Anyone who’s gotten this far in the blog is either genuinely interested in reading it, or is grading it. Regardless of which one you are, I hope you enjoy it! Obviously, we’ve all just had a really spectacular week in London, and the stories and images shared here so far are a very good indication of what this unique city has to offer in the way of culture and perspective. But, like us all, I have my own perspective, (that coincidentally, has no relation to my research project whatsoever) which I would like to express. In order to understand the rest of this though, you need to know a few things about the city and its inhabitants.
A great many people are not even British – a lot of them are immigrants, be they refugees or tourists. This makes an appreciation for British culture very hard to obtain, because London is no longer British. Yeah, sure it’s the capital city and it’s in a region that makes it very traditionally British since the dawn of time, but those rules no longer apply. The city now belongs to the world. Despite its English Breakfast teas, and a strangely unanimous love for the Royalty, the British presence is fading. However, despite the more noticeable aspects of an increasingly modern London, some things linger, possibly forever.
Brick and slate give way to steel and glass, but that hasn’t stopped most shops from closing before most Americans even get off of work. An infinitely diverse population hasn’t stopped locals from being territorial. The modern age hasn’t stopped the use of black cabs, or strolls through Hyde Park in the middle of the afternoon. The truth of London is that it is, inherently, an inconvenient city. Nothing is available to eat when you want it, there’s always way too many people on the tube, and the fact of the matter is, they just don’t have any good burgers. People expect culture shock to be something intense and unexpected, like the locals eat bugs, or the they skinny dip in the fountains, or something horribly outlandish. You don’t expect culture shock to include something as simple as not being able to find a restaurant that’s open late when you and your mates stay up late watching a movie and are really hungry. You don’t expect it to be the fact that leftovers just aren’t a commonality.
Despite all that London is not, it is a beautiful city. Archaic and distant, and yet so engrained in the modern world that many can’t imagine life outside the city. Like New York, or San Francisco, or any of the great American hubs, London is in its own right as dirty and rude as the people who live there. It is both highborn, and yet lacks the charm of the Old Money that built it. It is a series of grand and unexpected gardens overshadowed by the sprawling and daunting concrete walls of the metropolis. Paradoxes and comparisons aside, it is a major city, which means two things – you will hate it, but it will make you strong. Inside the boundaries of the city, you can’t help but long for freedom from it – to escape the oppressive air, the labyrinthian subway system, and the sketchy back alleys – and yet, when you are finally free, you can’t help but feel gratitude for lessons learned and friends made from sharing tired feet, poor hospitality, and the frustrations of city life.
Ultimately, London is a unique experience. I would never recommend it as a vacation, because it is not a place to relax. London is not meant for those looking to unwind or enjoy life. London is a test, and it is pass or fail, and to top it off, it’s got a steep learning curve. However, if you make it out having passed the proverbial test, you earn a sense of accomplishment, the reward of unforgettable and necessary life lessons in manners and patience, and may even gain a few friends along the way.