I needed to visit the local hospital for a blood test. I arrived early but a few dozen people had arrived even earlier than me and the place was already packed. All the seats were taken up and we were queuing up down the corridor, all holding our little pieces of paper with numbers on them from the number dispenser.
I ended up getting into a conversation with 3 other gents who were standing around me. There was plenty of can-you-believe-its and moaning and grumbling about the state of the world and the hospital in particular. I enjoy these impromptu exchanges because you often get to see the world through lenses rather different to those you're used to.
And so the anecdotes about what somebody's mate the copper goes through, or the state of the NHS and the daft things the government has done, or the crazy 'elf and safety that firemen have to deal with, or some or other crowd of workers are getting shafted with their pensions, or how hospitals are too noisy these days and nurses keep switching on the lights at crazy hours "cause they say they got to see what they're doin' ain't they" and so and and so on.
Amidst the grumbles and the banter, one fellow ends a soliloquay with something along the lines of "and you know, it's our fault really, because all this 'appens but we let it 'appen, and none of us ever says nuthin' about it".
True, true, they nod, and then one dude says "I'll tell you one thing about us English though. Nobody else would be standing here crackin' jokes about it like this" and some chuckles and "yeah", and then the dude remembers that although I'm not enough of an outsider to not fit into the conversation, my contributions have not been in an accent which could remotely be described as 'English'.
"Sorry mate", says he awkwardly, "I didn't mean to cause offense by saying that, I, uh"...
"Not at all", says I, "us South Africans are the same, if anything I think we're a bit worse"
"Well, our humour's probably a bit darker than yours"
"Really, why, what would you be joking about here?"
"Well, we'd be joking about the same sorts of things, but we'd also start cracking jokes about people dying in their seats while waiting..."
"Oh." ... the dreaded "oh" - the one you get when you realise that the locals have a line, and what you've just said has put you firmly on the wrong side of it.
Slightly awkward silence before the conversation moved on. I decided not to continue with my planned riff about the lady in the corner probably having pegged it 3 days ago and nobody noticing until the smell got iffy, but we should check what her number is in case it's earlier than ours and we can toss a coin to see who gets it.
So anyway. Things I have learned today: it costs a doctor 70 quid to get the hospital property management company to get a picture hung in their office, firemen have to take a fire engine out of service and call in contractors if a light bulb blows, policemen have to buy their own batteries for their walky talkies, and get into trouble and have to fill out half a day's paperwork if they take out their truncheons, you never want to go to the hospital across the river from Big Ben because that bell is bloody loud when it rings at night, and there's no damned point breaking your neck to get to the hospital early for a blood test because there's only one person on the early shift and the pace won't pick up until the rest of the staff have arrived, anyway.
Oh, and in the UK: people dying in queues is not funny.