Saturday, May 03, 2008

In London an Undershirt is not Required

Covent Gardens, London
April 27, 2008

Work sent me to London for nine days in April. Despite the fact we speak the same language, England and the United States are quite different.

1. In England, they don't wear undershirts. It is quite uncool to wear a white t-shirt under a button down, collared shirt. I wear one all the time, primarily because I don't think many appreciate seeing my chest hair or the sweat under my arms. In England, apparently these items show off virility. I can imagine the pheromones released on a hot summer day, when a virile man emerges from the underground and is dripping with sweat. And supposedly they are the civilized ones?

2. A cigarette is called a fag. This one I find particularly humorous. But perhaps more troubling is the fact they call erasers rubbers. I told everyone not to ask loudly for one in an American store.

3. There's no such thing as a shower curtain. Puzzling, but on my few occasions to London this is a common trait. The shower is really a nozzle that is useless unless it occupies one hand. More strangely, the only water barrier is a small, glass divider that only progresses less than half way down the outside of the tub. Water inevitably splashes all over the floor.

4. You are not fired in London. You are sacked.

5. You order "to take away," not "to go." I found it quite annoying that in any coffee shop, deli or even McDonald's, they ask you if you are eating in or "taking away," and they are incessant on the answer. Then I learned that London has an extra tax if you eat your food in an establishment, versus ordering it to go.

6. The overhead compartments in airplanes are called lockers.

7. Man flu. England is much less PC than the U.S. It's almost accepted that men can't handle pain as well as women. A co-worker of mine came down with a bout of the "man flu" while I was there, which is basically the flu, but apparently it's supposed to inspire more empathy because it's flu afflicting a man.

8. In the U.S., the sense of a nation is far more pronounced. OK, here's where I throw in my comparative political lesson. I was quite surprised that in London, there is more of a connection to England than the United Kingdom. After quite an argument with another colleague, I admitted that England is actually a country, as is Wales and Scotland. In London, they cheer for the English soccer team. I found the regional affiliations to be far more pronounced than in the U.S. When I was in central Europe in December, I did not see many German flags (many Bavarian ones, but no German).

This same barometer is applied to the U.K. I saw far more English flags than U.K. flags. Now this could be because I was in town during the week of St. George's day, but I think there is something more to it. Unlike my previous trips to London, this time I stayed away from the tourist hotspots and remained in the neighborhoods, so I think this observation carries more meaning.

9. One sunny day a week is just fine. In London, they must have found a cure for seasonal affective disorder. It was sunny for exactly one day. Luckily it was a Saturday, so I could enjoy it by taking the train to Brighton on the coast. The weather in London, like the local food, is horrible. Enough said.

My favorite place in London is officially the Punch & Judy pub in Covent Gardens. The pub isn't much-- it reminds me of a Boston college bar (I could even smell vomit inside). But the view is amazing.

Punch & Judy balcony
Gardens, London

April 27, 2008

I stayed in a "flat" rented by my company in Connaught Village near Marble Arch. There was a pub right across the street called the Duke of Kendall pub. Every Sunday, a wonderful old woman comes to the pub to play the piano, with wise gentlemen surrounding him to create a sing along. I have no idea what they sang, but the site mesmerized me. I took the picture below from the elevator lobby down the hall from the flat on my final day in London. Note it's raining.

Duke of Kendall Pub
Connaught Village, London
April 29, 2008


Park Street Rambler said...

This lesson in cultural anthropology is hysterical! Well played.

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