Wednesday, November 09, 2005

It’s a Jungle Out There...

As promised, for the sake of representing multiple
viewpoints from other eagle-eyed foreign observers
who either live in or have recently visited this fine city,
the following is the first ‘guest post’ on the R.A.,
coming from “Private Dave”.


As a foreigner living and working in London, I liken my stay in this country to a military exercise and so it is that I’ve begun my second tour of duty back in the trenches after having served an interminable 3-year term on my first.

And it really is a jungle out there, not only in terms of navigating traffic on the city’s narrow, congested roads or the G.I. Joe-like maneuvers required to wedge yourself onto impossibly crowded tube trains during rush hour, but also when it comes to making your way along sidewalks and stairwells without sustaining grievous bodily harm. Who knew that walking could be a combat sport?

Perhaps it’s due to the large number of foreigners present, but it seems no matter what side you choose, you invariably choose the WRONG side. Thus in London, as in the military, you have to keep your head up and your shoulders squared, a lesson I’ve learned the hard way after being maliciously sideswiped--and then cursed at--on more than one occasion. Though it’s not unlike the behavior of New York cabbies that seem to spot a pedestrian and then hit the gas, only to slam on the brakes and scream obscenities at the offending victim they nearly ran down, here it’s a more of a stealth attack rather than a direct assault.

Observing this behavior, I’ve become increasingly convinced that some Brits (mainly of the male persuasion) engage in these tactics as a covert form of exercising their pent-up aggression. Suited up in their battle fatigues (usually a colorful checked shirt and dark suit), they appear to outright target unsuspecting victims in their sights like hapless rabbits caught in the crosshairs. It’s just lucky for us they’re only armed with briefcases instead of bayonets nowadays.

Though the weaponry of choice among the infantry divisions may have progressed, unfortunately, the battlefield on the London streets has just as inversely regressed. A recent study determined that traffic in 1899 moved faster here than it does in modern times. Perhaps this was the justification the honorable mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, used to implement the congestion charge for the questionable ‘pleasure’ of driving on his city streets. In any case, it now costs the equivalent of $15 U.S. to drive to work each day, which the U.S. embassy, for one, is refusing to pay.

Thanks to these measures, I will admit that I’ve noticed a difference in my daily commute: I can now move along at a clipping pace of 5.1 mph instead of my old average of 4.2. Nonetheless, I’m sure the money is being well-spent on…hmmm…wait a minute, just where is the money going? Oh yes, they claim public transport. Interesting claim, because last time I checked, the Tube was still a crowded, dirty, malfunctioning relic from the Victorian era. Maybe if they actually did upgrade the Tube, they’d finally stop people from taking to the roads and abandoning public transport in droves.

The crux of the problem seems to lie in the fact that this is a nation so caught up in reveling in past glories that they’ve failed to notice we’re actually residing in the present. No matter what the subject, talk invariably turns to previous successes, even if it’s necessary to travel back in time to Tudor England to find an applicable reference point.

Nowhere is this phenomenon more apparent than in the arena of sports, particularly soccer (or footie, as it’s called here in Blighty). When England plays Germany, the constant chant is "one world cup and two world wars, doo-da, doo-da!" Mind you, the last time they won the World Cup here was in 1966. Despite this, they were still bringing out these aging septuagenarians for quotes on the subject of heroism when England beat Australia in the Ashes cricket tournament for the first time in eighteen years this fall. But winning or losing aside, can you ever imagine the U.S. playing baseball against a team from Japan and the crowd chanting, "85 titles and two big bombs...doo-da doo-da"? Somehow, I don’t think so.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your point about sports is completely irrevelant. Sports by nature rely on the past--it's what makes them fun. Even in the States, we love talking about teams that were great and teams that won it all.

Also, your baseball reference is ridiculous. Football is an international game where countries regularly play each other. Baseball is never played internationally outside the Olympics and as truly an American game. Football is the World's game. I think you're stretching too much in your quest to pick on the English.

9:35 AM  
Blogger The Reluctant Anglophile said...

Hmmm, I sense a closeted British sports fan aching to get out here!
True, in the States, sports is also about celebrating past greatness as well as present, though generally, most teams don't have to look so far back in time to find examples of that greatness (unless of course we're talking about the Chicago White Sox).

I think it's weird here that they totted out World Cup winners from thirty years ago to talk about 'heroics' pertaining to an entirely different sport (Cricket) me that might seem to indicate a dearth of more recent (or relevant) greatness to hark back to.

I concede that soccer is indeed the world's game, as opposed to most U.S. sports, but nonetheless, I have a hard time imagining an occasion--even on a speculative basis--when we would be participating in a world sport and singing chants that incorporate our war 'heroics', such as they are.

7:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a fellow alumnus of that great college football powerhouse, Northwestern (the team that set the record for most consecutive losses by a Division 1 team--all right back in the 1980s), I just want to remind you of our chants. No, not "Rose Bowl!" which, at that point, NU hadn't been to since something like 1941. But "That's all right, that's okay, you're gonna work for us some day!" and "Our SATs are higher than yours." What does that say? Well, nothing probably, but damn, those were funny.
And Boston Red Sox fans had mercilessly endured chants of "1918" for years, until they ended their curse and won the Series in 2004. NY Ranger hockey fans routinely endured chants of "1940" from opposing fans--until erasing that by winning Lord Stanley's Cup in 1994.
I guess the point I'm trying to make is that sports fans are all idiots (myself included) and mostly chant to a) give themselves a laugh when their team sucks beyond belief, or b) taunt the opposition. With scoreboard led cheering the rule in the U.S. now, the old spontaneous chanting of fans rooting on their team to victory seems to be a quaint old England's 1966 World Cup victory. But you know what? Winning teams are heroes forever--especially in places where a win doesn't come around very often. I say, go for it England! But, psst, the war is over. You won. Get over it.

3:43 PM  
Blogger The Reluctant Anglophile said...

Doug, you raise a good point...I had completely forgotten about our "That's all right, that's okay, you're gonna work for us some day!" chant at school, which I admittedly participated in on at least one occasion while sitting thru yet another humbling Northwesten defeat...I guess coming from a school with such an inauspicious sports record (and also, sadly, becoming a Cubs fan thereafter), I could try to be more sympathetic to what it must feel like for the Brits.

11:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anonymous said, "Baseball is never played internationally outside the Olympics and as truly an American game."

Try telling that to the Cubans, Dominicans and Japanese. I think they'd disagree!

4:40 PM  
Blogger The Reluctant Anglophile said...

Jenney, You raise an excellent point, and add the Mexicans to that list as well (my husband's family is from there.)

11:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So the Tube is a dirty victorian relic? You should visit New York City some time soon and ride the subway. In a word - UGH.

3:00 AM  
Blogger The Reluctant Anglophile said...

I'm from New York and the subway there is like flying Business Class compared to being on the Tube! Primarily, it actually runs. Secondarily, it operates around the clock and when they have to do 'maintenance', they do it in the middle of the night instead of shutting down entire lines for multiple weekends in a row. And the subway cars are about sixteen times the size of the tube cars in London, which seem to be built for a capacity 1/3 of what they actually carry. Last but not least, the N, R and 6 lines in NY all have brand new, clean, modern, cars...possibly other lines do too, but those are the ones I always took. All of the tube cars here look like they've been used on the set of DIE HARD, Part 10, and didn't emerge victorious.

7:14 PM  

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