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2012 - So you want to go to England - Part 2 - Before you go · 13.06.12 by colin newell

Before booking your flight (or boat – more on both of these in the coming weeks) you’ll want to know a little more about the people and what’s important to them. In this week’s instalment of “So You Want to Go to England” we help you get to know the people of the British Isles and give you some talking points should you trap one of them in a conversation:

Here in North America the popular vision of an Englishmen is a slender, foppish man with very bad teeth, dressed in tweed and seducing your wife with his ironed handkerchiefs. While in some parts of England that may still be true – Knightsbridge, Colin Firth’s house – the Englishman you’re more likely to encounter on your grand adventure is the one approaching you at the bus stop of a night, wearing a hooded sweatshirt and demanding your wallet.

tweed on wheels

Not everything has changed however – his teeth, if any remain, will still be bad and he is just as likely to be slender, although this will not be from wartime rationing but rather because running from the police is demanding work.

All right, that may not be every Englishman but it does represent a good portion of young men aged 15-35 and if you don’t believe me I suggest a weekend trip down to the local pub nearest to your hotel. Make sure you have good travel insurance and a blood donor card.

Most Brits are helpful, considerate types who will give you a good steer should you get lost – this is because the sooner you get where you’re going the sooner you leave their country.
They are a reserved people so don’t be surprised when your hearty “Howya doin’?” gets you a cold stare but they open up once you get to know them which, as a tourist, you probably won’t. You can count on them being polite though – unless you’re in that pub I mentioned earlier.

As in North America the people are friendlier in the countryside than they are in the city and if you’re going to make friends it’ll be in the north rather than the south. If you do get to chat up locals you’ll want to know at least something about the local culture so you don’t make an ass of yourself. Here’s a quick primer:

1. Soccer: The English call it “football” and you should too unless you want a pint glass upside your head. Also, don’t tell them you’re a Manchester United fan – this will mark you out as a tourist faster than asking if anyone has met the queen.

2. Politics: In 2010 the English voted out the Labour party headed by Prime Minister Gordon Brown, a man described by columnist and TV personality Jeremy Clarkson as a “One-eyed Scottish c***”. He was replaced with the Conservative party as led by David Cameron, who has two eyes. Under Cameron the government has introduced heavy austerity measures, sharply dividing the country.

Note that while you can pick on Cherie Blair all you want it is still not acceptable to make fun of Margaret Thatcher.

3. ASBOs: Stands for “Anti Social Behavior Order”, a kind of scarlet letter handed out by the courts to society’s rejects.

4.Hoodies: The people who get ASBOs. Not everyone who wears a hoodie is a thug but all thugs wear hoodies. With names like Keith & Trev they’re about as threatening as woodlice when you get them alone but in a group they’re like piranhas with acne. For reference watch the 2009 film Harry Brown in which Michael Caine goes all Paul Kersey on the hooligans terrorizing the council estate he calls home.

5. Council Estates: For the record, “council estates” or “council flats” is what the English call their housing projects. While “Winstanley Estate, Battersea” sounds like a lovely place to take your wife Merridale on a carriage tour it’s actually the English equivalent of Jordan Downs in Watts or Iberville in New Orleans. Most of the folks living here are good, decent people who would rather be living anywhere else, including the surface of the moon, but you still wouldn’t want to be walking around the place at night.

6. NHS or National Health Service: The British system of healthcare has flaws and under Darth Cameron is soon likely to suffer significant cuts but it’s still better you’re going to find in, say, America, where having cancer turns your life into Breaking Bad.

This is irrelevant to the British, who take great delight in picking on the NHS like it was the kid in school who wears sweatpants. It is considered rude to interrupt tirades about the NHS with stories from your home country, like the time an HMO-run hospital refused to treat your daughter’s asthma attack until you could prove you had the means to pay them.

7. Coronation Street: Also known as “Corrie”. This soap opera set in a fictional town in Greater Manchester has been running since 1960 and is practically a religion for English women.

While the cast of most American soaps are so smoothed over they could be mannequins, Coronation Street actually casts ordinary-looking and sometimes even fat people. And I don’t mean Kevin James-fat but “long chat with your doctor about getting a motorized scooter”-fat. Not all the cast are plain of course but it’s nice to know there’s a place for actors who wouldn’t get near an American television unless they were standing on it to fix someone’s ceiling fan.

Temptation will be great but do not – I repeat – do not – mock or in any other way disrupt the watching of Coronation Street. I’m telling you this because I’m your friend and I care about you.

8. Rhyming slang: So you’ve seen a few Guy Ritchie movies and know that being “in barney” means you’re in trouble and that when things go “Pete Tong” it’s time to start looking for the door. As a tourist you should avoid using these and other rhyming slang – rather than making you sound tough or street smart it will signal to everyone within earshot that you are in dire need of what the English endearingly call “a kicking.”
This same wisdom applies to the words “mate”, “blimey”, “guvnor” and “toodle-pip”. In fact if you say “toodle-pip” I will come to your house and kick you straight in the business myself.

9. The Only Way is Essex: The people of England treat Essex county much the same way America does New Jersey – like a redheaded stepchild. Maybe, then, we shouldn’t be surprised that Essex has produced the budget equivalent of Jersey Shore in The Only Way is Essex. It’s not worth my time or yours to name the characters, so just picture a group of twentysomethings who all sound like they’re talking through a mouthful of marbles drinking too much and firing DNA at one another.

After an episode or two of this you won’t have a hard time imagining why the English sometimes debate jack-hammering Essex free from the rest of the country and pushing it gently towards mainland Europe.
I challenge you to watch the clip below and try not to hear the sound of seven trumpets heralding the End of Days.

10. The Royal Family: The surest way to end a conversation with your average British citizen is to start talking about how amazing it must be to have a royal family. The royals are to the English what the Kennedys are to Americans – the good ones are dead and the rest are floating on an ever-thinning cloud of good will.

Now that you’re up to speed on the finer points of British culture it’s time to get serious about making arrangements. Next Wednesday I tell you why you shouldn’t fly with Canada’s flagship airline in “So You Want to Go to England: Getting There – Air Canada”

Comic, humorist, bon vivant and ranconteur, Brennan Storr is a Victoria resident and aspiring writer – from time to time we post some of his incredibly amusing words from

  1. That Essex video… hilarious…

    colin    Jun 22, 12:52 pm    #

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