After talking to (or rather listening to) so many tour guides about the “True Nature of the English Experience,” I was eager to talk to some unpaid locals. Not to say the tour guides haven’t been amazing. We had one recently that both whistled and read out of scientific journals with the same amount of enthusiasm. Even so, luckily for me talking to locals is exactly what we spent our evening doing! We went to a London Historians meet and greet at a pub where intellectuals from all walks of life gather together and chat it up. We barged into the meager room flaunting our best Youthful-Intellectual-American smiles (you’d know the look if you saw it) and split into pairs to join in on some conversation. I got the opportunity to invade two lovely people talking about American stereotypes and was not surprised to find that some people find us slightly… invasive. But I think they used the term “forward” and meant it in a largely positive light. The night only became more enlightening from that point on.
Many of the people I had the pleasure of speaking with were very keen on learning about the American education system. I was interested to find that several of the historians we spoke to hadn’t gone beyond a high school level in the UK but were still perfectly successful and clearly brilliant. Among these people were published authors and accomplished historical researchers. Of course, it’s not unheard of in the States for non-college educated people to succeed, but it’s seen as significantly less likely. I spoke to several of the gentlemen at the event about how it is a basic expectation in the states that teens will go to college regardless of whether or not they have an ultimate goal in doing so. Education is always a fascinating topic to me when I visit other countries because America has such an incredible culture, in the media especially, built around the “college experience.” It seems as though that image does not exist with such clarity in Europe, or at least in the eyes of the scholars I spoke to.
I tried to coax some of the historians into talking politics but most batted the topic away and moved on to less volatile subjects. It seems at least that the rule “politics and polite conversation don’t mix” exists in both of our countries. I was a little disappointed but the variety of topics that were introduced instead were equally illuminating so the disappointment was forgotten almost instantly. The conversations focused on anything from life stories to computer programming and each individual we engaged was enthusiastic and eloquent. No one seemed bothered by our age, which was noticeably lesser than our peers, and instead many were even more eager to question us about our worldview. It was nice to be the interviewer instead of the interviewed for a change and I found myself adapting to the flow of conversation quickly. It seemed as though everyone fared in a similar manner because upon the conclusion of the evening we all had a plethora of stories to share with one another on the return home.
Leaving the event I got many suggestions for great sites to visit during the rest of our stay in the country including the Freud Museum, which was already on my to-do list. I have no idea how much I’ll be able to cram into the rest of this trip, but I get the feeling there are many early mornings and late nights ahead.
I can’t wait.