I'm in London to bet on the world swimming championships, which are taking place in Barcelona this coming week. Unfortunately, the bookmakers are only willing to take very small bets. (Had I known this ahead of time, I wouldn't have come.) When I complained, they told me I was the only one making bets, which made them leery.
Swimming must be such a wholesome activity that its participants and fans are simply averse by nature to an unwholesome activity like gambling.
The betting shops themselves are depressing places, full of broken down old men who obviously have nothing else going on in their lives.
Well, at least I fit in.
London seems even more diverse than the last time I was here, in 2004. So far I have heard Greek, Bulgarian, Russian, French, Chinese, Polish, and Jamaican accents. And fewer British accents.
It's a little weird to hear black people speak with British accents. I know, there shouldn't be anything weird about that, they are British, but somehow, there is. (When they travel stateside, do their brethren think they're putting on airs?)
Everyone I've spoken to, whatever their accent or race, has been very polite and helpful. To that extent, I suppose, they've all been Anglicized.
It's not hard to spot the American tourists. They wear shorts and running shoes and t-shirts with various logos, an outfit most Europeans wouldn't be caught dead in.
One thing Europeans will be caught dead doing, though, is smoking. The Brits don't light up quite as much as the French, but you can never walk far in London without smelling cigarette smoke.
Speaking of which, even though it's a cliche, some Brits really do look as though they just smelled something bad. It's sort of an effete, I'm-so-refined-I-find-everything-distasteful sort of look. (It's subtle, though, and Americans who try to imitate it, like Robert Downey doing Sherlock Holmes, always end up overdoing it.) There's a variant on this expression, the I'm-terribly-afraid-to-inform-you-but-I've-just-cut-one look. It's also vaguely effete, but with a different, less narcissistic flavor. You can almost tell just from their faces that the latter type are always painstakingly polite and take great care to point out that everything that goes wrong is completely their fault.
(I find these people a natural fit for me, since I'm the type who refuses to take blame for anything.)
I only notice these things because I stare at people. People around here seem to consider that bad form, but, hey, I'm an American: I'm supposed to be rude.
I've gotten the hang of their subway system, which they refer to as the Tube, or the Underground. At first it seemed expensive, but then I realized that the ticket I bought for roughly eleven dollars would take me anywhere for the entire day. Another nice thing about the Tube is that unlike the New York subway system, it doesn't smell like stale urine. (New Yorkers are really the ones who should walk around looking as if they just smelled something bad.)
One nice thing about England is that you see fewer chain stores. America has become the land of monopolies: few local bookstores survived the onslaught of Barnes & Noble, and now B&N is struggling to survive the onslaught of Amazon. And so it went for many types of businesses. In London, it seems the vast majority of street-level stores are unique.
England's largest unique store is Harrod's, which I wandered through today. Five minutes was enough to convince me that everything there is overpriced by a multiple of about four. Evidently, you have to pay up for their name. The store was full of Japanese tourists carrying shopping bags. (I don't think there is a Japanese translation for the word "sale.")
Anyway, I've got another eight days of doing my bit to burnish the ugly American image, staring at people and complaining to the betting parlors that they won't take large enough bets. Hmm....maybe I should go back to Harrod's and inform the sale clerks that their prices are too high.