Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Perhaps a little too British for my liking...

After almost half a year abroad, I think it is now safe for me to admit that some progress has been made towards my integration! I have discovered that where I am, there is absolutely no sense of embarrassment, politeness, or personal space. Actually, scratch that - it isn't progress at all. But it is an important realisation, since it was my awareness of this that made me realise just how British I am.

This shocking discovery was made around three days ago. There I was, talking to a group of friends on the pavement, when out of nowhere a bloke walked straight into my side. After recovering from the trauma of a stranger entering into my life (a major shock for any Brit), I felt my mouth begin to move, and I heard myself saying it. I tried to catch it on the way out, but I was too late. There, in my thick British accent, I turned round and said, "Sorry".

What?! Sorry?! Could I possibly have been any more British?! I might as well have been wearing coat tails, a top hat, and been draped in a Union Jack and said, "Oh sorry old chap, I seem to have been somewhat of an inconvenience by standing here. I should have known that you were planning to pass through the small area that I occupied. If you would allow me to extract myself from under your body, I will remove myself from your presence and allow you to continue with your life." It puzzles me how I am supposed to blend in when my subconsious is wired to produce such ridiculous reactions.

In hindsight, I suppose what I should have said would have been more along the lines of, "You moron! Do you not look where you are going?! How hard is it to tell if somebody is in front of you or not? Or maybe I have suddenly gained the power of invisibility! Is it time for me to start wearing my underwear over my clothes and prance round in tights until a film is made about me? No? Well, I suggest that next time you are walking around you spend less time checking out passers-by on the street and occasionally look in front of yourself!" Ok, fine. That might have been a bit harsh. After all, I don't want to integrate too much. But I think that we can agree that in this case, "Sorry" can be roughly translated as, "I am ever so sorry for your general lack of intelligence and for how you must have been dropped on your head as a baby".

As long as I continue to have these reactions, I think you'll agree that I face a mahoosive task to blend in. What's more is that these moments are not just limited to the word "sorry". An absurd amount of unnecessary politeness is engrained in almost every inch of my being. And it shows. Being alone and abroad, friends and family often invite me round for a meal, and that's lovely! You cannot beat the company or the cooking of a home environment! But inevitably, at some point throughout the meal, the test will come: seconds. This is not, as one might think, a test of my self control in an attempt to diet, oh no. It is a lot more complicated than that. Often, what I want to say is, "Why thank you, it's all delicious!", but before I have had time to assess the situation, the words, "No thank you" have already left my lips. Why am I saying that?! But more importantly, how on earth do I stop?! It's not as if I can turn round a few seconds later and go, "Erm... I might have lied before. I would actually love a little more of everything please!" Come to think of it, if I ever was to diet, this problem (especially considering my overactive appetite) could prove extremely useful.

Seeing as I have little desire to starve myself silly for no other purpose than to fit into a slightly smaller pair of jeans, this aspect to my character can quite frankly bugger off as far as I'm concerned. I'd much rather not have to apologise for other people's mistakes and be able to say what I want than be left with the constant frustration of rueing what my inner British self decides for me. Until then, I guess I will just have to keep calm, carry on, and not have seconds.

Friday, 13 January 2012

The guide to tourist spotting

tour•ist (tourists)
A person who is visiting a place for pleasure and interest, especially when they are on holiday

Just in case you didn't know, that is the dictionary definition for, you've guessed it, a tourist. Although it seems silly to explain this, it is important that we know exactly what they are. For the past five months I have desperately struggled to disguise myself in an attempt to blend in with the locals, and on the whole, I think I have managed it. Well, on the surface, at least; I still stand in queues, carry English money, and get overly excited when I catch a glimpse of the sun. 

It will take some time to iron out these deeply rooted British habits, but until then, I feel that I should pass on my wisdom and experience, for as we all know, it is the nightmare of every middle-class Englishman to be seen as a tourist. The conversation between a couple packing for holiday includes many uses of the following phrases: "No! You cannot be seen in that!", "I threw that out months ago... Where on earth did you find it?!"' and, "Remember the sun-cream... Yeah, factor 100...", in an attempt to prepare themselves for instant integration. As you might have guessed, these snide remarks are generally directed towards the man in the family or relationship. Belonging to the male species myself, I believe I speak for all men when I say that we find this thoroughly offensive, since if we even dreamed of saying such things to our partners (for all women reading, this is something we never, ever do), chaos, screaming, and general peril would quickly ensue. Anyway, before I am lured into ranting about double standards for the sexes, I believe it is time to introduce the subject of today's post: "The Guide to Tourist Spotting".

Preface: The species homotouristus has several varying breeds of character, often distinguished by the subject's age and company. Mannerisms between groups of single males, for example, are very different to those of a middle-aged couple. Within this guide I have neglected to define which feature belongs to which breed, but it should be fairly self explanatory.

Physical description:

The most common sighting of a homotouristus sees him wearing overly short shorts whatever the weather, shoes (generally sandals) accompanied by grey socks pulled as close as possible to the knee, a khaki or beige shirt decorated with a magnitude of sweat patches, and the essential bum-bag faithfully strapped at his waist. Their weapon of choice, a camera, hangs around their necks, ready to capture images to be stored on their computer's hard-drive, never to be seen again. Please note that several spotters have confirmed rare sightings of the common homotouristus with sunglasses lenses clipped on to their glasses. These tourists must be avoided at all costs unless you truly want to hear a lengthy, dreary speech about the quality of their flight and accommodation, the list of their allergies, and the names of all their plants that they left behind at home. 

Biologically, they often boast pale, pasty skin, a squishy build, a receeding hairline, and depending on sun exposure, their coloration can vary from looking overly embarrassed to a sun-dried tomato. 


Clutching their faithful maps in their pudgy hands, many wear a puzzled expression whilst wandering around towns and places of cultural interest, glancing between their maps and street-signs. However, when herds of 10 or more males gather, this generally timid species becomes extremely rowdy, disturbing everybody around them whilst they pursue their quest of finding a mate. 

Aside from this difference, any interaction with the locals remains the same across all breeds. Many will attempt to speak the native language in their own accent, but their purposefully patronising tone inevitably gets them nowhere. Once this has failed, they will then resort to a series of over-expressive hand gestures followed by a period of tutting, muttering how the locals should learn to speak English.  

Known locations:

Due to the varying characteristics of the homotouristus, there is no one place that can be attributed to them as a species. However, they can be found at places of cultural interest (monuments, museums, art galleries etc), land marks, or slowly frying themselves on the beach. As night begins to fall, however, hundreds flock to the watering hole (bars) to drink their fill, and can later be seen stumbling back to their hotels', cursing as they walk into lampposts and other objects in the street. 

Aside from the above locations, it has often been reported of lone males standing outside shopping centres looking glum. Do not think, dear readers, that they are upset because they have forgotten to pick up some local currency. Instead, they are simply patiently waiting whilst their partners browse the retailers' outlets within. 

Disclaimer: I, the writer of this post and of "The Guide to Tourist Spotting", take no responsibility to those offended by the above information. If you do happen to take offence, please feel free to keep your complaints and opinions to yourself.

And so that concludes my guide. Compiled purely from experience, stereotypes and a good dose of British sarcasm, feel free to use this information at any time. Be it for your own amusement whilst tourist spotting or to help you gain a fuller understanding of the group you are trying to disguise yourself from, I'll leave it up to you. 

Thursday, 12 January 2012

And in the Queen's money that is?

Going on holiday is very different to moving abroad. Obvious though it is, that's about the most profound summary of my situation that I can muster. Spectacularally moving, isn't it? It's just a shame that the actual action of making the transition between countries didn't go the same way. Due to my obsessive tendency to overpack and the length of time I would be spending abroad, after several attempts at repacking, I was still left with a gargantuous, bulging suitcase and a single thought: "Somehow, I don't think that will weigh 23kg..." Oh, how right I was. A few hours later I found myself dragging this mahoosive abomination of a suitcase round and round Heathrow airport looking for the right check-in desk, which as always, is situated as far away as possible from the entrance that you came in through. 

Once I managed to stumble into the queue, after several minutes spent regaining my breath and nursing my exhausted arm, it was my turn. The moment of truth. Casually, I heaved my luggage onto the scales, using all my energy to prevent myself from vocalising my discomfort and to keep the nonchalant look on my face. 29kg. Not good. So, naturally, as any good Brit would do, I began to argue. Somehow, they couldn't understand my reasoning that people fatter than me would automatically be carrying more weight onto the plane and they are not forced to compensate this in any way. It's good to know that's how my brain responds under pressure. In the end, however, sanity kicked in and after explaining my situation, I was eventually allowed to  check-in and progress towards security. 

With hindsight, it seems certain that Britain had wanted me to give me a final taste of its rather frustrating and strange logic before I left. Flight protocols now demand us to package all of our liquids into clear, plastic zippy bags, just to make sure they are safe to be taken aboard. Fair enough, I guess. So I began the long and lengthy process of rummaging through my hand luggage, sealing my liquids in individual bags, and then replacing them. However, the poor numpty on the table opposite wasn't paying attention, and insisted that I repeat the proccess for his benefit. In order to avoid a confrontation with security, I reluctantly obliged, and successfully managed to contain my complaints. But really, both of us didn't really want to be there so what would have been the harm with letting me pass through and each one of us getting on with our lives?! That's the British mindset I guess. However, once I had finally finished redressing myself after an over-invasive security check, the final hurdle to leaving Britain was approaching: currency exchange. 

I love having foreign money. Not only does it make me feel all windswept and interesting, but due to a wonderful thing called exchange rates, I instantly feel as if I have more. Sadly though, those doing the exchanging are aware of this and take advantage of our distracted state. Well, at least that's what it seems to me, since every time I exchange money, a portion of my finances magically disappears in the transaction. Offering us the opportunity to exchange one pound for a greater amount of a different currency, whilst we are marvelling at our 'intelligence' for the 'bargain' we have just made, I am sure that they must pocket a few quid. Now, I have been told that there are taxes or other such evil measures levied onto currency exchange, but it remains difficult to escape from the scenario that my over-active imagination has provided me with. 

However, all that is now in the past. Being in my fifth month abroad, surely, one would think, that by now I should be adjusted to the new currency. Oh, how wrong one could be. Whenever I find myself with the need to pay for something, which happens quite regularly as you could imagine, I am still, after all this time, unable to deduce whether something is expensive or not. Standing at the front of the queue, struggling to cope with the simple mental arithmetic that I should have perfected in the early years of my childhood, it takes me a good few moments to work out the true value of my Diet Coke. Furthermore, the speed of this process is not helped in any way by the frustrated locals muttering, what I can only assume to be complaints, behind my back. 

I have always said to myself that I will cease to be a tourist when I am able to speak the language and be comfortable with the currency. Seeing as I am still unable to understand the criticisms that my fellow queue-ees so eagerly offer, and that in my wallet, I am embarrassed to say, I still carry around a few pennies, I am pretty sure that this moment has not come.  Judging by my progress, this milestone does not seem likely to reached for an awfully long time.