People at Heathrow Departures Told Us What They Made of the UK
"I tried fish and chips – it's just batter. I mean, that, to me, is amazing. It's like having bread as a national dish."
Photo: Bruno Bayley
A holiday to me means turning phone box-red, peeling my skin off plastic sun loungers and drinking Orangina out of those funny glass bottles that don't exist outside of continental Europe. Holidays to the UK presumably do not include any of that, because, famously, it is cold here, and our Orangina is sold is cans. But what do they include? And what do tourists make of the UK once they've been here, seen our buildings and met our people?
I went to Heathrow Airport's departure lounge to ask some of them just that.
BEN, SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA
It's a lot colder here and public transport actually exists. In Australia all we have is tarmac roads, so you have to own a car. You guys also have a culture – you can go ten miles down the road and it's completely different. You can go 3,000 miles down the road in Australia and everything's exactly the same. It's the same with British accents – they're so different. I went from Birmingham to Leeds and couldn't believe the difference in voices; at first, I thought people from Birmingham were foreign or something. Britain is so diverse; cities are almost like different countries.
I'm always so amazed by the culture and the history of England – you can go into a pub and there are loads of social norms in there that have been established for years; the way people interact with bar staff, the way people sit, you see loads of old men in tweed who look like they have been sat at the bar so long they've melted into the furniture. The architecture as well – you can see these really old beams, and you have to sort of slouch down to get in the door. You realise that this pub predates the colonisation of Australia; it's pretty crazy.
I love walking down the streets of London, looking into the massive old town houses. When I first came to London I was a proper tourist – I would walk around the National Gallery and the Tate – but now when I come I just like to wander.
HAILEY AND MOLLY, MONTANA, USA
Hailey: We stayed near Shoreditch. We really liked it, mostly for all the handsome beardy men.
Molly: It's very similar to New York, but it's kind of huge – I didn't realise how big London was; it was a little overwhelming. When you're walking it feels like a human traffic jam.
Hailey: Or it's like walking around a festival, but all the time. What I will say is that I love London, but there are some rude ass people here.
Molly: Everyone warned us before we came, like don't expect people to be nice to you. We went into this café and we didn't know how we were supposed to order our food, and when we asked all the staff just rolled their eyes at us until eventually we left. They could tell that we were tourists and I think there's a stigma about that here. Like, you guys gain solidarity through being mean to tourists.
Hailey: The service here is so different – it's just so confusing for us to, like, order food, how to pay. It's very tricky. When you want to get your check to pay, they don't give it to you – you have to ask. In the States they just hand it to you.
Molly: And in the US they seat you and then a waitress comes to you right away – it's not like that here. We were very confused by the tips, too; we felt so bad not giving any.
Hailey: I loved the Tower of London. There's so much history in London, which is so cool because in the US there is, like, no history, because what ever history there was we sort of wiped it out. Kings and Queens shit is so interesting to us – like, it's so weird that Anne Boleyn was a real person. I always wonder, when you look at paintings of old, crusty British royals, whether they actually looked like that, or was it just the aesthetic style? Because they don't look like humans – they look so ugly.
Molly: When we went out we thought it was funny, because you guys don't dance – like, there would be loads of guys in the corner giving weird shadowy glares and loads of girls in the middle like sort of awkwardly swaying, but we were getting low, looking ultra embarrassing.
CANDY AND JACKY, MACAU, CHINA
Candy: loved the buildings here, and the museums have so many amazing artefacts in them from all different countries. We went to the British Museum and I was looking at all the ancient things, and I was thinking, 'Is there anything left in Egypt, or is it all in here?'
We're from China, and the design is so different – London is very vintage and historical; the stone sort of crumbles, but in a beautiful way. In Macau, everything is really modern and tall because of the economic boom and the amount of tourists that come into the city. It's become clogged up with casinos and hotels, so though London is very busy, when we got here I felt like I was breathing space into my lungs.
We wanted to try fish and chips, but we went to the pub at like 9PM and they had stopped serving, which was such a shock for us because that's so early – I thought everything would be open super late in London. I guess maybe fish and chips are more of a lunchtime thing?
TOMÁŠ, CZECH REPUBLIC
I went to Oxford because I don't like busy places, so I didn't want to be in London. Everyone was really nice and smiley there, like they don't have anything to worry about. In London everyone is stomping around with their eyebrows pushing into their face.
The buildings in England are very symmetrical and cute, like doll houses. It is so white in London, like everything is so pristine and grand. In the Czech Republic the buildings have much more colour – there are a lot more straight lines and everything is more ordered. I saw so many motorcycles in England. I'm a big fan of your machines – Triumph is my favourite brand of motorcycle; they're such a beautiful expression of British culture, of your technique for building things.
I loved drinking in British pubs – they feel like living rooms. You can properly sink into a chair with some ale and left time drift by. I think you can learn a lot about a country by seeing its pubs, because they're built to make people feel comfortable, so you can see what "comfort" is to that country, how they define it. That's part of the reason I escaped to Oxford, because London pubs have business people in suits spilling out onto the pavement, you can't get a seat, or hear the person you are with talk.
I tried fish and chips, but I didn't like it – I think it could be better. They had no salt; I don't know whether that was normal or not. Czech food is really salty and it has so many spices in it. I cannot believe your national dish doesn't have a single herb on it – it's just batter. I mean, that, to me, is amazing. It's like having bread as a national dish. Maybe I went to the wrong place – I should have gone to the north of England; a girl told me that fish and chips restaurants line all the streets.
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