Spare Change

Since getting to Europe four weeks ago, I’ve visited three countries and seven cities.

Though this traveling was a new experience for me, after a month here, I feel like somewhat of a pro at navigating new places. I’ve been the go to navigator and somehow always manage to figure out how to get us home, even when I’m five drinks in. The one thing I haven’t managed to get used to, aside from the traffic driving on the wrong side of the road, is the amount of homeless and poor people I’ve seen in and out of London.

From Italy to France to Dover and Brighton, everywhere you go, there’s frail, pleading people trying to survive. And it absolutely breaks my heart.


I noticed it most just outside Vatican City. There were fragile women lying in prayer at the walls of the City holding out dirty cups, hoping for a helping hand. The contrast between the eloquence and holiness of the Vatican and the people begging for a handout really put my trip in perspective. I am fortunate enough to tourist all of these wonderful countries and bask in the gems that you can’t find in America while these men and women who get to see this beauty everyday only want what I have. A bed and a guaranteed meal.


While we were at the Trevi Fountain eating gelato and enjoying the end of our dinner wine buzz, I noticed a man, sitting on a skateboard with a boot on his hand. His feet looked like they had been handicaped in some way and he used the booted hand to scoot along the cobblestones. Instantly my buzz was gone and my heart sank. How can I enjoy the beauty around me when there’s so many people in pain?

This thought had stayed with me the entire trip and I believe it will my entire life. This trip and the people I’ve seen in he streets have sparked a new interest within me to want to help these people in a meaningful way, not just giving them a pound or two but really learning about their problems and finding ways to fix them.


While the pretty photos and newfound friends will also stay with me once I’m home, the way I feel when I see someone in a position of misfortune has forever been changed and for that I am grateful.

Yours Politely, Natalie

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Where Austin Meets Shoreditch

In a country with a drinking age of 18 and a huge population of people from countries like Ireland who are known for their drinking, having a variety or liquors at your disposal at all times of the day is a vital part of London and U.K. culture.

Going out in London means paying at least five pounds for a beer and at least nine for any drink that actually tastes decent.

This city is drowning in alcohol but what they’re missing is a alcohol company with a cool factor. From Bacardi to Guinness, the liquor companies here are as old as the buildings the bars sit in. They’re lacking the one thing that Shoreditch hipsters value most and that is the new, underground and unheard of thing that makes them different from the masses. Deep Eddy Vodka could be that thing.

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Deep Eddy is an Austin, Texas based company that began in 2010 and currently distributes to all 50 states in the U.S. Not only do they still produce their product out of their native Austin, they sponsor many city-wide events like Austin City Limits Music Festival as well as being the main sponsor of the annual free Blues on the Green concert series. Their devotion to live music, keeping cool and supporting their community would translate perfectly into the more hipster boroughs of London.

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With so many well-known competitors here already, it is important for Deep Eddy to make an impact with its arrival. The perfect way to show the community who they are at their core as well as get their name out their would be to host a free live music event at a hip rooftop bar, like Big Chill in Shoreditch, complete with local bands and foods, free merch and of course, Deep Eddy Vodka, both for free tastings and for sale in drinks and bottles.

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Hipster Haven AKA Shoreditch

By drumming up local media coverage through local Hackney and Shoreditch publications like the Hackney Post and Made in Shoreditch, they could appeal to the local young people as well as local business owners who may be interested in participating in the event by contributing food, entertainment, locally made products etc.. It would also be wise to appeal to more traditional media outlets that perhaps lean more liberal like The Independent and The Guardian as that is more likely to have young readers.

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Possible venue The Big Chill in Shoreditch

By creating media coverage and hosting an event that is tailored to the community, gets them involved and peaks their interest, Deep Eddy could make a name for themselves as the “Official Drink of London Hipsters”.

Yours Politely, Natalie

Social Class and the Way England Is Failing Its Citizens

Every society has its own unique social structure. In the U.S. it revolves mainly around racial economic issues resulting in distinct social groups.

Economically disadvantaged people in the U.S. are stereotyped as poor, black or hispanic minorities taking advantage of welfare and other social programs. The terms “Inner City” and “Welfare Queens” bring to mind images of single black or hispanic women with many kids or gangs of minority men terrorizing the streets. Whether accurate or not, these stereotypes infiltrate the class system that dominates America.

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In the UK, however, the class system is built less around race and more around wealth and geographic location within the country.

The south of England, which includes London, has been long known as the affluent part of the country, producing different accents that are seen as “posh”.

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The north of England, which is home to places like the shipping town of Liverpool and Bradford, which relies on a textile industry. 10 out of the 12 most economically struggling cities are in the North and none are in the true south, according to a 2016 report on the Independent.

“There’s definitely a class divide in England,” Maya, 24 said. “People here can tell the difference between a northern accent and a southern one and totally has class connotations.”

Broken up into an elite class, middle class, working class, service workers and the precariat, the UK has much more obvious and unbreakable class divisions. Its not impossible to move between classes in the United States (although crossing racial lines is much more unreachable) in the UK, the crossing of class lines is more challenging.

The gap between the classes is also much more noticeable in the UK and the wealth gap that comes along with it is more damaging than the “one percenters” of the US.

Look at the Grenfell Tower tragedy, for example. Government housing in a wealthy part of town feels the consequences of the higher classes cutting corners in an attempt to rejuvenate the city. Lower classes are seen as exactly that, lower citizens, a sect of people that is somehow beneath.

Grenfell tower is a perfect example of the government and governing classes putting their own economic and personal gains over the wellbeing and safety of lower castes, according to local 38-year-old Londoner, Greg who visited the tower in the days following the fire.

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Overall, the concept of social classes is not an English invention but it is one perfected by them, possibly as a result of their ever-present monarchy, a symbol of status and class. Perhaps it;s due to how much longer of a history England has than America that makes the persistence of seemingly outdated social classes possible or maybe it’s that their ruling class stems from a long line of royalty who have been in a place of power for centuries.

I don’t have a solution for England’s class problems and I don’t have a solution for ours either. I do know that with class gaps come inequalities that in some cases put the lower classes in danger and that there needs to be something done to bring the classes together as a singular England.

Yours Politely, Natalie

 

 

Additional Sources:

The Telegraph: The seven social classes of 21st century Britain – where do you fit in?

BBC News: The Great British class calculator: What class are you?

The Independent: Northern Powerhouse? 10 of the UK’s 12 most struggling cities are in the North, report reveals

Making Our Mark

One of the things I was most excited about when coming on this trip was seeing things that are old. Like really really old. The fact that there are buildings here that were built thousands of years before America was even “discovered” excited and fascinated me.

Over the weekend, a group of us went to Dover to see the coast and the famous white cliffs. What really sold it for us though, was the Dover Castle. Perched up on a hill overlooking the picturesque town and the distant cliffs, the Dover castle is the largest castle in England dating back to around 1180. While castles aren’t the beautiful, ornate palaces of Disney, due to their functionality as a literal fortress, it’s shear size and looming presence on the hill was breathtaking. 

Thinking about the history inside the walls and all of the lives that have shared that space really solidified how huge and mind blowing the world really is.
This weekend, we took a trip to Rome, a city dripping in history. While London is old, Rome is ancient. Everywhere you look there’s buildings older than you can wrap your head around from the Coliseum, which was completed in 80 AD to the oldest fully complete building still standing which was from the first century.


Seeing this history and walking the halls of buildings built by civilizations long since extinct really puts into perspective how much your life doesn’t matter but also, how much it does.


Our individual lives may be forgotten in a few short centuries but the impact we make and the things we leave behind may inspire and amaze future generations who might find solace in knowing about those that came before and that they aren’t the only ones desperate to leave a mark on this earth.

Yours Politely, Natalie

London: The Real Melting Pot

In general, Western cultures do a really crappy job of representing all types of people in any real way. Coming to London, a crowded, big city in a “white” country, I was expecting about as much diversity in advertisements as you see in Austin. In some cases this is true but there have been times where the casual use of diverse people in campaigns has surprised me.

The demographics of London and the country as a whole, I think has a lot to do with why there is a bit more inclusion in their advertising. It is very much an international city and its proximity to so many other countries helps keep up a multicultural vibe, this is sometimes but not always, reflected in their ads.

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“In 2007 there were over 300 languages spoken [in London] and more than 50 non-indigenous communities with a population of more than 10,000,” according to Wikipedia. Only 44.9% of London’s population is “White-British” making minority representation all the more important.

I have seen a lot more racial representation here when it comes to groups like muslims and blacks than there is in America. Instead of only seeing these groups in stereotypical or intentional ways (like seeing black basketball players or muslims in a religious setting), there is integration in the way that they are represented as normal citizens.


Compared to the U.S., the self-proclaimed melting pot of culture, London seems to do a slightly better job at inclusion and remembering to represent all citizens. In the U.S., its news when a large company casts a minority or underrepresented person in a major ad campaign, even when those minorities are celebrities like Gabby Douglas during the Olympics.

I by no means think that London has enough inclusion or diversity but I think that they are at least making some effort. Seeing minorities on billboards or in newspaper ads should not be exciting or shocking, it should be commonplace and we have yet to reach that point.

The diversity of London is one of the things that makes it’s culture the way it is and without it, the city would look and sound entirely different. With so many immigrants and minorities living here, it would do ad agencies good to appeal to these consumers and show them equal representation if not out of morality than out of economy and to increase their customer pool.

From Left to Right: A British Politics Summary

As we’ve been spending more time in the United Kingdom, it has become more clear that there are many things unique about UK politics.

Like us in the States, their politics are on a spectrum of left to right with the right leaning conservative and the left leaning liberal. In the past few elections, the Conservatives, or Tories, and UKIP were the major right leaning parties with the Labour and smaller Liberal Democrats were the left parties. spectrum

What to Know About the Left:

  • Leader of Labour: Jeremy Corbyn
  • In favor of the NHS, the government funded health care service
  • In opposition of Brexit, referred to as “remainers”
  • In favor of pro-immigration legislation in the name of human rights

What to Know About the Right:

  • Leader of Conservative (and Prime Minister): Theresa May
  • In favor of privatizing the NHS
  • In favor of Brexit and cutting all ties with the EU in hopes of English economic gain
  • In opposition of opening borders to immigrants escaping from countries like Syria in the name of national security

Overall, the issues like immigration and health care are very similar in views to the left and right in America. The demographics of voters who vote each direction are very similar as well.

“Young people are sort of seeing through the bullshit of the mainstream conservative media and are becoming sort of antiestablishment,” 19-year-old student Gigi said. “We get our news from twitter and social media because were tired of seeing lies about Labour and for our government to not represent our interests.”

On the other side of things, older conservative voters feel that the Labour party and their young supporters are being fed lies that sound wonderful but in reality aren’t possible to obtain.

“All these news outlets like the Guardian and the Independent along with Corbyn are telling these kids that free college and free healthcare and free whatever are totally possible when they’re not realistic,” 52-year-old banker Thomas J. said. “Corbyn has all these grand ideas but no concept of how to actually do any of it.”

My overall impression of UK vs. US politics is that although on paper, they seem just as polarizing between the left an right, there seems to be less of a divide in terms of everyday life. Unlike in America where Trump supporters are some of the most hated members of society and Liberals are deemed “fragile snowflakes” who can’t function in a normal society, people here coexist seemingly without issue.

In conclusion, while there are many similarities in platform and mainstream media backing, the political culture of the country is much less ostracizing and polarizing than that of the United States.

Additional Information:

How left or right-wing are the UK’s newspapers?

Yours Politely, Natalie

Still Coming Together…60 Years Later

Liverpool is a shipping town on the western coast of England. With a long history of importing and exporting of goods by sea, its quite unique that their biggest export ended up being the music of four local kids. The Beatles left their undeniable mark on the world when they introduced and entirely new genre of music, ushering in an era of teen Beatlemania, rock and roll and the idea of a “boyband”.

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The Beatles not only changed the course of music history and shared their culture with the rest of the world but they forever changed the future of a the northern shipping town they called home.

As soon as you step foot in this town, their imprint is obvious, from the “Fab 4 Cafe” to the larger than life statue of them walking through town, its clear The Beatles never really left.


The biggest and most well known of these “attractions” is The Cavern Club, a tiny club on Matthews Street that was the starting point for the Fab 4 and has hosted countless major artists like Liam Gallagher, Adele, Arctic Monkeys and more. While it has been rebuilt as a sort of replica/shrine/gift shop for Beatles fans, the history and legend lives on within those walls.

We spent our one night in Liverpool drinking, dancing and enjoying the history of this legendary club. While in the middle of around the 60th Beatles cover by the man on stage, it hit me that every single person in that room was searching for something bigger than themselves. They were all trying to reach back in time 60 years to feel apart of it all. Everyone is reaching for just a hint of the mystery or fame or notoriety to rub off on them so they can say “I was there”.

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I’ve long thought The Beatles were a vastly overrated band with their talent and influence given far too much credit but that night, in that bar I saw people from all over the world, ages 18-80 dancing and singing and feeling something. Together.

Yours Politely, Natalie

“Can We Split The Check?”: And Other Ways to Spot An American in London

It’s easy to come to London from America and forget that you are coming into an entirely different culture. The clothes, although more stylish, resemble those in New York or LA. Thee people speak the same language although its much harder to understand, and the overall customs are similar enough to where you can not so much fit in as not stand out.

Walk into any restaurant with a big group or chat to your local supermarket employee, however, and you’ll soon realize that this is not America.

What is a simple “did you find everything okay today?” or “all together or separate?” in America is an unfathomable inconvenience in England. Who would have thought I would be sitting in a nice Italian restaurant, doing math on my phone calculator in order to figure out my portion of the over 100 pound bill (all while the waitress stares at you impatiently, as if she has better things to be doing than humoring a bunch of Americans who can’t handle a single check).

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It’s more than just these small cultural differences, however (of which the list is long and includes things like accidentally ordering a 7 pound bottle of tap water and expecting that when you order pizza you won’t have to cut it yourself with a butter knife), its in the more subtle and nuanced ways of life that really show the difference in values between the two countries.

While things in central London move at an accelerated pace with little time for stopping to think, things also move much slower. People take the time to sit in one of the countless parks scattered around to just enjoy life and the city they live in. And while the tube is hectic and overwhelming from the outside, there is a sort of peace in thousands of people from all over the city, sitting silently together on a train and reflecting on their day or just enjoying being alone in a crowd.

IMG_0012.JPGThese are things that I don’t think Americans experience or appreciate. When’s the last time you just hopped on a bus and took it across town alone? Before this trip, I can say never and now it is something of a daily necessity and something that allows for a lot of self-reflection and self-reliance. Our parks sit empty, save for the kids playing sports or the random picnic or event while these are filled to the brim even in the middle of a workday.


While America’s priorities lie in free refills and 24 hour shops and restaurants, London thrives on human interaction getting shit done with enough daylight left to enjoy life. New York may be the city that never sleeps but London is the city that can do an entire days worth of work by noon and be home with the groceries by three.

It might take a little looking to really see what drives this city and after just over a week here, I can’t tell you exactly what it is but I can tell you that when America figures it out, we shouldn’t hesitate to realign our priorities with those of our allies across the pond.

Yours Politely, Natalie

UK Election: What is going on?

Last Thursday, June 8th, the United Kingdom held their general election. This vote came three years earlier than planned as Prime Minister, Theresa May, called for it in an attempt increase her majority and “strengthen her hand in Brexit negotiations”, fearful that minority parties would complicated things in Parliament.

“I’m probably going to vote Conservative because they are the lesser of two evils.” Wesley, a 42-year-old shop owner said. “This election is going to make Brexit dealings more complicated but I think it’s better for May to have screwed up now than in two or three years when the regular election is.”

Election day in Westminster was one of excitement and suspense. News crews were stationed everywhere around Parliament while the white signs of polling stations could be spotted throughout the whole city. While May, current Prime Minister and Conservative Party (or “Tory”) leader was favored to win her majority with ease, in the days leading up to voting, her lead shrunk exponentially. Suddenly, Labour leader and favorite among young voters, Jeremy Corbyn, had a chance.  One exit poll for NME showed voter turnout for 18-24 year olds at 53% and two-thirds of them voted Labour (according to Channel 4).

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“Young people are fed up with the austerity of the Conservative party and, especially people in London, are disillusioned with Theresa May,” Lauren, a 21 year old native Londoner said. “The mainstream media really vilified Corbyn but the young people really questioned that and made up their own minds.”

The election continued late into the night with the final unofficial results from Thursday showing that the Tories would not gain enough seats (326) to clench a majority, resulting in a “Hung Parliament”. (In order to claim the seat of Prime Minister, their party must gain a solid majority of seats in the House of Commons. The Tories only have 318 after Thursday’s election.)

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What this means is that in order to maintain Conservative control of the government, block Corbyn and Labour’s influence, and to protect May’s position as PM, the Tories must join forces with another party, in this case the Democratic Unionist Party, and form a new integrated government. May met with the Queen Friday to discuss this and other things resulting from the election.

“This election really wasn’t as unpredictable as people made it seem but then again, I study politics,” Ivan, a 35-year-old politics student said. “May is probably the most uncharismatic party leader ever, she makes David Cameron look like a beloved PM. Some good things did come out of the election though, like the collapse of UKIP and the push of the Scottish Referendum.”

So what now? It is a little unclear of what is actually going to happen as the different parties are all still pushing their agendas. May claims she will form her new government with DUP help while Corbyn claims he still has a shot at Prime Minister. Others are hoping for May’s resignation which would forced Conservatives to a elect someone new and others still are holding their breath for a possible second “snap” election. All will become clear in the next few weeks but until then, the future of Brexit and the UK government is anyone’s guess.

Yours Politely, Natalie

 

*None of my interviewees were comfortable with having their picture taken.*

Where to find more UK Election 2017 information:

BBC: Hung Parliament: Q&A guide to what happens when no-one wins the election

BBC: Election 2017: What you want to know about the result

Channel 4: The General Election in 5 Graphs