Susie Rushton: New Yorkers think Londoners have gin for lunch – oh, that it were so

Notebook: The assertion that Londoners are "convulsed by courtesy" is badly out of date

Share

How flattering to have the world's best newspaper dedicate an issue to our very own capital city. For any Americans reading, I mean that entirely without irony. The New York Times Magazine's "London" supplement that appeared on Sunday was a beautifully photographed, earnestly researched cultural brochure for Manhattanites who have bought their Olympic Games tickets and booked rooms at the Dorchester, but remain anxious not to make a faux pas this summer.

It opened with an essay pitched at the Wall Street financier: "You might be surprised to find that the central node of global finance... is London, not New York." Jaw slackened at this revelation, the American reader was then invited to pore over a lengthy crib-sheet – with charts and bite-sized factoids – on how to "get" London and its habits.

So what did the journalists of the most rigorously fact-checked newspaper in the world get right – and what, more amusingly, did they get spectacularly wrong?

On the whole, our attitudes and prejudices were pegged pretty accurately. "Londoners don't support Manchester United, or visit Angus Steak Houses," sounds true enough. But on the subject of infrastructure, "things work, but don't work" is unarguable. Americans like to think of London as medieval in its efficiency, and if you've ever waited 12 minutes for a District Line tube at 9am, you tend to agree. Meanwhile, Londoners are "absolutely not" "psyched" by the prospect of the Olympics, because by nature we're "affronted... that any future happening is going to be profitable, transformative or, worst of all, pleasant." True.

Finally, in a lexicon of Londonite expressions, the reader was informed that "I'm not being funny, but..." always introduces a socially unacceptable statement. Again, factually correct – although aren't Americans often guilty of using apparent courtesy to be very, very rude?

And now for the errors. London is, said The New York Times, "a place where everyone drinks, all the time". Oh that it were so. Perhaps, some time in the 1940s, when the GIs were still here, Londoners did drink gin for lunch and pregnant women sank pints of Guinness. But social teetotalism has been imported from, er, America, and religious abstinence from the Middle East: late on Saturday night, I walked through Kensington past empty pubs and full-to-bursting coffee shops, where cake and tobacco are the only indulgence. If New Yorkers want booze tourism, they're better off in Paris, or Tokyo.

Also badly out of date is the assertion that Londoners are "convulsed by courtesy, embarrassed by display". Perhaps the doorman at the Dorchester apologises if he accidentally jostles you with a Vuitton holdall, but on the streets at large it's no longer true that "saying sorry" is a reflex response; rolled eyes and a scowled "what's-yer-problem?" is more likely.

Neither could I agree with the magazine's predictable paean to the intellect of the black cabbie, particularly that all of them are familiar with London's 26,000 streets; unless you're going to Leicester Square, the passenger who jumps in the back with neither A-Z, smartphone nor familiarity with one-way systems near his destination is as good as lost.

Most bizarre was the advice that the item which could best illustrate the notorious expense of London, a "true barometer of economic behaviour", was the price of a box of imported Lucky Charms (a kind of sugary American cereal). Apparently, they sell for $14 in a Notting Hill grocery.

Believing this to be typical of the cost of eating in London could lead many an innocent American to make an expensive mistake. And – this is something The New York Times was too polite to mention – this summer, there'll be no shortage of unapologetic London shopkeepers, hoteliers and cabbies to help them make it.

s.rushton@independent.co.uk

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: how to spell BBQ and other linguistic irregularities

Guy Keleny
 

South Africa's race problem is less between black and white than between poor blacks and immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa

John Carlin
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own