I just posted on the Odyssey Workshop forum, to see who was coming from the USA to World Fantasy Con in Brighton, UK, later this month. In case some of them are visiting the UK for the first time, I thought I’d give them a bit of guidance to help them fit in:
There are two ways to pronounce ‘Brighton’. The toff method is to go, ‘Bright-un’ – you pull back your mouth from your teeth and articulate ‘Bright’ crisply, ending with a sharp ‘t’; then ‘un’ like a soft but well-enunciated ‘en’. If you want to say it more like the traditional tourist (i.e. from South East London) and therefore not sound out of place, you go: ‘BrEYE-n.’ Keep your lips fairly close together but not actually touching (except on the ‘B’ at the start), emphasise the ‘eye’, then a slight gap finishing with a mumbled, ‘nnnn’.
Actually, there are three ways to pronounce ‘Brighton’ since the modern indigenous local is now gay, Brighton being the gay capital of the UK. But I’m not going to give you advice on how to pronounce gayly – it’s more about performance, anyway.
Tipping: unlike in the USA, you won’t be chased out of a bar by a barman with a hatchet if you tip less than 20%. Tipping in UK bars is not, in fact, required at all; if you do tip, you will be easily identified as an American and therefore probably find yourself paying twice as much for the next round. When you (finally) receive your drinks from the bar person, all that’s required is a brisk ‘Cheers, mate,’ accompanied by a brief nod of the head – this nod is an ancient traditional vestige of a time when all British peoples (outside of the toffs) felt an affinity with each other. Your little nod says you recognise that while he/she is serving you, you are no better than he/she. The fact that he/she is almost certainly Polish these days has not yet altered this much-loved social requirement.
10% tipping in restaurants is fine, up to maximum 15% if the waiter didn’t make you feel like you should really be troughing in McDonald’s. Remember that in the UK as a general rule, waiters and bar staff aren’t trained; they’re paid peanuts and no one expects them to do much more than stay awake while they pretend to take your order. Brighton is better in this respect than most places in the UK, mainly because many of the B&Bs and restaurants are run by gay couples and therefore are top-notch establishments.
On no account do a ‘Hendrickson’. This is to find yourself talking to a Scottish/Welsh/Irish barman and in an attempt to show you understand the local sporting culture, observe that since Scotland/Wales/Ireland (North and South) did not succeed in reaching the World Cup finals next year, you expect he’ll be cheering on England. Let’s just say it won’t be safe to drink whatever he serves you following this, even if it stays in the glass.
If you do want to talk about the World Cup, please remember that what the entire world apart from the USA plays is ‘football’, not ‘soccer’. American football is a game played mostly with the hands; the rest of the world plays football that’s, um, played mainly with the feet.
It’s probably best to not mention the Royal Family. This is because the British tend to be sharply divided in their views on this subject (pretty evenly, too, despite the pro-Royals impression the media tends to give). On the one hand, the Royals exemplify all that’s best about Britain: ceaselessly and tirelessly working for the good of all; sacrificing their lives for the nation; smiling and waving cheerfully through all adversities, etc, etc. On the other hand, they’re the Nazi-loving descendents of the robber barons who stole the nation’s wealth and have perfected the Mafia-like trick of getting the people to pay to keep them in luxury (although unlike the Mafia, the people actually feel grateful for doing so) while holding on to said wealth, and of exemplifying the nonsense notion that breeding equals privilege, etc, etc.
Ditto ‘Downton Abbey’.
Finally, the British attitude to SF/Fantasy. Like everything else, it’s complicated. When I was young, admitting you liked SF/Fantasy was another kind of coming out – not of the sexual closet but out of the same rickety old foundations-less shack as comics, musical theatre and the ‘Carry On’ films. Back then, even Patrick Moore scoffed at the notion that there might be life on other planets. And while he changed that view in time, and even wrote an astronomy book with the lead guitarist of a popular music combo whose name wouldn’t sound out of place in Buckingham Palace, it doesn’t mean the British as a whole has embraced SF fully.
Dr Who now exemplifies this British contradiction. When it first appeared (and I remember hiding behind the sofa during the first-ever episode) it was difficult to hear the dialogue on account of the constant parental barrage of, “What you watching this rubbish for?” and “Why can’t you watch something educational instead?” Dr Who now, of course, is a national institution on a par with the Royals – and it’s just as risky to criticise it. But that doesn’t mean we British are at peace with SF. Check out ‘As Others See Us’ in Dave Langford’s wonderful ‘Ansible’: http://news.ansible.co.uk/a315.html (lots of other useful UK SF/Fantasy stuff there too).