Sunday, 13 July 2008

Lost In Translation

I love people watching in London and admit that I am something of an eavesdropper too! On my recent river boat tour along the Thames with City Cruises, I overheard a little girl talking to her father and couldn’t resist making a note of the conversation!

Girl: “Why is there a British flag flying on that building?”
Dad: “That’s Big Ben”
Girl: “No, next to Big Ben”
Dad: “That’s the Congress building”
Girl: “What’s that?”
Dad: “It’s where the British President lives”
Girl: “Does that mean he’s home?”
Dad: “Yes”

Hmmm! Without wishing to offend anyone by assuming that my readers are quite as badly informed as this particular family from an English-speaking country that shall not be named (!), here is my slightly extended and more accurate version of the conversation.

Girl: Why is there a Union Flag* flying on that building?
Dad: That’s the Clock Tower**
Girl: No, next to the Clock Tower
Dad: That’s the Palace of Westminster***
Girl: What’s that?
Dad: It’s where the two houses of Parliament of the United Kingdom meet.
Girl: What are they called?
Dad: The House of Commons and the House of Lords****
Girl: Does the British President live there?
Dad: Britain doesn’t have a President; they have a Prime Minister who is called Gordon Brown. He lives at number 10 Downing Street.
Girl: So why is the Union Flag flying?
Dad: That means Parliament is sitting at the moment. If the Queen is visiting the Palace then the Royal Standard***** is flown instead.

* Union Flag, also known as the Union Jack is the national flag of the United Kingdom.
** The Clock Tower is often referred to as Big Ben which is, in fact, the name of the largest bell within the tower. There is no flag pole on this tower. Flags are flown from the Victoria Tower.
*** Palace of Westminster also known as the Westminster Palace and the Houses of Parliament
**** The House of Commons, where Members of Parliament are elected by the nation and the House of Lords whose members are appointed.
***** The Royal Standard is the flag used by Queen Elizabeth II in her capacity as sovereign of the United Kingdom.

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