Our weeklong stay in London has been extended and we haven’t had much opportunity to explore the city. Even if we had time or energy, we’d still barely scrape the surface of ‘the Smoke.’
We’ve taken this time to pick the brains of our local Londoner, Dominic, and Miro, a Bulgarian transplant for our queries. They’ve not only been amazing hosts and friends, they’ve shown admirable patience with our ignorance.
Along the way, we’ve learned some strange stuff, some ‘Hmmm?’ bits and some ‘Seriously-?’ bobs. Oh, and some kind of ‘mundane-for-here-but-not-for-us.’ Here are the facts about London we’ve uncovered:
We now know why Brits drive on the wrong side of the road. (Tongue in cheek, there- very aware that using ‘wrong’ is subjective) So historically, since 1300 or so, people walked on the left of the road. It was logical, to leave their sword arms free and not knock fellow walkers silly with a dangling scabbard. The English made it law in 1835.
The ‘right’ side of the road travel came from the French. The French elite used to speed on the left to pass the slow-moving peasantry on the right. Something called the French Revolution had the elite ‘mingling’ (hiding) with the riff-raff on the right. The French influence spread, and voila.
Iconic film scenes were shot in London. ‘Full Metal Jacket,’ ‘A Clockwork Orange’ and ‘Shaun of the Dead.’ (The last a personal favorite)
London is CCTV embalmed. There are roughly 4.2 million CCTV cameras, and on a typical day cameras’ll film you 100 times. CCTV was recently accorded the honor of discovering the largest ‘fatberg’ (a 15-ton blob of fat and baby wipes) in the sewer system. Go, CCTV!
Police can ask for your name, ID or address- but you don’t have to give them. They work on the honor/honour system. You can give a false name, refuse to give ID- in fact, there’s no law that states you have to carry ID. This would never work in the States, methinks.
In lieu of ‘national’ holidays, the English have ‘bank holidays.’ This has been true since 1871, where days were set aside for the bankers to relax from their taxing* work. If they weren’t functioning, neither was trade. Now it’s mainly free time for office workers.
Parking rules in London are easy peasy, as they say. Parking is divided into the usual suspects of residents/short term/etc. but there are mainly two zones: those with lines and those without. With lines, buy a ticket or don’t park- you will get ticketed. No lines = free parking.
Shopping trolley theft is epidemic. Many countries require a coin to release a shopping cart, but apparently the thefts are deterred in London by requiring £1.
The London Underground has ‘Tube’ mosquitos. Mosquitos are quite rare in London, until you get in the Tube station. A special mosquito has adapted itself to the moist London underbelly, but can’t live up top. Another note about the Underground: no garbage cans. The reason is unfortunately sad- they were removed to minimize bombs.
Toast, tea, Marmite and barley water are important English staples. Toast is considered a treat; I won’t get into the tea debate but crikey if you want to wind up a Brit tell them how to make a perfect cuppa; Marmite (described by Terry Pratchett as ‘Salty tasting beery brown gunk’- erm, yum?) is an acquired taste; and we have yet to discover the delights* of barley water.
Brilliant British/London things (written in personal stone): the London Oyster Card– it’s a universal public transport card that never expires. Armando had one from a few years ago, topped it up and uses it now. The downside is that there’s a lot of leftover cash/dosh: about £30 million in unspent Oyster travel.
The NHS is stellar, at least for this American cousin. Care, courtesy and services were much better than you’d ever expect from all of the complaints of the Brits- most impressive and highly appreciated. Thank you, NHS.
Language, Shakespeare, Marlowe, Brass Eye, Monkey Dust, Eddie Izzard, Helen Mirren, Stephen Fry, Lord Sugar… my love list could go on for days/yonks, especially when I add in my ever-loverly books. I’m not an anglophile or –phobe. I like what I like (and thank you, UK).
English money isn’t fun. It’s not entertaining in the least. No numbers are written, but spelled/spelt out which leaves us squinting wonky-eyed at the register while the line/queue grows.
London bus stops facing walls are logical. Consider the fact that it rains a bit in sunny Londontown, and then consider waiting for a bus. Rain pools and puddles, drivers driving past- woosh, you’re soaked. The canny solution: turn the bus stop backs to the road, keeping people dry.
As you see, we haven’t really got into the touristy portion of London. We have, I think, discovered some interesting pieces of English info. Let us know if you have anything to add to our list- or passionate ripostes to our observations are more than welcome, too. We’ll leave you with a short clip from Big Train: