Thursday, April 16, 2009

Thoughts on the UK

Some general impressions regarding my recent trip to the UK:

* The British transportation system is awesome. From taxis, buses, underground, overground, and trains, you can get anywhere in a reasonable amount of time and it’s affordable. The only complaint that I had, as a tourist, is that on weekends and holidays, services are limited due to “planned engineering” and unless you are extremely familiar with the routes and stops, knowing the best, easiest and fastest way to navigate around these is a problem. Where you can get from point A to point B in a straightforward way during the week, on the weekends you have to go from A to C to D to B.

* English, and for that matter Scottish food, is horrible. C is rather adventurous when it comes to food, and even she stopped eating it after a day or 2. You never see a “British” restaurant, so I don’t even know where one would find that type of food. You do see ethic food of almost any country you can think of. We ate French, Italian, Chinese and Mexican (in Scotland no less) and the quality was awesome. Not overly expensive and the portion sizes were what I would call normal – not American-sized like we have here. Needless to say, the beer choices at pubs was incredible and they were extremely helpful in helping foreigners get the style of beer they wanted. They even had “extra cold” Guinness (which seems like an oxy-moron) which C said was very good.

* I love watching the BBC. There is something about the accent, the calm delivery and manner of the “presenters” that makes you believe they really KNOW what they are talking about. The coverage of the civil unrest in Thailand, the rescue of the American ship captain, the break-up of the Easter holiday plot (more on that) was so radically different than what we would have seen here. Maybe it’s the 24/7 news channels here (as far as I could tell, Britain does not have 24/7 channels – even CNN international isn’t) that make news so sensational. There always seems to be “breaking news” on CNN and Fox, but is it really news and is it really that important? Or is it because they have to fill 24/7 programming and to keep viewership, they “invent” breaking news?

* If one wants to see a truly international city, go to London. It was amazing to see and hear so many different languages and people. Not so many Americans – mostly Germans, Spanish, and Italians. And even those who were “British” (based on accents), most were not white Anglo-Saxon. The number of Asians and Indian/Pakistani speaking with British accents and obviously lived there was astounding. And to truly understand England's, and especially London’s, role in the global economy, we were told an interesting fact that I had never realized. London is the only major city that can handle banking transactions on the same business day from Asia to the US.

* As much as we here in the US are warned about terrorists, for most of us it’s not something that we truly have to worry about on a day-to-day basis. But in the UK, it is a very real and daily threat. If it’s not the IRA, it’s “home-grown” 2nd or 3rd generation Muslim extremists. And if they aren’t home-grown, it’s Pakistani’s on student visas. This is a HUGE problem. A terror plot based in Manchester was busted up a few days before Easter. All the folks rounded up were in Britain on student visas. There are numerous bogus universities that when you look at their websites, they show a “campus” with lecture halls, libraries and large number of courses. But they are actually store-fronts with a couple of rooms and courses in how to be a bouncer. But the authorities don’t have the time, or perhaps inclination, to run these all down. So all someone has to do is show a class schedule and proof of paying tuition and they get a visa. They get to Britain and disappear into the many ethic communities in most of the medium to major cities. The guys in this plot were in Manchester and surrounding cities and some of them worked as security guards at the Manchester airport or at shopping malls. Of course, their friends and landlords were shocked and couldn’t believe that these clean-cut students, who when not working or in class, spent all their time at the local mosque, could be involved in something like this.

* England was so green and lush, even in April. Gotta be all the rain they get.

* Nothing like watching a soccer match in a pub. And while soccer is their national sport, in Scotland it seemed like rugby was the sport of choice.

Guess that’s it – cheers mate!


Stephanie said...

Interesting. Have not been to England. How expensive is London?

love johnson said...

Right now the exchange rate is the best it's been for 10 years or so. Also good against the Euro, thus the high number of folks from the continent. That being said, it's pricey, but you can find very good rates for good hotels. We saw many restaurants with 3 course specials that were very moderately priced. The French place we ate at twice had a great selection of choices for their specials. Where you get hit for $$ are the admissions to all the places you want to see.

Scooter said...

Some of the meals the "Two Fat Ladies" used to prepare on the food channel didn't look too bad. The pub food is bearable, too. I'm thinking Shepherd's Pie.