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Sunday, August 5, 2012

A Collection of Londonisms

Between the jumping and the dressage team and individual medal finals, the next few days are going to be some of the busiest yet for us journalists in Greenwich Park. Before medal madness sets in, I thought I'd take a few moments of relatively quiet time to share some random observations gleaned from my time in London thus far.
A patriotic chap in the Olympic cross-country warm-up area.
Brits love their country. Americans like to think of themselves as the most fiercely patriotic, but the Brits could give us a run for our money. Everywhere I go, I see Union Jacks--hung from windows, draped over shoulders, on hats, on shirts, on dogs, painted on faces and fingernails. A woman on the Docklands Light Railway train en route to the Olympic stadium today was resplendent in a British-flag jacket and skin-tight white leggings covered with the Union Jack pattern.

Brits are polite. A pleasant greeting and liberal use of "please" and "thank you" score points. One day in the equestrian press workroom, an American journalist (not me!) demanded (not asked) that an announcement be repeated. I later overheard the press officer complaining about the "stroppy American."

The British also are famous for being generally orderly and rules-abiding--think queuing and things of that sort. They wait patiently until passengers have exited a train before embarking. Not all cultures do this, which makes for some culture clashes at the stations filled with Olympics-goers. I was standing behind an elderly British couple trying to disembark a train today. When people on the platform pushed past them to get on, the wife sniffed, "Manners...nonexistent."

It rains every day, usually around midday, even if the morning and afternoon are lovely and sunny. And by "rain" I mean "torrential downpour," usually accompanied by a frightful wind that will ensure that no umbrella or raincoat will keep you totally dry. It also frequently rains during the night.
Cross-country day was 68 degrees F - perfect for sunbathing in London!
When Londoners describe the weather as "hot," they mean "over 70 degrees F."

Streets and public spaces are clean. Perhaps some of it is Olympic put-your-best-foot-forward zeal, but seriously, I've seen no graffiti. No dog poop. No litter. Despite the fact that the Greenwich Tavern, situated just outside the venue gates, is mobbed with people every afternoon (especially the Dutch, clad as always in orange) who spill into the street with their pints and their clouds of cigarette smoke, I have yet to see broken glass or a butt on the ground. This morning I ventured through the Greenwich Foot Tunnel, a 1,217-foot-long pedestrian tunnel beneath the Thames that connects Greenwich to Canary Wharf. The entire tunnel is lined with white glazed tiles, with nary a mark on them.

The British may be reserved and stiff-upper-lip and all that, but get a few pints into them and that changes. They are just as sappy and sentimental about their horses as we are. They also feel that way about the royal family. As one equestrian official put it, "We'll complain about the monarchy and the expense, but we'll defend them until the last breath in our bodies."
I didn't frequent this establishment until I learned you can get pie without the eels. 
Potato chips are crisps, and they're all advertised as being made with "British potatoes" (as opposed to Irish potatoes?). Mash is mashed potatoes. Liquor is a gravy made with minced parsley (no booze) traditionally spooned over pie (minced-beef pot pie; no, I didn't go for the equally traditional version containing eels). French fries are chips. Bangers are sausages. Ice cream is served in a tub, not a cup. You order food to take away, not to go or for takeout.

Crisps come in interesting flavors, such as Cajun prawn and curry.

The first floor is the ground floor, and the second floor is the first floor.

The sign on the door of the dorm I'm staying in reads, "Turn key anti-clockwise." Makes it sound as if they're opposed to the idea of going clockwise.

The fact that people here drive on the left side of the road means that you have to look left before crossing the street. Despite the fact that nearly every crossing is emblazoned with LOOK LEFT in big white letters, a certain jet-lagged reporter nearly got run over by a double-decker bus her first day in London.

Those double-decker buses are everywhere--they're just regular city buses. So are bobbies (police officers) in those tall black bobby hats and nightsticks, and red phone booths (again, no damage, no defacing), and cool-looking taxis, the traditional black ones and some sporting wild patterns and logos.
Some typical London vehicles
Automobiles are small. There is nothing resembling a pickup truck in any way. I have spotted exactly one Honda CR-V and a couple of Range Rovers, and that's it for SUVs. Everybody drives smallish hatchbacks or sedans. Some of them are really cute. I've seen a few Mercedes models that bear a strong resemblance to my Honda Fit.

When people aren't driving (which seems to be often), they walk or ride bicycles, or they take public transit.

"Mate" means "dude" in a cordial sort of way, as best I can figure out. Speaking of cordiality, everybody ends conversations, both in person and over the phone, with "Cheers." Of course, with the accent it sounds like "Chizz" to my American ear, so maybe they're not really saying "cheers" at all. But I'd like to think that's what they're saying; it sounds so upbeat, and also as if cocktail hour were right around the corner.



  1. I love reading your observations! As an American living in London, it's easy to forget how different the small things can seem at first. Oh, and I did want to point out that Greenwich being one of the poshest parts of London, you'll certainly see no dog doo or much litter or graffiti there, but other neighbourhoods (such as where I live, just a couple miles west of Greenwich) are a lot more "normal". Enjoy! I'm envious - have been trying to get my hands of Dressage tickets for the past year to no avail. Shame, really, since I could walk to Greenwich Park from my house...

  2. I'd like to reiterate points of 'megoizzy'. Well said. American in Gloucester here. It is certainly funny the small things that are different especially what is considered polite vs. offensive. It is cheers, you can say 'Ta' for thanks and always accept/offer tea and to pay for a round in the pub. Enjoy the rest of your trip and keep us upto date on these horses for us whose work keeps them from the tele.


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