Day 69: Camden to Westminster – A Yank in London

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Hi everyone, Charlie here! Today the torch is traveling from Camden to Westminster, and there are just so many amazing places in those few boroughs that I’d need a whole blog just to cover them. I won’t get into the big monuments scattered about, but instead chat a little about what it was like for me– a Yank, living in London, and as it so happens, in some of those very boroughs.

I was in my early twenties when I first moved from the States to England, having never so much as set foot outside the US. Talk about culture shock. I had recently graduated college, was incredibly shy, and most definitely green. To say that living and working in London opened my eyes, would be an understatement. It changed my life, and certainly had a great deal of influence on my writing and who I am now.

There were always two questions I was asked when I met someone in London. One was, “Where are you from?” Which was never a straightforward answer since I was born in one country, migrated with my folks when I was just a baby to New Jersey, and then in my teens my folks moved to Miami. I come from a Hispanic background, so I’ve never had what folks abroad believe to be a prominent America accent, and for the most bizarre of reasons always lead folks to believe I was Canadian. Mostly, they just couldn’t figure out where the heck I was from. After I told them where I had moved from, the second question was always, “Why the hell would you leave Miami?” A lot of my friends were under the misconception that I had sacrificed some sort of tropical paradise for gray skies and tube strikes. At least until I schooled them.

After a few years of living there, I sounded British to Americans, and to the British… well, I still somehow sounded Canadian.The first year, I understood nothing. I was so accustomed to the loudness of folks in Miami, that I literally could not hear some English folks speak.

One of my very first jobs was on Oxford Street working for Virgin Megastores. I was working in retail in the middle of the melting pot that was London on one of the busiest streets in London. I had just gotten the hang–somewhat, of the English accent, and then oh my god, I discover that there’s more than two types of accents. Wait, are you saying that not all English people sound like Jude Law or Vinnie Jones? Where was I when this memo was passed? What the hell is a Liverpudlian accent? You’re from where? Manchester? East London? Oh my god, you’re Irish! I have no idea what you just said! I spent a great deal of time just staring blankly at folks trying to decipher the words coming out of their mouths. To their credit, they were exceptionally patient, especially when I said I was sorry, that I was new, American, and was having trouble understanding them. I think they honed in on the ‘American’ part, because suddenly they all looked like they just wanted to pet my head, and go ‘awww.’

Okay, so I was slowly learning to understand Irish folks, and Scottish folks, and folks from Wales, and every other part of the British Empire and beyond. Then… then, I discovered there were different names for things! Suddenly I was self-conscious because I had my very not English accent and had to say words like ‘chips’ when I meant ‘fries’, and ‘boot’ when I meant ‘trunk’, and ‘braces’ when I meant ‘suspenders’, and ‘what the hell is taking the Mick?!’ I didn’t know what to call things anymore, but if I used American words, people would either not understand what I was talking about, or think I was a tourist. After a while, I grew more comfortable,and started learning what was almost a new language. Even when I started sounding more English, there were still certain words I couldn’t say. My friends loved to hear me say ‘naughty’, because I just couldn’t say it without it coming out as ‘naudy’, and they found that hilarious. I learned that the English beat Americans in a swearing contest hands down, because they do it with such flourish, it should be a competitive sport.

So I worked on Oxford Street for a few years, and it was awesome. I wasn’t much of a club or bar person, and I can count on one hand the number of clubs I went to in Miami during my teens and early twenties. I think it was a goth club called The Church. That was about it. I was a sit-in-Barnes-&-Noble-with-a-latte-and-a-book kind of girl. I know, riveting. Anyway, so I was swept up in the Soho nightlife. I spent a great many evenings in G-A-Y Bar, G-A-Y Late, The Astoria (when it was still there), went to Heaven and Candy Bar a few times, and I have no idea the names of all the others. Being a newbie in London, I just sort of went along with friends, and had a great time. (Steve, *kisses* wherever you are, I hope you’re keeping out of trouble, you naughty thing).

Sadly, I pulled back from the night scene a few years later. Barnes & Noble girl remember? My friends were, for the most part, a few years younger than me, so once I hit my thirties, it was harder for me to keep up. I just couldn’t do the drink and stay out until 5am or until it was time to go to work thing, but I still continued to have fun. Having spent most of my years in London working in management for music retail, I was constantly surrounded by folks who were musicians, artists, movie makers, writers, craft folks, designers, photographers, everything creative you can think of. They were my people. I worked for a few years in Fulham in the Broadway Shopping Center where every morning on my way into work, I stopped at the Starbucks across my job, and the folks in there knew my order the moment I stepped in. I miss the Sushi and Japanese food especially. London has some amazing Japanese restaurants. I would even be chuffed to have a Yo! Sushi here!

The last place I worked in wasn’t music retail, and it was rather heartbreaking seeing the Virgin Megastore knocked down. So many wonderful memories in that place.I worked on Charing Cross Road, just behind Leicester Square (which took me a few months to work out how to pronounce) next door to the National Portrait Gallery. I really enjoyed working there because I could always escape into all the lovely little shops on all those wonderful little side streets. I think that’s what I miss the most–aside my friends of course, all the amazing little shops and markets. Can you imagine, me with my obsession for all things vintage surrounded by tea shops, vintage clothing shops, trinket shops, all encased in their original Victorian architecture? I lived in Ealing, and the house I lived in was Victorian having been converted into several flats. On my walk home form the station there was the Hare & Tortoise where they served my favorite: Chicken Katsu Curry and Pumpkin Croquettes. At one point I lived in Fulham, in a lovely enclosed community behind Chelsea Stadium. I also lived in Hammersmith not far from the Station and the Apollo.

It didn’t take me long to become a Londoner, because if you live in London, you better well adapt. I think while living there, I was able to appreciate a lot of what my friends took for granted. I didn’t care about the rain or snow. England has atmosphere, history coming out of nearly every pebble, and yeah America has history, but when you think about it, America is just a youngster in comparison. I would walk through Central London just gazing up at buildings in awe, wondering what they might have been at some point. I love that folks proudly work on their gardens and there’s greenery everywhere. Living there expanded my world, opened my mind, and fed my spirit. I like to think it of it as a special journey I needed to have taken. Without those experiences, I don’t think I’d be where I am now. It helped me become the person I am, and to that I am grateful. So I raise my pint glass to you, and say, stay awesome. Who knows, maybe someday I’ll be back, and we can share one at the pub.

How about you? Has your life lead you on a life-altering journey? Or perhaps you’ve had your own experience with culture shock. Let’s put the kettle on.

***

To find out more about Charlie and her writing, you can visit:

Charlie’s Website

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Twitter: @charliecochet

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About Charlie Cochet

Charlie Cochet is an author by day and artist by night. Always quick to succumb to the whispers of her wayward muse, no star is out of reach when following her passion. From adventurous agents and sexy shifters, to society gentlemen and hardboiled detectives, thereโ€™s bound to be plenty of mischief for her heroes to find themselves in, and plenty of romance, too! Currently residing in Central Florida, Charlie is at the beck and call of a rascally Doxiepoo bent on world domination. When she isnโ€™t writing, she can usually be found reading, drawing, or watching movies. She runs on coffee, thrives on music, and loves to hear from readers.

10 responses »

  1. LOL Culture shock works both ways. The Cochranes in Massachusetts – or even more so, New York – little innocents abroad and always thinking “Why is it like this? Why can’t you buy wine in the supermarket? Where’s the edible cheese?”

    Accents over here can vary almost from viallage to village. Over hundreds of miles it’s like another country. (I can’t always understand Taggart!)

    • It’s funny how even the simplest of things can suddenly become this other worldly experience. lol. I remember the very first time someone asked me if I’d like some tea, and I suddenly felt like a dear in headlights. I was like “Oh my god, what if I don’t like it. I’ll be living in England and be the only person who doesn’t like tea!” Obviously I wouldn’t be, but it felt like that. I saw that everyone else was having milk in theirs, so I said yes to the milk, and figured sugar couldn’t hurt, and oh the relief I felt when I liked it. Now I love it. Even have my Twinings and Tetley over here. PG Tips I have to get off Amazon.

      A couple of my friends came with my on holiday once, here to the states, and I think what was harder for them to remember was the sales tax. I LOVE the fact that whatever something is priced over there, that’s what it cost. Here you have to take the sales tax into consideration, and remember that will be charged at the till–or cash register. ๐Ÿ˜€

  2. Living in a different country is an amazing experience, particularly when you’re young. I spent 7 months in Germany when I was 18/19, and have never quite got over it! I still remember how much brighter the shop windows were, how people really cared about appearances – keeping things neat and tidy and pleasant to see. And how friendly people were, particularly elderly people, and how hospitable. And snow! Coming from the South of England, I’d rarely seen the stuff, and suddenly it was there for weeks on end – and the world didn’t stop turning! ๐Ÿ˜‰

    The way you were awed by the history in London made me smile in recognition, too. I spent most of my first term at Cambridge in a similar state!

    • That sounds wonderful! Germany is on my ‘Countries I’d like to visit’ list for sure. I’ve always been fascinated with History, how people lived, dressed, society, and architecture, especially England’s, and I love that there’s so much there that has been preserved. That you can be in the middle of a city or town, and be staring at a Roman wall is just amazing to me. I never had much of that in the places I grew up, so I did spend a good deal of time in England doing touristy things like visiting castles, the Tower, and such. I used to live a few steps from Brompton Cemetary and loved to walk through there. I lived there just over ten years and there’s still so much I haven’t seen. Some day. ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. While I was born in London (or the fringes of) and brought up there, I live some way away now and get there about once a year. But one of the things about a big city is that you can walk round a corner and experience culture shock. In many respects London is still a collection of villages and you can catch a bus, travel three miles, and be told ‘we do things differently here’. If you take, say, Blackheath, Greenwich and Deptford they almost feel like different countries despite being within walking distance of each other. And it’s even more pronounced in some other parts of the city.

    • You’re absolutely right. For London’s size, it’s absolutely amazing the different cultures it contains within that space. When you live or work around central London, you forget that it stretches out to zone 6 and beyond. What I loved was how everything was so accessible. Whatever I needed was just a hop on the tube or a few minutes walk to the high street. You could also have a lovely day out without spending a fortune because there are countless places to go.

  4. I agree about countless places to go – though nothing’s permanent, a lot of the more ‘countercultural’ places I’ve enjoyed in the past have disappeared now and other have taken their place!

    • That’s true. You kind of have to enjoy certain places while you can because they do disappear suddenly. Like the little shops, markets, and stalls. It’s a shame when that happens. I used to have a few little shops I frequented that had nice food, and then one day it’s just gone. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

  5. Well as a British person who spent a year living in Gaithersburg MD I can sympathize. I am from Yorkshire – although to hear me talk you would not think so. I spent 8 years in Cambridgeshire from 8 – 16 and then 4 years at university so I sound like a southerner according to my Yorkshire friends (my sister & brother who were both born outside Yorks sound more like they come from there). Then again my Cabs friends accuse me of having a northern accent so I cannot win. I am lucky – having moved around as much as I have it is rare a British accent foxes me – or indeed that any accented english does as I teach in a university with students from 100+ countries,

    As to history – what Americans count as old amuses me a lot … but then again I grew up visiting historical sites across Eastern England and history is my major love outside of my subject

    • Hi Arwen! I admit I never understood the whole north/south thing. I did know these two fellas who were best friends, one from the north and the other from the south. The banter between them was the funniest thing ever, as they were always taking a poke at each other because of where the other one was from. It was never malicious or anything, but made for some great entertainment for everyone else.

      Even after 10yrs there, I could only place about three or four accents correctly. I do know that some British words and phrases have been ingrained in me to the point where half the time when I talk, I don’t know if it’s something I picked up over there or over here. It tends to come up more when I’m writing, and my editor points out that something’s not an American expression, if I meant to use that, and I’m like ‘Darn, no I didn’t.’

      And you’re right about what some folks consider old. I’m a big film lover, so I get the same reaction when someone says they love ‘old’ classic films and then they bring up something like the Godfather. It may be classic, but it’s hardly an old film. ๐Ÿ™‚

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