Common Sense: Being a Tourist in the UK

25 Jan

 Matt Webb

If you’re a regular reader of this blog (ie. you are one of the columnists or you are the partner/spouse of one of the columnists) you might have read my “common sense” rant about proper public transport etiquette. If you didn’t read it and can’t be bothered to click on that link I’ve helpfully provided then you can A. go to hell and B. take my word for it that is was pure gold.

So confident am I in the quality of my common sense advice that I’ve decided to make a second column dedicated to the proper way to conduct yourself as a tourist in the UK. I promise it’s not racist (much.)

1. Don’t speak English

As a cultured man of the world, I’ve been around a bit. My passport has seen me through customs control in some very exotic countries. France, even. With all my globetrotting, you’d think I’d be able to at least muddle my way through a few languages. Ask directions, demand some “real English food”, that kind of thing. But I can’t. The best I’ve ever mustered was a tentative, “Pizza, per favore.”

And do you know why this is? Because I’ve been failed by the education system in this country? Partly. But mostly because that’s just the way tourism is done, damn it!

Here’s the thing. In other countries they are happy when tourists make an effort to learn some of the language and rattle off a few token phrases. Then, once they’ve watched you struggle for long enough they’ll jump in with perfect English and say “So, you’re looking for the bus station, is that what you’re saying?”

In Britain, a tourist speaking English triggers off our inferiority complex. “Ooh, la de da!” we cry. “Look at you, Mr Fancy Frenchman, with your brain capable of holding more than one language at a time! Perhaps you’d like to take my job? Perhaps you’d like to sleep with my wife and father my children? Perhaps you’d like to take over the country and make us all wear stripy jumpers and berets? Is that what you want, with your damn language skills??”

Of course, this is not how it goes at all; I just made that up…

But seriously, stop speaking English! It will force us to start making an effort. How many people in this country wish they could speak another language? Most of us. “Do you know what?” we say, “I really wish I could speak Italian. But, you know…fuck it.” Or we’ll look up local evening classes and say, “Oh no! Damn, the latest course of Italian for Beginners started last month and the next course doesn’t start till November, and I have plans then…Shame.”

There are always excuses. If tourists stop speaking English and just refuse to spend their money anywhere that they can’t get service in their own language, we will all be FORCED to learn! The world would be a happier and more harmonious place.

I was in Bruges recently. I went on a canal boat tour where the guide conducted the tour in Dutch, French, Spanish and English. I don’t doubt he could have managed a handful of other languages too, without even a pause for thought. I will not rest until tourists coming to Britain can receive the same level of service! So long as I don’t have to learn anything new myself, that is…

  1. There’s nothing good at Piccadilly Circus or Leicester Square

Ok, so this one is pretty specific to London, but I’m sure there are places in any centres of tourism like this. Places where the locals watch the excited tourists and ask themselves “what do they see in this place?”

I love living in London. There’s always something happening. There’s always something to do. Whatever you wish to do in life, you can pretty much be sure that you’ll be able to do it in London. (Unless, you know, you’re into criminal things. Killing babies and such like. Let me make this clear, killing babies in London is NOT ok.)

There is NOTHING to do in Piccadilly Circus. There is NOTHING to do in Leicester Square.

And yet, whenever I go these places are always boiling cauldrons of tourists, chatting excitedly and taking photographs of…stuff. What stuff? The statue of Eros? That is now partially hidden behind giant barriers covered in advertising. A wonderful photo opportunity for people who like posters that advertise TGI Friday’s. In Piccadilly Circus there is a Ripley’s Believe it or Not. I can assure you now, tourists: wherever you have travelled from, you are almost guaranteed to be no further than 15 miles from your nearest Ripley’s Believe it or Not.

 I’ll tell you what there is to see in Leicester Square: M&M World. M&M WORLD?!?! What fresh hell is this? It is a huge shop – HUGE – dedicated to selling M&M merchandise. I’m telling you – London has more to offer than this (but not baby killing.)

More to follow…

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