Traveller's advisory -- Britain
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From: Peter Langston <psl>
Date: Sat, 1 Feb 97 01:31:24 -0800
Subject: Traveller's advisory -- Britain
Forwarded-by: "Matthew T. Kleinosky" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Forwarded-by: Malcolm Lawrie <email@example.com>
written by a Hasher
[Actually, it was written by Jo Miller <firstname.lastname@example.org> and can be found
on the web at http://www.geocities.com/Athens/5756/guide.html -psl]
Jo's Completely Factual and Not At All Juvenile Guide for
Americans Visiting Britain
Created 12/15/96. Last updated 12/16/96.
I keep getting mail from Cornell students who ask my advice on travelling
and researching in the UK -- apparently someone started a rumor that I knew
something about it. I finally decided to compile a little guidebook
containing my accumulated wisdom on the subject. I do fervently hope that
someone will put it to use.
The Brits have peculiar words for many things. Money is referred to as
"goolies" in slang, so you should for instance say "I'd love to come to the
pub but I haven't got any goolies." "Quid" is the modern word for what was
once called a "shilling" -- the equivalent of seventeen cents American.
Underpants are called "wellies" and friends are called "tossers." If you
are fond of someone, you should tell him he is a "great tosser" -- he will
be touched. The English are a notoriously demonstrative, tactile people,
and if you want to fit in you should hold hands with your acquaintances and
tossers when you walk down the street. Public nuzzling and licking are also
encouraged, but only between people of the same sex.
Ever since their Tory government wholeheartedly embraced full union with
Europe, the Brits have been attempting to adopt certain continental customs,
such as the large midday meal followed by a two- or three-hour siesta ,
which they call a "wank." As this is still a fairly new practice in Britain,
it is not uncommon for people to oversleep (alarm clocks, alas, do not work
there due to the magnetic pull from Greenwich). If you are late for supper,
simply apologize and explain that you were having a wank -- everyone will
understand and forgive you.
University archives and manuscript collections are still governed by quaint
medieval rules retained out of respect for tradition; hence patrons are
expected to bring to the reading rooms their own ink-pots and a small knife
for sharpening their pens. Observing these customs will signal the
librarians that you are "in the know" -- one of the inner circle, as it
were, for the rules are unwritten and not posted anywhere in the library.
Likewise, it is customary to kiss the librarian on both cheeks when he
brings a manuscript you've requested, a practice dating back to the reign
of Henry VI.
One of the most delighful ways to spend an afternoon in Oxford or Cambridge
is gliding gently down the river in one of their flat-bottomed boats, which
you propel using a long pole. This is known as "cottaging." Many of the
boats (called "yer-I-nals") are privately owned by the colleges, but there
are some places that rent them to the public by the hour. Just tell a
professor or policeman that you are interested in doing some cottaging and
would like to know where the public yerinals are. The poles must be treated
with vegetable oil to protect them from the water, so it's a good idea to
buy a can of Crisco and have it on you when you ask directions to the
yerinals. That way people will know you are an experienced cottager.
British cuisine enjoys a well deserved reputation as the most sublime
gastronomic pleasure available to man. Thanks to today's robust dollar, the
American traveller can easily afford to dine out several times a week (rest
assured that a British meal is worth interrupting your afternoon wank for).
Few foreigners are aware that there are several grades of meat in the UK.
The best cuts of meat, like the best bottles of gin, bear Her Majesty's
seal, called the British Stamp of Excellence (BSE). When you go to a fine
restaurant, tell your waiter you want BSE beef and won't settle for anything
less. If he balks at your request, custom dictates that you jerk your head
imperiously back and forth while rolling your eyes to show him who is boss.
Once the waiter realizes you are a person of discriminating taste, he may
offer to let you peruse the restaurant's list of exquisite British wines.
If he doesn't, you should order one anyway. The best wine grapes grow on
the steep, chalky hillsides of Yorkshire and East Anglia -- try an Ely '84
or Ripon '88 for a rare treat indeed. When the bill for your meal comes it
will show a suggested amount. Pay whatever you think is fair, unless you
plan to dine there again, in which case you should simply walk out; the
restaurant host will understand that he should run a tab for you.
Public taxis are subsidized by the Her Majesty's Government. A taxi ride in
London costs two pounds, no matter how far you travel. If a taxi driver
tries to overcharge you, you should yell "I think not, you charlatan!", then
grab the nearest bobby and have the driver arrested. It is rarely necessary
to take a taxi, though, since bus drivers are required to make detours at
patrons' requests. Just board any bus, pay your fare of thruppence (the
heavy gold-colored coins are "pence"), and state your destination clearly
to the driver, e.g.: "Please take me to the British Library." A driver will
frequently try to have a bit of harmless fun by pretending he doesn't go to
your requested destination. Ignore him, as he is only teasing the American
tourist (little does he know you're not so ignorant!).
Speaking of the British Library, you should know that it has recently moved
to a new location at Kew. Kew is a small fishing village in Wales. It can
be reached by taking the train to Cardiff; once there, ask any local about
the complimentary shuttle bus to Kew. (Don't forget that buses are called
"prams" in England, and trains are called "bumbershoots"--it's a little
confusing at first. Motorcycles are called "lorries" and the hospital, for
reasons unknown, is called the "off-license." It's also very important to
know that a "doctor" only means a PhD in England, not a physician. If you
want a physician, you must ask for an "MP" (which stands for "master
For those travelling on a shoestring budget, the London Tube may be the most
economical way to get about, especially if you are a woman. Chivalry is
alive and well in Britain, and ladies still travel for free on the Tube.
Simply take some tokens from the baskets at the base of the escalators or
on the platforms; you will find one near any of the state-sponsored Tube
musicians. Once on the platform, though, beware! Approaching trains
sometimes disurb the large Gappe bats that roost in the tunnels. The Gappes
were smuggled into London in the early 19th century by French saboteurs and
have proved impossible to exterminate. The announcement "Mind the Gappe!"
is a signal that you should grab your hair and look towards the ceiling.
Very few people have ever been killed by Gappes, though, and they are
considered only a minor drawback to an otherwise excellent means of
transportation. (If you have difficulty locating the Tube station, merely
follow the signs that say "Subway" and ask one of the full-time attendants
where you can catch the bumbershoot.)
One final note: for preferential treatment when you arrive at Heathrow
airport, announce that you are a member of Shin Fane (an international
Jewish peace organization -- the "shin" stands for "shalom"). As savvy
travellers know, this little white lie will assure you priority treatment
as you make your way through customs; otherwise you could waste all day in
line. You might, in fact, want to ask a customs agent to put a Shin Fane
stamp in your passport, as it will expedite things on your return trip.
Bollocks to your mum! ("farewell and good health to your family")
With thanks to Lorraine Berry and Andrew McLaughlin for their suggestions.
Copyright (c) 1996, 1997 Jo Miller <email@example.com>
And if you want to track down UK hashes try the clickable image map on:
© 1997 Peter Langston