How old were you when you first tried hummus?

I am some times a tad jealous of the range of foods my kids have chucked on the floor within the first few years of their lives. Maybe it was because I was quickly North-Londonised that hummus, pesto and olives are standard meal time fare in our house but I didn’t touch any of those things until I was in my mid-20s.

My move to London was a watershed in my life of “things I didn’t know but which normal people do”. The nearest revelation I had experienced prior to this was not knowing if the cafe I was in was a ‘go up and pay’ kind of place or an ‘ask for the bill’ one. All of this is pretty obvious these days but back in my early 20s it was not. Painfully not.

Take for instance trying to buy a sandwich in my first year of university. How can buying a sandwich possibly reign embarrassment over me and expose my total lack of social awareness? Here’s how. For 3 months I had been patronising a sandwich bar in Angel for cheap and large portioned sandwiches. I came from Bradford and a panini is as exotic as you get there. In fact, it is less the curry capital and more the panini capital given how prolific the toasted sandwich is up there. I am not sure the Italians had bacon and baked beans in mind when inventing the panini or that it should be used to describe said filling placed in the middle of a white roll and warmed in a microwave but knowing this might go some way to explain my actions.

In this Islington sandwich bar I tended to order a roasted vegetable, avocado focaccia. Which is all very good but for 3 months no one thought to explain to me that I was pronouncing focaccia incorrectly. In fact, I think the deli guy did once correct me but to my untrained ears it came back as an incomprehensible cough and I probably did the nod-and-smile of which I was so often on the receiving end. Mispronouncing ‘foccacia’ in a broad Yorkshire accent came out sounding more like ‘fuck-a-chee-ah’. To add insult to injury, I had also never seen an avocado before and could never remember what the things were called so I used to just ask for ‘the green stuff’.

It wasn’t just food that this was limited to. One of my first experiences of a London club was also an eye-opener. With some of the people in my halls of residence we went to the Zoo bar in Leicester Square. Now I thought this was amusing because it was a world away from the now defunct Zoo Bar in Halifax where the beer was cheap, the floor sticky and the average age of punters was 16. The Zoo Bar in Leicester Square was filled with tourists or bankers or worse, men pretending to be bankers. Someone passed around champagne at one point but being of the nature that bought drinks should be returned in the next round, I politely declined.

It was in the loo that my faux pas finally took place. You’d be lucky to find a toilet door, dry floor and a seat in most of the bars I’d drink in back home so to find a nice lady sat by the sink, politely handing me a towel to dry my hand was something of a surprise. I’d never come across a toilet attendant before in my life. I never knew such a job existed. And so being so wide-eyed and amazed by such a thing, the toilet attendant announced that it would be £1 to visit the loo. “Every time?” I asked. “Yes, every time” she said. I worried. I have the bladder the size of a peanut and had little more than my bus fare home left. I don’t think I have ever held on longer in one night than I did that night.

I feel I have come a long way since those days; I am no longer offered a fork and spoon in noodle bars for a start. However, it was pointed out to me yesterday that I have been pronouncing crudites incorrectly for my entire life.


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