In my last blog post I doled out travelling wisdom to my Auntie Madge, soon to visit Britain for the first time. Then I spoke of what TO do when travelling in Yorkshire and its environs. Now, I wish to warn you a little. Here is what NOT to do when visiting us across the pond.
Don’t let the weather stop you. Spring in Yorkshire is a beautiful time of year: crocuses and daffodils and narcissus everywhere. My first impression of England from the air was that it looked like a giant golf course. Grass so green it seemed fake and so many tiny cars zooming about. But all that floral splendour and greenery comes a cost and the cost is the weather. It’s unlikely to rain the entire fortnight you are here, Auntie, but at some point (unless the fates of nature or the gods of tourism favour you) you will encounter Weather. But do not let it stop you. If the British let Weather cancel their plans, an entire nation would grind to a halt. So, as comedian Billy Connolly says: “get yourself a sexy rain coat and live a little.”
Don’t expect service. If you have never watched Fawlty Towers this will mean nothing to you, but it’s one of my favourite observations of British culture from American comedian Greg Proops. “I used to think Fawlty Towers was a screwball comedy then I visited England and realised it was actually a hard-hitting documentary.” Mr Proops’ point is that service is not a priority in Britain the way it is in America. When I walk into a shop, no sales assistants eagerly descend, wait staff never greet me with beauty pageant grins and ask every ten minutes if all is well, and no exchange of good and/or services concludes with “have a nice day”. While this may not sound like a big deal, I assure you it does take some getting used to. In my entire time here I have only witnessed two Brits send food back to a restaurant kitchen, though many more have quietly complained and put up with unsatisfactory food. I have some theories as to why service is so poor in Britain but I will save that for a later post.
Don’t drink the coffee. England is a nation of tea drinkers. We may have embraced coffee culture to a certain extent, but unless you are at a Starbucks or Café Nero I would give your usual cup of Joe a miss in favour of a brew. Instant coffee. That’s what you find over here. Instant coffee. Oh you can get filter coffee, but unfortunately few people realise that coffee grounds, unlike tea leaves, do not require boiling water to release their full potential. Therein lies the difficulty in enjoying coffee on this side of the pond. My advice: when in Yorkshire, drink the bloody tea. Except when visiting my in-laws because their coffee is caffeinated nectar.
Don’t forget the exchange rate. Currency will be your first concern when your plane lands. Most likely you will bring some British money with you but don’t worry if you don’t. Airports are full of cash machines all happy to eat up your Yankee dollars. And eat them they will. As I write this, the exchange rate actually is not too bad for a Yankee visiting the UK: 1.5 dollars to every pound. In the recent past this has been as high as 2.5 dollars to the pound. Even so, you need to keep calculating. It’s all too easy to slip and forget just how much you are spending. On that trip to Darbar I wrote about in the last post, I tipped the wait staff the equivalent of $20.00. In my defence I was new in town and slightly drunk.
Don’t be intimidated. For the first few months I lived here I kept a pretty low profile. If I was out on my own I spoke as little as possible because I didn’t want to draw attention to myself. Mostly this was due to the fact that every time I opened my mouth it began a thirty minute conversation (see previous post). It was a waste of time. Don’t be intimidated. Speak up, ask questions, bother people. The British may look a bit scary and I still think they lack a few essential facial muscles, but they’re a bit of all right really.
Safe travels, Auntie. We cannot wait to introduce you to this country we love. Stay tuned for the last in this series: Madge’s travels in Yorkshire.