When I came to Utah from Oxford, the world switched upside down. I learned it’s the small, seemingly irrelevant details that catch us out.
Arriving safely in my Orem apartment, the most amazing thing wasn’t the fridge and freezer the size of an average English terraced house, nor the amazing high ceilings and air-conditioning, but a small and tricky detail.
I wondered whether the maintenance people had wired up the light switches incorrectly.
To turn on any light, one had to turn it to the “off” position of the U.K. Puzzling. I came to discover that it’s these small details that remind us of our contingent place in the world.
Big, important things — like driving on the left hand side of the road — are easier to remember, though exactly how people use roundabouts in Provo is still a bit of a puzzle. In the U.K., the person approaching a roundabout should stop, and the person in the circle has the right-of-way. That appears to be the case here only sometimes.
There are, of course, some vocabulary differences: Your fender (of a vehicle) is our wing; your truck is our large lorry; your trunk is our boot.
And for heaven’s sake, don’t use the word “pants” to tell an English person if you’re “Zooming” without trousers or jeans. Some small differences have a big impact.
I remember puzzling some years ago when hearing Elder Jeffrey Holland nudge people in a general conference address to give time and attention to coming to church in their Sunday best and in good time. My experience of Orem’s Hillcrest 6th Ward of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been just perfect; the reverence at the Sacrament and its distribution is inspiring.
But elsewhere I have noticed that the time difference between the U.K. and Utah isn’t seven hours, but more like 7½ hours. It’s easy to see how that happens — you have not just bigger families, more demands and more complex lives (as so many people juggle several jobs) but also a level of commitment and attention to others that involves giving your time generously and freely. Ultimately, that contrasts starkly with an overly clock-watching British culture.
Other small things have caused me puzzlement and amusement, such as a savory hot dish accompanied by a bread roll and sweet jam. I like it, but it was unexpected! I never did have green Jell-O with warm food (with or without carrots), and that seems to be something that causes big responses.
One really big difference is that Utah seems to have a culture of praise and enthusiasm, especially among younger people, such as the students at BYU and the amazing young men at the men’s group at church. Please never lose that. You may get teased as being overly positive or even naïve, but what’s the alternative to a language of overflowing praise and kind appreciation? What’s the alternative to being positive? Cynicism and disappointment.
Similarly, the experience of the razzamatazz of an American football match (game?) contrasts starkly with my week-by-week experience of English football. In American football, it matters that you win, and that you support your team with enthusiasm, win or lose.
It’s these and other many small, seemingly insignificant details that catch us out, but also that lead us on. “By small and simple things are great things brought to pass” (Alma 37:6).
I might have missed the green Jell-O, but I did not shy away from the attentive love, practical kindness and positivity that was lavished on me during my stay. I’m going to take that home to give others as the real souvenir of my visit.
The Rev. Andrew Teal was a visiting scholar and affiliate faculty at the Maxwell Institute at BYU last fall. He is a chaplain fellow, and lecturer in theology at Pembroke College in the University of Oxford, England, and a priest of the Church of England.