Feb 3, 2013 13:30 - sf271 | 1,205 views
You’ve decided to finally chase the dream. See the birthplace of Shakespeare, Harry Potter, and the Beatles, visit our rolling green hills, and have tea with the Queen. So what do you need to know? Firstly, leave all of your preconceptions behind: our rolling green hills are underwater, we only have half of the Beatles left, Potter has grown up, and the Queen won’t want to meet you.
If you aren’t put off by that, and you still fancy visiting, then here are a few pointers to guide you through a country built upon foundations of beautifully misleading stereotypes, and a set of social-rules so strict that no one knows what they are.
Bring an animal. We love animals. We love animals more than ANYTHING (except for tea, talking about the weather, open bars, and queuing). A dog or a horse would be preferable, but a cat will suffice. It may cost you more in terms of flying, quarantine, and finding places that will accept animals, but you will win our hearts within SECONDS. Let the animal do the speaking, and you will have friends aplenty.
Occasionally we remove our tiaras and billowing capes, and don the average British uniform: a waterproof coat, a t-shirt, shorts, a scarf and gloves, and boots.
We have one season: rainy, with a chance of snow or sun, possible gales, and temperatures ranging between -6˚ and 26˚. It’s not unusual to wake up bathed in sun and go to sleep with 4 inches of snow, so it’s a good idea to download an app that will give you hourly weather updates. Bring a selection of outfits, regardless of when you visit: do not assume that just because you visit us in August that you won’t need Wellington boots.
Note: if you want to really fit in, look at the weather, and dress in the most ridiculous way possible. Flip-flops in the snow are fine, as long as you are wearing a jumper. If the sun is out, flesh must be bared, regardless of looming rain clouds or Arctic temperatures.
Some knowledge of the weather is necessary: it’s our favourite conversation topic, and you will be asked about it several times a day.
We also love to moan, complain, and grumble, but in true stiff-upper-lip fashion, this should always be done in your head, on Twitter, or on a blog. If you’re annoyed by something, DO NOT confront the situation. People will stare, and you will be singled out as the-person-who-doesn’t-know-the-secret-rules. React as passive-aggressively as possible: mutter something under your breath and exhale loudly.
Brush up on your manners. Men are no longer required to lay their coats over puddles for women to walk over, but should you forget your pleases, thank-yous and pardon mes, you will be ostracized quicker than Piers Morgan. Hold the door for the person behind you (and most likely the next 20 people behind them), but do so with a smile (forced is fine).
However, British etiquette is very long-winded and even we aren’t too sure of the correct protocol for many situations (safe bet: do what everyone else does, don’t complain, and don’t say what you’re really thinking), so here is a quick run through of THE MOST IMPORTANT THINGS you need to know: do not queue jump; do not talk loudly on public transport; do not stop in the middle of a pavement; do not walk slowly (if you must, at least walk to one side); do not start conversations with strangers; do not say how you’re really feeling; always offer tea.
We excel in saying what we don’t mean, being rather indirect, and coating everything in thick layers of sarcasm (once you’ve spent some time in Britain, the word “great” will never sound genuine again). Practice makes perfect, but here are a few examples to (hopefully) get you on track with the (real) English language:
“That’s not bad” translates to “That’s good.”
“That’s quite good” translates to “That is terrible.”
“With all due respect” translates to “I have no respect for you at all, shut up you idiot.”
If you’re coming from a non-English speaking country, it’s advisable to bring translation aids, as we are truly embarrassing when it comes to other languages. Most people can probably manage ‘hello’ and ‘do you speak English’. Sorry.
If you’re coming from America, learn to recognize sarcasm. You may think you understand what we’re saying, but you probably don’t. If it sounds like a sentence should have exclamation marks at the end, it’s most likely sarcastic. An example:
“PLEASE continue telling this story, it’s REALLY fascinating and I LOVE the sound of your voice!!” translates to “Everyone in a 20-mile radius wants to hurt you.”
Understanding our use of qualifiers is vital. We’re never too sure whether to fully support something or not, so slipping a qualifier in is a lovely way of sort of speaking our mind, while remaining excruciatingly neutral. An example:
“Hmm, Boris Johnson isn’t really that funny” translates to “Boris Johnson is an embarrassing fool who should be kept away from people.”
If you don’t want people to think you’re incredibly rude, apologize for everything. When people bump into you, apologize when you knock paper off a table, apologize; when you don’t really know what’s going on, apologize.
The British public transport system peaked in the age of horse-drawn carriages, and since then it has gotten less reliable, more expensive, less environmentally-friendly, and you have to sit with strangers.
There are 4 main ways to get around Britain: car, train, bus, or bicycle. Petrol is inhumanly expensive and British roads are terrible (we have this thing called concrete, but we don’t use it, so roads are either full of craters or are dirt tracks). Don’t drive.
So, the train! Much more environmentally friendly, yes! But also guaranteed to be delayed for any/all of the following reasons: cows on train-tracks, missing drivers, rain, snow, sun, wind, leaves on train-tracks, and occasionally just because they fancy it.
I’m going to miss the bus out for three reasons: they always smell, they are driven by madmen, and you have to sit very closely to strangers.
Cycle! Yes – keeps you fit, very environmentally friendly, and a lovely way to explore our cities and countryside. One drawback: all British car drivers HATE CYCLISTS WITH A BURNING PASSION. You will get run off the road, knocked off your bike, sworn at, and overtaken with millimeters to spare.
My advice is to invest in a horse.
If you do decide to experience British public transport, there are 5 things you MUST NOT DO:
- Sit next to a stranger when there are other available seats
- Sit next to a stranger even when there are no other available seats
- Make eye contact with ANYONE
- Speak/sing/hum/breathe loudly/make any noise
- Attempt to engage in any vaguely human behaviour.
Walking is not on this list because walking in Britain is akin to an extreme sport, and should only be undertaken by those who can equal minimum speeds of 30mph. Wanderers should stick to the moors, dales, and lakes.
Don’t Forget Your Camera
We live in a beautiful, historic, cultural, and fascinating country (hence the reason for your visit), and a camera really is a necessity to capture –
NO. You need a camera for everything else in this wonderful country. We have a sub-species of human that resides in Central London, and go by the name of The Politicians. When captured in his natural environment, he can be spotted doing some BRILLIANT things – and the best part? You can witness their ridiculous behavioral patterns, photograph it, and then leave, without having to suffer the insanity of their decisions. Boris Johnson ( the Mayor of London – he truly is the Pride of Britain), Nick Clegg and David Cameron should be followed with a camera, it will pay off (and out).
WOMEN: BRITISH MEN ARE NOT LIKE WHAT YOU THINK THEY ARE.
We do not have an abundance of Prince Harrys, Hugh Grants, or Eddie Redmaynes. If we did, we would build a very high wall around the country and let no one else in. However, we do have a fair few of these and these. Feel free to take as many as you’d like. Please.
Once you get over that slight disappointment (don’t worry, we’ve all gone through it), you’ll realize we are a (mainly) friendly bunch, and will always be happy to take you to the local pub, and let you buy us drinks. You’ll have a blast.
You’ll come for the rolling green hills, but you’ll stay for our charm, delightful wit, and inability to be (overtly) rude (and because the planes at Heathrow are always delayed).
P.S – don’t touch The Sun. You have been warned.
Picture credit: http://politicalwrestling.files.wordpress.com/2012/08/boris-johnson.jpg