from… Poland.

Poland huh? Pg Tips? Hum. Oh yes. They are, after all, part of the new English working class, they work in England, they MUST be tea drinkers. So I go on, all excited, with the phrase I had been rehearsing all night in my sleep (you have to seem like you know what you are talking about, like you make it all the time, while also making it sound like you are doing something special for them… not as easy as it seems).

"Would you like a cup of tea?"

[big, big smile] "No, no, thank you."

Hum. That was not planned. Must be trying to be polite. Hey, I have a pot of boiling water on the stove and I do not want tea so I will definitely not let politeness win. Plus, he’s kind of cute.

"Really? Are you sure? I am making some right now…"

[more big, big smile… and I swear there was a wink as well] "Hum, maybe later?"

So yes, they were nice and they were smiling, maybe even flirting, but they still hadn’t weighted the italian sideboard. And they won’t drink tea. But everyone told me: THEY MUST DRINK TEA. Or else my move is, literally, out the window. That’s how it works in England; locals told me.

Panicked, I run over to D and tell him that the movers are being very nice but that, however, they have been refusing my tea. We MUST do something. Time is running. We agree that they would be more open with D and that some good old male bonding will make them loose their polite side and accept our offering. D goes over. I hear talking, I hear laughing, more laughing, then D comes back.

"Dude, they’re Polish – they don’t drink tea. I’ll go to Tesco and get lemonade and coke."