Today was much better than yesterday. Being here is still an immense culture shock, but a good night’s sleep and decent meals (that I was able to eat!) allowed me to experience it all today without getting too overwhelmed.
This morning, we started off our work week in London with a bang by riding the London Underground (the “Tube”, as it’s called here) straight to the Houses of Parliament. First of all, the Tube is absolutely ridiculous. It’s insane. We rode it at around 8:30 this morning, though, so that was probably why. Everyone is absolutely packed in the cars so there is literally no room to do anything but stand with your arms clamped at your sides and try not to breathe on anyone.
We all split up into three groups to get on the train as so not to get lost. I and three others in my group were with our faculty director, and at one point he was able to make it onto one of the trains we needed to get on but it was too crowded for us to squeeze in after him. He turned around on the train, saw we weren’t with him, and waved cheerfully as the train sped away and we stood laughing on the platform. Luckily one of my peers knew where he was going and got us to the next stop!
Our meeting with an undisclosed member of Parliament was very intriguing, but my favorite part of the morning was our tour of the Palace of Westminster, where the Houses of Parliament are. We weren’t allowed to take pictures once we got past the main hall of the Old Palace (the rest of which burned down in a fire in 1834), and I really, really wanted to. We went through the House of Commons, the House of Lords, the robing room, Victoria Tower, many beautiful, beautiful lobbies, and more I’m probably forgetting. There were so many busts, statues, carvings, and some of the most stunning paintings I’ve ever seen. So much history within that building. It was all very surreal.
The hall of the Old Palace:
We took a group picture in front of Big Ben, with the London Eye in full view before we broke for lunch. Most of the group chose to walk back to our London headquarters so they could observe more of the city, and I went with them.
We had two other meetings back at our headquarters, which were very interesting. It’s so fascinating to get the United Kingdom perspective on sustainability-related issues and learn how their government is different from ours. A few things are definitely worth mentioning.
For starters, I got the impression that most people in the U.K., if not all of them, don’t think the U.S. government has been functional at all lately. They’re certainly not impressed with the fact that we, in one of our speakers’ words, “Let people shoot each other,” or that our two main parties basically exist to rip each other apart. In the U.K. government, the parties still oppose one another, but when it comes to decision making (at least within the House of Lords), it is usually very hard to tell where a person’s party afflictions reside. The goal is to create policy that benefits all citizens, not just that particular political party in “charge”.
I was also very impressed with the U.K.’s stance on climate change. (Just as a side note, I dislike the term “climate change”, and you can read why here. In this context just know that climate change refers to the fact that humans are making the Earth less inhabitable for themselves and all other species that live here.) In the U.S., there are actually people that deny climate change’s existence. The ignorance that people display is really astonishing. Not so in the U.K. In fact, not only is the stupid debate over whether or not climate change exists irrelevant, it simply doesn’t exist. The U.K. does not ask whether or not it is happening. Instead it asks, “What do we do to combat it with? How do we implement policy that combats it?” I love it. People in the U.S. need a major wake up call when it comes to this subject, and I absolutely love the fact that the U.K. (as well as every other developed country except for the U.S.) is taking sustainability-related issues seriously. It is refreshing to be in a culture that doesn’t waste my time with arrogance.
As for other aspects of London culture? It’s awesome. I’m definitely not used to it, but I’m loving what I observe.
First of all, everyone is so well dressed here. People take pride in their appearance, even the guys. Everyone seems put together and as though they take themselves seriously, which is admittedly not necessarily the case for those of us from the U.S. that go out to eat in sweatpants (and I fully admit to being one of them). London makes me want to dress nicely as well.
Speaking of going out to eat, I think it’s really interesting that the first thing you’re asked if you go up to a counter to buy food at a restaurant/food-to-go place is, “Dine in or take away?” The first time this was asked of me I had no idea what a) was being said due to the thickness of the accent, and b) what the hell to answer. I finally figured out I was being asked if I wanted my food to go or not. They ask this because, apparently, it’s a charge added to your tab that is 17% of your final bill if you choose to eat at the restaurant. Most people come to buy food to go.
I love some of what is said around here, too. People refer to the Atlantic Ocean as “the pond”. So when someone says, “Just flew from across the pond,” they usually mean they just flew in from the U.S., or anywhere else in North or South America.
It is an everyday occurrence to be called “love” as well. The first time this happened I felt egotistically charmed, and then I realized that every young girl is called this. “You all right, love?” is the most common usage. Oh, and it’s, “Are you all right?” as opposed to, “How are you?”
A few other things that I thought were just awesome? “That, sir, is no mean feat,” and “Not to be sniffed at,” and “lovely,” to describe something as “good”. It’s the little things that make me happy.
Also, did I mention that we all were served tea this morning (via a huge, wheeled-in cart complete with cubes of sugar) during our meeting at Parliament?
I mean, come on, U.S. Get on par with that awesomeness.
I’m editing this and uploading it in our common room, where we get wifi. My friends from the group, Gina and Ashley, are here with me getting hit on by a French guy who’s staying at these dorms. It’s hilarious. I’m loving this huge mixture of cultures!
I can’t wait to see what tomorrow holds!