London Talks Back

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During my time in London, I learned to admire British culture. I’ll admit when I first arrived I felt very out of my element. The variety of accents, the bluntness of the people and even their mannerisms were so different from what I’d known that even basic interactions were a bit of a struggle for me. No amount of Jane Austen novels or Sherlock episodes could have prepared me for real interactions with British people. Within the first week I quickly adapted, but I guess it was more so the fact that I wasn’t expecting to feel the cultural divide as much as I did. I’d grown up admiring and learning about British people my entire life so I thought I knew what to expect. I was wrong.

British people are the most polite group of people I’ve ever met. It’s funny though, because their bluntness I believe may be construed as rude in the U.S. or other parts, but I loved it. They were so much more efficient with conflicts, because they were much more open to voicing their opinions rather than beating around the bush. To give a quick and humorous example, I dated a British guy named “Michael” who really did in my opinion exemplify all of the major observations I’d made about British culture, and I got to experience them first hand during our relationship. One day towards the end of my stay in London, I had a childhood friend named “Ivonne” visit me for a few days so we took her out for a drink with us and a few of Michael’s co-workers. I was sharing a story about when my older brother visited me in Boston and complained about the amount of walking that I made him do. Living in the suburbs with his own car, my brother doesn’t walk much in general. After telling the humorous experience to point out how I didn’t even realize how much walking I do living in a city, Michael curiously asked, “Yea, but isn’t your brother really fat?” Those were literally his exact words. I know he didn’t say it maliciously or with the intent to insult, he was genuinely curious. At this point, I’d adapted to the bluntness so I simply replied that yea he is indeed a bit overweight. Ivonne died laughing. This was her first night in London, and she was certainly not used to this type of bluntness. She quipped, “Man, you guys really are blunt here!” Michael looked confused by her statement. I laughed at Ivonne’s comment, glad that I’m not the only one who noticed how odd it is for us for people to be that honest.

Ivonne’s two days in London were actually odd in my experience with London. It was during my last week so I took advantage of her stay to do all of he touristy things in London that I hadn’t already done. What made her final day memorable was how Londoners simply chimed into our conversations out of nowhere.

The first instance happened when I went to Sainsbury’s to buy credit for my phone. As we were exiting the grocery store, Ivonne asked me what this signal by the bars on her phone meant. I told her I didn’t know, but then out of nowhere a woman with three bags of grocery bags on each hand who was literally like 10 feet away from us, turns around and explained the signal as she continued walking away with her groceries.

The second instance was when Ivonne and I took the tube. When we arrived at Westminster station, I momentarily forgot where I needed to go and just follow the crowd. I found myself leading Ivonne to go downstairs when we were trying to get out of the station. I revealed to Ivonne, “I think we went the wrong way, but I can’t be sure, I’m just following the crowd, but I’m pretty sure that this is the wrong way to get out.” London is a very crowded city so we were surrounded by people and at this point, we would’ve been annoying if we tried to turn around and go upstairs when literally everyone was going downstairs. However, amidst the crowd a woman, who was a little further ahead of us down the stairs, turned around and responded, “Yes, you guys are going the wrong way.” With this confirmed, Ivonne and I decide to be those annoying Americans and turn around and fight our way back upstairs.

The last instance of the day was when Ivonne and I went to the bank. Since she was studying abroad in Spain, Ivonne only had Euros so she needed to go to Barclay’s to take out more pounds for the day. As we stood at the ATM machine behind this older man who was withdrawing money, Ivonne and I discussed what we planned to do that day to determine how much money she needed to take out. I said, “Well we are doing the London Eye, we’re going lunch, we’re going to Portobello Market to do some shopping and then we’re going to dinner, so you’ll probably need like 100 pounds.” Ivonne asked surprised, “Really? 100 pounds? That’s a lot!” Then I remembered, “Oh, we’re also going to get ice cream!” The man in front of us finished his transaction with the machine, and then turned around and said, “You’re definitely going to need more than 100 pounds,” and then walked away. Ivonne and I looked at each other baffled.

British people are nothing without their wit and humor. I love it. I appreciated them taking pity on two silly American girls, and helping us out when we were clearly struggling to understand certain things.

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