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A Visitors Guide to London

Thu August 02, 2012 - National Edition
Dave Barry - McClatchy Newspapers

LONDON — Perhaps you’ve been watching the Olympics on NBC, and you’ve decided that you’d like to “pop across the pond” to see the games in person. I have good news and bad news for you:

— The good news is, London is a great city to visit.

— The bad news is, the Olympics ended three days ago.

No, that’s a cheap joke about NBC’s delayed broadcasts. I promise not to make any more unless I think of one.

But London truly is a great city. You’ll love it here, provided that you are not killed instantly (see “crossing the street”). Here’s some helpful information for your visit:

WHAT TO PACK — London weather can change quickly from hot and sunny to cold and rainy. And that’s inside your hotel room. Outside, it’s even less predictable. The TV weather people here openly take drugs on the air. So you should pack a wide range of clothing; that way, no matter what kind of day it is, you’ll be able to put on an outfit that will be totally inappropriate minutes after you leave the hotel.

HOW MUCH MONEY TO BRING: A lot. London is expensive. They use the “pound,” with one dollar equaling (as of this morning) 0.642962772 pounds, which means that you, as an American who last paid serious attention to decimals in sixth grade, will have no earthly idea what anything actually costs. Also you will develop American Tipping Anxiety Disease (ATAD), which is this nagging insecure feeling that you should be tipping people, although you’re never sure whom, or how much. Europeans are immune to this disease. As far as I can, they never tip anybody. Whereas anxious Americans are constantly handing random sums to waiters, police officers, nuns, sheep, etc. This is the foundation of the European economy.

WHERE TO STAY IN LONDON — You should stay in a central location, defined as “a location where you will never have to cross a street.”

CROSSING THE STREET: Do not cross the street. I cannot emphasize this enough without resorting to italics: Never attempt to cross a street in London. Over here they drive on the left side, which means that you, as an American, never look in the correct direction, even though there are warnings painted on the streets saying “LOOK RIGHT” and “LOOK LEFT” and sometimes: “YOU ARE LOOKING THE WRONG WAY, IDIOT AMERICAN.”

But here’s the thing: No matter which way you look, the instant you step out onto the street there will be a car bearing down on you from the other direction. Even if you look in both directions, swiveling your head rapidly back and forth like a hyperactive lawn sprinkler, you will fail to see a car hurtling at you from some previously unnoticed third direction, or even a fourth direction, or even the future. London intersections do not obey the normal laws of the space-time continuum.

TAXIS—London taxis are excellent, but expensive. Because of the complex London street system, you can never go anywhere directly; no matter what your destination, you will make many turns and pass the Tower of London at least three times, and your fare will be 27 pounds (or $1,487, including tip).

THE UNDERGROUND—The London Underground was built by the Romans in 410 A.D. to keep the Picts from being able to invade the city without having to change trains at least three times. It is an efficient way to get around when the lines are all working (April 3 through 6, 1954).

GETTING OLYMPIC TICKETS—This is tricky. At first the Olympic organizers said there were no tickets left, but a big scandal erupted when the Brits saw lots of empty seats on TV. The organizers then scrambled to get tickets to the public, and even started filling empty seats with British Army troops. So your best bet, when you get over here, is to join the British Army, and they might order you to watch an Olympic event. Of course they also might send you to Afghanistan. But at least over there you can probably cross the street.

MEETING THE QUEEN: The Queen welcomes visiting American tourists. You can meet her by going to Buckingham Palace any weekday between 9 and 4:30 and pounding on the front door with your fist in polite yet firm manner. Don’t forget to give the Queen a tip.

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