You’ve all done very well…

by Harry on September 17, 2004

I had a surreal day on Wednesday. I drove to Milwaukee for an appointment at the newly re-organised USCIS to get my green card renewed for another 10 years. I forgot my BBC7 tapes of London Particulars, so instead spent the whole drive there listening to my favourite 1970’s boxed set.

The appointment was odd enough—it lasted 10 minutes, and not only was everyone charming to me, but they were charming to the other 3 immigrants (who weren’t white, and didn’t have mock-posh English accents) too. A general reticence about these matters precludes me from publicising the interesting things that happened there. Anyway, that wasn’t the really surreal bit.

After the appointment I wandered round downtown Milwaukee because I couldn’t face getting back in the car so soon. I happened upon the Watts tea rooms and china shop, so went in for a posh cup of tea (Welsh morning tea—a powerful mix of Assam and Darjeeling I’d guess). In itself this was peculiar—it had the air of a 1950’s posh hotel in somewhere like Brecon or Abergavenny. All the other customers were well dressed women somewhat older than me, themselves looking like extras out of All Creatures Great and Small. One exception: a very old man in a wheelchair who looked stunningly like Mr Grace (but was not, mercifully, tended to by an anonymous dolly bird). After my tea I went downstairs to the china shop and looked around, and bought a little piece of cut-price Wedgwood. The shop assistant and I remarked to each other what a good deal it was to get a nice piece of Wedgwood for that price, and then she said: “Oh, Lord Wedgwood visits us every year in November. Would you like to come to tea with Lord Wedgwood this November? We’ve been here 130 years you know, every since Mr. Watts founded the shop”.

Just as I was thinking that it couldn’t get any stranger, the Mr. Grace-look-alike came out of the elevator, and, as he wheeled across the floor, all the staff stood to attention. Then he was accosted by a staff-member who, I swear, resembled Miss Brahms. ‘Hello Mr. Watts, I just wanted to say hello, and see how your arm is doing… etc etc’. The staff lined up as he exited the building. I looked up at the portrait of the founder, Mr. Watts, on the wall, and the man in the wheelchair was the spitting image.

Made my week.

{ 31 comments }

1

Ian 09.17.04 at 2:20 pm

Truly surreal, but I wonder – how much of that is comprehensible to readers outside the UK?

2

Anthony 09.17.04 at 2:30 pm

Plenty of it, if the readers are in Australia.
Did they say old Mr Watts doesn’t get out much these days?

3

J. Ellenberg 09.17.04 at 2:32 pm

Basically none of it.

But nonetheless, of great interest to those of us about to move to Wisconsin.

4

Scott Spiegelberg 09.17.04 at 2:32 pm

Comprehensible to this Yank who has watched Are You Being Served? on public TV somewhat regularly.

5

Adam Kotsko 09.17.04 at 2:42 pm

This is the first blog post I have ever read that used the word “posh” twice.

It was technically incomprehensible to me, but it had the same effect as a good parody where you aren’t familiar with the original — still funny and interesting, but maybe not in all the intended ways.

6

fyreflye 09.17.04 at 3:00 pm

Incomprehensible to me; but as a morning tea drinker of Welsh ancestry I began immediately to speculate on what a mixture of Assam and Darjeeling might be like. Anyone have a formula for the mix?

7

KCinDC 09.17.04 at 3:07 pm

Comprehensible to me in Washington, DC. I’ve seen “Are You Being Served?” on a local PBS station. I don’t understand its appeal, though. I suppose it’s better than Benny Hill.

Nowadays I see only the older version of Miss Brahms, Pauline Fowler, on four-year-old episodes of “East Enders”.

8

Keith 09.17.04 at 3:11 pm

I understood it just fine. But then, my wife has a vast collection of BBC period dramas so I’m sure some of the vocab has simply crept in over the years, providing me with a frame of reference. Everyone was wearing empire waist gowns, correct?

9

a different chris 09.17.04 at 3:11 pm

“Posh” was actually used three times, unless for some reason you are discounting “mock-posh”.

Which reminds me once again that I really have no good grasp on what “posh” really means…if pressed I would say “having the air of expensiveness” or just “fancy” but I’m pretty sure those don’t quite get it.

Which means I couldn’t use it in conversation with any more sucess than I would have with “you go, girl!”.

Damn.

10

Ken Houghton 09.17.04 at 3:12 pm

I’m still trying to figure out how you get a 6-disc boxed set for about US$20…

11

Ken Houghton 09.17.04 at 3:25 pm

And now I’m even more confused. Amazon UK offers it for 12 pounds 99, while Amazon offers the same set (must less well described) for $55.

Somehow, I don’t think the shipping will account for the difference…

12

harry 09.17.04 at 3:42 pm

Ken — that’s why I linked to the UK site. here are numerous disrepancies like this. Its a great set, if eccentric (because, I presume, they are all EMI artists).

Sorry about the multiple uses of ‘posh’ everyone. I’ll copy-edit better in future. Maybe Chris or Daniel will offer a definition. I do hear Americans use it, but perhaps only to mock me, I don’t know. (I try to sound posher when talking to Americans, so as to be better understood).

13

Rob 09.17.04 at 3:51 pm

You do realize that Mr. Watts ran for mayor of Milwaukee in 2000? His basic reason for doing so was to keep the park freeway up because he thought getting rid of it would hurt his business.

14

Matt Weiner 09.17.04 at 3:58 pm

I bet the price differential has to do with copyright laws. English (I think) labels like JSP and Properbox produce box sets of older music (50+ years old) that can be obtained in the US for $20-25; no US company does so; and I think this is because somehow copyrights expire after 50 years in the UK, though I’m not a lawyer and certainly not a UK lawyer. The JSP sets are usually MUCH better remastered than the stuff major labels do, as well.

I understood the post, and not only is Are you being served? better than Benny Hill, it’s better than ‘Allo ‘allo. Haven’t been to the Watts shop though.

15

bob mcmanus 09.17.04 at 3:58 pm

No Dead or Zep, no Carpenters or Captain & Tenille, no Yes or Anne Murray or Neil Young…best of the Seventies? Bah.

16

KCinDC 09.17.04 at 4:04 pm

Perhaps, Matt, but it’s not a patch on One Foot in the Grave.

17

pseudosophist 09.17.04 at 4:18 pm

A Different Chris acknowledges that he has no real grasp on the meaning of ‘posh.’ My understanding is that the term originated on sea voyages from England to India, and means “Port out, starboard home,” referring to which side of the boat the best cabins were on. On the way to India, the views from port side cabins were of the coast, and on the way back, the view was on starboard. The view from the other side was water, water, water. Port out and starboard home were thus the more desirable, more expensive, more ‘posh’ cabins.
Can anyone verify this origin of the word?

18

Chris Bertram 09.17.04 at 4:20 pm

Dictionary.com gives “smart and fashionable”, which won’t quite do. The reason it won’t quite do is that “posh” also has connotations of aristocracy or, at least, aristocratic aspiration (giving rise to further possibilities of ironic use).

[I see, btw, that the #1 site on google for “posh” is Peterborough United FC rather than La Beckham, as I’d expected.]

19

Jeremy Osner 09.17.04 at 4:26 pm

Pseudosophist — I have seen that story too but as I recall it was presented as an inaccurate folk etymology.

20

Jeremy Osner 09.17.04 at 4:30 pm

And indeed a quick search reveals to me that that story is a famous example of inaccurate folk etymology. Here is a book called Port Out, Starboard Home (and other language myths).

21

Carlos 09.17.04 at 4:30 pm

Does this mean when I go to London, I’ll find myself in situations out of Lake Wobegon (the Wisconsin edition)? Criminy.

I should find a Packer bar there, just in case. Maybe Leroy Butler will drop by in November.

22

farmgirl 09.17.04 at 7:45 pm

I’m amazed you were able to book an appointment and renew your green card in 10 minutes!

I had to go through the rigamarole in San Jose, pre-9/11. The office opened at 7, which is when I arrived. The line was already so long it took 2 hours to get to the door and pass through the metal detector, another hour in line for a number, and two more hours waiting to be called to a window, where an immigration official concluded our business in five minutes, pointing to things and not opening his mouth once.

Adding insult, they didn’t even bother to fully staff up. Only a couple of “windows” were open. Grr.

23

doug 09.17.04 at 7:52 pm

Ken observed:”Amazon UK offers it for 12 pounds 99, while Amazon offers the same set (much less well described) for $55.

Somehow, I don’t think the shipping will account for the difference…”

sarcasm
isn’t the free market wonderful ? /sarcasm

even with shipping, it’s less than $40 from Amazon UK.
Similar effects are noticeable in the domain of high-end bicycle parts, fishing tackle, and doubtless several others.

I bought Julian Barnes ‘The Lemon Table’ via the web from a bookstore in South Africa, for $40. On Amazon US, it’s $16, and $16 shipping – still $8 cheaper than in SA. Shipping from US to SA is vulnerable to light fingers, though, so I went for the local option..

farmgirl, the trick is to find the Immigration office that’s off the beaten. In San Jose, there are vast numbers of foreign programmers, and consequent crowding. Once we actually drove to Calgary from Vancouver, and back: because it was faster than waiting for an appointment in Vancouver.. really.

24

harry 09.17.04 at 10:31 pm

farmgirl, I’ve done this before in Sacramento and my experience there was comparable with yours; I did it in Milwuaukee 10 years ago and it was better, but not much. I was blown away by the experience this time. In fact, it, too, was extremely surreal, not only because of the time, but I feel reluctant to post about it for obvious reasons.
The USCIS website is really pretty good, and will help you with whatever you want to do. If you have to call the toll free number, it takes about 5 minutes to get through the barriers, and at that point you are given a ‘wait time’ before you can talk to a real person. I did it several times before making my appointment through them — I found the shortest wait-time was acheived by calling straight after they opened in midweek.

25

David Tiley 09.18.04 at 3:20 pm

“Posh” is the opposite of “common”. Common people will say “posh” as a form of mockery, but genuinely posh people probably wouldn’t use “common”. They think all normal people are common, so it would be roughly the equivalent of saying “Isn’t the oxygen mixed with the carbon dioxide today”. Yes, it is.
I have these beliefs from my mother, but then she is a true snob. And petit-bourgeois.

26

Rich 09.18.04 at 5:31 pm

Welcome to Wisconsin.

Carlos — you wrote:
“Does this mean when I go to London, I’ll find myself in situations out of Lake Wobegon (the Wisconsin edition)? Criminy.”

My bet is yes. I know if you go to Paris, you can find a sister tavern to Madison’s Harmony Bar & Grill. Complete with Packer & Badger gear. (Run by an Algerian native who used to run the Harmony’s kitchen.)

27

Keith 09.18.04 at 7:40 pm

Here in North Wales, the word “Posh” applies to anyone who removes their Wellington boots before entering the house, doesn’t wear socks in bed on cold nights and insist on putting their teeth in before answering the door to the postman.

I believe the English exercise a higher norm before you earn the soubriquet. But then, generally speaking the English are more posh than us in the mountains and the valleys..

28

JPed 09.19.04 at 5:28 am

Wow. I ran into English pubs in Switzerland, but this seems farther out than that. Although the poshest cup of tea I had was in Hawaii, but it was a Mandarin Oriental hotel, so maybe that doesn’t count as surprising since it was a global commercial concern doing the serving.

29

chris borthwick 09.20.04 at 6:10 am

A line from an old BBC comedy, set in Wales;
“Married and not even pregnant! There’s posh for you.”

30

Doug 09.20.04 at 1:27 pm

Since we seem to have posh down, anyone care to have a go at defining becks?

31

McDuff 09.20.04 at 3:35 pm

Small streams.

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