The London Eye
Two months ago I flew over to London for a short work trip during London Fashion Week
It had been nearly a year since I last visited our neighbors across the pond, and yet it felt like I'd never left. I immediately started chatting with my taxi driver about my love of The Beatles, navigated the tube with ease and confidently asked the teller to put twenty "quid" on my Oyster card
(although that confused him as he skeptically replied, "Don't you mean dollars?" So much for trying to speak like a native.)
You would think that as an American, traveling to the UK would provide little to no culture shock - next to Canada, they're about as close to America as you can get.
But whenever I'm in London, I often feel like I've entered some bizarre alternate universe.
At first glance, it looks, feels and sounds just like home. But then, I hear the change in accent (swoon.) And then people start saying words like "loo," "jumper" and "trainers" instead of "bathroom," "sweater" and "sneakers."
And then these cars come barreling out of no where, on the wrong side of the road no less!
(I swear I nearly kill myself every time I try to cross the street in that city - I should have a safety patrol
with me at all times.)
Parliament - London
Sometimes I find myself feeling more caught off guard in London than I do in Paris, because it's so unexpected.
In France, or most other countries for that matter, there is the language barrier and a trunk full of cultural differences to overcome. When I'm abroad in non-English speaking countries, I can blend in as a normal "foreigner" - they know I'm not French, but they don't automatically assume I'm American (Living in Paris, I've gotten mistaken for a Brit, an Italian and a Brazilian before - that last person was clearly delusional.)
But in England, it's clear the second I open my mouth that I'm an American. And there's nothing wrong with that. But I still can't help but feel a bit vulnerable and yes, I'll admit, a bit...well, less classy.
image courtesy of listal.com
For this, I blame Julie Andrews
Like any good American child, I was brought up wishing I could sing like/be Mary Poppins
or Maria from The Sound of Music
. I was convinced that Hugh Grant
was the only acceptable man for me. In short, I was brainwashed to believe that all things classy, polite and distinguished were inherently British.
(They still have a freaking Queen
for goodness sakes.)
That being said, in my old age I've learned that just because the Brits may sound posh, it doesn't actually mean they are. They can be just as brash, drunk and inappropriate as anyone else.
And that's not a bad thing - they are human after all.****
although any tiny island that manages to produce The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones, The Who and Eric Clapton within a six year time frame clearly has some kind of magical superhuman molecules floating around the air. Or maybe it's the water...**
London, New Year's Eve (news.bbc.co.uk)
I have never been a fan of New Year's.
I think it's a combination of the hype that goes along with celebrating the night before, the resolutions that people make but rarely keep, and just my overall fear of the passage of time.
Roughly a month before the main event, everyone starts to text, tweet, email and Facebook their friends to try and plan a festive way to ring in the New Year. And naturally, we all want it to be "perfect," because after all, who wants to start off a brand new year on a bad, or even worse, an awkward/boring note?
Even though it's actually just another day, psychologically we all place a lot of pressure on the start of a new year. We feel like we can wipe the slate clean from the past year and start over. "THIS will be THE year," we think. "This year I will eat better/hit the gym/save money/change careers/go bungee jumping [fill in your resolutions here]."
County Arms Pub (flickr.com)
I have spent the majority of my life ringing in the New Year in either Maryland or Washington D.C., with two years spent celebrating it abroad in Jamaica and Geneva (random, I know). Like everyone else, I have had some memorable celebrations and some that were just plain mediocre.
I still have yet to determine whether or not the quality of one's New Year's celebration directly correlates with personal success and happiness in that year. I have a feeling there is no direct relation, and it's ultimately just the luck of the draw.
This year I rang in 2011 in London, with dinner and drinks with a small group of friends at a pub called The County Arms
in South-west London (Wandsworth
to be precise). Granted this place was a bit fancier than your "traditional" English pub, but being the ignorant American that I am, I felt like I was ringing in the New Year in true British style.
The evening highlights included a perfectly seasoned leek soup, tequila shots, and a DJ (who I swear was at least 75 years old) rocking out to ABBA's "Dancing Queen."
Turns out the pub had decided on a disco-themed soirée for the occasion - what better way to ring in the New Year I ask you?
I wasn't expecting my English New Year's celebration to be much different than the ones I was used to in the U.S. And overall, I would say they're quite similar. You had your fun yet cheesy dance music, a few people that were clearly way too drunk, a heartfelt round of Auld Lang Syne
, fireworks, etc.
Even though the overall vibe in London was essentially the same as it is back in the U.S., I really enjoyed kicking off 2011 in a foreign city.
I'm sure I will celebrate many more New Year's to come back home in the U.S., so I'm glad I got to jumpstart this upcoming year (in which I will spend nearly the entire 365 days living abroad in Paris) with a quasi-European flair.
All in all, I anticipate that 2011 will be eventful, enlightening, and perhaps life changing. But if it's not, I'm OK with that as well. As long as my friends and family stay safe, healthy and relatively sane, I will consider 2011 a success.
So as we head into 2011 with high hopes, I leave you with the following video (courtesy of Google) to help us all reflect on the major events that occurred in 2010.
View of the London Eye along the river Thames
A few weeks ago I took a trip to London, which I always find to be slightly disorienting when I come over from France. I end up uttering things like “Excusez –moi” when I bump into people, or accidentally saying “bonne journée”
when leaving a shop.
I also feel like I standout more as an American in London than I do in Paris: since we’re all speaking the same language, my accent immediately sets me apart, whereas at least in France, they may know I’m not French, but they don’t know exactly where I’m from.
Not that I'm ashamed of being American -- au contraire
I just feel like I loose a bit of my anonymity when I'm hanging out with our former colonizers.
At the same time, it’s always a bit of a relief to visit a country that so closely resembles my own. Coffee to go is easy to come by, restaurants actually highlight vegetarian options on their menus (almost as if they’re excited about it!) And even though I’m always somewhat disappointed to discover that not every Londoner sounds like Julie Andrews in Mary Poppins
, I still think almost anything sounds better when spoken in an English accent.
Entrance to Borough Market
After spending some quality time at a few British pubs and getting drizzled on by the notorious English rain, I decided to take a trip to the famous Borough Market
in South London.
Since I spend so much time visiting and blogging about markets in Paris, I figured why not take a look at what the Brits have to offer?
Borough Market is a popular tourist destination and considered one of the largest markets in the world
, with up to 70 food stalls. The Market is also believed to date as far back as the 13th century, and has been used in several famous films, including Bridget Jones's Diary (2001)
and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004).
So if you get there on a Saturday afternoon, you can expect large crowds of people from all over the world (and an insanely long line at the Barclays ATM), wandering around sampling everything from English cheddar to hot Indian spices.
Here is some general information and helpful tips if any of you are interested in visiting Borough Market in the near (or distant) future:Borough Market Address:8 Southwark Street
SE1 1TL(Located beneath the railway viaducts, between the river Thames and Borough High Street)Borough Market Hours:Thursdays: 11am - 5pmFridays: 12pm - 6pmSaturdays: 8am - 5pm
According to the market's official website
:"The Market is open on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, with Saturday being busiest after 11am. The sensible shopper gets here between 8am and 10am for the pick of the day. Thursday is usually a relaxed shopping day and our demonstration chef is on hand for ideas, tips and demonstrations in the Jubilee Market."
Below is a selection of photos I took from my visit to the Market. As you can see, they have similar items to the Parisian markets I've blogged about
(flowers, cheese, olives, etc.), but also carry plenty of specialty items, including spices from around the world, and of course those famous English pies!