Wednesday, May 20, 2009

More thoughts on travel abroad

There sure is a lot of Eurotrash in London. There's a lot of Eurotrash everywhere in Europe, to be sure. I mean, you can't really escape French people in France, or Italians in Italy. Turns out you can't escape them in the UK, either. How do you identify Eurotrash, or distinguish it from ordinary Europeans? Four easy steps!

1) Cigarette in hand. I mean, that one should be a no-brainer. Forget carbon dioxide emissions, the Kyoto Protocol ought to deal with the perpetual cloud of cigarette smoke that Europe is choking under.

2) Tight jeans. Especially around the calves and ankles. This one applies to men and women!

3) General rudeness. Loud conversations across a train car, no heed paid to other pedestrians, ignoring the clear (and multi-lingual) instructions to "keep moving" in the chapels in Westminster Abbey.

4) Blatant tourism. Not that we Americans aren't guilty of this--we are, far more often than I'd like us to be--but Eurotrash take it to a whole new level. Please, stop holding up traffic on the Tube to consult your "Londra" guidebook.

In England, the English is largely very good, as you might assume. Sentences are concise but complete, and always informative. "We're working to renovate the escalators for this Tube station. These repairs will last until late 2011." That, as opposed to what you'd see on, say, Marta: "ESCALATORS UNDER RENOVATION", without the luxury of punctuation, let alone a verb.

There's a handful of linguistic anomalies that the Brits are fond of, though, that don't make too much sense to me. For example, see how I used "that" in that last sentence? It's a relative pronoun, designed to introduce the clause "the Brits are fond of". There, "that" is the "correct" pronoun to use, because it's a restrictive clause. The information is necessary to make the sentence make sense. In Britain, however, "which" seems to be used for any relative clause, regardless of restriction. "That" seems to be reserved for a demonstrative pronoun. And that's sure not what I learned in high school English class.

But one thing I do remember learning in high school English, that I thought completely insane at the time, is the use of singular nouns that "act" as plural. "The family are coming to dinner", as opposed to "the family is coming to dinner." Apparently, because "family" is understood to contain more than one person, it's treated as a plural noun.

"No, nobody talks like that," I remember complaining back in high school. We use "family is", because we're talking about only one family. "Families are", for more than one family, and "members of the family are", if we're concerned with the individuals more than the group.

Turns out that people do talk like that--just not often in the United States. You hear it the most in talk about sporting teams. Here, we'd say "the Braves are looking to do better than 4th place this year," but "Atlanta is". In Britain, you get "Chelsea are looking to place well in next year's Champions League." So maybe this actually is correct English--but it's completely alien to American speakers, and I don't think it makes a great deal of sense anyhow.

The British culinary tradition is much maligned--and really, I can think of few things less appetizing than a giant pile of peas next to my sandwich--but English breakfast really ought to be regarded along with the best cooking in the world. Toast (and the Brits do love their toast), eggs, "bacon" (which is more a slab, like Canadian bacon, than the crispy strips that we're used to), sausage (which I think is required to come along with every meal), coffee or tea, juice. That part is expected.

Then you look to the other side of your plate and notice... baked beans? Mushrooms? A tomato? What trickery is this?

Delicious, is what it is.

Currently listening: "Klavier", Rammstein

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