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An American in London

I’ve always disliked Anglophiles—you know, those individuals among us who display a tendency to admire and emulate the British that is far out of proportion to their actual worth? You must know some. Your Aunt Mitzi in Connecticut with the portraits of English hunting dogs on her “drawing room wall” who hosts weekly teas with her friends (she calls them “dames”) is one. So is the Midwestern girl with David Beckham and Orlando Bloom posters on the ceiling above her loft.

Spending several weeks in London over the past year, however, has shown me the light—that the only thing worse than an Anglophile in America is an Obvious American Tourist in London.

This subset of tourists—OATs—may be easily distinguished from the art aficionados and businesspersons who also flock to London by the neon-colored visors they actually wear around the city. OATs insist on complaining loudly to passersby about the terrible exchange rate in an attempt to sound like more seasoned, worldly, jaded travelers. This attempt is, however, slightly compromised by the fact that they are waiting in line to buy tickets for Jerry Springer: the Opera.

Fear of association with OATs is why I preferred walking 10 blocks out of my way to asking directions of anyone while exploring the city. Eventually, I would furtively duck into a hotel WC (that’s bathroom) to consult my guidebook, or, if I couldn’t understand the map, I would ask a passing cabbie, whose accent I couldn’t understand anyway. I would then go sit in a park and try to figure out where I was. This presented an entirely new set of problems, as London has many, many parks, and they all look basically the same.

Even as I possessed such magnificent navigating tactics, Londoners persisted in making me feel more American than I’ve ever felt on the 4th of July.

Once, a large potentially intimidating and definitely inebriated man standing next to me at a swank bar cajoled me and my American accent into saying “Whatever” and “That is so cool” with the promise of a drink. Please… you would have done it too.

Another time, I climbed into the passenger seat of my boyfriend’s car and buckled in, only to see him chuckling outside my window. “What? Get in the car!” If I wanted him to drive, he explained through wheezes, I would have to move away from the steering wheel.

So I’ve been making gentle efforts to become less obviously American before a summer internship in London and a semester abroad in Florence.

A few days ago, while reading an article from the New York Times online before bed, an advertisement for a prominent British airline in the middle of the article caught my eye. Usually, I would have just thought it was obtrusive and kept scrolling down, but this one was different. It promised to help me explore the “real London.” Note: any attraction, anywhere, that promises to show you the “real” anyplace is a tourist trap, especially when there are wax figures. But this was free, so I clicked.

At the top of the website was a “Brit-Speak Dictionary” that I figured could prepare me for London. In the good three and a half minutes I spent on the site, I learned British words like “cuppa ’cha,” “dosh” and “snog,” along with helpful, illustrative sentences such as, “Do you have any DOSH? If you buy me a CUPPA ’CHA, I’ll give you a SNOG.”

“Wow,” I thought, excited about my new knowledge. “This will be so useful in London. I will be able to both understand and communicate with the locals. Now I won’t ever provoke, ‘Aw, you are so AMERICAN!’ coos when I ask what DOSH means.”

Then my pragmatic side kicked in.

“But these words won’t sound right coming from your mouth.

“Hmm…. They would only sound right if I said them with some kind of a British accent.

“That would be the only thing more ridiculous then saying them with your American accent.

“Oh yeah…”

So even though the words will NOT come out of my mouth, my education on the airline website will go to understanding my colleagues and many, many new friends in my eight months out of the U.S.A. This column will document my experience. It will be a travelogue, an observation diary, a space for you to get the better of my blunders. I pledge to be coherent in every entry. Hopefully, all of it will come together nicely no matter the accent with which you read.

RIGHT-O. I am CHUFFED that you FANCY to read this far. Have a PUKKA summer!

Emily Rotberg is a Trinity junior and former Wire Editor for The Chronicle.


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