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.
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