Monthly Archives: September 2009

Fitting Out

In many ways, London and America are very similar. Generally, we speak the same language, listen to similar music, wear similar clothes (although I’ve found the Brits seem to look strikingly classy during all hours of the day) and from what I’ve seen, share a mutual hatred for the Bush administration. Initially, as an American in a foreign country I found these subtle similarities to be quite comforting seeing as how I didn’t have to change much in order to fit in. However, I quickly discovered that while the two countries have a lot in common, there are some stark differences that visiting Americans should understand about the British culture so as not to look like total “arses”.

Rule number one: do NOT talk on the Tube. It makes you look like an arrogant, inconsiderate and all-around idiotic American. I figured this one out the hard way. The Tube is the name of the subway system here in London and one day about eight of my friends and were on it, laughing and carrying on, completely oblivious to the other patrons on the car. It was only when I stopped talking long enough to hear a friend tell a story did I then realize that her voice was reverberating off the walls and into the pained ears of the innocently silent British folk. I looked up and everyone was stabbing us with their eyes. At this point I sunk back in my chair and politely shut my mouth for the rest of trip. I’ve since then instituted a “no talking” rule on the Tube with my friends wherein they may talk to me but a response or acknowledgment of their existence is not guaranteed.

No talking zone

Rule number two: The peace sign is not a peaceful sign. In America, the peace sign has come to mean happy things such as…well, peace. However, in Britain, it does not mean anything of the sort. Here the peace sign means that you want to take someone into a dark alleyway and lay the smack down on the them. In other words, unless you are looking to get a beat up you should put the peace sign down. Personally, I am quite happy at this seeing as how it will make people look significantly less stupid and/or drunk in pictures and in real life.

Rule number three: iPods are cool, the white headphones that come standard are not. Apparently the British believe the white iPod headphones are absolute rubbish and that very expensive Bose headphones are truly the only way to have a proper iPod experience. I honestly have no comment on this cultural faux-paux because it’s just beyond any realm of stupid I’ve ever entered.

Rule number four: Wearing sweatpants, sweatshirts or clothes of any likeness screams “I am American and I am a dirty, lazy bum.” Unlike in the States, it is fairly unacceptable to leave the house looking anything less than your best. No one here wears sweatpants outside unless they are going for a jog and even then they still someone look more put together than me on my best day. As a committed comfy pant wearer I have had some issues with this cultural rule but when in Rome…

Rule number five: Heineken is the armpit of all beers. This seems to be the same in America as it should be because Heineken tastes like feet.

I’m sure that as I continue to break Britain’s unwritten rules I will be able to add to this list but as of now these are the most vital rules that Americans must follow so as to not fit out.

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And the beat goes on…

Hello again from L-town! (I’m sure the locals utterly hate that…I actually feel like less of a person for that semi-abbreviation but for some reason I can’t bring myself to delete it).

Things have been bopping along splendidly here, I’ve been trying to get out and do as much as possible every day. There is so much to do here and so much that I want to do right now but I suppose I’ll have to be patient as I do have several more months ahead of me that will be dedicated toward conquering London and all of the European Union.

This week was my first try at exploring the hectic, diverse city they call London as a “leader” rather than a follower in a herd of human beings. My first attempt was Monday when I tried to pretend like I knew what I was doing and took my roommate, Caroline and my flatmate, Alex out to Soho. I was like, “Oh yeah, I’ve been here before, I totally know where we are going,” as we got off the Tube stop. I was obviously very wrong because her, Alex and I wondered around for about an hour asking strangers where Soho was. Of course, each time they shook their heads at the idiotic American tourists and said it was ten minutes in the direction we had just come from. Of course. This happened about three or four times so I’m assuming we were in Soho for about half of the time we had been wandering around but we just didn’t know it. Eventually, we decided to give up and plop down in the nearest pub. It turns out, this particular pub was right near the Picadilly Circus tube stop, a.k.a. right in Soho. This sort of mindless wandering is so typical that I was not remotely surprised or frustrated, I was more just happy to sit down and have a pint.

We finally found a pub in Soho. The best seat in the house.

We finally found a pub in Soho. The best seat in the house.

Tuesday was another day of wandering and pub hopping that began with a tour of Parliament. Parliament was beautiful and enormous and our tour guide was the cutest old man and really made the tour an experience to remember. I took about 600 pictures of Parliament and Big Ben (or Big Boy Ben as I endearingly refer to “him” as) from about 400 angles. After Parliament we wandered around to St. James park which is hands down the most beautiful park I’ve been to thus far. There were lush gardens filled with endless amounts of flowers of different sizes, shapes and textures and of course, per the Euro style, there was an exorbitant amount of public displays of affection in and around the park, some of which were borderline pornographic. Needless to say, I felt uncomfortable.

Stunning view from St. James Bridge. Not Pictured: Public love making from people behind me.

Stunning view from St. James Bridge. Not Pictured: Public love making from people behind me.

After the park we went to Soho (I had other friends lead the way so we made it in due time) and had fish and chips and Amstel at St. James Tavern. We then we out to this fairly trashy “club” that seemly to be slightly on the sketchy side. To appease our obvious discomfort we decided to start a dance circle in the middle of the club. Within five minutes we had the whole club doing the running man and moon walk. It was truly the perfect end to a perfect day.

Wednesday and Thursday were fairly uneventful and spent strolling around London doing random things. However, on Thursday our class had a field trip to Notting Hill to see the Brand Museum, a small, but meaty museum that has tons of products from the beginning of the 1900’s to present day. After the museum I embarked on my own journey to find some Banksy work on Portobello Road which is very near the Brand Museum. Banksy, a world-famous graffiti artist famous for this creative stenciling and even more provacative political and social messages is said to have done work on Portobello Road. I know this because my drunk, “reputable” British friend who I talked to for all of three minutes told me so. As I wandered down the road for what seemed like a long while I started to grow more and more frustrated. I finally turned around, feeling like somewhat of a failure and literally right as I turned around I saw my first Banksy work. It was a picture of  a french-looking artist painting “Banksy” in graffiti. I must have had my Banksy radar on because I found two more random tags from him up the road. I was beyond pleased and I hope to find much more from this fabulous man.

Banksy work on Portobello Road

Banksy work on Portobello Road

Brits, chips and so on…

I know it’s been a while since my last post and usually I have no excuse for the long breaks between blogs but this time I have a legitimate reason for not posting and that’s because I’ve been in jolly old London, England. I have officially been here a full week and I absolutely love everything about the city that I’ve seen so far and I know that I will love the parts that I haven’t even seen yet.

Last Sunday I arrived at 74 Courtfield Gardens in the lovely borough of Kensington and Chelsea (yes, I obviously point to my name on the signs around the city and say “That’s my name!”; I think my new friends are starting to get sick of it). Kensington is apparently one of the wealthiest cities in the entire United Kingdom which became quite obvious when I saw a Bentley, Lambourghini and a Rolls Royce parked on the street in front of my flat. While it seems unnatural to put a bunch of idiotic college students in one of the U.K.’s richest boroughs, we were apparently put here so that we wouldn’t get shanked (stabbed) by some of London’s less finer folk. I am therefore OK with Boston University’s housing decision.

So, let me tell you about my first week here (Warning: this probably isn’t overly interesting so if you have something important to do you might as well do it now.)

The first day I was so tired I couldn’t see straight but I somehow managed to make my way to Carnival in Notting Hill. I decided that being social and making friends was more important than sitting in my room like a loser. Carnival is basically this enormous street festival thrown to celebrate the Caribbean culture of London. The streets were packed with loads of drunk people who were “dancing” to amazing and extremely loud music. There were people dressed in everything from bumble bee costumes to Gucci sweatsuits, it was fabulous. We then topped the evening off with a late-night serving of gyros and falafel at a local restaurant called “Fish and Chips”. It would have made sense to order fish and chips but my mind wasn’t quite right that day. Either way, my first day was officially a success.

The next two days of my London experience were dedicated toward getting affiliated with the history and culture of London. In order to do so, we attended a mandatory seven lecture series that covered everything from the birth of Britain to an in-depth analysis of the pound note. Did you know that Queen Elizabeth is on one side of the pound and on the other is Charles Darwin? This is why I love England. Admittedly, the may be the only piece of information I took away from the lectures as I was in a jet-lag induced coma the entire time. However, I decided to push past my coma and go out Tuesday and Wednesday night. On Tuesday we went to dinner at a local pub called “Prince of Tekk” which served great beer and excellent chicken risotto and then pub hopped all the way up King Street. On Wednesday we made some British friends who took us around Notting Hill. I mostly love the British because of their sense of humor and ability to incorporate horribly offensive words into everyday conversation. I can see myself being friends with these people.

Finally, on Thursday we started classes which apparently you have to do while you are abroad. Who knew? I’m taking an advertising and marketing class which lasts four hours a day so it’s fairly painful. All pain aside, I really like my professor who is absolutely hilarious. She gave us some useful tips and advised us not to talk on the Underground, which is the local subway system here, so as not to look like loud Americans. Too late.

Once classes we over, my three day weekend began. We saw some tourist attractions in Picadilly Circus and Soho and scored from delicious Indian food down in Camden Market. My new friends and I even spent the day in Kensington Gardens throwing a frisby around. I hit about three people in the back of the head with my un-athletic toss so I probably need to find something else to do at the park. All in all is was a stellar first weekend and I hope there are many more to come!

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