A sign painted on a London sidewalk reminding dog-walkers to clean up after their dogs.

This is one of a few signs encouraging Londoners to take care of business.

It seems that no matter where you travel or how prepared you think you are, you will forget something. Dr. Kohn decided that his item to forget was deodorant. This naturally led to so many comments and remarks about how he smelled that he went out and purchased some that was meant to smell like Africa. I have yet to figure out what exactly that smell is supposed to be, but never the less Dr. Kohn has kept himself in check. But I think the city of London itself needs to invest in some kind of deodorant.

It seems that anywhere you go in the city– down an alley, along the river, in the underground train system (the tube)–there is always a distinct smell. It is distinct, yet it is really cacophony of different scents telling you the story of the area you are visiting. Usually it’s a mix of the food smells coming out of the many cafés and pubs. Sometimes it’s fish, others burgers and every once in a while the smell of freshly made baked goods. There is a lack of trash cans or “rubbish bin” since the Irish Republican Army used to put bombs in them, leading to lots of litter on the ground. Oddly enough, the litter isn’t even the most powerful smell.

The tube has a musty smell of body sweat and lack of patience that make up the still humid air, creating an uneasy feeling. Every time I’m in the bowels of the incredible underground system, I don’t feel like touching, talking or looking at anyone around me. I want to curl into myself and escape the cement walls encircling me.

The worst and most noticeable of all the smells in the city is the cigarette residue left behind the vast majority of the population. Coming from a place that has such strict laws on smoking both indoors and near entryways, I have very much taken for granted the clean, “fresh” air. Never having been a fan of smoking or the smell of it, this was the hardest thing to adjust to when coming to London.

I honestly wasn’t sure if I would be able to handle being in a culture so different from and yet similar to my own. I was so excited to come here because I have dreamt of living here for the past few years. I wanted to live in a garret with no air-conditioning or heat like the modernist writers did in the early 20th century, though experiencing this heat wave has made me reconsider that part of the dream. I had romanticized this ideal of what the city of London would be like, and when I experienced the real thing, I was really heartbroken.

The first few days, overwhelmed and jet-lagged, I came very close to a few mental breakdowns. But after becoming a little more tolerant of the smells and figuring out the tube system, recognizing the currency and how to pay for things, I feel like I belong, like I fit into the culture. It’s a culture of going for a pint after work, standing outside enjoying the weather and good banter, taking a nap in one of the many parks and gardens, walking and using public transportation and crossing the road while dodging the traffic.

But as overwhelming and strange everything is in “Dirty London,” it’s those moments when I walk past a Thai restaurant, a bakery, or a man selling candy almonds that the delicious smells fill my senses, that I feel like I am still in Minnesota, as if I am not in a foreign city 4,000 miles away from my family and friends.

–Abby Peschges