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).
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.
These 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.