“True Brit”: Encounters With the Locals

20 Jun

Living in a flat with six other ladies from the U.S. and attending school with mostly American students, I have had only superficial contact with native Londoners so far — with till clerks (cashiers), my three professors, and simple observation of everyday people. Most Brits I have encountered have either been friendly, or at least emotionless, sticking to their own thoughts and worlds, but there have been a couple of instances that made me wonder about the heightened propriety in England versus the U.S.

Take last week’s trip to the supermarket. One of my flatmates and I took the five minute bumpy bus ride over to Camden to stock up (not too much though since you can’t buy more than you can physically carry). What’s the first thing you do when you go to the grocery store? You find a buggy to lug stuff while you shop.

Mistake #1: Its not called a buggy or a cart here; it is a “shopping trolley.” It seems that even the most mundane items have the fanciest sounding words in the English (real English) language.

Mistake #2: My friend and I headed to the front of the store in search of the so-called “trolleys” and stumbled upon three. They were locked up as if someone were going to run away with them. We pulled and pried but no such luck. As we were doing so, a till clerk looked up at us and yelled (me barely understanding with how fast she spoke and the English accent), “You can’t have those! Those are for the handicapped! Yours are at the back of the store!” Rule #2: Trolleys located at the BACK (counterintuitive, right?).

As we were retrieving our trolley [which cost one pound (about two U.S. dollars) — the money is returned to you once you return your cart), a little boy was frolicking past us giggling. He had to have been all of five years old, tops. A woman, probably in her 60s bagging her items near us (they don’t bag your groceries for you at this place), looked down at the little boy and with such utter disgust and, with what I felt, near hatred, said, in a voice loud enough for the little boy to hear, “STUPID KID!”

I’ve tried to deconstruct this.

In the U.S. I know the older generations can get annoyed with the younger as it has been for eons, but never have I heard a stranger act on those petty annoyances. I think about going to the toy store right before Christmas when children want this and that and can’t have it. They throw hissy fits. Onlookers might stare, roll their eyes or mutter a phrase of surprise under their breath, but to me in the U.S. it seems we have an air of, “Kids will be kids and we should let them be kids.” I think this incidence goes to show the increased propriety of the English, but even more so of the elder, traditional generations within that group.

My last standout exchange was at Trooping of the Color, a parade and Royal Air Force fly-over that takes place once a year in commemoration of Her Majesty the Queen’s birthday. As a sidenote, it has been the highlight of my trip thus far – wow – the pomp and pageantry rooted in tradition still celebrated today; it’s incredible. After the main event where the Queen, the Duchess of Cornwall (Catherine Middleton), Prince William, Prince Harry and others, rode out in their carriages and horses, the police barricades for the crowds were removed. At this point we were able to walk right up to the gate at Buckingham Palace to await their appearance on the infamous balcony (where Will and Kate shared their infamous wedding day kiss). We were apprehensive at first, people were rushing the gate and we didn’t want to get trampled. Yet, it was surprisingly civilized. Despite the throngs of people here from all over the world, we weren’t squished together arm to arm. What did surprise me were the two elder women standing behind us.

As we were awaiting the Queen’s appearance my American flatmates and I began to speculate what they all might be doing inside the palace. Not in a humorous way at all I pondered that possibly the Royal Family was having a little cocktail hour of sorts inside. I was serious. Boy, did I say the wrong thing! Within earshot of me (just like with the little boy in the grocery store), these two women were aghast at what I had said and started saying so. Cupping her hand to the other’s ear, the woman repeated what I had said. The two continued discussing me and my, to me, innocent comment and finished by saying speculatively, “Interesting … interesting.” It is almost as if the older generations believe members of Royalty to be beyond the normal human condition. Is it similar to the way we think of celebrities in the States?

Although my handful of experiences with the Brits haven’t been necessarily pleasant, I am still optimistic as I have met plenty of friendly locals too.

It all comes down to the fact that yes, these experiences might be different that what I am used to, but that doesn’t make them wrong.








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