It’s interesting what kind of insight you get about yourself when it’s through the eyes of someone who thinks you’re a bit silly, by which I mean they know you’re American.
The Warwick Arms is a friendly sort of pub (I’d like to think they all are). The warmth as you walk in is welcoming compared to the ever present cold rain that falls on London an average of 160 to 200 days of the year. Yellow tungsten lights glow on a wall of liquor bottles behind a polished wooden bar that spouts taps of local UK beers like Fuller’s London Pride and Guinness Stout. Barmaids fill pint glasses of these room temperature beers by cranking hand pumps, no American Co2 set-ups here. Traditional British food like meat pies and fish and chips dot the menu, as well as a long list of Indian food.
But the most interesting part of any night at the pub is the locals.
“He was a piece of shit,” a man in a blue delivery uniform I’d soon discover was named Tom said to a gentleman in a tweed jacket (I’m not making that up) named Bob (I’m not making that up either). Both gentlemen sat on stools next to me at the bar.
Tom referred to British-born Michael Adebowale who brutally murdered British military drummer Lee Rigby near the southeast London Woolwich barracks in London May 22. Like Adebowale, his accomplice Michael Adebolajo was a convert to radical Islam. Witnesses say the men butchered Rigby with a knife and meat cleaver on a city street.
Bob took a pull of an amber lager in a tall, thin pint glass and sat it onto a Fuller’s London Pride coaster on the bar. “These were not smart boys,” he said. This was two days after the attack.
I took the dark black pint of Guinness the barmaid handed me, and turned toward Tom and Bob. “I doubt the American media has given this story more than a mention,” I said.
“Why’d you say that?” Tom asked.
Glad you asked, Tom. As a print journalist and current university journalism instructor, I feel I’m in a good position to criticize the media, and the American media is notoriously bad at covering its own country, let alone what’s going on overseas.
Like any good American, I didn’t realize I’d be wrong.
“When I came into town a couple of days ago, the front page of ‘The Metro’ (a free daily newspaper provided to the London Underground) was about the tornado in Oklahoma,” I said. “If a tornado hit a city of the same size here, the American media might not have mentioned it.”
“And why should they?” Tom asked. “There’s 300 million people there in America. There are 62 million people here. Why would they care?”
I didn’t expect that. The American media has faults – many, many faults, like the Kardashians and Honey Boo Boo. When I drove to Canada in 2011, anyone who discovered I was from Missouri brought up a tornado that destroyed Joplin, Mo., months before. They seemed genuinely concerned. That same year, Tropical Storm Washi struck the Philippines killing more than 1,000 people. Can’t say I heard of it at the time.
“Say you’re in the middle of Utah,” Tom continued. “Why would you care about someone from Britain or from Kyrgyzstan, or even know where it is, you know?”
That made sense. But still. “Then why was the British press in Oklahoma?” I asked.
“There’s a lot of us over there,” Tom said. “More than you’d think.” Then he turned back toward Bob and resumed their conversation.
Sipping my inky black stout I thought Tom made a good point. Maybe the America-centric nature of the U.S. media isn’t because Americans don’t care about the rest of the world, it’s because, well, we really don’t care about the rest of the world.
“You’re not talking to me.” Bob’s voice grabbed my attention. He was in the middle of a story. “Piss off. My food’s getting cold.”
Bob howled in a belly laugh, and Tom joined him.
“Where you been so far?” Tom asked, turning back toward me, leaving Bob laughing at his own story.
“Today I went to Borough Market.”
Tom shook his head. “No, no. Burah. Burah Market. It’s spelled like that, though, isn’t it? Borough. But it’s pronounced Burah. You pronounce it Burr-oh.”
For an American, pronunciation in London is rather confusing. “I noticed that with the Thames (Tims) and Gloucester (Gloss-ter),” I said.
Tom nodded. “That’s because you Americans pronounce things phonetically. Which makes sense. With us, I don’t know. It’s hundreds of years of this. That’s just how it is.”
He drained his pint glass and motioned to the barmaid for another. “Where else you going over here?”
I smiled and said, “Stonehenge.” Maybe the most iconic 5,000-year-old structure on the planet, right up there with the Great Pyramid. It’s mysterious, something every school child reads about, or at least remembers from the first “Ice Age” movie, and I was going to hop on a bus and stand next to it in a few days.
“Stonehenge?” he asked, his voice rising a bit at the end. “You want to see a bunch of rocks?”
“Uh, yes,” I said.
“You do know they’re just in a circle, don’t you?”
Just another night at the pub.