Sunday, February 15, 2009

London Vignettes

A sample of pictures from our trip to London:

--myself on the south wall of the Tower of London
--A Yeoman Warder tour there with London's iconic Tower Bridge in the background
--Parliament and Big Ben
--Guard at Buckingham Palace
--Inside the Globe Pub
--My oldest son Greg waiting at the subway (2 pictures)
--My son Scott riding the double decker bus (2 pictures--we spent an hour and a half on this bus because we got on at the wrong stop. It should have been a ten-minute ride to our destination had we boarded correctly)
--From the chamber of horrors at Madame Tussaud's
--My breakfast, the traditional English fry-up
--The Rosetta Stone at the British Museum, a discovery which allowed archeologists to translate Egyptian hieroglyphics.

I fell in love with London even in just the short time I was over there: the historic sites, the vibrant energy of its people, the intimacy of its pubs and always something big happening nearby. But I had to adjust some to its language and customs.

I even had trouble grasping their system of coinage. They apparently do not have any bills smaller than the equivalent of a $5 bill here in the U.S., so you always have a pocket heavy with change. And they have a wide variety of coins. At a Pret-A-Manger, their very popular equivalent of a fast food eatery here, I saw a handmade "Love" nut and candy bar that I wanted to bring back for Wendy. I dropped a large coin in the palm of the clerk, which the boys and I thought should cover it.

"That's two pence," the clerk deadpanned. Two pence (pennies)?? Can anyone explain to me the logic of having a coin the value of two pennies? The British have coins worth one pence, two pence, ten pence, twenty pence, one pound and two pounds. Eventually I just borrowed an idea from my dad's own European travels--I just held out a palm full of coins and let the clerk pick out what he needed.

At least two pence covered part of the bill. I heard the manager there hold up a 20-pound note to the light and say, "This bill is fake." The clerk hurried out to try to track down the person who paid with it, but he was unsuccessful.

Ah yes. Scofflaws in Ole Blighty exist. When visiting the pubs, I remember seeing a sign that said beware of thieves. "They're sneaky little vermin," the sign warned. And in that same pub a rather attractive young lady came up to me and said, "May I pinch your seat." While I blushingly pondered the consequences of allowing such a trivial infidelity, she started taking the stool that Greg was sitting in before he went up to the bar to order another drink. The cad! Sneaky little vermin they are.

So I learned the subtleties of King's English. "Biscuits" are cookies. It's the "way out" not an exit. But I was puzzled at the green signs I often saw of a white figure running at a white block of some type. Finally I asked this young lady. "It's a fire exit," she explained.

What? C'mon now. That's a very poor universal symbol for a fire exit, isn't it? Shouldn't it be red, not green, with maybe flames licking up at the stick figure's heels? Perhaps I would have to start setting the English right on their use of communication and the English language.

I stopped at a restaurant to order some fish and chips for the boys. In England, they don't call it take-out. It's "take-away." Take-away sounds too much like shoplifting to me. Right? When the clerk asked if my fish and chips were "eat in or take-away", I said, "Take-out." A teachable moment, I thought.

The clerk, looking me directly in the eyes and unsmiling, firmly corrected, "Take-away."

Okay, whatever. Have it your way then.


Anonymous Maria said...

My English friend used to say, "May I come by and knock you up." just to see me blush. It meant (I hope) that he would knock on the door or call me.

The Australian have a clever way of saying, "Keep your spirits high." I heard it from a guy who honeymooned over there. It was "Keep your pecker up!

Well, these came from about 30 years ago, so maybe they aren't used anymore, but thanks for juarring my memory.

7:38 AM  
Blogger Lynilu said...

"A teachable moment, I thought."

Tsk-tsk. When in Rome ....

No wonder we Americans have such a bad reputation around the world. It's people like you, Dave!! I've officially removed my seal of approval from your visa. Now, just TRY to go overseas again without THAT!!


8:23 AM  
Blogger Carine said...

what terrific pictures and memories you've shared w/ us Dave. My dauaghter and son-in-law went several years ago (pre-kids) and had the same wonderful thoughts about the history, the city and the people-they loved the idioms!

11:41 AM  
Blogger Nankin said...

The world is full of surprises, and language differences can only add to them.

Great pictures.

12:38 PM  
Blogger Big Dave T said...

MARIA--It's funny how just a little twist of words can be interpreted by different cultures. At least most of the times the meaning was obvious to me over there, for example lift for elevator

LYNILU--You're the second person who has chastized me, "When in Rome . . . " I posted a review of our hotel at TripAdvisor from "An American viewpoint" and some Englishman took issue with my views, saying, "The U.S. isn't the center of the universe." I'll have to be more careful if I go back.

CARINE--I want to take Wendy back with me next year. My parents say they'd like to go too. At least this time I'll have some experience with the customs and stuff.

NANKIN--This was my first experience in another part of the world. I can just imagine the culture shock had we gone to China or Africa, some place really exotic.

3:51 AM  
OpenID caroldee said...

WOW thanks Dave for taking us along.. I loved it.. the culture there so different yet the same.
So are there subways as nasty stinkin as ours are??? Imagine what you could have seen or visited
if you had had a lot more time.
Have a good week back in the USA!

7:48 AM  
Blogger Lucy Stern said...

It sounds like you had a great time....I love all the pictures and am glad that you didn't pinch the ladies seat....ha ha!

My nephew, from England, stayed with us for a while and we enjoyed listening to him talk. He has been in the states now for over four years and he sounds more American now.

Glad you and the boys had a good time.....

11:06 PM  
Blogger Big Dave T said...

CAROLDEE--The subways there are much better than those I've seen in the U.S. (which is Chicago and New York). It's also by far the easiest way to get from here to there in Central London. They stop at all the major sites.

LUCY--I wonder how my accent sounded over there. The boys teased me after I accidentally mimicked the pronunciation offered by a clerk of Indian nationality. He pronounced little as two separate words "lit til". Not realizing it, I repeated his pronunciation. "Yes, I want the lit til pictures." The boys thought I was practicing my accent but I just messed up.

6:10 PM  
Blogger Peter said...

Glad to hear you got through your trip safe and sound Dave, different accents and word meanings can be quite funny.

5:06 AM  
Blogger Merle said...

Hi Dave ~~ I enjoyed this post and seeing all the pics. Could have lived without the heads at Madame
Tussauds. I hate to say this, but in Australia we also say Take-away.
(We are not going on a date) Very interesting and I am glad you enjoyed your visit. Thanks for your comments and thankfully the fires are better, but not out, not a big threat to homes at present. My cooking the other day was a microwave chicken, sone corned beef and so many vegetables but I
have learned my lesson. Too much on one day for me now. Be very careful what you say to Wendy - did you read about that guy Dave and how sensitive he was, He sure deserved his fate, much better than that's when the fight started.Take care, Regards, Merle.

7:56 PM  
Blogger amarkonmywall said...

I love it- what a great travelogue. And I recognize you, if not the silly sweatshirt! I have to say, it would have been nice to see a photo of the ravens at the Tower but the bloody detached wax heads sort of makes up for it. Reminds me of good times in London- thanks!

8:22 PM  
Blogger Big Dave T said...

PETER--I learned that even amongst Englanders, the accent can vary much. Some people I could understand easily, some I could hardly understand at all.

MERLE--I figured they said "take-away" in Australia because we went to an Outback Restaurant recently and I noticed "take-away" on the menu.

VICKIE--If you click on the one picture with the Yeoman Warder, you can see a raven in the background. I did get a much better picture of a raven who wasn't camera shy but there really weren't that many there. I think some they keep in cages too.

8:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sounds like you had a really great time.
Your photos brought back many lovely memories of my previous visits to London. Now I hope you'll venture out to the gorgeous English countryside! It's a sight to behold, with rolling hills, sheep grazing, ancient pubs and such a sense of history!
I'm reading a superb novel right now (I bet Wendy would love it!) called The House at Riverton, and it's transporting me right back to England.

1:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


10:45 PM  

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