‘Ello from across the pond!
We are officially three weeks into our London journey, and so far every minute has been a wonderful, exciting whirlwind of British culture. As my colleague wrote a week ago, 26 of us have been waking up at the crack of dawn to read through local newspapers, eat breakfast and jump on the Tube— London’s underground subway system—to spend each day exploring one of the world’s capitol cities.
While we quickly learned important cultural lessons like “minding the gap” when getting on and off the Tube and to stand on the right side when going up or down escalators so as not to obstruct walkers, we have also been learning in a more academic setting, looking at gender, race and class in British culture. I first stepped off the plane excited just to hear British accents, but I quickly learned that being a Londoner is so much more than an accent.
One of our class projects was to write a profile piece on a local resident, and as we all began to realize, Londoners truly come from all over, making the city a real world capitol. In fact, it is almost rare to find a resident who was born and raised in London. Many residents come from all over Europe and Asia; a short trip on the Tube often reveals a host of different languages, many of which I had never heard before.
Even British accents can be surprisingly hard to understand. As the common saying goes, America and Britain are “two nations divided by a common language.” Our class found this out the hard way when we saw the popular play “Mojo,” starring Rupert Grint of “Harry Potter” and Brendan Coyle of the popular show “Downton Abbey.” Although it was in English, we left the theater not understanding much of the basic plot or dialogue because of the actors’ heavy accents.
Accents aside, London is certainly different than the United States, and driving on the opposite side of the road is just one of the disconnects. We are fortunate enough to be staying in Chelsea, known around here as being a nice part of the city. I noticed instantly that Range Rovers, Mercedes and BMWs, luxury cars by Minnesota standards, are everyday cars here. We’ve seen several Rolls Royce’s as well, and learned that flats in London typically cost upwards of 1 million pounds.
A trip to Harrods, London’s largest department store, left me feeling like I was in a completely different world—one filled with luxury designers, personal shoppers and items that I couldn’t even afford to touch. It’s known as one of the most expensive cities in the world, and London certainly attracts those who aren’t afraid to spend.
Lucky for us, London food is similar to American cuisine. In fact, I think I’ve eaten more pub burgers here in Londontown than I have in America over the last year. I’m sure my iron levels are through the roof. On the first day we arrived, we were treated, and I use that term lightly, to traditional British fish and chips, which was basically fried cod and French fries. Let’s just say I wasn’t a fan, and I have successfully managed to avoid the London favorite ever since.
I traveled to Paris during one of our last weekends here with several other members of our class. We only had two days to spend in the city of lights, so we managed to fit in everything tourist-y: visiting the Eiffel Tower, eating crepes, walking through the catacombs and shopping down the Champs Elysees. While Paris was amazing, I, along with a few other members of my group, came to realize that we had fallen in love with London, and we were excited to get back to the city we had become so familiar with.
Friends who have studied abroad told me repeatedly how amazing and life changing travel can be, but spending the past month in London has far exceeded any expectations I had. It’s true that being in an unfamiliar place with a different culture and foreign customs pushes you outside your comfort zone in ways you can’t imagine, and I am so thankful to have been able to see a little more of the world and gain some wonderful new friendships before I graduate this spring. London, I’ll be back!
Gabrielle Martinson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.