January 2009


I understand it, but I hate it, being only known as “The American”. I am a real person, you know.

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I guess there’s a moment, or several moments, when you feel singularly displaced from home. If you’re in a country where the people speak a foreign language, I am sure that language is the one biggest cultural markers. But in London, like all other things, its much more subtle. My room looks like it did in Palmer, Hampstead reminds me of Swarthmore and the Indian accents sound the same everywhere. But there was one thing that made me realize the differences are very subtle.

I didn’t even realize the problem at first. We, americans, would go out to a club on a friday night. On Anon, and then we tried to go to an artsy venue in camden the next night. Once we got thrown out of once place, we looked for another, but it was closed. Closed on a Staurday night! In fact, many of our hallmates stayed in their pajamas all day, doing work. I became really frustrated that our plans always fell through or the venue didn’t attract a crowd our age.

Fran, a club promoter explained to me that students only go out on weekdays. Every club has student nights and Wednesdays are particularly popular. My geek alarm goes off…going out on a school night? Sacre bleu!

Maybe this isn’t a British vs. American culture thing but a Swat vs. unis culture where we stay up until 4 in the morning on weekdays working and occasionally go out on the weekends. I guess it makes more sense because Kings students dont really have regular coursework throughout the semester; everything is clumped at the end. And lectures arent very profound either, so you just need to show up to class if you want to on the weekdays without worrying about working. I think. Maybe thats the rationale. And weekdays have student nights? I might sound dumb but I COME FROM SUBURBIA COLLEGE!

Another cultural displacement: I cant find a bagel at Starbucks. That was weird and depressing. Some mornings, I really just want a f**** bagel. Not a crumpet. Not a piece of toast. Not a roll. Not a croissant or fruitbread. Not a danish or whatever other breakfast food they might consume. Just a dunkin donuts or Tarble bagel. (I really miss DD) But no bagels are to be found. Even at Starbucks, an American icon.

But also the toilets! I must comment on the toilets.  When it comes to toilets, the British exhibit loads of creativity. I’ve never seen so many variations of the toilet in one city! Some have a handle flush, a wave your hand over this spot, push this button on the wall, push these two buttons on the top. It’s very confusing sometimes. But they arent very good at flushing, despite all their creativity. Hampstead toilets never flush enough water on the first try and it always clogs. I wonder why there is so much discrepency.

Sorry, I meandered again. If you read, leave a comment! Let me know whose alive. And tell me about your life! This is a very one-sided conversation, darlings.

Cheers.

I credit the title to Melinda, who coined it to describe my experiences with America in London. It’s everywhere, I can’t escape it. In all my classes, pop culture to politics. Today, the Strand Waterfront Bar was absolutely packed with British students who were clapping to Obama’s speech! Everything can be explained logically, but it was such an odd feeling to experience myself. I heard American music at the club and Frankie reads British issues of American magazines. At the pub, they were playing American pop music and America is constantly referred to in the papers and billboards.

In my Jane Austen module, our lecturer said that Americans imagination of Britain as an idyllic pastoral scene in the country is influenced by her novels. We are, apparently, infatuated with her and type of British romance and life she presents. Unfortunately, this is true, and I am not very proud of it because it is illogical. I am taking an American Studies course and obviously it has a lot about America. In my Shakespeare class, my lecturer said that America has captured the Shakespeare market in terms of performances and scholarly work, I guess. Finally, in my film and book class, my lecturer said that America has captured the Gothic film market, particularly Tim Burton. And the short story we read was Sleepy Hollow by an American author. It’s a class about adapting literature to film…how is this inherently American or why does it warrant a reading of American pop culture?

I think my observations are more indicative of my hyper-sensitivity to all American references. In fact, Britain and America are often lumped together. In my Rise of the Novel course, all of our literature was British, but I didn’t even notice it because the two countries’ cultures are so interconnected. For example, Amy Winehouse is super popular here, but it doesn’t seem out of place. We pay mild attention to the politics of Britain and use it as a reference point. Other cultures, including British, are similarly inculcated into us, but we dont recognize it.

Some people told me that coming to Britain was not worthwhile because it is just like America. But my study abroad adivser reminded of me of a quote that basically said, America and Britain share nothing more than a language. He was right, you were wrong. Even if America and Britain share many commonalities, I’m still learning about America from a new vantage point. Whatever, I am enjoying myself.

On a different note, I am worried that I’m in the wrong time in the wrong place. As in, I should be back home. Yes, doubts are arising again as I am facing doors closing in terms of work prospects and its making me nervous. If I were at home, I would be able to network better. And the English department just came out with an amazing new course that I really wish I could take!

Sorry I didn’t blog about the wonderful Sunday lunch, the gay pub (turns out that King William the 4th isnt a strip club, its a gay pub. But I did accidently walk into a gentlmen’s club today), and wandering around in the city, somerset house. Living in a city is simply wonderful.

I want to mention, briefly, why I have come here and what I hope to get out of it.

There are a lot of reasons, and very personal ones indeed, but I won’t hide them. I needed to get out of Swarthmore…that ultimately pushed me. I’m hoping that a new enviroment will allow me to be more introspective, take care of myself, not center my life on just academics as happens at Swat.

But I don’t want to be a tourist in London. I don’t want to be “The American,” even though it is inevitable. I know I can’t become a Briton just by spending one semester abroad in a college, but I want to experience a different way of life. I don’t know how to quite explain it, but I want to experience a meaningful semester where I form meaningful connections. I want to live in London, not just vacation and party. I know lots of students imagine their study abroad experience as one long party, but that’s not at all what I am looking for. When Erin told me about her experience in Buenos Aires, I was touched and inspired by her meeting with Argentinian restaurant owners and learning about Tao, and becoming friends with this family.

I don’t want to recreate my Swat or American life in London. In fact, I am in grave danger of doing that because I am still a student. But it’s meaningful to spend time with other Americans because we have similar hopes for our time in London, and we create our experience together.

Being a student makes the process a bit easier, I think, because you already have a community carved out for you. Not just the prescence of other students, but the student ticket discounts, the student nights in clubs and pubs. It’s eaiser in many ways.

I’m done spouting bad philosophy, or whatever. I’ll go back to my reporting position in my next post. Obligatory: Sunday Lunch.

PS It was such a lovely day in the village of Hampstead.

My fellow Brits found this blog, so I will need to tailor my content a little.

I do blame them, however, for not letting us know that On Anon can only be appreciated on student nights. Tina and I decided to spend our friday night at the club, and while I was let in free because one poor soul needed a girl to be allowed admission in, I found that it was little more than a glorified Paces.

People dancing awkwardly? Check. People needing alcohol to feel comfortable enough to dance? Check. Old, bad American pop music? CHECK. It attracted an odd mix of people in which, I quickly realized, we did not fit. However, the guys were more dressed up but most of the asian guys spike their hair. Apparently, they didn’t get the memo.

Catching the last train back from Piccadilly, and thus avoiding taking the nightbus, we spent the next five hours in our kitchen. Playing the americans versus brits game again, and again today.

I was very happy to meet up with May and Melinda today. It felt nice to have a familiar space in an unfamiliar city. Melinda was right, when she wrote on her blog, that these few weeks have been like freshman year, but with a lot more alcohol. (R, our resident drinker, can pack down alchy by the gallons, and still be as sober as brick.)

Unfortunately, I have to get back into school mode as I start classes Monday 10 am. In the meanwhile, I look forward to a lazy Sunday.

PS to Phil: My hallmates laughed at me when I said I wanted to try mead. I tried, sorry.

1) The weather is bad because it rains all the time.

Actually, it has only rained once, and the temperatures are higher here than at Swat. Admittedly, the sun never really likes to show its face, but the contrast of the colors to the grayness of the skies is beautiful in its own right. I am learning to appreciate grey weather.

2) London is really expensive.

Well, if I convert everything to dollars, of course it will seem 1.5 times more expensive. But the cost of living itself isn’t that bad. While Swarthmore has given me 70 pounds a week for groceries, I have been able to buy them at Sainsbury for much less. Most items I buy are under 2 pounds, and many are under 1. Even ready-made sandwiches go for a 1.50 pounds, which is like 3 dollars…comparable to American standards.

However, prices are lower than usual here because of the recession and there was an article in the London Times about how food prices cannot stay this low. Well, I am going to enjoy it while I can.

Yes, transportation is expensive, but I’m also not paying for that.

Also, students get tons of discounts and bars and clubs aren’t too expensive either. I mean, I least I can go. That’s a big improvement.

3) British accents are sexy.

Only certain kinds. It can get on my nerves sometimes…its such a relief to hear an American accent sometimes.

4) They are snooty, reserved and unfriendly.

Well…yes, Rob…lol. In general, they are just as friendly as any American I might have met and not particularly more proud of being British than we are about being American. But they are adamant that the Queen’s english superior to American english. I can’t really win on that one.

To all those who corrected me on my pronounciation of Pasta as (paaasta) and taco, well I got it from the British, FYI.

5) There are a lot of desis.

True, and some very attractive ones, sighs.

6) They all wear black.

Lots of black coats and very formal wear, but also lots of color. But it is a type of artsy person who gets creative with their clothing. (That means no one who is premed or science track.) Most people tend to stick to consevative, sophisticated pieces. So…a yes, kind of.

7) The tube is awesome.

Yes, but the aisles are smaller than DC’s Metro, and the seats face each other. It took me a few days to get used to it, but the tube is clean and goes everywhere.

Any other myths you can think of?

Thanks Urooj for pointing that out.

***

It’s really foggy.

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