7 Observations from 7 Days in London
I just spent seven days in London, getting to know its people — as a general populace as well as individually. I was on a trip to meet some of the people behind a campaign to better connect with Londoners, so I decided to gather some street observations of my own. My trip did not include any formal research, but I did walk away with seven cultural observations from my seven days in the city.
Londoners have a keen ability to identify Americans.
As much as I had hoped to blend in and mingle among the locals, I was easy for them to spot. No, I didn’t greet everyone with a “Cheerio.” Nor did I wear a Harley jacket or Dallas Cowboys jersey (though there may have been a fair bit of denim involved). Nevertheless, I was quickly identified as a non-local, and often asked where in the States I was from — before even speaking a word.
All of this is to say, as you read my casual observations, bear in mind that my results are tainted, given that I broke the first rule of research (to be invisible).
Londoners sound cool.
Even without bloody adjectives and phrases like “Bob's your uncle,” which is kind of like saying, “You’re all set.” They just sounded sophisticated, and it made me wonder what an American accent conveys to them.
I did not find most of the Londoners I met to be overly warm; nor did I find them particularly rude. Instead, I would describe them as cordial and somewhat matter-of-fact. But they were definitely, always, cordially cool and sophisticated with a brilliant accent.
Londoners use smartphones like Americans used early cell phones — as phones. (Not lifelines.)
They carried them and used them, but were almost never seen using them in a restaurant or while walking the streets. When together with friends and colleagues, face-to-face conversation was preferred and phones were nowhere to be seen. Several morning commuters (on foot) could be heard talking on their phones, in casual conversation with family or friends, but in general, they were just used with a fraction of the frequency that I was used to seeing.
With this more conversational culture, almost every meal that I enjoyed took longer than meals in restaurants States-side — especially when it came time for the check, which would only come once requested. No matter whether the U.K. restaurants were busy or slow, there was no rush to take an order, clear the table, or hurry up and get on my American way.
Londoners are a cooped-up bunch, especially come springtime.
As soon as the sun came out on day three, pent-up cyclists emerged from the shadows on missions to log every possible mile before “normal” (dreary) weather returned. Roads built for Mini Coopers were now filled with every kind of full-sized sedan whose paint was regularly threatened. But then came the cyclists to join them, as if they were matadors weaving through bullish cars, casually brushing aside deathly encounters left and right.
Londoners balance an appreciation for the past, a push into the future, and a complacent, “good-enough” progress along the way.
New and substantial architecture is popping up everywhere, but so too are many buildings still being historically preserved at great cost. Elaborate measures were taken to preserve historical facades while the rest of the structures were being rebuilt — both iconic structures like Big Ben and common housing blocks with centuries-old facades.
At the same time as so much historical preservation can be seen and felt, there is also a fashion forwardness to the city. At times, I felt like I was 10 years in the future when it came to fashion. And since I am commonly 10 years behind current fashion trends, I saw my future at 62 years old — and it involved a lot of tweed and faux fur.
This simultaneous preservation of the old and push for the new is a balanced compromise — in what felt like a "good-enough" mindset. It was rare to find anything that was perfect in London: sidewalks were lumpy; buildings were quirky; gardens were only partially tamed. And because of this, everything felt a bit more relaxed, the city’s character was preserved, and more room was left for individuality to shine through in buildings, gardens, sidewalks, and the people themselves.
Londoners exercise simply.
I witnessed plenty of people out jogging, but when doing so, they didn’t appear dressed for a photoshoot, which I often expect in big cities. This was not like Southern California, where everyone looks like a model, though nor was it like other places in the States where obesity is quite common. Gyms in London were hard to spot, but joggers and walkers were found everywhere, seemingly demonstrating a balanced, healthy lifestyle rather than extreme behavior in either direction.
Londoners are progressive foodies.
I ate very well during my seven days. It was easy to find organic, vegan, and gluten-free fare, along with food that met most other dietary needs that pockets of the U.S. have become keen on serving. Being from Oregon, I did not find London to be more conscientious of organic food, gluten allergies, or vegan diets, but neither did I find it to be very different than what I expect of Portland or Austin or some of the more progressive foodie cities in the U.S. — where the food is really good and observations of global trends are also considered.
There is only so much that you can glean from a week in a new city, so take these with a grain of salt. I plan to return to London later this year and will likely have another seven observations that may or may not agree with these seven. But that is part of the joy of experiencing a new city.