Whenever you travel to a new place, there are differences in the way people live there, especially when you’re in a different country. The road systems are different, the convenience store chains carry different products, and people behave differently. Different, different, different. But just because it’s not the same as what you’ve grown up with doesn’t mean this new place is bad. There are going to be aspects of this new place that you like and don’t like.
London took a bit of time to get used to, but after about a week, I got the hang of using the tube and stopped smiling at people I made eye contact with. There are a couple things I absolutely hated about London, like the distant demeanor people had in general.
I understand why nobody says hi to random people they pass on the street—there are just way too many people in London. It would get exhausting. But I come from a small town of 1200 people. I graduated high school with 53 other students. I’m not fond of terribly small towns, but I do like the small-town attitude. While walking five blocks to the state fairgrounds, you say good morning to the people sitting in lawn chairs, waving canes, trying to encourage cars to park in their yard for $10. In London, you probably wouldn’t even spare this person a glance. When I first arrived, I tried to make small talk and funny comments to people I met, whether they were working and I was buying something or if I was sitting next to someone on the tube. If they weren’t tourists themselves, the people normally didn’t take too kindly to me talking to them. I wouldn’t get glares per say, just disgruntled looks.
I also didn’t like how loud the city was. The noise would never stop. During the day, cars zipped by and honked their horns at inattentive pedestrians. When I woke up at four a.m., people would still be walking by our hostel window, talking about the bar they just came from and motorcycles would rumble on by every 15 minutes. You couldn’t even escape the noise underground. The tube is insanely loud, clattering down the tracks. The halls echo with the screeches of metal on metal as the train you just jumped off of pulls out of the station. When I got back home, I heard cicadas for the first time in three weeks and almost cried from happiness. There’s just something so peaceful about falling asleep to the sound of bullfrogs and crickets.
Along with constant unpleasant noise, London was also home to inconsiderate smokers. Brits are much more tolerant of smoking then we Americans are. We may have high rates of childhood obesity, but they are a society of lung-cancer patients. You’d be walking around, enjoying a brisk London evening, and then somebody in front of you would light a cigarette. Or you’d walk by a restaurant and there’d be a pack of smokers leaning against the building. Walking through clouds of cigarette smoke every day gets really disgusting, really fast.
London wasn’t all bad, though. There are some really amazing things about the city. Like the tube. Yes, it’s almost unbearably loud and also hot and humid all the time, but it is so fast and easy to use. London was never designed to be as big of a city as it is, so the roads are just absolutely bonkers and confusing to navigate. The tube doesn’t have to worry about any of that since it’s underground. I wish Minneapolis had a subway system like London does.
Another thing I loved about London was the endless entertainment. There was always something to do in London, no matter the time of day. You want to go spend a day walking around Hyde Park? Go for it—you could walk for eight hours and not see it all, it’s so big. You want to look at art? The hardest decision you’ll make all day is which free museum to go to. What if you want to go out and party? There are bars all over the city—there’s even a bar made entirely of ice. You make a reservation for an hour, and the staff gives you a fur coat while you’re there.
I’ll also miss being surrounded by tons of different cultures. I loved walking around and hearing people speaking French, Italian, English, and Indian in just one block. You could eat a traditional English breakfast with baked beans and eggs, then go next door and have Chinese for lunch. If you wanted Indian for dinner, look no further, because that’s right next to the Chinese place. A couple friends and I went to the Wallace Collection, a huge building that houses an equally huge stockpile of art. While we were there, we talked to one of the staff members there, Gualtiero. He told us he was Italian by birth, grew up in South America, and moved to London. Gualtiero is a perfect example of how multi-cultural London is.
There are plenty of things about London that I was happy to leave behind at liftoff. But I can’t lie to myself and say I won’t miss the convenient transportation, the beautiful parks, and the different cultures everywhere you go.
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