Life across the pond

Adam Griffiths

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It became official around 10:30 p.m. Sunday when a boy I was talking to online mentioned how nice my teeth are, which reassured the reality of the situation even more than my aunt pointing out that I stick out simply because I spent every possible minute at home getting as brown as possible.

My stint as an American in London has officially begun.

Strangely enough, it took such off-the-cuff remarks to make me feel completely estranged from the United States when the past two days had been ripe with sights, sounds and experiences that made me feel all but right at home. It was obvious from the moment I stepped off the plane at London Gatwick airport at 7 a.m. Saturday, when I probably would have been drunk or sleeping at 1 a.m. back in the States. I realized the United Kingdom, in particular its capital, is like an alternate, mirror country – something I never really believed existed so corporeally outside of Hollywood blockbusters about the end of the world and European love affairs.

Crossing the U.K. border inside the airport kind of did it for me, with the musty smell, the long lines and the crowds of black people huddled together while seemingly every white person got through without more than an extra question or two. The 40-minute train ride to my aunt and uncle’s house was also revealing. My uncle, who’s British, and I passed borough after borough full of rows upon rows of houses squeezed tightly together, just like their house in the small town of Charlton about 30 minutes outside of central London.

My 3-year-old cousin’s accent, on the other hand, was a refreshing surprise. When I ask how she is in the morning she responds, “I’m all right.” When something is going wrong, it’s going “poorly.” And her 2-week-old baby brother has little “batty” ears. Sixty- to 70-degree weather without the muggy high dew point we get in northeastern Ohio is also mind-blowing. Your browser may not support display of this image.

Getting settled in and making my way about the area and nearby Greenwich on Sunday, I realized life here is something we long for in the United States: as my aunt puts it, “civilized.” When I first arrived, my uncle, cousin and I ran up the hill into Charlton for errands. There was a town fair going on – and by town fair, I literally mean there were children’s games set up, old women gossiping in their long English accents while offering random homemade things for sale and an old well and horse watering trough in the center of it all.

Beyond the village life, which I called “quaint” to my uncle on our return home after procuring dry cleaning and library books, the mood in Greenwich was noticeably relaxed. I held the door for a man at the train station. His reply was: “Thanks, mate. Cheers.” The barista at Starbucks smiled to himself when I asked him to repeat himself three times until I made out he was asking me if my order was, “eat in or take out.” The queue (one of many new words I’m absorbing into my vocabulary) at the market (grocery stores are not the same either) wrapped around the outer aisles, but not one person seemed unnecessarily annoyed or bothered by it.

My aunt put it best when I told her about this column and its direction and she said: “(Americans) ask each other what’s going on and how we’re doing. The British talk about the weather.” While my trip here isn’t a vacation, I can only hope that my frantic tendencies to be preoccupied 24/7 with something to do wane slightly in my two weeks here. There’s something to be said for not being utterly pressed for time, energy and activity in the waking hours, and if I could think of a goal for my trip – other than meeting some of the most gorgeous men I count on my time about town daily more personally – it’d be to mirror such an alternate lifestyle into my own. Learning how to put an urgency on the person and not the task seems to be it.

Your browser may not support display of this image. But as a second boy commented on my teeth as I was going to bed Sunday night, I was sure that by the time I finished writing this – my first exposition on my time in London – I’d always sound bloody American through and through.

Adam Griffiths is a junior information design major and columnist for the Summer Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].