Near London

I often hear people ask English people which city they are from, and nine times out of ten the English person will reply “I’m from near London.” Sometimes they even say it in a fake cockney accent for effect. “LANDAN, MATE!”

I’ve always wondered about this. Especially when the vast majority of these people are from nowhere near London (though comparatively speaking, in a country as small as England nowhere is really very far away from anywhere else). Now, it’s possible to argue that the reason they claim to be from ‘near London’ is because if they told people where they were really from (Milton Keynes, Bath, Reading, Leeds, Beesands in Devon) the odds are anyone who wasn’t British wouldn’t have heard of it so would be none the wiser.

However, let’s be honest here.

We all know the real reason so many people erroneously claim to be from this mysterious, far-reaching neverland called ‘Near London’ is because the place they are really from is shit boring and they want to be associated with somewhere more glamorous instead. There’s a world of difference between telling a hot Ukranian air stewardess you meet in a night club that you’re from London and watching her melt (“I love London soooooo much!”) and telling her you’re from Chipping Norton and then spending the next fifteen minutes trying to explain where it is. As world cities go, London is right up there with Paris and Milan as geographical aphrodisiacs. Chipping Norton, not so much. And when the hot Ukranian air stewardess finds out its nowhere near London she’ll drop you like a hot coal. For as long as the blissful ignorance lasts, you’re in with a shout.

It’s hilarious when their guilt starts to show.

“Oh, you’re from London?”

“No, NEAR London.”

The subtext being: Come on, get it right! Knowing full-well all their friends and family from Chipping Norton would mock them to within inches of their life if they were overheard telling anyone they were from London. NEAR London? Well, there’s some wiggle room there.

I see it as my duty to call them out on their bullshit.

“I’m from near London, bruv!”

“What’s the name of your town?”

“Yeovil.”

“Oh, so about 130-miles near London?”

Conversely, I was discussing this with a Chinese friend recently who said that when foreigners ask her where she’s from, she often does the opposite. And she’s not the only one. It’s a common theme, apparently. It would be easy for Chinese people to say they are from Beijing or Shanghai, probably the only two Chinese cities the vast majority of people unfamiliar with China would recognize, even if they weren’t. But instead, they say they are from Mengzi City in Yunnan Province, or a remote mountain village in northern Guizhou province.

Then, they take great delight studying the foreigner’s reactions. Will they claim to know all about it in an attempt to win favour or avoid a potentially mutually embarrassing situation? Will they show a polite but obviously fake interest? Or will they just be completely bewildered and unable to comprehend the fact that they were talking to a Chinese person who wasn’t from Beijing or Shanghai?

This juxtaposition is fascinating, and a telling reflection of the contrasting social etiquette in east and west, and especially England and China. English people are always trying to elevate themselves above their station and are anxious to be seen as somehow better than what they really are. They think claiming to be from ‘near London’ helps them achieve this. On the other hand you have the naturally modest Chinese who would rather not be associated with a big, glamorous city, thank you very much. They wouldn’t consider themselves to be from ‘near London’ even if they were.

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