Tour guide vs. Tourist: The challenge of being a tour guide in London

“You’re too loud!” A man’s nylon-enshrouded arm waved for my attention, for everyone’s attention. He looked miserable.He sat among rows of over-prepared tourists, all wearing shoes so sensible they had no place in London. Some were shod with hiking boots. Others with bulbous white trainers, the sort resembling miniature cruise liners on each foot, which is, I suspect, their natural environment. But we were on an open-top tour bus in the centre of London, not the Alps or a 14-day cruise to the Bahamas, though a few wore the T-shirts.Somehow in a sea of immigration and unparalleled diversity, amid faces and accents of all hues and tones, these tourists still managed to concoct a look that said: We don’t belong here.Looking back at the still-waving man, I paused, microphone in hand, to assess the situation. He locked bespectacled eyes with mine and crumpled his face like he had a migraine that was entirely my doing. This one’s a problem, I thought – my first delinquent passenger as a new London tour guide....more

Camping culture shock: England vs. Canada

I’ll admit I was expecting some trees. Camping would be the perfect break from the cacophony of London, I needed – respite from the queues, the cost and the constant threat of pickpockets and train delays.For the peace of the countryside, I was willing to incur a few itchy welts and fall slack with my hygiene. From my tent in the shadow of the trees, I would mistake the sound of the wind for traffic, and the buzz of mosquitoes for shit electronica reverberating through from the neighbour's flat. But then I would awake to my refreshing new reality in the countryside. And I would take a long, deep breath of clean country air and smile contentedly – completely relaxed and rejuvenated. There would be little to do, other than play cards in the dancing orange light around the campfire, and perhaps cool our beer in the frigid North Atlantic sand.I had no idea what I was in for, but driving through a military weapons test site on the way to the campground was the first sign I wasn’t going to get the peace I’d been expecting....more

Charity Muggers or Charity Lovers: What do you think of street fundraisers?

There are two kinds of clipboards. The kind my boyfriend likes using to interview celebrities and festival goers, which attract 5-minute fame-seekers like free money, and the kind I've been issued for my new temporary job, which makes even grown men jump into traffic-heavy streets to avoid me.That's the power I wield. ...more

London Calling: My ill-fated call-centre interview

I went for an interview at a call-centre. I know. I know. But when the going gets tough, the tough'll do anything to stay afloat. That's what I tell myself. And being a foreigner and a job-seeker in the midst of credit crunch hysteria – melancholy so severe and so adored by Londoners that advertisers city-wide use it for rhymes and puns – I can't even splurge for the discounted 'Credit Crunch Lunch'. It's a blessing really, that food in England has the reputation it does. Basically, if I can trade my time for money, I'll do just about anything until I can find a real job – one that's somehow, even mildly related to anything I learned during 8 years of university. Getting hired by an inbound call-centre is harder than I'd anticipated. From a customer's perspective, it seemed anyone could get a job at one of these places. Anyone with the aptitude to speak a language and don a headset. Anyone with the ability to read a sales script like a robot and put me on hold. But it's just not that easy. ...more

Privacy piracy: In a home near you

"What I want to see is pure, unadulterated blogging – a total exposé." It's a gutsy thing to say considering I've just moved in with him. But he meant it, and I knew it, because he's the sort of man who likes to get down to the gritty uncomfortable truth of ... everything. ...more

Facebook blunder: My real friends love me anyway!

Pranking friends and mocking people from afar has never been so easy, now that Facebook is on the scene. Cathy's never really pregnant like her status line occasionally suggests, by the way. She's just left her account open on the computer in the main room again. I'm sure she'll appreciate your concern and congratulations regardless, so don't be discouraged by the truth. ...more

Which side of a mudslide? A Guatemalan bus ride decides for me.

Travel has taught me that some blessings are extremely well disguised, especially in Guatemala. Tempering any expectations of a smooth trip from the highlands to the islands, before departure we watched a mechanic crawl under our bus with a hammer and some duct tape. So, Cathy and I bought some "emergency" beer for the road. ...more

The Merits of Eating Worms and Gargling Pee

As it turns out, my grade school bullies were right. I do eat worms and drink pee. It's fair to suggest their twisted little minds planted the idea in my head. As a squeamish child, I'd never have come up with that on my own – not unless one of those stones they threw knocked me in the worms-and-pee section of my brain. It's possible. ...more

It's one of those things that can't be undone. Forever and ever, to my friends and family, I'll ...more

French-Canadian cuisine: Ass ham

True, living in Quebec can be challenging for non-Francophones in terms of finding jobs and apartments, reading contracts, applying for grants, conducting business, dating, ordering food, and dealing with any public service over the phone, but for the hardy few who manage to overcome those minor inconveniences, there are occasional and wondrous rewards, like poutine. ...more of my readers thought it was about her Ex. Apparently, he's a royal "ass ham"!more

Fewer things to kill me: Cooking with the bay leaf

If you believe everything my mother tells you, then you'll know she has no moral issue with endangering your life for the sake of 10 minutes of pleasure, or however long it takes to eat her spaghetti. At the family dinner table, it was everyone for their respective self. We didn't say grace, but my mother occasionally kicked off mealtime by announcing the possibility of death, advised us to be vigilant and, smiling, encouraged us to dig in and enjoy. ...more