Ugly Americans

Everyone knows that in order to be a true high school nerd, you must either belong to the band or the chorus. Since I had no talent, I joined the chorus.

My best friend Sarah, who was not a nerd, joined the chorus, too, but not out of social desperation. She had, as it happened, a beautiful singing voice. And she also wanted to go on the chorus trip to England our junior year.

England was not at all what we’d expected. We thought it would be like America, only with more tweed and cool accents. Instead, we discovered that England was this whole separate country, with different weather and food and an entirely different sense of humor.

The vicar at the Anglican church where we were supposed to sing was a lovely, older man who looked like John Cleese and acted like the murderer in every BBC mystery we’d seen on PBS. He was very glad to have us there. He was delighted that we’d be singing. And oh, yes, if we felt we wanted to come up to the front for Communion during the service — or a blessing, if Communion wasn’t our thing — we should feel free.

Communion wasn’t either of our things. Sarah was Jewish; I was agnostic. However, we both liked the idea of being blessed by an English vicar, so we decided to go up. As it turned out, we would have felt funny staying in the pew. Everyone went up, including the people who cut CCD to smoke cigarettes at Friendly’s.

We got in line with everyone else and began the slow shuffle to the front of the church. As the first batch of communicants dropped to their knees, Sarah clutched my arm in terror.

“I can’t kneel,” she whispered.

“What?”

“I can’t kneel,” she hissed. “I’m a Jew. We don’t kneel. It’s a rule. No golden calves, no kneeling.”

“Well, look. Don’t worry. I won’t kneel either.”

“You won’t?”

“Nah. Who cares? I’m not Christian.”

“Okay. You promise?”

“Promise. We’ll look weird together.”

Oh boy, did we look weird. Everyone else peered up at us curiously from their position on the floor, as Sarah and I stood awkwardly in front of the vicar. The vicar peered at us benignly, just a little puzzled, and held out the Host for us to take.

“Oh, no thanks!” Sarah squeaked. “No body of Christ for me! I’m a vegetarian!”

The vicar stopped smiling.

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