How do you know when one is simply joking?

British and humour. I could write a whole novel out of the subject, or a comedy show. British people seemed super skilled at taking life (and the weather) easy. Rarely complaining, always enthusiasts about one ray of sun striking through the clouds and never taking themselves too seriously. Humour is pervasive: in everyone and everywhere. The PM strikes ironical jokes in official speeches, Richard Branson’s Virgin company is famous for the ironic tone of its advertising campaigns and eventually, the best comic movie ever made is british: Monthy Python. The same humour strikes at the office where, every week, some anonymous graffiti addicts are leaving us some equivocal messages on our white board…

Humour might be involved in most conversations implicitly. As such, it is not easy to spot when one jokes if you are not british. It took me a while to understand British way of cracking jokes. British humour is a sophisticated form of irony playing with understatement and self-deprecation. An amazing performance is “not that bad”, a terribly traumatic experience, ‘no what I had planned really’ and the two months of grey sky for summer “a rather consistent weather for the season”. I already wrote on the subject talking about language and what british really mean when they say stuff. For a foreigner, it is really never easy to spot nor to understand. Especially because British don’t laugh or smile at their own jokes (and this is because they value reserve and being humble).

If your are not familiar with British humour and understatement, I have one advice for you: assume everything is ironic and bounce it back. I promise it is fun. At least, you will have a direct confirmation if it was a joke; or not.

Pub Rule(s)

While the government is thinking of rewriting a guide to the UK asking immigrants  applying to become UK citizen to know English History, they might rather reconsider and just send them to the pub. It would fuel local economies  and provide practical cultural education for foreigners wanting to become genuine UK citizen.

The pub is core to English culture and daily life. ¾ of British over 18 years old go to the pub with one third being regulars. Pubs are very unique place where the English class mentality is left at the door. Like an Agora in ancient Greece or the idea of public spaces, pubs are frequented by all, no matter what their social background or class level might be. Pubs is the place where to create social bonds: if you are coming to the UK and wonder how to make british friends, here are 5 unspoken rules you should know about pubs.

1. The bar counter is the only place to socialise in England. Nowhere else can you strike a conversation with a random stranger in England. Rules of privacy and reserve are temporary suspended at the bar counter and only there. This explains that there is no waiter service: the best excuse for you to go to the counter.

2. The only place where you queue without having to physically queue. Interestingly enough, englishmen might randomly populate the bar counter, the first person to reach the bar will be the first served no matter what. Pub staff has exceptional talent at identifying who is next in this hazardous gathering, as much as anyone in this invisible queue knows when is their turn. Though if you live in London, this might not be relevant: London has too many tourists and foreigners to bother following the rules.

3. The only place where stalking and eye-contacts are required. To be served a pint, less is more: don’t say a word but keep an eye on the waiter, adopting an hopeful and slightly anxious expression if you can. When comes your turn, just strike a “A pint of [….], please”. The please is utterly important, as much as the “cheers” when the beer comes.

4. Please don’t tip with money! It is super rude to highlight the pecuniary relationship in between you and the waiter. You’d better strike a  ‘And one for yourself?’ at the end of your order. Make it clear that it is a question and not an instruction; and please, be discreet doing it, there is nothing uglier than a public display of generosity. This is only if ou want to tip, and/or get treated better at the next round.

5. …and always do round-buyings: this is a matter of being fair play in terms of alcohol consumption and eventually the English way to say “we are friends; I like you”.

Wishing you good beer-time this evening!

Find out more about British Culture by reading my blog posts on biking in London, British jokes and what makes London appealing to many.

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London Cold Calling

Even though the cosmopolitan crown goes to London, it not always mean that life in the city is a great coffee-coloured carnival. For good or bad.

London is a true cosmopolitan capital city. 32% of Greater London Metropolitan area residents were born outside England without taking into account the city’s second- and third-generation immigrants. More than 300 languages are spoken everyday. 50 non-indigenous communities with populations of 10,000 or more. Virtually every culture or religion in the world can claim a handful of Londoners. Find out more on London migrant numbers following the UK statistics tag of this blog.

However, it is a cold melting pot: Londoners are not known for their warmth. Few foreigners can claim a handful close british friends. Brits are best known for their reserve and politeness often being caught in this “Mind your own business” tagline. Some call it tolerance. Some see it as some sort of indifference.

Yet the city is still attractive to a lot of foreigners. Why? Because it is a place of business; people come to London for the money. But money is not why they stay, nor will you ever want to stay for the weather, really. So why? Well, there are few reasons I can find so far.

1. LANGUAGE: nowadays fluency in English is a plus, if not compulsory to many of European born. The most popular second language is the one spoken by all in the UK but do not be fool by this: Londoners also have a specific slang and local vernacular made of politeness and unspoken truth. It takes time to understand what a colleague really want to express. Here a guide of what British people say vs. what they really mean  that might come handy.

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2. FOOD (but not the way you think). The British lack of strong culinary tradition that translates into a unique affinity for foreign food of every kind and the capacity to adopt it as if their own – the unmistakably English tea or chicken tikka masala. Londoners’ enthusiasm for foreign food creates thousands of jobs for immigrants and makes the establishment of new communities much easier. Every Sunday, on Bricklane, you can lunch on food from more than 50 different countries. Every big city in the world has its Chinatown and its kebabs but none has so many possibilities nor the opportunity to buy the ingredients to make it all again at home.

3. MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS: London starts growing on you: while you expect to go back home after a while, home is no longer what it felt like; you start missing the vibrancy of the city, the cockney accent and the flat white. Especially, you don’t come to London like you go to New York. You go to New York embracing the American dream. You come to London to be yourself.

Find out more about the London mentality reading our interviews with successful Migrant Londoners, and my articles on British Humour, the British pub routine or cycling in London.

4. VIBRANT ECONOMY: You can start a business in one day, enjoy the lowest tax rates of the whole EU and a flexible labour market that enables someone to be hired quite fast and without too much paperwork formalities. The UK economy has been the fastest to recover of the recent financial crisis, attracting many south Europeans to come over, for more than just temporary jobs and internships.

London, maybe experienced by many migrants as a cold city, but full of opportunities for pretty much anyone who is up to it.  A multicultural city in the numbers, perhaps just in appearance for the many critics that argue this British multiculturalism does not make people mix but at least, unlike its European counterparts the UK has not yet seen the rise of extreme right wings in national elections yet – even though UKIP and anti-immigration rants are never far away. Fingers crossed, Britain, and London ahead will resist (again).

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London Olympic Games 2012: 3…2…1… Get ready!

Londoners willing to avoid Olympic Chaos and enjoy their bit of the feast: train yourself to follow these 5 tips with the rigour of an athlete.

If you who have chosen (or not) to stay in London this summer during the Olympics, you were warned: since february TFL has been communicating on the most likely delays about to happen in public transportation. While you can argue that the right question to ask is “Is there going to be any public transportation at all?”, here is our 5 tips for you to enjoy your bit of the London Olympic events this summer 2012.

1. GET LIGHTER – If you take the tube, just don’t bring that big bag pack. Remember last time, when you tried to sneak in and you could not just move or punch someone’s face with it. NB: If you can, simply don’t bother with transportation.

2. (a) BREAKFAST LIKE A CHAMPION …- If you are going to the Olympics, feast at breakfast. Food within the Olympic park is going to be SUPER-expensive (sponsors have not paid millions just because they support the universal ethics of the Olympics – if it has any), SUPER-average and you will have to SUPER-queue in the sun or in the rain (most likely in the rain). Get food worth your penny and time: enjoy your English breakfast like never before.

2. (b) … OR ENJOY YOUR PREMIUM SEAT WITH FRIENDS AND BEERS – If you are one of the zillions did not get any ticket, congratulations! You are the lucky not to face transport chaos, queue for toilets, fighting your way around or asking your way around to people that simply don’t know. Enjoy the Games, relaxed on the grass and with friends at one of the Live sites (http://www.london2012.com/join-in/live-sites/).

3. BE PREPARED – Anticipate shortage of cash, water or alcohol. Add to this that (1) you won’t be able to move to approvisionate yourself at another shop, buy today what you had planned to buy later. The Olympic Games last 14 days, you don’t want to run out of toilet paper.

4. WORK & PARTY HARD – If you work for a smart company, you should be able to work from home. This means: you can wake up a bit later and get the work done quicker. Means: free time to party at some roundhouse nearby (http://londonbusinessnetwork.com/2012-opportunities/wider-business-opportunities). The dutch one looks like a promising one, all sponsored by Heineken. Just saying.

5 – But the best advice remains: RUN AWAY (and make money doing it). Rent your flat on Airbnn (www.Airbnb.comfor a weekend and enjoy the Olympics from Brighton.

Eventually, keep calm and carry on smiling.

Biking in London

To be biking in London, unlike anywhere else, means to look like a professional biker racing for the Tour de France. Fun but demanding. I am sure @markbikeslondon, famous London blogger blogging and advocating for people to bike more, would agree with me.

Forget the romantic ride along the Thames, the slow paced pedalling in Hyde park and Boris cool marketing pictures, if you are biking in London you’d rather look like you are preparing to participate to the Olympics or it is likely you are going to end up hassled by a black cab. Best case scenario, you will just be mocked as an amateur.

Because Londoners are pragmatics when it comes to daily life, they have it all prepared. They are no fashion slaves like Parisians with their Bohemian ways on their Velib’. They have no romantic bucket like the students in Oxford. Their bikes, when it is not a hipster fixie, has been fixed and upgraded to handle the broken macadam of East and South London and its sharp bits of glass when comes the night, the wet weather that threatens to rust chains and frequent situations where two giant red bus get tighter together squeezing you in. Bikes shops are quite popular (and cool). Flirting when biking sometimes can happen.Though more often you will be thrilled to participate in an informal meet-you-at-the-next-red-lights race with a stranger. Exciting.

This said, there is an exception on some days. When the sun shows, a slight euphoria pushes less careful, serious and competitive Londoners onto the streets. Never a good day to rush through traffic with your bike, and often a good day to socialise with fellow bikers.

If you want to bike like a Londoner, get that flashy yellow jacket, this (ridiculous and expensive) helmet and prepare to get sweaty (lucky if you have a shower at the office). That’s the price to arrive safe, and eventually on time for your next meeting.

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