“Are you queueing?”
“I said, are you queueing?”
In the bustling aisles of Harrods, I stood completely confused. Though she was obviously speaking English, the worker in front of me was using a word that, to me, had no meaning. It took me a few seconds of dumbfounded silence to remember that I was in London, realize that the queue was the line, and identify that I was, in fact, queueing to order ice cream at the famous Milk Bar.
“Yes. Yes, I am! Sorry, ma’am,” I blurted out, as she nodded in reply and continued with her work.
Even though we were both speaking the same language, a slight nuance in dialect evidenced the ocean between us. This small linguistic dissimilarity could serve as a wonderful metaphor for my London experience in general. London has a foundation similar to an American metropolis, but the air of the actual everyday experience is very different.
New York City has a feeling of being new. The streets are crowded with people, all shuffling tirelessly toward their dreams, surrounded by buildings soaring thousands of feet into the air. London, on the other hand, is old and unashamed of its age. With a few exceptions in the densest areas of downtown, most buildings don’t extend higher than ten floors. Brick buildings dating back a hundred years or more are the norm, but they mix easily with newer iron and glass features. Piccadilly Circus, often referred to as the Times Square of London, has huge twinkling screens featuring ads similar to those in NYC; however, instead of reflecting off of other screens, they reflect off of ornately carved ivory structures, built as long ago as 1896.
The history and tradition of the locale is balanced well by the youthfulness and diversity of its people. Twenty-somethings dressed in the dark, minimalist outfits of the milieu trot around all neighborhoods of the city. Ads for movies, television shows, and music from all around the world dot the walls and halls of the subway. Walking down any given street, one can easily hear five or six different languages. Though English, French, Chinese, and Arabic are the most common, you do not have to travel far to hear Tagalog, Russian, Hindi, or any other tongue. With an influx of immigrants from all over the world, London is morphing into a multicultural melting pot. Even though the overall structure of the city hasn’t changed in ages, the people within it are constantly evolving.
Overall, I feel that London is a place I could easily call home. It is accessible in a way that even many mid-sized American cities are not. The pace of life is fast enough to make you stay productive, but slow enough so you can keep up. The Underground (an extensive commuter rail system that runs across the entire metropolitan area) is complex, but logical. The people are cordial and hospitable, always treating you as they expect to be treated in return. There are many things to do and see, but also many quiet areas well-suited for relaxation, renewal, and reflection. The difference between this place and major American cities is subtle, yet tangible. If New York City is a young vibrant girl bursting with enthusiasm and ardor, London is her wise older sister: still full of ideas and dreams, but realistic, at ease, and focused.