Life in London: Week 1

IMG_3444FINALLY I am in London. It is just as fantastic a place as I anticipated it to be and I’m thrilled to be here. This place is just brimming with opportunity and I can’t help but see myself here for awhile.

Arriving here about 6:30 AM on May 2nd, I was picked up and taken to my residence which took about an hour and the driver took me past a bunch of sights so I got to see a lot of the city right away. However, when I got to where I’m staying there was no one to let me in despite the program assuring me that there would in fact be someone. I ended up waiting an hour in the driver’s car, just sitting there with a phone that didn’t work in this country, no food, completely exhausted, and no idea when I would be let into my new home. The driver felt so bad for me, he gave me a Fanta he had surely bought for himself and tried to connect my phone to his phone’s hotspot but to no avail. He expressed multiple times how ridiculous it was that there wasn’t someone already waiting on me when we got there. A person finally arrived and let me in. This was not the first time (and definitely not the last time) the program had planned and communicated very poorly. But I didn’t give it too much energy because 1. I finally got to London after going through so much to get there and 2. I had no energy left to give.

And so began my London adventure…

Here are some of my initial responses and experiences I’ve had:

Telling People Where I’m From
This is how the majority of these conversations play out:
Person: “So where are you from?”
Me: “I’m from the States. From St. Louis”
Person: ….
Me: “You know that place with Ferguson and Mike Brown?”
Person says either: “Ohhh, yeah.” OR  “No…”
And if they don’t know I say, “It’s in Missouri”
And they say either, “Oh, okay” or “Where’s that?”
And I say something to the light-hearted effect of, “It’s in the middle of the country, the part that doesn’t matter”

The truth is, nobody really knows anything about Missouri, not even Americans from the coasts know anything about Missouri. Watch this video where East and West coasters try to label Midwest states and fail miserably. And that’s what makes it so funny that so many people in Missouri and the Midwest congruently know practically nothing about the world outside the US. It’s like it’s own little island in the middle of a vast amount of land.

So many Midwesterners live in a box without it even occurring to them that there’s SO much more outside the Heartlands. More than one adult much older than me asked me before I left if I knew French because they thought London was in France. One person didn’t even know what the BBC was. Sometimes I’m embarrassed about where I come from because it seems so disconnected from the rest of the world.

In my experience growing up there, the Midwest is sort of boring and slow paced. Not everyone would say that, but I’m just not the sort of person who belongs there. Politically and socially, it’s lagging. It’s very conservative and very religious. Like much of the rest of the US, in Missouri you really need a car to get where you need to go unless you’re in a city– and even then the public transportation is pretty bad. We’re isolated from each other. Recently I learned St. Louis has the largest population of Bosnians outside of Bosnia… But I would never have known that because I really don’t run into many Bosnians. St. Louis is also still a very segregated city.

Conclusively, Missourians and Midwesterners don’t know as much as other regions know about outside their world, but outsiders also don’t know very much about Missouri or the Midwest. My question is: Why so? I have plenty of theories but I’ll let you come up with your own.

The Internship

I didn’t start my job until the Tuesday after I got here because I was lucky enough to come at the beginning of a Bank Holiday weekend. I don’t really understand why this country has so many Bank Holidays, but I don’t have to work on those days so no complaints from me.

I really like my job so far. Quintessentially Group is a very expansive and international company, so there’s quite a lot going on. Quintessentially is a luxury lifestyle management and concierge service. So basically, it’s an international company that hooks high end people up with the products/services/experiences they desire. This is their website. There are many different branches but I work in the Digital department. So far I’ve been doing a lot of creative writing to promote various restaurants and bars, travel destinations, styles, and recruitment for clients. I’ve learned so much already as I wasn’t previously so privy to high end culture. I’ve also started doing some social media work for Quintessentially Wines.

I’m really hoping this leads to an opportunity to work there when my internship ends. I’m going to work very hard and hope it brings good returns. But I’m also applying to other jobs in case this doesn’t work out. Ultimately, I really do want to stay here and see where this life takes me.

Politics

I’m really lucky I got here just in time for the General Election, which happens every 5 years. The outcome of the election really wasn’t what people were expecting– it seemed for awhile that a coalition may have to be formed between parties because it didn’t look like there would be a party majority. For those of you who don’t know, here in Great Britain they have multiple political parties– not two very polarized parties like we have in the US– and these parties do have some overlapping values. Collectively the politics here are more leftist than back in the US. Most people here are bewildered when I tell them American political tidbits such as how some State Senates have banned the use of the phrase “climate change” and that many Republicans are gunning for an unabashed Christian nation.

Back to this election though– the Conservative party ended up winning the majority which was sort of surprising and so David Cameron was re-elected as Prime Minister. This in turn, which has received a shockingly tiny amount of news coverage, incited protest. Now, as someone who is into activism, I was initially scratching my head about the purpose of these protests. I read into it a little more and discovered it was a very general anti-austerity protest. In other words, they’re just protesting the Conservative party being re-elected into power.

But from what I’ve gathered, the leadership in the more liberal parties IE Labour and Lib Dem parties weren’t giving the public very much reason to confide in them, and additionally it seemed that people were voting tactically for the Conservative party to take away vote from so that these parties with poor leadership and UKIP (a downright bigoted party of white men reminiscent of the Tea Party back home). It almost seemed like the Tories won by default.

So when I started reading about these protests, I got kind of annoyed. And mind, this is coming from someone who loves a good protest. I thought “Why are they protesting the outcome of this election? David Cameron won fair and square. And he hasn’t even enacted anything new yet so why don’t they just slow their roll and find some more specific cause to address?”

But the voter turnout was 66.1%, and the Tories got 36.9% of the votes. The next highest was the Labour party which got 30.4% of the votes. So when you look at it from a popular vote perspective, it makes almost no sense that the Tories got majority. But votes here are counted by constituency, so it really doesn’t seem to matter what the popular vote is.

Now I can sort of understand why people are in the streets– the representation just isn’t proportional to the popular vote. But in that case, it doesn’t make much sense to be protesting an entire political party. The problem they REALLY have here, similar to the States, is with the voting system. That seems to be a way better cause to protest. Not the outcome, but the conditions in which that outcome was produced. And those liberal parties really need to get stronger leadership, I mean come on folks! I hate to say it, but what good is a progressive government if the leaders are shit?

Still though, I think the Brits for the most part have it fairly nice here. It certainly is far from perfect and there are many valid criticisms but, man, compared to the states it really seems like the British have got a lot more sorted out socially than we do.

Night Life/Social Life/Life as a Woman

I was pleasantly surprised at first when I would walk around the city and not be relentlessly oggled or sexually harassed by men like I do at home. But this was during the day. When we got to the weekend and I went out at night that of course all changed. My American housemates took me to a high end club in the heart of London. In that club, men behaved just as they do at home but this is a place where celebrities and people with money go. (If you’re a girl, and you know the right people, you don’t need money to get in). Men were still grabbing at me and pulling me in kissing me without saying a single word to me first and with 0% of my consent. I literally spent the weekend pushing men off of me, it was disgusting. Even men with loads of money often still behave like filthy animals.

Anyway, on my first proper night out clubbing I met a celebrity who took quite a liking to me pretty fast. Of course, I didn’t know who he was before that and so him telling me he was a celebrity didn’t really mean much to me. However the night that ensued was so silly and a story I will love to tell for the rest of my life for the laughs. This man very much wanted to have sex with me but I just wasn’t really down and I was kind of suspect of things he said to me such as “I’ve never drank alcohol or smoked” and “I forgot my wallet.” Hard to believe a celebrity I met in a high end club with a decent net worth had no money on him whilst visiting a foreign country and has never tasted alcohol in his life. I won’t go into all the details of the night but conclusively while his attempts to go home with me weren’t completely thwarted, I was just not interested. Celebrity status is just an attribute to me, not a quality of meaningfulness. Sorry, celebrity-who-shall-remain-nameless and other celebrities, but you’ve gotta work at connecting with me just as much as anyone else! (Not sorry)

Backing up for a minute, upon leaving and emerging onto the strip at 3 AM it was as if I entered a meat market where I was a prime steak. Even walking around with Sam, men were STILL approaching me trying to get my number or get a date with me or just speak to me. I was politely refusing at first, but after they wouldn’t take my “no’s” I just started resorting to the more aggressive “Fuck off, man!” The second night out I was fortunate enough to be hanging with a real bro of French guy that would pretend to be my boyfriend for a minute and say “No she’s with me, man” every time some undesirable character would come around.

I found that even when I was shoving chips into my face at 4 in the morning, men would come up to me and make propositions like “Hey, would you like a ride home in one of my three brand new Mercedes I have lined up here?” or “Hey, can I take you out for a date right now? Not now? How about sometime this week? When are you free?” I mean sweet Yeezus, it was really too much. Perhaps if I have some major trust issues with men, maybe this is a cultural thing, maybe it’s a combination of both, but I’m not at all into the way I’ve been approached by men since I’ve got here. I’ve really been mastering the Fade Away

So all general criticisms aside, I’m doing quite well and really enjoy it here. I love (most of) my housemates and we’ve had a good time together despite the program we’re with often being frustrating (I’ll save that rant for another day so I can give them a chance to save their image in my mind).

Here’s to more new experiences!

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