Trying to fit in with Londoners
I was in London at the weekend, for a meeting about the launch of a gay magazine that I'm doing a bit of writing for. I always find London (and Londoners) a bit stressful. Because I am from "the north", many Londoners instinctively look down on me. It doesn't matter if you're a billionaire with a Nobel Peace prize - if you live in Sheffield, they still feel superior. All people who live in cities - especially capital cities tend to make me feel like Mr Country Mouse, having fallen into Fagin's Den, surrounded by little 21st century Artful Dodgers.
So I've developed a number of techniques of coping with Londoners over the years. These include:
a) making fun of "the north" and my northerner status in a self-deprecatory way. This makes them feel validated. I try not to tell them my true feelings about London, which are usually mixed at best. For example, when I arrived in London, I was instantly struck down with a feeling of dread and depression - the noise, the crowds, the bad smells, the filth in the streets, the confident extroverts... "If there's one place I hate most in the world," I growled, "One place which sums up everything I hate about London... it's Soho..." Needless to say, I ended up being invited to Soho by my new friends for a trip round the bars. I had to pretend I liked it.
b) telling them that I "hate everything". Londoners like to project a jaded, seen-it-all, worldly air and tend to get impatient with ingenues, once their initial exoticism has worn off (after 5 minutes). So it's best to beat them at their own game here. It keeps them on their toes.
c) Pointing out that "this bar/building/film/restaurant already looks dated or will look dated in 2 weeks".
d) Giving everything an ironic sheen. If you couch everything in ambiguity and ambivlance then it at least keeps their attention up.
e) Making references to things that are either very very new or very old. Londoners like to keep up to date with the latest trends, or be ahead of the trends. Telling them about something new will get them excited. You can only talk about old stuff if it's at least 20 years old and has therefore recently become fashionable in terms of being "kitsch" or "classic". However, you have to be careful here as recycled trends also have a shelf life and you could be talking about last month's revival which is now naff again.
f) Not getting impatient when they are late. And late they are. I have a "thing" about time-keeping. If I am not on time, I start getting panicky and worrying about keeping other people waiting. Many Londoners like to arrive fashionable late, or rather, they just aren't that concerned about things like time. I tend to get a bit sulky and passive-aggressive if people are late and keep me waiting. It feels like a social slap in the face. However, when I'm in London, I try and relax this rule - even arriving for things late myself (although I'm always the first one there still). So when the powerpoint presentation I was due to see didn't start until an hour after it was supposed to, I simply beemed serenely and had a bagel with smoked salmon on it. (I normally don't touch the stuff, but in London everyone eats this sort of food and I feel lucky to escape going to a Sushi bar).
I gave myself a score of 7 out of 10 for my social interactions with Londoners during the weekend. I took off three points because a) I asked someone if they were carrying a photograph of Myra Hindley around with him - it turned out that it was the photo on his subway pass. And b) I confessed that I had never taken cocaine and then acted a bit surprised when someone told me he had last taken it a few hours ago.
Actually, the people I met were really nice and intelligent. So I guess I'll have to revise some of my rules.