Category Archives: Life in London

Do Londoners Hate Tourists? I Ponder…

No tourists allowed.

True or False: Londoners Hate Tourists? Fa..Tr..Well…

While tourism is a year-round reality in a city like London, the summer sees a particularly high rate of vacationers and soon-to-be-students flocking to all of the city’s best-known places and often outnumbering full time residents 3 to 1. The culture shock resulting from these encounters can be harsh for both sides. Many tourists feel Londoners are snobbish and unwelcoming, and many Londoners look upon tourist season with all the enthusiasm of a locust invasion. I’ve heard tourists complain (loudly) that they feel targeted and disrespected. As an alien — no, not the cool kind from X-Files, the kind that emigrated from another country — allow me to dispel this notion. Londoners are not targeting tourists. Rather tourists gleefully draw targets on themselves by sticking out like sore thumbs and acting in ways that make it very obvious to any and all that clearly, you are not from here. That sounds bad doesn’t it? Partly it’s meant to, but if I could impart some helpful wisdom as someone who has had to learn to fit in, here would be my top 6 observations (it could have easily been ten) and suggestions for enjoying your stay in one the world’s greatest cities without pissing off the locals at every turn.

First, a health warning for tourists. BEWARE because London apparently causes a disease that Londoners refer to as SUP – Sudden Unexplained Paralysis. This is the only apparent explanation we can come up with for why people visiting from out-of-town will suddenly stop dead in the middle of a busy street or on the stairs of a busy tube station. One minute they’re moving and the next…they’re a living breathing statue. And the reason why Londoners know that it’s a tourist that’s been felled by this mystery ailment is because there is usually a map, a camera or an A to Z involved. I get it. You want to take a picture, you’re lost, you’re checking your mobile’s GPS. You want to avoid the wrath of the locals and your fellow tourists? GET OUT OF THE WAY OF ON-COMING FOOT TRAFFIC! Step to the side of the pavement or turn a corner, whatever it takes to avoid causing human gridlock and angry stares.

Second, while we’re on the subject of walking the streets of London, measure the distance from your doorstep to the curb. Go ahead, I’ll wait. (Insert Jeopardy music here). Okay, now take the measurement and subtract two-thirds. Congratulations, you now have the average width of most London streets. Remember, many of modern-day London’s streets and roads date back to the 1600’s, and other than repaving little has been done to compensate for the high volume of traffic that the metropolis London has become generates daily,  So tourists with those tell-tale rolling suitcases, entire tour groups walking en mass, families and friends walking three or four across often with arms linked — seriously…are you practicing for the Rockettes kick line? — are often the subject of scorn. Londoners sadly aren’t on holiday. We need to get home, get to work, get to the store…you know, us boring types who have this weird thing called a SCHEDULE to keep! We’d be ever so appreciative if you’d consider that we all need to share the same tiny bit of pavement and that, just like in whatever city you came from, the foot traffic is moving in both directions. So if you could adjust your tourist stroll — and believe me, we Londoners know a tourist stroll when we see one — and say, just walk like normal people instead of like the colour guard in a parade…we’d be ever so grateful.

Third…I have a confession to make…I don’t watch Game of Thrones. Yes, I know, I am a television cultural wasteland. But while I don’t watch the show I have an eerie sense of what it must be like (given what I’m told by GOT addicts) to watch the last few minutes of an episode. Those of you who watch know what I’m talking about; those last precious minutes when, just before the screen fades to black and the credits role, a character meets a shocking and bloody end usually born of greed, jealousy or rage. I have this sensation every time I watch a tourist cross the street in London; only their near-demise is caused by stupidity. News flash people: I don’t know what the current traffic laws are in your city, but here in London, the driver has the right of way unless he clearly doesn’t. So those of you who hedge your bets and cross the street against the light thinking either the car, bus, truck will stop (IT WON’T) or that the vehicle looks far enough away that you can beat it — what’s that saying on car mirrors about objects being closer than they appear? — guess again! Everyday I watch a tourist try to beat the odds like they’re playing craps in Vegas and then appear surprised, startled and shaken when the auto they thought wouldn’t hit them very nearly does, with a blare of horns and virtually no drop in speed by the driver. It’s both terrifying and fascinating to watch. A tourist never sticks out like a sorer thumb than when they are crossing a London street or navigating one of our roundabouts (don’t even get me started!). A word of advice. I know you’re on holiday and you want to rush to see it all. Trust me, it’s not going anywhere. Observe pedestrian traffic laws. The life you save could be your own!

Fourth, Londoners are an odd lot. Even after years of travel here and nearly 18-months of living here it still surprises me what gets their back up and what they let slide. But there are 2 things that are pretty much sacrosanct. One is the queue. What’s a queue you ask? To anyone anywhere else in the free world it’s a line…and BOY do Londoners take it seriously. In London queuing is an art form. Londoners stand happily, patiently and quietly in lines all over all the city. To get in to a venue, to get on the bus, to shop; you name it, they’ll line up for it. And woe be unto you if you attempt to (on purpose or accidentally) cut the queue. There’s always that one tourist who’ll be brave enough to try. Who’ll “innocently” saunter up to the head of the queue like they didn’t notice it or didn’t know what it was. Prepare to get told off in a variety of accents and colourful phrases until you scamper back to the end of the queue passing a gauntlet of angry stares. The other thing Londoners are surprisingly sensitive to is priority seating on tubes and buses. In some cities this is still referred to as “handicap seating” which Europe frowns on as a politically incorrect phrase. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched people relinquish their seat to an OAP (senior citizen) or a pregnant woman or someone who is physically challenged. Having spent half my life living in NY it’s a refreshing change. So here again is a spot where tourists (though to be fair it’s not always a tourist) can often stand out in a negative way. I know, you’re tired after your long day of sightseeing; perhaps you waited for some time yourself before that seat you’re now sitting in became available. But if you choose not to move when someone in obvious greater need appears don’t be surprised if you are the subject of some hard stares, even if you keep your sunglasses on (another tourist dead giveaway) or some disgusted sighs and tsk tsks (pretending you can’t hear them by having your ear phones in won’t make them go away).

My fifth observation is directed towards American tourists, and before you start, I am an American born and raised. But having lived outside the US for nearly 15 years I’ve learned a lot about how other countries and cultures view Americans, and just how much most Americans lack an objective perspective of themselves. It may be hard to fathom but outside your own borders, American is not the centre of the universe. It is without question A great country, but it is not THE greatest country in the world. What Americans view as patriotism and nationalistic pride, much of the rest of the world views as arrogance…and in some cases delusion. I cringe every time I run into what I call a walking/talking “Ugly American” stereotype. It’s these moments when I thank God that my time abroad has pretty much erased any American accent I might have had. A lot of people mistake me for Canadian (I spent over a decade living there), and guiltily I let them. There is nothing worse than listening to an American tourist banging on about how this or that thing — from food to weather to whatever — is SO much better in America. Or worse yet, tourists who make fun of British accents or culture in front of British people. And the complete bane of my existence, a mouthy American with a superiority complex and the money to fuel it. I recently sat in the lounge of a luxury London hotel (the kind of place where room rates start at the equivalent of $600 US per night) and listened while a boorish American man loudly “schooled” his preschool age son in just how much better the US was than Great Britain. How, if America hadn’t “saved our butts” during World War II we’d all be speaking German. And how the only good thing about vacationing here was that you don’t have to tip people. Newsflash neanderthal man, there wouldn’t even be an America if it weren’t for your BRITISH fore fathers founding the country in the first place.

And finally number six, my biggest pet peeve of all. London is one of the most historic cities in the world, and according to a recent survey it is the number one tourist destination worldwide. Yet it is also one of the dirtiest cities I’ve ever seen! And don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that the complete fault lies with tourists, but I have seen some boggling lack of respect and consideration by tourists when it comes to litter. It’s as though, because you’re on holiday and this is not your home, that somehow relieves you from showing common courtesy and decency when it comes to keeping our city clean. This point was driven home recently when I was downtown spending time with a friend (another immigrant to the city). We had forgotten it was Pride and when we were making our way back to our respective tube stations to get home we encountered the aftermath of the day’s celebration at Trafalgar Square. I kid you not, it looked like a bomb had gone off! I’ve never in my life seen debris and filth littering the streets like that in any city I’ve ever been in my entire life. If I envision what the day after the zombie apocalypse might look like it wouldn’t be as bad! A young girl, clearly not from here, walking in front us overheard us commenting on it and turned around and said “it’s Pride, people are having a party, you need to lighten up.” I must be getting old because a part of me wanted to slap her and another part wanted to ask if her mother had let her leave home dressed like that. I may officially be from another era now, but it seems to be one of the last to have been brought up to respect other people’s property. This is not your room….there is no maid service…show a little God damn respect!

So, does London hate tourists? After reading this rant you might think we (or at least I) do. But the truth of the matter is we don’t. Londoners, whether they are born and bred or transplants from somewhere else like me, take a tremendous pride in this city. In it’s heritage, history and culture. We sometimes forget or take it for granted, and tourists offer us the opportunity to see it through the eyes of the world and remind us of just why you flock here in droves each year and why we choose to call it home. For me, this is never more clear than when I make the walk down Whitehall to arguably London’s most iconic landmark, Big Ben. I often head there to catch the Circle Line train at Westminster station. And on those days when I’m feeling tired, cranky and homesick; when I question why I moved here in the first place, I’ll stop and take in the grandeur of Big Ben and Westminster Palace and watch the tourists ooh and ahh and snap their pictures. And if lucky, I might arrive just before the hour and I’ll stop and wait and along with all the tourists from around the world I’ll listen to the bells chime. And in that moment I truly get it — hello world, this is London: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E9wWBjnaEck

Excuse me, but can you tell me how to get to…? Finding Direction in London

 

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At Victoria tube station this afternoon a German tourist asked me for directions to Green Park. I stopped for a brief moment, permutated the options and then delivered flawless directions for her to locate the north bound platform of the Victoria line and take it the one stop to her destination. It’s actually the second time in a week I’ve pulled this feat off. The other being bus direction (yes, bus!) to Royal Albert Hall. It may sound like no big deal, but I’m directionally challenged. I still get lost on a regular basis in my hometown of New York City, and I lived there for over 30-years! I jokingly tell people that I fell in love with Toronto (my adopted hometown) the day I discovered Yonge Street. Because as any Torontonian will tell you, if you can find your way to Yonge Street you’re never really lost.

Knowing your way around a city is indicative of both your confidence in that city, and of your place in it. A “sense of direction” that serves as a fitting metaphor for this post.

A few days ago I passed the 6-month mark of living here in London with barely any notice. But it is a notable milestone because I barely lasted  6-months the first time I attempted to live here in 2012. Back then, despite my lifelong “romance” with the city, and having spent long stretches of time here throughout my life, London overwhelmed and suffocated me. I was very ill at the time — but that’s another post — and could probably blame at least half of my anxiety, depression and exhaustion on that, but the fact is, back then, as is the case with a lot of romances, I found that London and I couldn’t hack living together 24/7 after decades of long distance dating. I crashed and burned and ran back to my Canadian comfort zone as fast as Air Canada would take me.

To be sure, this is a TOUGH city. It’s too big, too crowded, too noisy, too messy…just TOO everything! No matter how many times you’ve visited London, or how much advanced planning you’ve done, NOTHING prepares you for living in London except….living in London. The dynamic of being a resident, of accepting the city on its terms and having it accept you back, is a daunting challenge. London will not only test the boundaries of your comfort zones, it will obliterate them. But given time (and effort), it will reshape and rebuild them. London is not for sissies! This city chewed me up and spit me out in 2012, but it also taught me an invaluable lesson. It taught me that being prepared is not just about research, planning and a check list. It’s about attitude, resilience and adaptability.

It’s about knowing who you are. This city knows what its about. In fact, it’s the inherent nature of Europe as a whole. Europe has an enviable sense of self and self-worth, and it’s unimpressed, unfazed and undeterred by outside influences and intrusions. Whereas North America heralds its stature by boisterously celebrating hundreds of years of history (the US turns 238 this year, and Canada a ripe old 147), Europe takes a more subdued satisfaction in a history that dates back several millennium. The US has an almost frenzied need to assert its cultural relevance (often to its own detriment) whereas the UK operates under a confident air of individuality — we don’t follow trends, we set them — supported by a cultural bedrock that over 33 million people flocked to visit last year.

For me, finding direction in London has been about more than just mastering mass transit and knowing where to find the best coffee or cocktail — not that those aren’t crucially important life skills 😉 — it has been about examining my life and honestly confronting my personal and professional successes and failures. As I barrel ever closer to a staggering age milestone, I’ve reflected in these past six months about what my next steps are, and what legacy I am building. I’ve come to terms with the fact that I am not married with kids, though I remain open to the idea of at least the former, because while I am alone, I am not lonely. A huge distinction that is often difficult for others to process because of their need to validate their own life decisions by criticising yours. I know who I am, and I know what’s (and who’s) important to me.

I’ve also subjected myself to an objective career assessment. I came into the PR industry in an era when everything was about media relations, at least at the firms where I was employed. They, and I, were good at what we did. But media relations can often become a vacuum for PR professionals, and it’s one that can often marginalise and stigmatise them in today’s fast-paced world of integrated marketing. For me there was always a vague feeling of disconnect between what I was doing, promoting an isolated snapshot moment, and what I felt I was meant to be doing, which was helping clients see a bigger picture — drawing it for them if necessary.

In 1992 the company I was then working for was purchased by one of the leading independent public relations firms in the world. Cue the trumpets blaring as the doors and windows in my professional life were flung open to the concepts of brand strategy and reputation management. While many of my colleagues stayed within the safe confines of the media department, a few of us who were adventuresome and lucky enough took the opportunity to interact with our corporate colleagues and were given the chance to work on some amazing and complex campaigns and see firsthand how the sum of all parts came together. When I left in 2001 to open my own firm in Canada I took that experience with me and added to it a growing knowledge of the often complex cultural subtleties of branding on a global level. Still, I found it hard to resist the lure and the ease of media for delivering messages, I took on a business partner who found it even easier to do so, and before I knew it I was back doing what I did in NY. And while I don’t regret that period in my professional life, I did some really good work and really broadened my client scope, it wasn’t sustainable for me, and in 2011 my partner and I dissolved the company and went our separate ways.

I won’t bore any of you who might actually still be reading with a chronicle of all the personal and professional ups/downs, starts/stops of the nearly three years that have elapsed since. Suffice it to say that, just like mastering the intricate grid of the city of London, it’s all a work in progress. But as I mentioned earlier, if you make the effort this city will reward you by expanding both your comfort zones and your horizons. As I get ready to relaunch my own brand, a company built fittingly on my own reputation, I am buoyed and energized by the fact that the UK PR scene is vibrant and robust, and its impact is global. Some of the greatest voices in the industry reside here, and I am fortunate enough to have established a professional connection with quite a few of them, and even more honoured to number some of them as friends. While this new incarnation of McAllister Communications will offer media relations as a service, the company’s core business will be to focus on the broader spectrum of brand strategy and reputation management; helping clients see the whole forest rather than just the trees.

This past week I had dinner with friends who noted that I used a particularly telling 4-letter word when referring to London — I called it home. There still much to resolve, many questions and challenges to confront. I may not have all the answers and solutions…but I think I’m heading in the right direction.

A Night On the Town

One of the drawbacks to being in PR is that you can get so exhausted from planning/attending client and industry-related events that you often find yourself with little to no interest in a night out on the town. For me, paradise is a night IN with my jammies on, my feet up and a nice glass (or three) of beaujolais. Sad, I know, but I’ll take a night of Hulu and BBC iPlayer over a noisy crowded venue any day. Still, when one of England’s best tour guides invites you to be their +plus one at the opening of a posh new Mayfair hot spot, who can resist? Not this broad, who let London travel expert Cindy Eve (3 Days in London) lure me out on a recent Friday night for a press-only preview of the just-opened Cartizze Bar (http://www.cartizzebar.com/). Cartizze is named after the revered 1000 ft. high Prosecco vineyards in Northern Italy. And what’s not to love about prosecco – aka ‘the nectar of the Gods’ to this PR girl. <g>

The problem with many Mayfair boites is that their attempt at becoming trendy often descends into being pretentious. Happily this is not the case with Cartizze, which charms and doesn’t disappoint on any level. The staff is fresh and smart, lavishing attention and menu suggestions in equal measure and treating everyone like a VIP. From the owner James Robson to the subtly purple hue haired twin sister cocktail hostesses (lilac is a signature colour of the club after all), everyone at Cartizze goes out of their way to make customers feel like guests at an exclusive club.

Cartizze bills itself as a luxury Bellini and cocktail destination, but I rather like the tag line that the PR team at Margaret London (a company that is not named after or owned by me) gave it – an experimental cocktail experience destination. The bar has an intimate (seating just 65) and luxurious feel. Robson has created a uniquely beautiful and sumptuous, yet relaxed and comfortable atmosphere that is a combination of dip-dyed oak paneling with classic Roman details, soft lilac and blue leathers and a New Marquina marble fireplace. Special, signature touches include vintage glassware and cocktail shakers from the 1920’s-50’s, sourced from antique markets across Italy and London, and a wall of private glass “spirit lockers” for regulars to store their favourite tipples in, many chosen from Cartizze’s own exclusive “Connoisseurs Collection,” a privately sourced selection of spirits dating back to the 1800’s.

But the real star of the show is the menu which features a unique and intriguing cocktail list created by award-winning mixologist Richard Wood, who dazzles customers with some amazing flavour combinations. Among notable potent potables is the Cartizze signature cocktail the silky Olive Oil Gin Fizz, the Blood Orange Bellini and my personal favourite, the Amor y Amargo; a combination of Amaretto, Cynar, Apricot Liqueur, egg white, vanilla sugar and — of course! — Prosecco. Cocktail adventurists can also try concoctions that include fresh rhubarb, Limoncello sorbet and truffled liquorice. And for those who like their liquor neat and natural, the Cartizze menu also includes a number of fine champagnes, whiskeys, wines and other spirits. In addition, there are a number of small plates designed to delight the taste buds. These include hand dived Orkney Isles scallop sliders, San Daniele ham wrapped figs with truffle honey and roquette, Parmesean biscuits with poppy seeds and Tuna tartare with candied chilli and cucumber.

Cartizze Bar is located at No. 4 Lancashire Court, an historic cobbled courtyard found in the heart of Mayfair nestled between New Bond Street and Brook Street. The private mews is also home to Robson’s other culinary successes: Mews of Mayfair, Mayfair Pizza Co. and la Cave. Open Monday – Saturday from 17.00 to 22.00 by reservations only: tables@cartizzebar.com 

Thanks to Cindy for making me put my glad rags instead of my slippers on for a night that was thoroughly enjoyable. It was an experience that I intend to repeat. For more on Cartizze, check out the 3 Days in London website: http://3daysinlondon.info/  And while you’re at it, download the free app to get Cindy’s tips and info for a fabulous London experience: iTunes http://bit.ly/17y86CO  & Android http://bit.ly/1049ZSl

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