I would ordinarily tune anybody out half-way through such a tirade but as Lawrence was saying this stuff, early morning London was slogging through the melting snow just on the other side of my window–a living diorama of Lawrence’s universal hierarchy.  You could tell from a block away who was Fleet Street and who was Whitechapel and who just didn’t matter at all to anyone.  The people in nicer clothes did get faster service at the newsstands and they were never around to hold the door for the great unwashed at the North Sea Fish Bar.  They were at the Trattoria Verdi on Southampton Road instead, maybe nodding distantly at the doorman.

The immigrants–Pakistanis, Bengalis, East Indians, Guyanese, Punjabis, Bahamanians, Bermudans, Malaysians, Indonesians, Thais, Egyptians, Lebanese–deferred to the natives at every turn, surrendering taxis and waiting quietly while the fairer-skinned got tended to ahead of them.

Even some of the skinheads got deferential treatment on the sidewalks, since some of them had leather pouches and red enamel badges that said “Royal Mail.”  Everyone stepped aside to let the Royal Mail pass, even if its agent had a tattooed head.

In just about every regard, the natives displayed tendencies opposite those of the immigrants.  The natives seemed to me less civilized, less restrained, less decorous and conscientious.  It first came to my attention on the train from Gatwick Airport to Victoria Station, first day in London.

The porter had found out–despite my efforts to stay anonymous–that I was an American.  He stopped me in the passageway, backing up foot-traffic for a car-and-a-half.  I felt like I was being interrogated by the State Police.

“Well, what do you think of us English?  We’re a bit more civilized, eh?”

His shirt–he wasn’t wearing the official blue and red BritRail tunic–was filthy and halfway tucked in.  It looked like he hadn’t shaved in a few days and his hair was greasy and unkempt.  He wiped his nose with the back of his hand and he had newspaper pages shoved into his shoes to keep out the cold.  He wanted to hear me say “Oh, goodness gracious yes, you’re infinitely more civilized.”  It took me several seconds to realize that he was serious.

I don’t remember exactly how I answered his question.  It was just something to get him to shut up and let me past him.

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