London, England

Travelling to the airport on Monday, my taxi driver asked me whether I was from London. Distracted momentarily from a state of perpetual nausea caused by the constant stop-start motion of driving down Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn, I replied that although I was actually on my way to London, I actually originated from the North-West of England. The driver’s response? “Oh, so you’re from England, not London?”

I long ago accepted that the ‘Great’ has pretty much vanished from Britain, and that in many ways my home country is little more than a footnote in world history. Sure, we punch above our weight in certain things such as music, football and Branston Pickle production, but we’re not the force that we once were. But that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t hurt that so many Americans have such a fundamental lack of geographical understanding of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, as I believe it should be known.

When it comes down to it, many of the residents of my adopted country believe that the UK consists of two places – London and England. Wales is in England, “Ed-in-burrow” is in England, and the Cotswolds are probably somewhere between Big Ben and “that wheel thing”. Trying to explain where Chester is can be difficult enough when you’re talking to a Brit. But when you can’t even use Manchester and Liverpool (the UK’s third and seventh largest urban conurbations respectively) as reference points, you may as well as just give up and tell some Americans that you come from London.

I know that America is an immensely huge place, and that as a result it has cities far larger than anything that the UK can offer – other than London. Given that you can travel from one end of the UK to the other in about the same time it would take you to get from the bottom of New York State to the top, I guess it’s maybe like asking somebody from Colorado whether they’ve heard of Poughkeepsie. But even so, you’d struggle to find anybody in Britain who hadn’t heard of Seattle and Washington (the twenty-third and twenty-seventh largest cities in the US respectively).

Still, nothing’s as bad as Macy Gray proudly strutting on stage at the Glastonbury Festival a few years ago and shouting “Hello London” to a bemused crowd. After all, what’s 150 miles between friends?

10 thoughts on “London, England

  1. fishwithoutbicycle

    I’ve been quite surprised by the petiteness of most American cities. Philadelphia City Centre – America’s 4th biggest city I think – is titchy compared to the likes of Leeds, or Birmingham, it’s the suburbs that make it so big.

    I’ve given American friends lessons in how to pronounce our Scottish cities correctly. They always pronounce the ‘gow’ in Glasgow as if it rhymes with cow. Tsk!!

    Enjoy England

  2. Almost American

    “You’re from England, not London” – that’s a good one!

    When I’m trying to explain where Chester is, I usually start by saying 5 hours northwest of London, then mention Liverpool as somewhere close by that they might have heard of and the fact that my uncle saw the Beatles play at the Cavern before they were famous. After that, they don’t really care exactly where I come from! Occasionally someone will say “Is that near Manchester?” to which my response is “No. Manchester is a 45 minute drive.” That thoroughly confuses them, but it’s true – growing up between Chester and Birkenhead and 20 minutes from Liverpool, we NEVER went to Manchester – it was too far.

  3. Gabrielle

    I know – as an American, only after living here over a year did I learn that england + scotland = britain; england, scotland + wales = great britain and england, scotland, wales and n. ireland = the UK. do I have it right or do I need to start over? It’s all so confusing. and I do get mocked mercilessly by my stepsons for pronouncing Edin-burrow. I try and try but I can’t get it right!!

  4. Catherine

    Hello from Switzerland, Just to let you know that I featured your blog in an article I wrote in the magazine called “Living Abroad”.
    The article was called “Blogging all over the World”. If you want to see the article it is available in most newsagents across the UK (WH Smiths etc). Alternatively I could send you a copy of the article, if so please get in touch at the email address above. Kind regards from a sunny but bitterly cold La Suisse. Catherine Nelson-Pollard

  5. Marrisa Dawes

    Hiya! LOVE the blog. We also feature with you this month in Living Abroad mag (although havent seen it yet as we live in NZ) and thought I would come to see you. Love how you write, this latest post is so funny but sadly so very true!
    Best wishes from NZ…Marrisa, Michael & Bethany Dawes (www.dawes.co.nz)

  6. Dylan Post author

    Fish – I agree it’s all about the suburbs, although living in Brooklyn, I would say that…

    Almost American – I didn’t know you were a fellow North Westerner? Although scarily close to being a Scouser…I’ll have to tone down my vitriol…

    Gabrielle – I’m not sure the Britain vs Great Britain distinction exists, but maybe you’re right. You learn something every day.

    Thanks again Catherine for the link, and welcome Marissa! I will have a look at your blog shortly!

  7. LolaBloom

    Woohoo, a Seattle shout out, had to comment if only for that. However, having grown up on the east coast and now living in the Seattle area, it’s funny that you used that example because when I go back east, if I say I live in Washington, the assumption is that I mean D.C., I’ve actually had some people tell me they didn’t know there was also a state named Washington (?!?!?!?).

  8. Alison

    I couldn’t agree more, it always cracks me up when my Mum and Dad comes to visit, and when asked where he lives says ‘about 15 miles north of Bradford’. Having lived here for a while now, I always say ‘closer to Scotland than London’ which suits most people just fine!!

    On the flip side (as they say) an American once told me about a wonderful stay he’d had in Crocklington-upon-Surrey (or some such) and when I looked blank he said ‘it amazes me that you Brits know so little of your own geography’.

  9. Pingback: London, England | Poughkeepsie Blog

  10. Laura

    Just so you know, the same is also true in the UK. Most British people think the United States is either New YOrk or Los Angeles and have never even heard of most of our other cities. As a Midwestern American living in London, I tell people where I am from in the states (St. Louis, MO) and quickly follow with, “it is near Chicago” despite it being a 5 hour drive. At least they have “heard” of Chicago and it gives them some point of reference. Of course, a 5 hour drive is far from being considered close to those living in London, but no one ever asks,”how close?” And are quite happy with my answer.

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