Dave Barry

ON THE LOOSE IN LONDON

December 16, 1990|By Dave Barry

Recently my family and I spent a week in London, which is a popular foreign place to visit because they have learned to speak some English over there. Although frankly they have a long way to go. Often, when they get to the crucial part of a sentence, they'll realize that they don't know the correct words, so they'll just make some silly ones up. I had a lot of conversations that sounded like this:

Me: Excuse me. Could you tell us how to get to Buckingham Palace?

British person: Right. You go down this street here, then you nip up the weckershams.

Me: We should nip up the weckershams?

British person: Right. Then you take your first left, then you just pop 'round the gorn-and-scumbles, and, Jack's a doughnut, there you are!

Me: Jack's a doughnut?

British person: Right.

Also they have a lot of trouble with pronunciation, because they can't move their jaw muscles, because of malnutrition caused by wisely refusing to eat English food, much of which was designed and manufactured in medieval times during the reign of King Walter the Mildly Disturbed. Remember when you were in junior high school, and sometimes the cafeteria workers would open up a large Army-surplus food can left over from the Spanish-American War and serve you a scary-looking dish with a name like "tuna bean prune cabbage omelet casserole surprise"?

Well, they still have a lot of food like that over in England, on permanent display in bars, called pubs, where people drink for hours but nobody ever eats. We saw individual servings of pub food that we recognized from our last visit, in 1978. Some dishes -- no effort is made to conceal this fact -- contain kidneys.

The English are very good at thinking up silly names. Here are some actual stations on the London underground: Marylebone, Tooting Broadway, Piccadilly Circus, Cockfosters, Frognal, Goodge Street, Mudchute, Barking and East Ham.

Londoners are apologetic about their underground, which they believe has become filthy and noisy and dangerous, but which is in fact far more civilized than the average American wedding reception. At the height of rush hour, people on the London underground actually say "excuse me." Imagine what would happen if you tried an insane stunt like that on the New York City subway. The other passengers would take it as a sign of weakness, and there'd be a fight over who got to keep your ears as a trophy.

Our primary cultural activity in London was changing money. We had to do this a lot because the dollar is very weak. Europeans use the dollar primarily to apply shoe polish. So every day we'd go to one of the money-changing places that are all over London, and we'd exchange some dollars for British money, which consists of the "pound" and a wide variety of mutant coins whose sizes and shapes are unrelated to their values, and then we'd look for something to eat that had been invented in this century, such as pizza, and we'd buy three slices for what we later realized was $247.50, and then we'd change some money again. Meanwhile the Japanese tourists were exchanging their money for items such as Westminster Abbey.

In the interest of broadening our 10-year-old son's cultural awareness, we visited some important historic sites, including the Tower of London, the Dungeon, and Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum, all of which are devoted to explaining in clinical detail how various historic members of royalty were whacked into small historic pieces.

Needless to say this brand of history was a hit with our son. He especially enjoyed the guided "Jack the Ripper" tour that we took one dark night with a very intense guide. "Right on this spot is where they found the victim's intestines," she'd say. "And right here is where they found the liver, which is now part of the food display of that pub over there."

Another cultural activity we frequently engaged in was looking the wrong way before attempting to cross streets. The problem is that in America, people drive on the right side of the street, whereas in London, they drive on both sides of the street, using hard-to-see cars about the size of toaster ovens. The best way to handle this, as a tourist, is to remain on one side of the street for your entire visit, and see the other side on another trip.

But I definitely recommend London for anybody who enjoys culture and could stand to lose a few pounds. I learned many things that will be of great value to me, not just personally, but also professionally, and I'm not saying that just to be polite to the English. I'm saying it because of Internal Revenue Service regulations.

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.