This is the second installment of my irregular Minority Report. Part one was “Expatriates and the Patriots” and the full series contains dispatches from Seoul as well.
I’ve lived in Central London for almost two years. During this time, I’ve experienced plenty of situations to dispel many of the preconceived notions I had about life in the UK. It’s not as if I’d never been here before; I spent a few months studying at a university in the mid-1990’s and have visited on dozens of business trips since then. But it’s one thing to visit — it’s another matter to live somewhere with no intention to leave, which changes your mindset and what matters on a daily basis.
- Here’s a tip: tipping may not be expected, but it’s quite common.
When paying by cash in black cabs, the round up to the nearest £1 still applies. But who pays with cash anymore? Card readers are installed in almost all cabs and although I’ve encountered the rare cabbie who claims that his reader is broken, it’s the fastest way to pay. I haven’t seen any studies on whether riders are leaving more tips by using plastic, but it’s been proven in the US.
In restaurants, tipping has taken a more passive-aggressive approach. Many restaurants add an “optional 12.5% discretionary service charge” to the bill without asking. But does that actually go to the staff? Maybe, maybe not. So if you really want to do the right thing, ask for the optional charge to be removed and leave cash instead.
- It seems that many of the service workers in Britain aren’t British.
A visitor might stop into a pub — perhaps a Red Lion, Black Horse, or Green Man — and seek to refresh oneself with a proper pint of basement-temperature cask ale. Sure, you’ll find a stout wooden bar and old musty carpet, but the drinks on offer? Most likely a lineup of AB InBev brands. The person serving you? Probably not British either.
According to Ben Judah’s 2016 book This Is London, “at least 55 per cent of people are not ethnically white British, nearly 40 per cent were born abroad, and 5 percent are living illegally in the shadows.” A related book that dives deep into the world of low wage Britain is James Bloodworth’s Hired, which illuminates much of the tension that exists in pro-Brexit UK.
- Not-so-special deliveries.
Inside this box is the biggest LEGO set ever produced — the UCS Millenium Falcon. But why is it wet and ripped? Because the the delivery person opened the outer and inner boxes, removing all of the valuable eBay-able minifigures!
In another lower stakes example, I ordered some socks and they were promised with free two-day delivery. When they weren’t delivered on the expected day, I called the delivery company. They said they I should request a refund from the brand and they’d file a claim against the driver. File a claim? Yes, because the driver was technically a contractor to the delivery company. Speaking of tension in low wage Britain, this issue represents one story of many that reflect the global capital vs. talent crisis that’s well underway.
- Has brick-and-mortar retail been impacted? You bet.
Globalisation has made its mark here and any American would be hard pressed to feel homesick in London, with retail therapy available to soothe any sadness of what was left behind. Take a walk down Oxford Street and you’ll find Niketown, Disney, and The Gap, in between Selfridges, John Lewis, and Debenhams.
In smaller towns, you won’t find a Starbucks on every corner but you won’t find a pub on every corner either. Every high street seems to have estate agents, newsagents, a cafe or two, maybe a Tesco Express, some hair salons, and always betting shops. It’s Las Vegas in convenience-store format and the lure is addictive.
- Sorry, some things haven’t changed, thank you.
One element of stereotypical British culture is its politeness and a recent study claims Britons say thank you more than anyone in the world. After spending a week driving 2,394 miles through nine different European countries, I absolutely noticed the difference in interactions when returning across the channel.
However, it’s important to not judge other cultures too quickly as “rude” or “inconsiderate” — rather, it’s more instructive to reflect on one’s personal inclinations and how that perspective shapes expectations of others.