News & Politics

English Channeling: 10 Ways to Embrace the UK in Washington

Can't make it to London for the Olympics? Take part in British traditions here.

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

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
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

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

This article appears in the July 2012 issue of The Washingtonian.