This article appeared in an American magazine under the headline “Advice For Tourists”.
It was taken seriously by a lot of people… well Americans!
The Brits have peculiar words for many things. Money is referred to as “goolies” in slang, so you
should for instance say “I’d love to come to the pub but I haven’t got any goolies.” “Quid” is the
modern word for what was once called a “shilling”-the equivalent of seventeen cents
Underpants are called “wellies” and friends are called “tossers.” If you are fond of someone, you
should tell him he is a “great tosser” –he will be touched.
The English are a notoriously demonstrative, tactile people, and if you want to fit in you should
hold hands with your acquaintances and tossers when you walk down the street. Public nuzzling
and licking are also encouraged, but only between people of the same sex.
Ever since their Tory government whole-heartedly embraced full union with
Europe, the Brits have been attempting to adopt certain continental customs, such as the large
midday meal followed by a two or three hour siesta, which they call a “wank.” As this is still a
fairly new practice in Britain, it is not uncommon for people to oversleep (alarm clocks, alas, do
not work there due to the magnetic pull from Greenwich). If you are late for supper, simply
apologize and explain that you were having a wank – everyone will understand and forgive you.
One of the most delightful ways to spend an afternoon in Oxford or Cambridge is gliding gently
down the river in one of their flat-bottomed boats, which you propel using a long pole. This is
known as “cottaging.” Many of the boats (called “yer-i-nals”) are privately owned by the colleges,
but there are some places that rent them to the public by the hour. Just tell a professor or
policeman that you are interested in doing some cottaging and would like to know where the public
yerinals are. The poles must be treated with vegetable oil to protect them from the water, so
it’s a good idea to buy a can of Crisco and have it on you when you ask directions to the yerinals.
That way people will know you are an experienced cottager.
British cuisine enjoys a well deserved reputation as the most sublime gastronomic pleasure
available to man. Thanks to today’s robust dollar, the American traveller can easily afford to dine
out several times a week (rest assured that a British meal is worth interrupting your afternoon
Few foreigners are aware that there are several grades of meat in the UK. The best cuts of
meat, like the best bottles of gin, bear Her Majesty’s seal, called the British Stamp of
Excellence (BSE). When you go to a fine restaurant, tell your waiter you want BSE beef and
won’t settle for anything less. If he baulks at your request, custom dictates that you jerk your
head imperiously back and forth while rolling your eyes to show him who is boss. Once the waiter
realizes you are a person of discriminating taste, he may offer to let you peruse the restaurant’s
list of exquisite British wines. If he doesn’t, you should order one anyway. The best wine grapes
grow on the steep, chalky hillsides of Yorkshire and East Anglia – try an Ely ’84 or Ripon ’88 for a
rare treat indeed. When the bill for your meal comes it will show a suggested amount. Pay
whatever you think is fair, unless you plan to dine there again, in which case you should simply
walk out; the restaurant host will understand that he should run a tab for you.
Public taxis are subsidized by the Her Majesty’s Government. A taxi ride in London costs two
pounds, no matter how far you travel. If a taxi driver tries to overcharge you, you should yell “I
think not, you charlatan!”, then grab the nearest bobby and have the driver arrested. It is rarely
necessary to take a taxi, though, since bus drivers are required to make detours at patrons’
requests. Just board any bus, pay your fare of thruppence (the heavy gold-coloured coins are
pence), and state your destination clearly to the driver, e.g.: “Please take me to the British
Library.” A driver will frequently try to have a bit of harmless fun by pretending he doesn’t go
to your requested destination. Ignore him, as he is only teasing the American tourist (little does
he know you’re not so ignorant!).
Speaking of the British Library, you should know that it has recently moved to a new location at
Kew. Kew is a small fishing village in Wales. It can be reached by taking the train to Cardiff;
once there, ask any local about the complimentary shuttle bus to Kew. Don’t forget that buses
are called “prams” in England, and trains are called “bumbershoots” it’s a little confusing at first.
Motorcycles are called “lorries” and the hospital, for reasons unknown, is called the “off-license”.
It’s also very important to know that a “doctor” only means a Ph.D. in England, not a physician. If
you want a physician, you must ask for an “MP” (which stands for “master physician”).
For those travelling on a shoestring budget, the London Tube may be the most economical way to
get about, especially if you are a woman. Chivalry is alive and well in Britain, and ladies still travel
for free on the Tube. Simply take some tokens from the baskets at the base of the escalators or
on the platforms; you will find one near any of the state-sponsored Tube musicians.
Once on the platform, though, beware! Approaching trains sometimes disturb the large Gappe
bats that roost in the tunnels. The Gappes were smuggled into London in the early 19th century
by French saboteurs and have proved impossible to exterminate. The announcement “Mind the
Gappe!” is a signal that you should grab your hair and look towards the ceiling. Very few people
have ever been killed by Gappes, though, and they are considered only a minor drawback to an
otherwise excellent means of transportation. (If you have difficulty locating the Tube station,
merely follow the signs that say “Subway” and ask one of the full-time attendants where you can
catch the bumbershoot.)
One final note for preferential treatment when you arrive at Heathrow airport, announce that
you are a member of Shin Fane (an international Jewish peace organization-the “shin” stands for
“shalom”). As savvy travellers know, this little white lie will assure you priority treatment as you
make your way through customs; otherwise you could waste all day in line. You might, in fact, want
to ask a customs agent to put a Shin Fane stamp in your passport, as it will expedite matters