Oi mate it’s me, a big time American dumbass wot’s spent the week in London, and, as befitting my pedantic cultural heritage, in a short time frame I have the entire city all figured out. Here’s a few lessons I picked up that may come in handy for you some day, and could just save your life.
London is basically hilarious New York. Or an amalgamation of New York and Boston, in that everything is huge and sprawling and ostentatious, but also riddled with history and obnoxious. I suppose the reverse is actually true since London is obviously a lot older than both, but I wouldn’t be an ugly American if I didn’t disregard history and display a complete lack of geographical awareness at every opportunity. Anyway, the effect is like seeing a guy in an astronaut’s helmet carrying a pile of firewood into a cave.
For the most part it’s the exact same shit we have over here, but juuuust slightly off. Like if you described what a big American city was like to someone who wasn’t fully paying attention at the meeting and they jotted down most of the important stuff, but sort of free-handed the finishing touches based off of a soccer broadcast they watched once and a kid’s fairy tale book about magical fairy perverts.
It simultaneously seems like it was designed by a mischievous little boy and a propriety-conscious old duke. The first part because every name of every street or neighborhood or tube stop there can be read as a scatological euphemism – Hog’s Cock Inn, Storksnatch Fannyshire, Poo Poo Bum Bumditch, and so on – and secondly, because almost everywhere I went I thought Mr. Carson from Downton Abby was going to send me back to the servants’ quarters for not having my cravat tied properly.
Speaking of style, there are no average looking people in London. As far as I can tell, there are two molds they have for the blokes, either impeccably tailored David Beckham or Shrek puking outside the pub, and nothing in between, which is a nice change of pace from what we have around here in Boston which is just Shrek in Sam Adams-stained pleated khakis. The former class made me a little self conscious about the way I dress for the first time in my life to be honest. That could be because I was tramping around the lobbies of some centuries-old hotels in a Vince Wilfork jersey muttering about how bullshit it was that there’s no Dunkies around. The women are also either universally gorgeous, or look like they used to be gorgeous, but either way appear capable of taking you out at the knees with a truncheon if you say something cheeky.
Despite the lack of American-based fast food coffee chains, (although the Starbucks are of course everywhere), what they do have a steady supply of is pubs, as you may have heard, the English being a notoriously suds-sodded lot. To me the most jarring thing about drinking in London – and I went to some amazing cocktail bars, posh hotel lounges, hipster jerkoff spots, and workaday piss-ups – is how rare it is to be able to sit at the actual bar. Everyone sits at tables here as there are no bar stools. And, for a big, fast-paced city, the staff all seem to really take their sweet time getting you your drink. Maybe living in a place that measures its history in thousands of years as opposed to hundreds has an effect on your ability to understand how pressing it is that I get my beer/coffee right now? Maybe they just don’t like Americans?
That last part isn’t true actually. Everyone I met was almost universally excited to be meeting an American, or else really very good at hiding it if they weren’t. That’s particularly true of someone with a Boston accent, which I had to trot out about a dozen different times for people who’ve seen Good Will Hunting and The Town and assumed I must have been involved in the production of those films somehow based on my dropped r’s (and movie star good looks). I spent a couple of nights trying to teach some friends how to talk like a Masshole – “You think you’re better than me? Go fuck yourself. Say hi to your mother for me.” – and trying my hand at their delightfully endearing accent. Although there are obviously a lot of different kinds of British accents, the one thing that stretched across every single conversation I had was the use of the phrase “Alright.” Every interaction both began and ended with a variation of it. Walking past someone on the street and happen to catch their eye? “Alright.” Meeting someone for the first time? “Alright.” Leaving? “Alright.” Stabbing someone to death in a gutter? “Alright.” It’s like the English version of “Aloha.”
The United States and Great Britain are two countries separated by a common language as they say. Although it’s a cliché, it’s true as gimbly gopper, crack right, tulliver. Not only for the type of Paul McCartney-on-nitrous-ism we might normally joke about around here, but just simple, functional signs everywhere. Probably the most confusing among them for me was “disabled toilet”, which you see everywhere. Are all the toilets in this city out of order or what? “To let” signs all over the place are confusing as well. So not only are all the toilets not working, the signs advertising where they are are all missing the same letter?
I probably just have nitrous on the mind because I’ve never been offered it so many times in my life. “Balloon, mate? Balloon?” That was most common in Shoreditch, which is “the London Williamsburg” as literally every single person who’s ever jerked off to an American Apparel ad will tell you as soon as you mention it. Actually Dalston is the Bushwick now, I guess? It’s hard to keep track of this sort of thing, especially when you don’t care. But, yes, the streets of both are littered with little nitrous things, and the bars here, although probably cool at some point, are all overflowing with bridge and tunnelers who are wasted out of their minds and waiting in lines outside of bars with doormen. I guess in that respect it’s exactly like an American city. It would be great if it weren’t for all the damn people getting in the way.