|Roleplaying In Blighty|
Off the top of my head I believe around 3% of the population of the United Kingdom is non-white, comprised mainly of a little under one million Black people (typically of Caribbean origin or descent) and a little under two million Asian people (typically of Indian, Pakistani or Bangladeshi origin or descent).
In London, I believe that around 20% of the population is non-white.
The ethnic minorities have made a huge and positive impact on British culture, commerce, sports and even cuisine (curry is practically the British national dish). But if your opinion of Britain were based purely on American film and TV you could be forgiven for not realising this.
Around ten or so years ago I was fairly heavily into super-hero comics. One of the big producers started a new title, which was supposedly set in Britain. I won't mention its name, or the name of the company, because I'm scared that they might sue me, but I'm sure you can probably figure it out. I was initially quite exited by the prospect of a super-hero comic in my own country, but this was pretty quickly dashed when I read the first few issues.
There were many things I disliked about it, but one that I found particularly offensive - its attitude to Britain's ethnic minorities. In its American titles this company had taken great care to be inclusive. I believe they had the first Black hero, the first Hispanic hero, and even the first gay hero. So it might have been reasonable to ask when they would have the first Black or Asian British hero.
Fat chance. This company didn't even put non-whites in the crowd scenes. At one point I decided to go through the first few issues (I can't recall precisely how many, it might have been the first six) and count faces. I counted everyone who wasn't actually presented in the story as non-British (I think there was one Black bloke, but he was an American scientist). I literally counted every face in every crowd scene.
The result was 100% white.
I found this pretty unacceptable. I always thought that the way to create a "present-day" superhero universe was to take the real world and jazz it up, by adding superpowers, magic, incredible technology, hidden kingdoms and so on.
I didn't realise that you were supposed to remove entire ethnic groups first.
Actually, this is unfair on the company concerned. They clearly were not racist. The various stances they have taken in their American titles proves this. This was a case of ignorance, pure and simple.
But if you were an eight-year old Black or Asian British kid reading the comic, would you realise this?
We do have fast food: McDonalds, Burger King, Wendy's, Pizza Hut. You name it - we got it. Just pick up the phone and you can generally have the food of your choice delivered within a half hour.
These places are basically clones of the Stateside equivalents. Somewhere around I've got a book about the making of the recent Friends episodes set in Britain. This includes the draft script which includes the following little gem from a worker at a McDonalds:
"Would you like vinegar with your chips?"
I sincerely hope that they cut that line on the grounds that it's total crap. It's "fries". It's always "fries". You could go to a McDonalds in Abu Dhabi and it would still be "fries". And Vinegar? On fries? In McDonalds?
Clearly the Net has reached these shores... otherwise this magazine wouldn't exist. From what I've read we seem to be going down a generally similar path to the US but around a year or so behind.
One big difference is that we don't generally have free local phone calls which could have a pretty big impact on growth in net usage.
More Than 3 TV Channels
We currently have 5 national terrestrial TV channels and a few dozen satellite / cable channels. I believe that around 25% of households have cable, satellite or digital terrestrial TV (e.g. loads of channels). If you're staying in a decent hotel you should have cable or satellite channels.
To put it bluntly, we swear. We don't say dash it, oh bother or stuff like that.
We do say: shit, bollocks, fuck, wanker, cunt, crap and probably most other swear words you can think of.
Taxi Drivers That Know Where They're Going
This might be one that everyone's already familiar with but London cab drivers generally have a very good knowledge of Central London. To be a cab driver they have to do a thing called "The Knowledge" which is basically a qualification in being a London cabby. It involves memorising the location of every street within six miles of the centre of London as well as a whole load of routes. If you're ever in London and you see a bloke or women drive past on a poxy little moped with a clipboard attached to the handlebars it's most likely a would-be cab driver studying for The Knowledge.
The upshot of this is that you can just hail a cab, get in, say where you want to go - and they take you there. No fuss. No bother.
So if your visiting US superhero group hear about a robbery going down in Landale Avenue in Knightsbridge, stand aside and let Captain Flash superspeed away and proceed to get lost in our maze of streets. Just hail a cab, ask politely for "Lansdale Avenue please mate!" and you're get to the fight before your colleague the Captain.
Did I mention about our traffic conjestion problems?
And Finally... Food Poisoning
Yep, according to a newspaper article I read this very day, the incidence of food poisoning is much higher in the UK than in the US. Apparently it is basically down to two things:
Not washing our hands properly after taking a crap.
Keeping all sorts of shit in the fridge, typically old food and raw, uncovered meat.
So if you're visiting London be sure to keep some loo roll handy. You might need it.
Hope this article has proved informative and hasn't offended anyone too much. If any of our American readers fancy writing the same article from the other point of view, explaining to us Brits what the US is really like than please drop us a line.
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