that Londoners are, more than often, just plain rude.
But we have our reasons for our lack of friendliness…..and let’s be honest, most are weather and London transport related. I bet even the Dalai Lama would lose his cool and tell someone to f$%k off after a week commuting in the rain on the Central Line.
By rude, I guess I mean grumpy – and less open / ‘too busy’ for new conversations. In fact, Londoners seem to be experts in avoiding unnecessary conversations. We don’t talk to our own neighbours. We do our best to avoid helping tourists. We even hide in public from acquaintances if we aren’t in the mood for a chat (or have no makeup on!) – c’mon, how many of you have pretended not to see someone on a tube or bus so you could have a peaceful journey in to work….? Or is that just me…!?
So, imagine my surprise when taking my kids for a bike ride along their new local beach on Boxing Day, when EIGHT different strangers went out of their way to come and speak to us. For the first stranger, and even the second, I kept my arms around the kids and kept my distance, convinced we would be pulled in to an unmarked white van and whisked away. Ok, that’s a little excessive, but you know what I mean, I was SUSPICIOUS! Who talks to strangers? But it carried on – I had Californians waving good morning enthusiastically as I passed. People walking by stopped and asked if Maia’s bike was a newbie from Santa while telling her she was doing a great job pedalling. Others complimented Harry on his big blue eyes and Maia on her cute tartan Christmas dress. Some asked where I was from, then how I met my American husband…you name it, they asked it. By the sixth stranger, I felt like the Christmas Grinch….
And like the Grinch, my grumpy London heart did indeed grow three sizes that day. Dorothy was not in Kansas anymore. Outside of London, there are places where people will take the time to stop and spread a little cheer to unknowns. A place where street conversation is free flowing. You needn’t go as far as California to find them, perhaps just a couple of hours outside the M25, but this was my new social chapter, right here on Oceanside Beach, California. And it felt just lovely.
By strangers number seven, I was telling them all about my hopeful visa application, asking about their grandchildren and helping them feed a one legged seagull called Peg on the pier.
As stranger number eight waved me off cheering ‘welcome to America’, the festive London homesickness I was experiencing dialed down a notch or two. I DID feel welcome. I also felt damn lucky that one day I could call this place my other home. What a happy place to bring up children. On the beach front that day, walking back to the car, this little Londoner broke the habit of a lifetime and started saying good morning to complete strangers.
Disclaimer: Now don’t get me wrong, this post wasn’t intending to be a London bashing exercise. There are some amazing sides to London- the city will always have first place in my heart. I’m just genuinely finding it fascinating looking in from the outside while moving to California. The language is the same (for the most part!) but we live so so differently. I’m sure the year round sunshine has a lot to do with people’s positive temperaments here, I mean, just think of London’s vibe in a very short lived summer heatwave. It’s the best place in the world isn’t it?! Everyone is so happy. Also, remember I’m not working at the moment as I’m here on a holiday visa while my application to stay is approved. So, when my visa is finally cleared and I can go back to the grind, I’m sure the little grumpy Londoner in me will rise again, giving caffeine needy death stares to commuters instead of my new found friendly hellos. After all, you can take the girl out of London….. 🙂