c and i finally made it across the pond (for those of you who are uninitiated that means we visited england and scotland). this is just one of the many trips we’ve been planning for decades, so in a way it’s hard to believe it’s already come and gone.
this was not my first trip overseas – i traveled around europe and england one summer back in 1977 – but it was c’s first trip. with the exception of the obvious landmarks, london has changed tremendously since i was last there. maybe that’s true of most world cities, and certainly it’s true here in the u.s., but i was pretty surprised at the difference in london. of course, 37 years is a long time…
i’m sure that many people would be disappointed to know that a stereotypical “british” experience may not necessarily be had in london any longer. oh sure, there are still pubs a plenty, penhaligan’s is still around, harrods (though owned by qatar holdings) stands grand but covent garden is now just like any us shopping mall and carnaby street is still there but without the famous funky vibe of the 60s. many of the workers and shop and pub owners are russian, ukranian or other eastern europeans and while there is still a strong indian presence there is also an added middle eastern population clustered into obvious ethnic enclaves.
perhaps because of the chunnel or maybe just because of the expanding nature of our world, london is not just pints, tea, biscuits and crisps, there are plenty of coffee shops, patisseries and all manner of similar take-out food joints that dot our own us towns and cities. while you might have guessed that the major fast food player is mcdonald’s, what we saw more often were kfcs, starbucks and subways – and they were always busy. certainly there are many distinctly british retailers, but just about every retailer you see in a major us city is also in london. same for high-end, name brand boutiques. even the styles were just about the same.
we did see a couple of what we called “london girls” – 20-something women with updated throwback styles from the 60s london – ratted hair, hip styles, thick accents, lots of eyeliner and fake lashes carrying lots of bags with treasures from their london shopping trip.
interestingly, american big band and swing music from the 40’s seemed to be the music of choice in hotel lobbies, elevators, restaurants and pubs.
the world is a much, much easier place to navigate, especially where money is concerned. in 1977 there was no euro, so i had to change money upon arriving at each country, and without electronic cash machines, i had to carry traveler’s checks and hunt out a bank or exchange office each time i crossed a border. c and i were only in england and scotland, so we were able to use the pound the entire time, but using a debit and credit card or get a cash withdrawal was just simple. most establishments took our debit or credit card and then asked whether we would like to pay in pounds, euros or dollars.
one wonderful change is that, like the us, england and scotland do not allow smoking on trains or in restaurants, so we were hardly bothered by smokers. okay, so back in 1977 i was one of those annoying smokers…
we quickly got used to the language difference, much to our amusement. no exit signs, just “way out”; chips are crisps, french fries are chips, cookies are biscuits, oatmeal is porridge, elevators are lifts, “th” is pronounced like an “f”, the word “then” is used at the end of most sentences, speaking inflection goes up at the end of a sentence to make every one into a question and the subway is called the tube where you mind the gap. oh, and so here we just order coffee, but there you would ask for an americano, espresso, latte or cappuccino. forget trying to get a brewed decaf ‘cuz it’s all instant.
we referred to ourselves as being from “the states” since our friends to the north and south in north america don’t appreciate the arrogance of calling ourselves americans, but we were always referred to as americans anyway.
probably the hardest thing to get used to was looking the correct way before crossing a street. this is such a problem for visitors in london that “look right” and “look left” with big arrows are painted on the street at many intersections. what i found most startling was to instinctively look at the left side of the front of a car only to find it empty or someone doing something other than paying attention to the road and realize all over again that the driver was on the right. they all looked like phantom cars to me. i’m not sure i ever got used to that.
look for Adventures Across the Pond – Part Two very soon.