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Despite the tragic events of 9/11, life still goes on. Some of us have jobs which involve international travel, to places far and wide, such as Europe, and England.
As if we don't have enough to worry about with the war on terror, and our highly pressurized jobs, business travel forces us to confront a foreign culture, something us Americans are seldom prepared for. Which is why I have written a brief business traveller's guide to the UK.
Its a huge country, and some (including myself) would say, the best in the world. Most of us (around 90%) will never need to leave the safety and security of the USA at any point in our lives. This article is not for you lucky ones.
Some of us, usually for career related reasons, will find ourselves forced by our employer to travel abroad, to foreign countries, in order to do business with the foreigners.
In this article, I will be explaining the culture and lifestyles of the inhabitants of the United Kingdom (Also known as England, Britain, the UK, the British Isles, etc etc). I will use my own experiences to give you an insight into their habits, and helpful tips to ensure you business trip runs as smoothly as possible.
The best way to cope with your business trip to the United Kingdom (or UK as I shall refer to it from now on) is to remember that you are going to be in a FOREIGN COUNTRY packed full of FOREIGNERS and they DO THINGS DIFFERENTLY. This is a key factor to bear in mind. When you see something that is just flat-out wrong, you may be tempted to offer some constructive criticism, e.g. "you guys should drive on the right side of the road!". Don't do it. The foreigners will probably not be grateful for your advice. Just remember that you are in a FOREIGN country, and thank God that you will soon be back home in America.
So on to the culture of the UK. I have divided this guide up into sections to make it easier to digest. Hopefully most of what I write will be common sense!
If any of you out there have been to the UK and have any other suggestions, please feel free to post them in the comment section. Perhaps this can become the definitive "Internet Guide" to England.
The main problem here is that the British as a race are incapable of doing plumbing. You would have thought that they would learn from the various countries around the world which have mastered the art, but the famous British arrogance means that they still use iron-age plumbing techniques and stone-age materials. A typical English hotel will have a tiny room called a bathroom (usually no larger than a small closet) containing a bath, a sink, a shower and a lavatory. You will soon find that the shower offers insufficient pressure to drown an ant, and the lavatory will only flush if you get the wrist action exactly right. You will also be amazed that air-conditioning is effected by opening a window!.
My tip - Britain has lots of American hotel chains who understand the needs of the international business traveller. Try and stay at a Hilton or Marriot. Most UK towns and cities have them.
One of the things that makes for a pleasant stay in the UK is trying to fit in with the local culture. Food and Drink is one of the main ways in which a culture expresses itself, and the UK is no exception. From Fish and Chips, to Roast Beef and Yorkshire Pudding, from Pie and Mash to Jellied Eels, you will be a hit with the locals should you decide to eat like them.
On the other hand, I personally find UK food disgusting, unpalatable, unhealthy, and overpriced.
My tip - fortunately for us, good old American cuisine is readily available on most English high streets in the form of McDonald's, Burger King, TGI Friday's, In-and-Out Burger, Fatburger, Wendy's, Arby's, Taco Bell, Sizzler, Fuddrucker's, White Castle etc etc. If you ignore the extortionate prices, you could almost be at home.
Its not uncommon in a business setting for a group of co-workers to go to a "pub" and drink several pints of beer in a very short space of time. None of this meets with any sort of disapproval whatsoever, indeed in the City of London, such lack of self-control seems to be positively celebrated.
My tip - if you have occasion to attend such an after-work bonding session, the only advice I can give you is to pretend you are allergic to alcohol. Otherwise you risk being found slumped in a pool of your own vomit outside Liverpool Street station at 11:30pm, minus your mobile phone and wallet. Believe it or not, your imbecile foreign co-workers will find this amusing.
One of the good points about the UK, is that they speak our language. American is understood by most British people. Unfortunately, the English tend to speak it with quite a thick accent which to the untrained ear can be quite hard to understand. My tip here is to practice listening to their way of speaking before you leave home. Rent a couple of DVDs with English people in them, I recommend "Notting Hill", "Four Weddings and a Funeral" "The Italian Job" and "Mary Poppins". The latter title is essential should you intend doing business anywhere in the East of London, where a dialect of English known as "Cockney Rhyming" is the only language spoken.
You could also look up some British slang on the Internet to avoid any embarrassment when offered a cigarette (which is invariably referred to as a "faggot" or "fag" in Britain!).
Another thing to remember is to speak up. It is a fact that British people like to avoid conversation (that famous British reserve). You don't have time for that bullcrap, you are on business and time is money, so speak very loudly and don't give them the chance to pretend they haven't heard you.
Britain is a "first world" country with a "third world" health service. Despite an annual investment by the taxpayer of around $500bn if you need medical treatment in the UK, you will have to join a so-called "waiting list". This means you could be waiting up to 5 years for major surgery. This is the case whether or not you have travel insurance. Make sure your policy allows you to fly home for treatment.
Whilst Britain is a modern country on the face of it, it still lags behind America in several key areas. One such area is oral hygeine. British dentists must be amongst the poorest, most underworked professionals anywhere in the Western world. Most English people have teeth a bit like "Austin Powers" or Shane McGowan of the Welsh band "The Pouges". As a result of this, the dentists in the UK do not know what to do when confronted with a set of pearly white, uniformly straight American teeth.
My tip - on the whole, its better to see if your health insurance will pay to fly you to France or Switzerland for your dental work should it be necessary during your UK stay.
This is a difficult area. American women will be frustrated (or perhaps relieved) to find out that over 70% of British males are in fact, homosexual. This is due to their segregated school system with the "faggorty" system whereby sodomy is considered a healthy normal part of every teenage male's education. Combine this with the famous reticence and stiff-upper-lip of the remaining 30% of British males who are hetero, and you have a recipe for between-the-sheets disaster.
My tip - to American women - Forget it. Try and sublimate your sex-drive into your work. There is next to no chance that you will achieve copulation with a British male. In the event that you do, it will likely be a big disappointment. Most British males are not circumcized which means they cannot last very long, and suffer from all the other health problems being uncircumcized brings.
For the American man however, things are a bit better. Because of the homsexuality and reticence of the British male, the English females are likely to appreciate your firm heterosexual qualities, and indeed are highly likely to "put out" on a first date. However, the British female is not as attractive as the American woman, due to her poor dental hygeine, her grating accent, and her tendancy toward alcoholism (shared by both sexes in the UK). For this reason, you may want to try to date a foreign student instead. The West End of London is literally crawling with top-quality student babes from around the world. With all that talent on offer, you should not need to sample the native offerings.
Another intriguing aspect of visiting a foreign culture with its alien ways of doing things is the day-to-day manners and ettiquette which prevails.
You may think that as an American that you have little to learn about manners, and you would be right, but as with all things, the devil is in the details.
For example, in America it's perfectly acceptable to let a door slam in a woman's face, after all they have equal rights, and no woman is holding doors open for men, right ?. The UK is different. The British women or "ladies" (as they prefer to be called) have trained their men to perform all kinds of tasks for them. So you will be expected to hold doors open, lift heavy objects, and remove insects and spiders at the drop of a hat should an English "lady" request it of you.
Fortunately as an American, you are outside the archaic "class system", so you can freely chat to people without first determining how to address them.
My tip - practice saying "please" and "thank you" and "sorry". These three phrases characterize almost every social exchange you will have in the UK. When the British are not grovelling, they are apologizing. It's quite quaint once you get used to it. Although the constant politeness can slow the pace of a business meeting to a snail's pace. Here's a hint, as an American you will be expected to be blunt, rude, and get straight to the point. Use this fact to your advantage and you will save a lot of time.
The British are part of the European Union, but their stubborn "island monkey" arrogance has caused them to be left behind in the race to join the Euro currency. Yes, the Euro train had left the platform by the time the Brits got to the station. They missed the Euro boat, so for the time being they still use the antiquated "Pound Sterling" as currency.
A pound is worth about $1.20-$1.40 depending on the fluctuations in the currency markets.
More important to rememeber is that in the UK, products which to an American would be considered everyday staples are LUXURIES to the British. For this reason, almost everything costs twice as much as it does in the UK.
My tip - Lots of great American products are unavailable in the UK. Pack plenty of quality US products in your suitcase before you leave, you will save a small fortune.
You will be amazed to learn that even in this modern age that the English and Welsh and Scots and Irish (collectively the British) are not free men. Technically, they are the property of the Monarch, currently Queen Elizabeth II. In practice the Queen does not abuse her dictatorial powers, but she has the final say on who governs the country.
Being chattels of a privileged leader has deeply affected the British psyche, and this manifests itself as an acute awareness of class background. You may find some British behaviour quite strange, but the rituals of class are not ever likely to be understood by an American citizen, coming as we do from a free country.
My tip - try to avoid discussing the bondage slavery of the British people. It is probably considered "treason" and could land you in a British jail or "gaol" as they insist on calling it.
You would think that having bailed them out of World War II, the Brits would show us Americans some gratitude. But no good deed goes unpunished, and today if you want to enter the UK, you need a VISA. Not the credit card, a VISA is a rubber stamp in your passport that entitles you to visit the UK.
Yeah, thanks a lot for the appreciation guys. Don't mention it. Any time.
Due to their relative poverty compared to Americans, British people tend not to own cars and prefer to do all their travelling by public transport. For an American, this may be a first, but trust me, you do not want to attempt to drive in that country. For a start Automatic transmissions are illegal, and they drive on the left side of the road. How they got into this mess is anyone's guess, but my saftey tip here is travel everywhere on foot, or by bus or train.
Britain is still a hybrid Socialist/Communist society. Tipping is virtually unheard of. You will not get good service anyway due to the lack of a tipping culture, so there is no need to feel guilty about not giving tips. Save your money, the UK is expensive, you will need every penny you have.
Its safe to say that is is almost ALWAYS raining in the UK. So my first tip is to pack a waterproof overcoat of some kind. Leave your swimming gear behind, there are no beaches in England. Also if you intend to spend any time in London, be advised that they have a serious smog problem. On certain days, visibility can get down to as little as 10 yards, and some people can experience difficulty breathing. My tip - bring over a surgical mask, and carry it in your coat pocket ready to wear at the first sign of a "pea-souper" (the colloquial term for the thick stinking smog that pervades London at almost all times) That's what the locals do.
The United Kingdom of England and Britain is a bit like America, in the sense that it has lots of minorities all coexisting happily in a sort of melting-pot of racial harmony. Some of the ethnic minorities you may see on your travels are Afro-Carribeans, Pakistanis, Bengalis, Afghans, Albanians, Kosovans, Bosnians, Turks, Greeks, Italians, Indians, Australians, South Africans, French, German, Dutch etc etc.
You will have no problems with these people. There are a couple of minorities who (and I risk being accused of racism for saying it) can only be described as having a "chip on their shoulders". They are the Scots, the Irish, and the Welsh. Although they number a fraction of England's population, they see themselves as somewhat superior, and they hate the British with a vengeance. My tip - the best thing to do if you have to deal with one of these people is to steer the subject away from racial issues, and onto something more neutral - like the weather. English people of all races (Scots, Irish, Welsh) all enjoy nothing more than a pointless half hour discussion about their unchanging dull grey overcast weather.
If you are a sports fan, you will be shit out of luck if you want to follow any heterosexual sports such as football, basketball or baseball. The only sports the Brits like are Girls sports like Soccer, and "Rugger Bugger" (A game similar to our gridiron, but with much less strategy and tactics). If you are very lucky, you may manage to see some American sports on satellite television at your hotel. My tip - ask the concierge to get you tickets to a soccer match. The friendly "working class" atmosphere and bonhomie of the all-seater stadia is an authentic experience of male bonding which is hard to beat.
Do you have any tips for travellers to the United Kingdom ? Perhaps you have just got back. Perhaps you are there now. Perhaps you went there in the past. Whatever. Share your tips with us. Or just let me know if I have got anything wrong. Nobody's perfect after all!