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Notebook: The assertion that Londoners are "convulsed by courtesy" is badly out of date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

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

Austen Lloyd: Senior Private Client Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: SURREY - An outstanding high level opportunity...

Austen Lloyd: Construction Solicitor - London

Very Competitive Salary : Austen Lloyd: NICHE CITY FIRM - We are making a disc...

Austen Lloyd: Construction Solicitor - London

Very Competitive Salary : Austen Lloyd: NICHE CITY FIRM - We are making a disc...

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Should parents be allowed to take pictures at nativity plays?  

Ghosts of Christmas past: What effect could posting pictures of nativity plays have on the next generation?

Ellen E Jones
The first Christmas card: in 1843 the inventor Sir Henry Cole commissioned the artist John Callcott Horsley to draw a card for him to send to family and friends  

Hold your temperance: New life for the first Christmas card

Simmy Richman
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick