LA to London: Olympics spark patriotism in Southland Brits

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This is the first in KPCC’s series “LA to London,” which will be exploring local connections to the 2012 Summer Olympics. Follow the series on Twitter with #latolondon.

By one count there are about 250,000 British expatriates living in Southern California. For many of them, the London Olympic Games are sparking national pride amid some tough times in their home country.

One Brit barometer can be experienced on a regular basis at the Laugh Factory comedy club on L.A.’s Sunset Boulevard. He’s Jim Tavare, an L.A.-based British stand-up comic.

Tavare’s been in L.A. for nearly four years. In his routine, he mines the differences between Great Britain and the United States, beyond the cheeriness and teeth.

“You have a whole load of different restaurants. You have the IHOP, the Wendy’s, Chipotle,” Tavare pronounces it chi-PAH-tl, “I’ve been learning a few Latino words, you see.”

The economy’s been tough on his country, too, he adds. “On account of the economy they’re not giving out gold medals this year. You know what they’re using? Chocolate coins.”

Tavare will be flying his Union Jack during the London Olympics. But he tells the audience that he's resigned to the fact that Great Britain won’t be racking up as many medals as his adopted country, the United States.

“I’m patriotic. I try to be patriotic. But England aren’t really good at sports. They’re not so good as you guys in America. If there was an event for being miserable, binge drinking, and vomiting then we would get gold medals,” he says.

Tavare says Brits are doom-mongers who rabidly latch on to the negative. That’s why it’s so refreshing, he says, to be in a country that celebrates the positive, despite everything.

You won’t find any “Brits out of central casting” at “Brits in L.A.” The group’s weekly breakfast club, held at a white tablecloth restaurant in West Hollywood, attracts people for whom L.A. is the land of milk and honey. Namely, people like octogenarian Bernard Skibben.

“For 50 years I’ve been building houses. And I came over here from England basically to build typically English homes that look, maybe, hundreds of years old,” Skibben said.

“I am a part-time nanny, part-time dog walker, writing a film,” says Lorraine Wilkinson. She moved to L.A. from Washington D.C. a year and a half ago. She laughs because she feels like she’s living the dream.

“I love Los Feliz, I love Melrose, the whole of Melrose. I love some of the British pubs I do go to. I know. The Picky, Village Idiot, Cat and Fiddle. And these are places that’ve actually become meeting points for Brits, so you really have a sense of a community build,” she says.

And that’s where she and lots of other L.A. Brits will be joining four billion people expected to watch the Olympics opening ceremonies. London native Eileen Lee says part of her would like to be back home for the games.

“I do wish I was there. But at the same time I couldn’t deal with the traffic. I couldn’t deal with the—maybe the bomb threats, the bus strikes, all of that kind of thing. So maybe it’s best watching it from afar,” Lee says.

The London Olympics are reminding some British expats that England’s been through some tough economic times, riots, and it sent soldiers to the very unpopular War in Iraq. And they’re a reminder to others that it’s good to be away from the gloomy British psyche.

“In Britain you don’t quite get that support,” says photographer Dawn Bowery, “people kind of feel there’s a limited amount of success. And there’s only so much to go around. Whereas here there’s a little bit more encouragement and people say, ‘Hey yeah, let’s have a go.’"

For Eileen Lee the solution to her homesickness is easy albeit a fantasy.

“I wish I could transplant London to be adjacent to Los Angeles so I could pop in and out whenever I felt like it,” she says.

She’d put London, at least during the Olympic games, at arm’s length from L.A. — maybe next to San Diego.

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