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Jan 25 ~ Essential reading is The Guardian today, testing the water for UKOK,
Can I bring my puppy? Four writers summon their best foreign accents and put them to the test
Pascal Wyse, the German "Good afternoon, British Tourist Authority." I am ringing about UKOK.
OK! "What kind of information do you require?"
I am coming to England in March, from Darmstadt in Germany, and I have a few worries about travelling to your country.
"OK - if you hold on I will try and transfer you."
My tour of Britain begins with a collection of offices and call centres - around six in total. All have the word "tourist" somewhere in the title; one, worryingly, has the word "recovery", but I explain that I haven't had a breakdown; none, it seems, has the foggiest what to do with a German accent that wouldn't fool a fish. I bang on: I will be needing to write back to Germany while in the UK, but I hear the postal service is not functioning. Maybe there are strikes?
"I have a number for our Frankfurt office."
OK - so UKOK cannot help me? "
"It seems not, no."
Do you still have a postal service? "The postal service is working at the moment. Hold on..." ...... ......
Tim Dowling, the American .....A breathy woman answers on the second ring. "British Tourist Authority, how may I help you?" I ask for "you-cock" but don't have the courage to let this hang in the air too long. .....The phone rings two more times. "Good afternoon, tourist information," says another, much jollier woman. "How can I help?"
I start asking for UKOK again.
UKOK, she explains patiently, is the name of the BTA campaign for 2002.
I ask about upcoming golden jubilee celebrations on behalf of my royal-crazy wife.
"The main celebration will be on the weekend from Saturday the first of June until Tuesday the fourth of June." Events, she tells me, include a classical concert in the grounds of Buckingham Palace.
Super! I'll take two tickets. "They haven't as yet released details as to how to get the tickets," she says.
So what can I book now? "Nothing as regards the jubilee yet. They're releasing very little information, partly because as yet not much is confirmed, and what has been confirmed, a lot of it is classified."
I turn to the delicate subject of foot and mouth.
"Foot and mouth is no longer in Britain, as of last week," she says.
So it's safe, is it? "By safe, what do you mean? Do you mean in terms of humans catching foot and mouth?"
Yes. "Humans can't catch foot and mouth," she tells me sternly, "except in very exceptional circumstances."
What's the one you can catch, then? The mad-cow thing?
She tells me that's gone too.
What about the trains and the tubes? I ask. I hear they aren't running so good.
"That could apply to Britain any time in the last 50 years!" she says, laughing perhaps a little too uproariously.
Are they running at all?
Oh, they run, they run. They just don't run on time. It's something that British people are particularly accustomed to."
Now, euros, I say. You people are still the pound, right?
"We're still the pound," she says.
And how long is that gonna last for? When do you change over?
"We don't know yet. We don't even know if we're going to." .....
Stuart Jeffries, the Frenchman Hello, I am ringing from France, I say. I am thinking of coming to England with my family for a short holiday but I am - how you say - a little bit terrified at the prospect.
"Hold the line, sir. I'll put you through to the information line."
"Hello, information line," says a woman's pleasant voice
.... I am very worried about the NHS and have read all these horror stories about patients lying in wards in their own filth without treatment for days. In pools of blood.
The woman's voice, quite properly, becomes noticeably more brisk: "We've not heard that sort of story, sir."
And, you know, some of your English people have been exported to my town, to Lille actually, for operating with. I am worried if I fall under a bus - how will you ship me back to France? And what if I get your flu? Are these terrible stories true?
"We don't have that sort of specific information here. Probably the best thing to do is to call our office in France. They will have all the information you need."
Thank you. You see I am just worried because I have never been to England before. It seems - how you say - not to work, with joke trains, dead cows and mad-cow princes.......
I suspect I am in the process of being rumbled. Is it safe to see a football match? I try. I hear it is very exciting, but I am worried about your mad fighting hooligans.
"What are you worried about?"
About getting hit and my family getting hit. And ending up in a terrible hospital.
"I think you had better speak to the press office." I think my wandering accent and frankly implausible questions have made her suspicious.
"It's very safe, sir. There's no problem with foot and mouth disease or anything like that."
Interesting: I haven't mentioned foot and mouth disease. .....