So, it turns out, in a momentary tussle between my Britishness and the woman upstairs, Britishness actually comes out on top. As much as there are many reasons why I despise my passport, today, I'm seriously encouraged.
I have become increasingly appreciative of good coffee. Though the humble English cuppa remains my first love, when out and about it’s almost always coffee. Mainly because I despise paying £2.50 for a teabag and hot water that costs £0.05 to make at home. I do hate to admit it, though, my slight partiality to pumpkin spice means I couldn’t convincingly blend in as a real coffee snob if I tried.
I ordered takeaway drinks for myself and a friend this week. The lady upstairs had a bit of a, well, 'moment'. A moment in which being a coffee snob would have been a handy disguise. You see, we have a complicated relationship with liquid calories. In this instance, milk.
Ordering more than one drink is always a bit of a gamble. There’s room for error at multiple stages of the transaction. This is likely intensified in the current clime – social distancing and mask wearing has made us all realise that our hearing isn’t quite as good as we thought. I was ordering a latte for my friend, and an Americano “with a dash of hot milk” for myself. Yes, I would have also preferred a latte...but coffee is yet another tug-of-war situation we find ourselves in.
I must add, I worked on Saturdays in a coffee shop when I was 14...and I have the utmost respect for anyone in this job. Contrary to the adage, the customer is very rarely always right. Pretending to be cheerful and understanding when somebody really just needs their privilege slapping right out of them...it's not for me.
At this particular outdoor coffee establishment, the milk-adding process takes place right in front of the customer. This is usually particularly comforting to the woman upstairs’ meticulous need for knowledge and control. However, on this occasion, as I watched the man fill up both espressos with frothy blue-top milk...my body tensed in horror. That was not a dash.
What is one to do in this situation? I know what I saw. Of course, in true British fashion my next words were, “I’m terribly sorry, but...”, followed by a, “that just seems like an awful lot of milk for an Americano...” (what is it with us Brits using such melodramatic adjectives as intensifiers?)
The barista insisted that he had filled it mostly with hot water first, and then only added ‘a little bit of milk”. I guess our concepts of 'a little' are more than a little different.
I know all about the fallibility of the eye-witness testimony but, trust me on this one. As long as my contact lenses are in, the woman upstairs has eyes like a hawk. I know what I saw.
Without thinking I blurt out an anxious, "are you sure?!" which takes me back to my hospital days. He insists that he is sure, and I sense his slight irritation. It is in this moment where I like to imagine this mini tussle between the anorexia and the polite Brit in my brain, like something out of the film Inside Out. Fighting over the gear stick, in a final admirable swoop, polite Brit seizes control. I smile and say "okay, thank you", and walk away with my coffee.
I drank the coffee, because there was no way I was wasting that precious caffeine.
Alas, this incident then troubled me for the rest of the day, taking up an inordinate amount of brain space which I wish could have been used to properly take in the conversations I was having with my friend. But, I am reassured that, though expressed here in a slightly unconventional way, anorexia isn't completely in control up there.
“I long to accomplish a great and noble task; but it is my chief duty to accomplish small tasks as if they were great and noble.”
- Helen Keller