This is something from when I was living in Britain.
I’m sitting alone in a restaurant by a train station to shelter from the rain and get a bowl of soup. Hot soup on a rainy day! I;m like a weather-warrior. I’ll take your rain and make it taste like minestrone.
“It will be two minutes”, says the older lady who runs the place to me, her only customer. “Thank you!” I say
I turn and watch commuters hold newspapers above their heads or dash into taxis as the heavens whip the world with water. They’re not getting soup, these clowns. It didn’t even occur to them. But I am.
“Thanks,” I say, as the lady puts a glass on my table and walks off to get some water.
“Cheers,” I say, when she returns and pours it in my glass. “Thanks.”
“Your soup will be two minutes,” she says, again, reassuringly.
“Thank you,” I say.
She brings me a knife and fork and places it on the table in front of me. “Ta,” I say, and I ignore the fact that I am thanking her for a knife and fork when in fact I am having soup, and she wanders off.
And then she comes back with a spoon and places it in front of me.
“Thanks,” I say.
To be honest I’m starting to feel like there’s a bit too much thanking going on here. She’s staggering her efforts and I’m having to register my appreciation at every single stage of our interaction. I feel like I could be in danger of going thankrupt. I will have to file for thankruptcy. But what else am I suppossed to do? Just sit in silence? I have to say something, and it has to mean “thanks”, otherwise it’d be, “Oh,water”, or “great cup” or something from a Seventies comic like “Brill-o!”. Thanks are important. After all, this is Britain.
And then I hear her put my soup in a microwave and I realise, wow, this really is Britain.
“Two minutes!” she calls out.
“Would you like some bread?”
“Thank you, yes,” I say, sighing and slowly she ambles over with a little basket of bread.
“Thanks,” I say, bitterly, and she turns and walks off, but comes straight back with a small bowl of butter.
“Thank you,” I hiss, because this has to end, but bringing someone a small bowl of butter is already a thankless task, without making it a task without thanks.
I pick up my already-thanked-for-knife, we’re evens on that, but she’s nack offering me an as-yet-unthanked-for butter knife. A specialist knife.
I take it and nod.
“Nice one, cheers,” I say, trying for an alternative, and she goes again.
She wasn’t hovering because she wanted thanks, I think. She was hovering because she wanted confirmation that I knew I was holding a butter knife. Something that meant, “Yes, I register this knife and it has passed my initial knife-test.”
It’s impossible to stop thanking her if she goes on like this. I cannot seem rude. I’ve apologised to bins I’ve bumped into before, and this woman is an actual personwith feelings and thoughts and…
Bzzzz ding!Soup’s ready!
“I’ll bring you your soup now” she calls out.
“Thanks,” I reply, shaking my head at myself, and “Thanks,” I say when she brings it over.
“I’ll get you salt,” she says.
“Thanks,” I say.
“Please,” I sigh. “Thanks.”
I have never resented someone so much for doing so much for me. But I know that all this is about to change. Because soon I will have the power. I will give her something! Payment! And we all know what will happen then!
So I scoff my soup and drain my drink and wait for rain to abate, then ask for the bill and when she gives it me, I smirk and say “thanks…”.
She can have the last one. I don’t care. Because then I hand her a crisp £5 note, and I look deep into her eyes, and she takes this note from me, and there is a moment of pure understanding, a shift in roles and power, and she looks at me, and she says, “I’ll just get your change.”
WHAT? NO! That is not fair!
She heads for the till as I stand there, a potential thankee unthanked, and feeling like a proper thanker.
“Here you are,” she says., popping the change in my hand.
“Brill-o!” I say.