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This is where America and Britain show their great differences from each other - at the side of the road, in the pouring rain, immediately after an accident.

Of course you could argue that it was possibly my own fault for being the only person in the whole of LA to choose to walk. But the small green man that lights up at the traffic lights when it's the pedestrian's turn to walk was definitely on - and it's not as if it's illegal to use one's feet in this town.

I was nearly all the way across the road when a car hit the back of my calves with its bumper, scooped me up on to its bonnet and then, as it braked in panic, hurled me into the gutter, where I came to study the tarmac at close quarters.

By some extraordinary miracle I was quite all right. My shoes came off, my coat was ripped, but as I gingerly picked myself and the contents of my handbag up off the ground, all bones appeared to be in one piece.

In America, I now know because so many have advised me since, the phrase that should have been addressed to the equally shocked and shaking Beverly Hills housewife who had - to her credit - stopped was: "You'll be hearing from my attorney."

Instead I was British about it. Yes (and I feel rather sheepish as I admit it here), I apologised. Not at first. I swore at her first. But later, when she was so concerned and really terribly anxious, then I apologised. For some reason it seemed the civilised thing to do.

"You Brits, all you ever do is apologise," my doctor chuckled afterwards. "You are the only people in the world who will apologise to a lamppost when you bump into it.

"I've heard you: `I'm so sorry, but you appear to be standing on my foot'; `Sorry to bother you, but this food is completely cold'; `Sorry, but could I bother you for the bill'; `So sorry, my mistake, I should not have been lingering in the frozen goods section of the supermarket when your child decided to use the aisle as a trolley speedway and my posterior as a buffer." The doctor had quite a laugh at my expense.

But at least we British are not as money-grabbing as our cousins across the Atlantic. Before the doctor would even look at my throbbing head, he helpfully recommended a friend - who happened to be in the next-door office - who just happened to be a personal-injury lawyer.

Before I even got a Band Aid, I was given a handful of attorneys' business cards and a lecture on how to sue.

"You Brits, you need to be more assertive," my doctor continued.

Sorry.

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