Cracking Wise: An American in London

By David Mendez

So I had a bit of a problem a few months back: I had no idea what I was going to do for Spring Break this year.

My usual plan in years past was to go back to Phoenix, lay around at my parents’ house, eat their food and play video games until they “politely” nudge me out the front door. But for once, I decided to actually go out and have a more genuine college Spring Break experience, like real students do.

The thing is, I have no idea what real students do for Spring Break.

I mean, MTV tells me that most students head to Rocky Point, or Lake Havasu, though apparently any place with the potential combination of sunshine, public nudity and copious amounts of alcohol will work.

But I just couldn’t do that, partially because I didn’t want to pay for the necessary preventative vaccinations and medications I figured I’d need (H1N1 vaccine, penicillin, Valtrex).

Instead, I went a bit against the grain and went with some friends on a trip to London. One of my best friends was going to be spending a week visiting his sister, a grad student at the London School of Economics. Even better, his sister made her living room floor available for us while we were there. Free place to stay!

So after my week there, I feel confident that I can provide a concise but comprehensive guide to what one can expect when traveling to London, aside from the gentle touch of Homeland Security. (Quick note: Don’t jokingly ask the person frisking you if they’re willing to pay for dinner that night unless you’re actually willing to risk a cavity search. I’d say the restaurant was nice enough to be worth it though.)

One: If flying British Airways, take advantage of the free drinks on the plane. It’s the only way to make the 10-hour flight bearable, especially after you realize that all of the in-flight movies available star George Clooney. Nothing against Mr. Clooney, but you can only watch one man play the same character three times in a flight before blacking out at 20,000 feet seems preferable (Guess the film: George Clooney is a charismatic fast-talker whose hare-brained schemes lead to untold riches. Is it “Three Kings,” “O Brother Where Art Thou?,” “Ocean’s Eleven” or “the Fantastic Mr. Fox”? Not sure? NEITHER IS ANYONE ELSE).

Two: When exchanging your dollars for British pounds, try not to laugh at how ridiculous their currency looks. Remember, even though it looks like Monopoly money, their economy isn’t spinning down the drain as fast as ours is, so it’s still worth more than ours. Keep in mind that when you think “oh, £30 isn’t that much to pay for that shirt,” you’re practically saying to yourself, “I don’t need to pay rent this month: this flimsy piece of cotton will warm both my body and my soul.”

Also, they have £1 coins there. They’re like $1 coins, except people actually use them. Try to not accidentally drop a handful of these with a homeless man if you plan on buying dinner that evening.

Three: Don’t tip the help. Unlike in America, servers and bartenders actually make a legitimate minimum wage in the U.K. They can afford to be snippy, and many of them take advantage of this. Particularly my British Airways attendant, who rolled his eyes every time I asked for another small bottle of Jack Daniels. At least, I think he was rolling his eyes. I couldn’t quite tell after the fourth tiny bottle.

Four, though this one is more universal: When someone fills an air mattress for you, make sure that the air valve is closed before you go to sleep, especially when the mattress is on a hardwood floor. Otherwise, you may wake up at 4:30 in the morning after a night of drinking, wondering why there’s only a thin layer of vinyl between you and the reason your back won’t feel right for a week (and no, I’m not referring to that Homeland Security agent. He is quite the masseuse though, believe it or not.)

Five: As an American tourist, it is your duty to drunkenly hug any and every statue you see, and inappropriately if you get the chance. Remember, they hate us anyway, so you might as well do something to deserve it!

Six: The British are very familiar with death. Monuments to tremendous battles, sculptures commemorating disasters and churches whose walls and floors double as tombs are everywhere. Don’t think that anyone will blink an eye should you make the mistake of walking in front of a taxi, thinking it will stop for you. From my experience, you’d be lucky if someone scraped you off of the street before the buses came to finish the job.

Remember, they drive on the opposite side of the street there, so look right first. It must be some old British law, passed to ensure that Americans are run over from their blind side as payback for wasting all that tea in Boston.

Finally, six: Make sure to plan your trip around any airline worker strikes that may be occurring. The alternative is possibly spending the night in Las Vegas, like I was forced to do. Except unlike most Vegas trips, I was already broke when I got there because of all the damn souvenirs and candy I brought back home.

If you do get stranded, make sure to inform your airlines. More often than not, they’ll put you up in a hotel for the night, so you can then catch a make-up flight home.

If they don’t put you up though, try to make nice with Homeland Security.

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