Drinking in public.
If there were ever a freedom we’ve lost in the US that would be it. For having witnessed Londoners merrily drink themselves stupid today at Notting Hill Carnival, openly in the street in full view of the police, I’m convinced that nothing could more easily unite the US quite like freely allowing citizens to sit on the curb and throw back some colds ones with your fellow man. It’s beautiful.
I think I will soon share the fascination people have with London’s weather. It has nothing to do with the amount of rain. What fascinates me is how drastically the appearance of the city alters with rain or the lack thereof. Yesterday it rained and stormed for much of the day and it really was a very a dreary setting. However today was blessed with eternal sunshine and a cool breeze that made the centuries-old buildings shed their previous coldness and transform into triumphant monuments.
It’s the small things. That’s what Meghan (my cousin for those who don’t know) answered when I asked her about what sort of culture shock, if any, she’s experienced in her 6 months living in Greenwich. Among the previous 3 foreign countries I’ve lived (Germany, South Africa, Malawi) the culture shock was far varied. In Germany there was the language barrier. In Malawi there was the virtually everything barrier. South Africa was without question the easiest to adapt to, but there were still a few things it took some time to get used to. Here in London I’ve so far had very little to acclimate to. Sure the accents are different, but it isn’t as if I’ve never heard a British accent before. Yes they drive on the left but so do they in South Africa and Malawi (when they have cars). London, in many ways, looks like what most “old” American city centers aspire to be. There are many stretches in London that remind me of Olde City Philadelphia. It isn’t until when you notice the red double-decker buses zipping on the left side of the road that you think something is off.
One thing that does blatantly stand out are the menus at restaurants. If I owned a publishing company, I wouldn’t invest in travel manuals talking about the Tower of London or Big Ben. No I would instead focus on offering tourists a guide to understanding what they’re about to order off of the menu. At breakfast this morning I stared at my menu trying to think of what possibly could “bubble and squeak” be. My first and best guess was some kind of fish and mouse. It turns out it’s mashed potatoes with a bunch of vegetables mixed in it. Yea.
My overall first impression of London so far then has been this. It is a bit of the old parts of American cities like Philly, DC, NYC and Boston highlighted with some European decor and cleanliness and with cryptic menus.