American tourists are being encouraged to sample proper London life, but is it fair to subject our visitors to a diet of binge drinking, violence and profanities?
Though they are disliked in some of the less advanced corners of the globe – Islington, for instance – I have a soft spot for Americans. True, there have been occasions in the past when they have tried us sorely. They lured our gallant Redcoats into the Carolina swamps and shot them like rabbits; their GIs seduced the flower of English womanhood with nylons and chewing gum; and they are still too cowardly to eat our beef. But I am all for letting bygones be bygones, and I am even prepared to overlook such pestilential blots as Madonna.
So it is in the spirit of magnanimity and hands-across-the-ocean that I feel honour-bound to correct a misleading impression of our capital city deliberately being fostered in the US by the tourist organisation VisitLondon.
The $1.8m (&£1m) campaign created by Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R, to name the cast in its entirety, is currently running in Boston, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Washington. It sets out to entice American visitors by inviting them to be Londoners during their stay here.
According to Martine Ainsworth-Wells, marketing director of VisitLondon, focus group research shows that potential visitors from the US “want to live like a Londoner lives, exploring a little further, eating in pubs, watching football in pubs, finding little stores, finding bargains, experiences you remember and share when you’re back home.”
“Man, what I’d give to be in the Carpenter’s Arms,” a woman says in a radio advertisement.
“In whose arms?” a man replies.
“It’s a pub in London, England,” the woman says. “We could enjoy a pint of real ale there… watch the soccer with a quiet half pint in the Dove in Hammersmith, then head up to the Blind Beggar in Whitechapel… grab some traditional pub food at the Engineer in Primrose Hill… and still make last call at the Ship in Wandsworth.”
That is not really drinking as Brits do. To enjoy the genuine experience, Elmer and Myrtle should take themselves to somewhere like Nottingham on a Friday night. There they should pop in to any local and set about pouring alcoholic stimulants down their throats as though their lives depended upon it. Eventually, when a gallon or so of lager, alcopops and vodka washes up against their tonsils it’s time to spill out into the street. What happens next is entirely a matter of personal taste: some punch others in the face until the blood flows freely, some pull their skirts over their heads and crawl along the gutter. Some attack ambulance men, others kick in shop windows. Everyone vomits.
A real guide to London would point out to American visitors that it is not only a home from home – Starbucks, KFC, McDonald’s on every corner and immensely fat people in baseball caps and sneakers waddling down the sidewalks – it is, for New Yorkers in particular, a trip down memory lane. Remember the days when dark corners concealed a mugger, when graffiti disfigured the walls, when tramps urinated in shop doorways, when black bags of litter piled up uncollected for days, when public transport was a joke, when rudeness was a way of life and guns a threat? Well, welcome to London!
The visiting American will quickly find himself at home with the language we speak. Gone are the impenetrable sounds of Cockney sparrows. Today we all say things like “no way” and “big-time”, and “cool” is the ultimate term of approbation. Long gone, too, are the London street cries of old. Costermongers may occasionally draw attention to their blood oranges in voices that bring back memories of Concorde taking off, but the real sound of London is the natives larding every sentence with the F-word.
By all means Elmer, take Myrtle into a pub to watch the soccer. Here you will find something that has been missing from the London scene for many years. Back in the 1950s one of the most popular visitor attractions was the chimpanzees’ tea party at London Zoo. The apes, so nearly human, gibbered and squeaked, grimaced and scratched their backsides and exhibited such outrageous bad manners that every onlooker laughed in delight. A pub crowded with football supporters watching the big screen is the nearest thing we have today to the chimps at play. You will certainly remember and share the experience when you get back home.
Apart from that, the pubs will, I’m afraid, be a disappointment. You won’t see local characters chatting by inglenook fires or sipping pints beneath oaken beams in quaint Dickensian hostelries. You will see shaven, tattooed, earringed, bull-necked men and women playing pool or pushing coins into slot-machine to a background of deafening music. As Dr Johnson didn’t quite say, visit London if you’re tired of life. â¢