Due to the imminent arrival of the Olympics, and with it, a gazillion visitors, Trivial Pursuits would like to offer all holidaymakers to the UK, the only freebie they are likely to receive here:
The Essential Guide to being a Good Tourist – A Step by Step Manual of How to Get By with Londoners
Sightseeing: As a group – walk in a single line
Scrummages are reserved for a British sport called Rugby. They are not welcome outside Twickenham. Walking en mass, interlocked, we Brits find hostile. You may see it as a ‘group of friends’ or ‘extended family’ but we see it as: AN ARMY OF TOURISTS. More often than not you are leaderless too, which only ups the ante in terms of ‘threat level’ in our minds. Unpredictable, ‘without plan’ and erratic, you make us feel nervous and we don’t like it. You could go anywhere, and do – EVERYWHERE. We’ve no idea how to get by, get around, get over.
So we try to go through.
If you’re coming here to see The English in their natural habitat, acting in a normal way, do not walk around in large groups. For a briefcase brandishing businessman, diving headfirst into a hoard of backpacks, macs and cameras, with little regard for his own safety – let alone that of his shoes – is NOT normal.
Sightseeing: On your own – keep walking
If you were driving on a motorway you wouldn’t jerk to a halt for no reason. The same rationale applies to strolling our streets. If you wish to slow down, best to signal this first. Think back to the Air Steward’s safety display aboard your Boeing 747, for inspiration.
Failure to adopt such a signalling system is a violation of Health & Safety. Health & Safety is a list of rules we abide by in this country like The Law. Like The Law, we have no idea where this list is or indeed what’s even on it. But we talk about it like we do and can quote it at random if it serves our purpose. Stopping dead in your tracks is what most Londoners would consider a violation of Health & Safety. To do so, is to thwack your backpack into the person behind. Since the person behind will invariably be English, it is likely we’ll consider this an act of war and will respond accordingly – with an angry expletive or an ‘accidental’ shove. We may mutter an apology, but we’re not sorry and never have been. We do it to signal a ceasefire and because, as polite British people, that’s what tourists expect of us.
Leave luggage at home
There’s a reason you can’t take large suitcases on flights as hand luggage. The complicated logic behind this also applies to confined places in our very city – like restaurants, museums and, if I had my way, Oxford St. If in doubt, think native. An Englishman’s wheelie bin is chained to his house.
How to ask for Directions
Don’t. We do not like being approached by strangers on the street. In fact, we do not like being approached, period. I wish there was somewhere this could be published and just accepted about us. But there isn’t. Unless such a time as is socially or absolutely necessary, leave us alone.
In the case of ‘absolutely necessary’:
- Do not approach from behind. Tapping us on the shoulder is akin to attack.
- If we are talking into a suspicious black object, it means we are on the telephone. Imagine we’re wearing a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign and use your initiative.
- Remember that ear plugs generally block out sound – we must be allowed time to remove them first.
- Someone rushing down a street is not a taxi – you can’t just hail them down. Generally it indicates we are trying to get somewhere in a short period of time. There is an imaginary electric fence surrounding us when we are ‘of this state’. Such fences can be found in the countryside, entrapping things like raging bulls. Jerking us to a halt ‘mid-rush’ is like administering an electric shock to a raging bull. Just don’t do it to us.
- Smile if you want our assistance. This reassures our inner cave’s man you are ‘friend’ not ‘foe’. We are also less likely to grimace in your face and make a panicked swoop for our wallets.
- Help us, help you – form structured sentences. There is no use opening your sheeted A-Z, pointing randomly on top of it and simply saying: ‘Harrods?’ A typical English response to that type question would be: ‘No. London’.
Arguably we Brits are not ones to lecture on adventurous taste buds – there’s a reason you can find fish and chips in Shanghai. Nonetheless, we do have some rather cracking “other” dishes. Roast Beef, Lancashire Hotpot and Barratt’s Sherbet Fountains are amongst the ones we are most proud of – none of which, incidentally, can be found in McDonald’s.
If your handbag is a suitcase, an army backpack or a caravan:
* Take a taxi.
If your handbag is an actual handbag:
* Take the tube, pay the £4, and deal with it.
* Do not try to work out Boris Bikes
* Never take a Routemaster – there’s no room for you there. By all means take photos and yes, point and grin and the rest of it. But the truth is they’re not red on the inside and that’s the end of it.
For Longer Journeys
* Those open top, dazzly fun-coloured ‘TOURIST BUSES’ are the ticket. I believe they even hold vaults for your worldly-good-bulging-wheelie bins too.
If you think you’ll have trouble following any of the above, it’s probably best to stay at home in the long run. Tune into the Olympics via a television set – and we’ll send you the Eastenders theme tune for ambience.
by Beenie Langley