Friday 17 September 2004

why i should never work in the tourism industry

My parents are arriving bright and early on Sunday morning. This is their first visit to this country, and I suspect that most of what they know about it comes from emails from me, shows on PBS, and all those Carry On films my Dad's so fond of. I feel solely responsible for my parents' wellbeing, entertainment, and their overall tourism experience in this country...which has been making me panic all week. I keep thinking of things that might confuse them while they're visiting, and I feel compelled to tell them about it. You've got to keep plugging coins into payphones here, you don't stick one coin in and gab all you want. If you ask for a glass of water, sometimes you're asked if you want sparkling, still, or tap water (us North Americans tend not to have such a variety of choices). Don't tip people behind the bar in pubs. Filet steak is tenderloin. If you want the bus to stop for you, you've got to stick your hand out and wave at it frantically (and even then, sometimes they still can't be arsed to stop for you). Panicpanicpanicpanicpanicpanic.

All of this worry is completely unwarranted. The only time my parents will be on their own will be when they come through customs, and when they go back to Heathrow on their way home. Otherwise, they will be with us or sightseeing with my future in-laws. So really, it's not like they're going to be dumped at some random tube station without a map and attacked by skinheads - unless Heathrow passport control has moved and gone really downhill.

It's just that these are my parents and they've never been here before, and I know that there were a billion things that took me by surprise when I first visited this country. You think you know all about England (us Commonwealthers surely cannot be that different?), but then you get here and you realise that all those episodes of Prime Suspect and Two Fat Ladies taught you squat. I'm sure they will have a great time, though. For all the confusion and unexpected culture shock, it more than makes up for it when you see something like Westminster Abbey or Buckingham Palace for the first time. A couple of afternoon teas, fish and chip dinners, and a tour of the countryside and they'll be over the moon.

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