With the Olympics on the horizon, London is officially calling. But beyond pledging allegiance to the queen or adopting a dodgy accent, how can you go for gold as a true-blue Briton? Our resident Brit, Sophie Gilbert, offers ten ways to embrace the UK in Washington.
1. Drink Pimm’s. Come summer, the English embellish their alcohol with fruits and vegetables. Take Pimm’s: Mix one part of this gin-based liquor with four parts lemonade (or ginger beer) and garnish it with lemon, strawberries, cucumber, and mint. If you’re too lazy to mix all that fiber and alcohol yourself, try it at DC’s Bar Pilar or Againn.
2. Perfect the art of gruff modesty. Unlike you overconfident Americans, Brits are taught to downplay everything. Get a promotion? Must be a mistake. Gouged in the heart with a giant pickax? It’s just a scratch, really. You must also negate every compliment with an exaggerated statement: “I like your new hairdo.” “Good God, no. It’s awful. I look like ZZ Top got electrocuted.”
3. Dress like a duchess. The commoner formerly known as Kate Middleton—now the Duchess of Cambridge—is a fan of the high-street retailer Reiss, so zip off to Bloomingdale’s and shell out $250 to $500 for a tailored cocktail dress. Sadly, the cream number Kate wore for her engagement photos is no longer available in stores, but if you’re prescient enough, maybe you can beat Not-So-Waity Katie to her next summer buy.
4. Smell like a prince. Georgetown’s Sterling & Burke has a host of royally approved items, including scents by Penhaligon’s. That perfumery dates to 1870, when it was founded by Queen Victoria’s court barber, and boasts Prince Charles and Prince Philip as patrons. Or pick up some leather goods by Swaine Adeney Brigg. Nothing oozes “class” like a $3,000 attaché case.
5. Learn to love Marmite. It’s black, smells like a corpse, and has the consistency of reduced tar. Yet generations of Brits have been raised on boiled eggs and Marmite “soldiers,” so if you want to pay homage to Her Majesty, you’ll have to force it down. This strangely popular spread, a yeast extract from the beer-brewing process, is sold at some Harris Teeter and Marvelous Market stores.
6. Take time for tea. You know it as a beverage; we know it as an expansive meal that’s more carefully planned than a military operation. Afternoon tea has fortified generations of young lords and ladies, so when it reopens in September, head to the Willard Hotel’s Peacock Alley and nibble on egg-salad finger sandwiches, lemon and raisin scones, pecan shortbread, and orange-hazelnut loaf, accompanied by a pot of organic Darjeeling.
7. Practice an icy (and ineffectual) glare. When it comes to confrontation, most Brits channel the French and retreat. Which means that when someone breaks the social contract by talking loudly or not going quietly to the back of the queue, the only appropriate response is a withering gaze. This will do little to bother anyone else, but it’ll let you express displeasure in the most passive way possible.
8. Watch EastEnders on WETA. Right up there with snooker, spanking, and Benny Hill on the list of things Britons are inexplicably fond of is this long-running soap opera chronicling the lives of working-class East London residents. No one knows quite why EastEnders has such passionate fans, but when WETA threatened to cancel it in 2006, a group chipped in to help pay for it.
9. Pretend to enjoy cricket. With its exotic vernacular (stumps, creases, overs), its gentlemanly uniform, and its obsession with weather, cricket is a microcosm of England itself. Therefore, do not expect to be instantly bowled over (sorry) by its complicated charms. Instead, indulge in a Pimm’s (see number 1) and enjoy the pleasant outdoorsiness of it all at one of the Washington Cricket League’s matches.
10. Enjoy some English cuisine. As the menu at DC’s Rasika proudly states, the national meal of England is . . . chicken tikka masala. Yes, despite having plenty of our own dishes (shepherd’s pie, Sunday roast, beef and ale), we prefer to remind ourselves of our failed colonial history. Maybe it’s because we’re masochists (see number 5); maybe it’s just because this South Asian meal of chicken in a rich tomato-and-cream sauce is truly delicious. Either way, you can sample it at any number of Washington’s Indian restaurants.
This article appears in the July 2012 issue of The Washingtonian.