June 10, 2004

Wabbit Season! Duck Season! Wabbit Season! Tourist Season!

Switching gears again, allow me to expound on one thing: it is finally warm here in London, it is finally lovely weather, and it is perfect for sitting outside and enjoying a pint.

It is also absolutely swimming with tourists.

I have, in general, zero problem with tourists. I think they're great for the economy and bring a bit of life and sparkle into the area. When I was living in Dallas, smacking into tourists was not a common thing. In Stockholm, they would come by the busload, and usually on one of those American tours that would show people hauling out of the bus in a daze, wearing twisted and tangled up name tags, looking very fatigued and lost and often with no fucking idea what country they were in they had been travelling so much. Perhaps you know the tours I am talkign about -written in bold letters on the side of the bus: See 20 European countries in 4 days! Or: Explore Scandinavia in 6 hours!

Those types.

We actually overheard some American tourists getting off one of those buses, looking absolutely shell-shocked.

"What city are we in, Marge?" asked the husband, looking at the Stockholm castle and rubbing his eyes, trying to add moisture to them.
"I don't know, Earl." whispered Marge, looking like she wanted to cry. "Germany, maybe?"

I hate tours like that. To me, if you want to get to know a city, you need to stay there a bit. I appreciate that in the U.S. we don't get much vacation time, but that's what we are gifted with long lives for-take it easy, pick a country or two at a time. You won't regret learning which bistro is the best, the quiet out-of-the-way spot perfect for al fresco loving, the cobbled streets that are great for walking down.

London is packed, and I love it. But not everyone loves it, and I can understand where they are coming from. When you are running late and trying to rush to a business meeting and run into a throng of giggling girls looking windswept, you don't want to be rude. You don't want to take away their giggly joy at being somewhere that is ultimately very cool. But you do also want them to get the fuck out of the way and stop blocking the entrance to the tube.

You can spot the tourists at twenty paces, and amazingly, you can spot the American ones at fifty. And I can say this. I am an American. I can get on any tube and spot the American tourists right away, and I always lean their way to hear how they talk to confirm. I love hearing their molten vowels and the excitement in their voice. I love it.

The Americans are dressed in their urban combat gear, teevo sandals or hardcore L.L. Bean or REI city hiking shoes. They have layers of clothing wrapped around them and their sunglasses at the ready. But here's what amazes me: it seems like almost all of them have a massive, bulging, burdened backpack. And a great big fuck off water bottle. And, often, a fanny pack.

It amazes me when I see this. So here's some advice if you want it:

Wabbit Wear:

- You're in London. The 20th largest city in the world. In fact, it's roughly the same size as New York City. There is nothing-nothing-that you could wish for in London and not find (er...except Twizzlers). So no need for all the gear-you're in good hands here. Wear what you would do at home-if you would walk around the mall in suburban gear, then go for it. If you wear girly dresses and flip flops, you will fit in fine here. You can buy bottled water on every corner. Really, all you will need is thus: camera, wallet, guidebook, and a map. That's all.

- Whatever you do, don't wear the neck money pouch. The thieves will see you coming. And they will rub their hands in glee.

Wabbit Food:

- Avoid Marmite like the plague. Really. Marmite is a spread that the English either love or hate. I had it explained that it's actually the black gooey stuff that is left in the bottom of the beer vats-it's a yeasty paste that some English spread on toast. It's salty as hell and makes me salivate like Cujo. Mr. Y loves the stuff. Luckily, relationships need to be different.

- English ale is lovely if you give it a chance. It's served "cellar temperature" and has almost no bubbles. It is refreshing, encouraging, and can get you loaded before you know it. I can't recommend it enough.

Wabbit Humor

- Don't be offended if people make comments about Americans or ask about George Bush, guns, or country music. There are stereotypes here like there are stereotypes there. English humor is very deprecating, both self-and everybody else. If they know they are winding you up, then they will keep going for it.

Wabbit Pwotocol:

- When you get off/on the train, tube, or bus, keep moving. Catch up with your travelling companions a bit further up. Stopping just outside the doors in order to chat with your mates will likely get you thrown onto the tracks by a local who is deperate to make a meeting.

- When you exit the stations, stay to the left unless you want to get plowed down by locals in a hurry. It hurts like hell. Honest.

- If you are on a crowded train, then treat it like a crowded elevator. There is elevator etiquette, just as there is train etiquette. People don't talk on packed trains. Unfortunately, you are standing close enough to have sex with people, but that doesn't mean you should talk to the one who's having virtual dick is heading for you.

My project manager from Dream Job, a New Zealander named Bob, told me a story about a completely packed train he was on once.

And for the record, he and I are both big fans of London.

Bob: (sneezing).
Man 1 (loudly): Bless you!
Bob (quietly): Thank you.
Man 1: What a great accent! Where are you from?
Bob: I'm from New Zealand.
Man 1: Really? That's so cool! I'm from America!
Bob notices the whole train is now watching them.
Bob: Er...that's great.
Man 1: What're you doing here, man?
Bob: I work for Worldcom.
Man 1: Really? I have a buddy who just bought stock from Worldcom!
Man 1 looks down towards the other end of the crowded car.
Man 1 (yelling): Hey John! Didn't you just buy stock from Worldcom?
John (a voice from the other end of the car yelling back): Yeah, Mike! I bought it about three months ago.
Man 1: Really? I have a guy from New Zealand here who works for them!
Bob shrinks into a ball as all heads in the train turn to look at the guy from New Zealand who works for Worldcom.

He also says it was the best train ride he ever had.


PS-Simon is going to give money to charity for every hit he has that is over his benchmark. This is to celebrate his 1000th post. Give him a hit, just so we can hit his wallet too.

PPS-in fact, my one year blogging anniversary is next week. Weird.

Posted by Everydaystranger at June 10, 2004 10:58 AM | TrackBack

hehe...I rarely look like a tourist either. Mostly coz you can avoid all the hassel with the locals if you can mix with them. Unless you make a fool out of yerself that is...

Up in this end of UK it's easy to spot an American both the way they look, but also you can hear them before you see them. They really stick out among the dialect the locals have over here.

And you can never see all those countries within such a short timeframe and remember where you've been. That's crazy. I've seen the buses though...both in Stockholm and in Gothenburg.

Our planet is too beautiful and the different people on it too interesting to rush through in a few days.

Posted by: croxie at June 14, 2004 09:21 AM

Must be those same at-home Americans that form a small swarm right at the exit of a movie theater deciding where they are going for a beer; then there is a long line waiting to get out while they decide. I saw a small break and tried to duck thru and felt a yank on my laptop carry case strap as two swarms closed rank and two people jammed the laptop between them behind me. They were angry with me because a laptop in the ribs doesn't feel so good. They didn't get an apology from me they expected because I was finally outside their swarms and able to make some real progress.

Posted by: Roger at June 11, 2004 12:43 PM

Mmmm, Marmite...

Did you know that Vegemite was originally called Parwill? Think about it for a moment, then groan.

Posted by: Pixy Misa at June 11, 2004 11:45 AM

Funny how tourists flock to Seattle in the summer for the minimal time frame of phenomenal so-called beauty within the region as well.

Alike London, it's preferable to haunt off-season.

You see things for what they are.

That which it is.

Everything else is icing on the cake.

Posted by: Curator at June 11, 2004 08:59 AM

Oh Damn-Emily is right, they're called "teevas", not "teevos". I think I suggested people not walk around with recordable digital tv boxes strapped to their feet.

Kara-I am not saying you should be embarassed. I just hate sticking out and looking like a tourist when I travel, and so I figured if others hate that too, then here's how to avoid it.

And to those who love London-yup. Me too.

Posted by: Helen at June 11, 2004 08:06 AM

wow, based on the comments i must have been the only american in london who blended in perfectly with the general population on my last couple of trips.

translation: no backpack, no flip flops, no shirt displaying american city name on it. well, i did carry a backpack when i went to portsmouth, but that was a long train ride and i wanted an easy way to carry my snacks and cd player and book. so sue me. hee.

other tourists from various places kept asking me for directions to various attractions. what an odd experience that was - spaniards stopped me in southbank because they couldn't find tower bridge. hah.

i don't talk on the tube either. the drunk blokes fresh from the pub who fell on me in the crowded carriage made more noise than i did. that was a fun time though. "oh sorry dear, i didn't mean to penetrate you just then" was heard once or twice.

i currently have a serious love affair with london. i can't wait to go back.

Posted by: lomara at June 11, 2004 07:34 AM

Amen, sister. It's tourist season in Washington, and I'm going to start running over those standing on the left side of the escalator at the Metro stations soon...

Posted by: Victor at June 11, 2004 02:05 AM

I was just thinking about this same topic the other day. Wondering how vast the differences were between English and American styles. Apparently it's more than I thought :)

And Helen, I am seeking advice about something I think you could help me with. If you get the chance, could you please email me? Thank you :)

Posted by: Melissa at June 11, 2004 01:28 AM

I went out on my lunch and bought Twizzlers! I just had to after reading this post. :)

But I'll trade you some Twizzlers for some Wispa bars...!

And yes, Marmite is nasty.

Posted by: Lesley at June 10, 2004 10:56 PM

GAH! Somehow, I completely forgot that you live here in London! I'm sitting at a easyInternetcafe near Trafalgar Square, about to head to the Haagen Dazs in Leicester Square for one last hit of Lemon Sorbet before I head home. We'll be the Americans without the backpack, wearing Birkenstocks bought at Covent Garden last week. (Yeah for cheap birks!) However, I am wearing an obnoxious "Boston" t-shirt. I was hot, and it was the only other thing I had clean besides my clothes for the plane tomorrow.

Next time I come to London, we must hook up. I'm truly sorry I missed the chance this time. Well, unless you show up at Leicester Square while we are there...

Posted by: Christine at June 10, 2004 10:55 PM

Come on, does visiting another country mean that you can't act like you're FROM that country? I don't see European tourists in America trying to dress like Americans or adopt OUR mannerisms.

While I'm not a fanny-pack, socks-with-sandals, camera-around-the-neck tourist, I'm also not going to stop acting like an American when I'm not in America. Sorry if my loud voice and Old Navy flip flops make me easy to spot, and forgive me for not knowing my way around, but I'm not going to be embarrassed or apologetic for it, ESPECIALLY after seeing the snickering Spanish girls pointing and giggling at the crater that formerly housed the World Trade Center in NYC. Frankly, if I can put up with THAT from tourists, you guys can deal with my train chatter.

Posted by: kara at June 10, 2004 08:43 PM

simon could be a broke man very soon...

Posted by: pylorns at June 10, 2004 08:33 PM

That's hysterical!! And spot on about the questions to Americans...first things out of the mouths of anyone I meet in London is about George Bush and guns. Oh, and Twizzlers. *grins*

Posted by: Jenn at June 10, 2004 07:16 PM

Are American tourists in London as oblivious to traffic as American tourists are in Charleston?

Far too many times driving around downtown Charleston SC, I see tourists blindly step off the curb into a busy road and see cars screeching to a halt in order not to squash them. Or they jump back onto the curb and wonder what that car was doing in the driving down the road they were trying to cross.

It seems like when people become tourists, they completely forget how to cross a street or something.

Posted by: Imabug at June 10, 2004 04:55 PM

I was one of "those" in June 2002. I did have an average-sized backpack but how else was I supposed to walk 10 miles around London dragging all my cool purchases? And nobody goes walking all day in strappy shoes no matter how cool they look!

And not once did I darken the doorstep of a McDonalds. It was English dishes only.

Posted by: Paul at June 10, 2004 03:29 PM

When I lived in Germany, American tourists were soooo easy to spot. If they're not talking at the top of their lungs, it was always the shoes that revealed them. Always the shoes. My first order of business each year I went to Germany as a kid was to buy new "trainers." God forbid I step on the street in dock-sides (that was the style then - don't judge!) or nikes.

The bus tour thing has never appealed to me. To really see a culture, you have to live the culture. Easy has the best idea. Just go. Do some reaseach to make sure your not arriving during some peak time where getting a hotel will be impossible, but don't plan every day. Living by a schedule on vacation is just stupid.

Posted by: Clancy at June 10, 2004 02:43 PM

heheh, that was great. well, i'll be in the london airport twice this summer, going to and from greece, so i won't quite get to use your tips, but i'll keep them in mind. :-)

Posted by: kat at June 10, 2004 02:42 PM

Can I wear my Birks in London...or Dallas? In 24 hours I'm going to be in the big 'D' and I am so excited to be going somewhere.

Posted by: Marie Freeman at June 10, 2004 02:40 PM

You wrote that just for me, did't you? I promise, no tevas!

I think our anniversary is right around the same day. Mine's June 16th. :)

Posted by: emily at June 10, 2004 02:23 PM

It seems like every single place that I've ever lived is a tourist attraction. Dealing with the Wabbits is like breathing to me. These are some great suggestions for them.

On a different note, I had to chuckle when I read the title of this post. BabyDaddy was just getting on me about the fact that I taught Elizabeth the "Wabbit Season/Duck Season" thing... it's been a wonderful way to diffuse some of her tantrums, but it annoys the hell out of him. :)

Posted by: amber at June 10, 2004 01:47 PM

Thanks for the advice. Now I have ammo for my debates with the wife. My idea of a great vacation is to pick a direction and start driving. The wife and I did that for our first wedding anniversary, but sadly we've not done it since. We had a blast. (sidenote: Once again, you've inspired me to write about something on my own blog. The drafts are piling up, damnit!)

England is a place I've wanted to visit, but again the wife and I have different ideas. She wants it all planned out in advance, while I'd like to get off the plane, go to the train station, pick the next train that's leaving, then get off in a random town and explore.

I've always found it's the unexpected adventures that are most fun.

Posted by: Easy at June 10, 2004 01:15 PM

Wabbits is wabbits no matter where they are. We get loads of them too here in Atlanta. Stone Mountain Park is one of our favorite family places (we've walked around the Antebellum Plantation hundreds of times - never get tired of it) and it's one of the biggest tourist draws in the area.

Lovely Wife always keeps an ear out when people are talking nearby and chats up the foreigners. I'm usually wearing either a t-shirt from a particularly popular Buffalo chain or something from a Buffalo team so I attract all the Yankees. Then there are the three boys who are magnets for the grandmas and other parents with little kids.

We're like the unofficial Stone Mountain Meet and Greet Society.

Posted by: Jim at June 10, 2004 12:58 PM

We get the same thing in NY City, of course. My favorite is that you usually get the tourists asking for directions to the Nike Store, not the Met or MOMA. There was an article in the NY Times some years ago that suggested that if you are confronted with that request, you should politely inquire whether the tourist means the Nike Store on Staten Island or the one in the South Bronx. My particular gripe though involves the German tourist (generally he or she is German) who stands in the middle of a very busy NY sidewalk and unfolds his/her map and contemplates it at length. NYers are known for their patience and no one has ever been shot. As far as I know.

Posted by: Random Penseur at June 10, 2004 12:39 PM

Oh my goodness I was JUST thinking about this. oh yes yes yes... I know ALLLLL about this.

Same phenomenon in Paris and here in Siena well they are everywhere and I definitely at times think its a gonna be hunting season.

I have a beautiful spring color Herve Chapelier bag and when loaded with my laptop it makes a great swinging tool to WHACK people when they wont get the fuck out the way and are blocking the WHOLE pedestrian area.

It is a trip to walk down the main street through the tour groups though as I go through the Japanese, German, French, Spanish, English and Italian tour groups of grannies with their grand kids.

Entertainment if I am not trying to get somewhere... or think in a language :)

Posted by: stinkerbell at June 10, 2004 11:32 AM
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