The Rumor: London is always gray and rainy, and the food is terrible.
The Truth: "In terms of rainfall, it's actually low on the list," says Nicole Mitchell, a Weather Channel meteorologist. (The statistics: London gets 23 inches a year, while, on average, supposedly sunny Miami gets a whopping 60 and soggy Seattle gets 39.) "Because London is coastal, it gets drizzly during the winter. But, as with any place, you have to pick the right time to visit," says Mitchell. (She recommends the summer, when it's warmer and sunnier.) And as for the local fare, it has come a long way since the days of ubiquitous bangers and mash. "There was a time when English food was, by definition, bad food, but that reputation is about 10 years out of date," says Tim Zagat, a cofounder of Zagat Survey, a publisher of international restaurant guides. "Now it is one of the best places in the world to eat." (The turnaround is due in part to the increased availability of fresh ingredients.)
The Rumor: It is rude to make eye contact during conversation in Japan.
The Truth: In the Land of the Rising Sun, do not avert your gaze just yet. "That used to be the rule, back in the old days, during the Meiji and Taisho eras (the late 1800s and early 1900s)," explains Robert Whiting, a Japanese-culture expert and the author of "The Samurai Way of Baseball." "It was considered disrespectful, especially when talking to a superior." These days, however, "people in Japan act just like people in the West. Not making eye contact would be considered a bit odd when talking to someone, even the emperor," says Whiting.
The Rumor: Venice is sinking.
The Truth: Not so much, says Fabio Carrera, a native of Venice and a professor of urban studies and planning at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute, in Massachusetts. If by sinking you mean that the land is going under and losing elevation, then, no, that is no longer true," says Carrera. Once upon a time from around 1900 up until the 1970s Venice did dip deeper into the water, by nearly five inches, because the aquifer beneath it was being drained to provide water to the mainland. "When people realized what was happening, they stopped pumping water out, and Venice rebounded by about half an inch," says Carrera.
Still, the city is not totally out of hot water. Thanks to global warming and rising sea levels, Venice along with other low-lying locales, like New Orleans remains vulnerable to flooding. But as long as it stays one step ahead of the problem by incorporating preventive measures, like the underwater floodgates currently being constructed, Venice should be the home of many a piazza (and pigeon) for years to come.
The Rumor: New Yorkers are rude.
The Truth: Fuhgeddaboudit! "It's absolutely false that New Yorkers are unfriendly they may seem standoffish at first, but that's just concealing a very big heart," insists Ed Koch, a former New York mayor and a quintessential New Yorker. (Hey, someone who appeared in "The Muppets Take Manhattan" should know.) So what is with the gruff exterior, then? Call it a coping mechanism for living in a city of more than 8 million people. "We believe that people want their own space, so we don't intrude unless asked for assistance. But if you're visiting from out of town, just walk over to any New Yorker and he'll immediately help you out," says Koch. And rather than feeling upset about a brusque cab driver or a bagel guy who seems to toss your change at you, remember that they are just trying to keep the wheels in motion. "People here want to help you get on with your day!" says Koch.
The Rumor: Afternoon thunderstorms in Florida always pass within an hour.
The Truth: "This does not always happen, but a lot of storms are pretty quick," says meteorologist Nicole Mitchell. "In the heat of the afternoon, there is enough of a contrast between the slightly cooler ocean air temperature and the warmer air temperature over land to trigger storms," she says. "By late afternoon, there is less of a contrast and you lose the trigger for the storms, so they start dying out." And Florida is not the only place you should keep an umbrella handy. Mitchell says the same conditions exist up and down the Gulf Coast, making the weather in places such as Biloxi, Miss.; Mobile, Ala.; and New Orleans equally erratic.
The Rumor: South of the equator, toilet water swirls in the opposite direction.
The Truth: This one goes straight down the commode. Wondering where that crackpot theory originated? "South of the equator, tornadoes go clockwise, while north of the equator, they go counterclockwise, because of the earth's rotation and something called Coriolis force. In principle, the same would happen to water in a toilet or a bath," explains Michael Goodchild, a professor of geography at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and a 2007 recipient of the field's highest honor, the Prix Vautrin Lud. "But the effect of Coriolis force on a small scale is very weak and outweighed by other forces, like the relative positions of the inlet faucet and the plug hole."
The Rumor: The Leaning Tower of Pisa will eventually topple over.
The Truth: It seems inevitable that the tilting medieval bell tower will take a dive someday. But the structure, which developed its famous wonky posture when its foundation settled into the soft ground beneath it, is actually on surprisingly solid footing. About 10 years ago, the base of the tower was reinforced with a combination of concrete and other bracing methods, decreasing the lean by 17 inches to 13 feet 6 inches. "It was the culmination of years of work and planning the new foundation will last indefinitely," says Donald Friedman, a structural engineer at Old Structures Engineering, in New York City. "It is not going to tip. Now it has the heaviest foundation of anything in that whole city!"
The Rumor: In Russia, locally made vodka is cheaper than water.
The Truth: The answer is a flat-out nyet, says Paul Richardson, who has visited the country more than 20 times and is the publisher of Russian Life magazine. While locally made vodka can be nearly half as cheap in Russia as the imported stuff we buy here prices start at around $2 a bottle in Moscow it still outprices water by a long shot.
The Rumor: If you dug a hole straight through the Earth, you would probably make it to China.
The Truth: "It depends on where you start out," says author Michael Goodchild. "If you dug through the center of the Earth, you would emerge at a point opposite to where you started," he says. "Most of the time, if you started from land, you would end in water. But you would end up in China if you started digging in northern Chile." Oh yeah, there is one more little catch. Says Goodchild, "You would need a machine that could form a tunnel through liquid metal at a temperature of around 5,000 degrees." Um, try eBay?
The Rumor: There is a top-secret city beneath Disneyland.
The Truth: Legend has it that there's a top-secret command center under the theme park in Anaheim, Calif., but, alas, not even a wave of Tinker Bell's wand could make this a reality. "There is not much under there certainly not a city," says Bob Sehlinger, who has visited the park hundreds of times over the past 20 years and recently wrote "The Unofficial Guide to Disneyland 2008." It is very likely that this rumor stems from a case of mistaken identity. As it turns out, sister amusement park Disney World, in Orlando, Fla., does have a subterranean setup of sorts, though it is not quite a metropolis. "In Disney World, there is something called utilidors Disney-speak for a huge system of tunnels under the park, which allow costumed cast members to scurry underneath the property," explains Sehlinger.