A few months before moving to London, I read an article in the Financial Times, “Don’t Touch Me, I’m British.” Its rather distressing assessment of Brits was this:
Americans won’t touch strangers, the French won’t talk to them, but Brits will neither touch nor talk to them.
I gritted my teeth and prepared myself for a year of isolation. Of course, I knew that as a student I’d be able to meet people, especially fellow international students in the halls and at LSE. Everyone I’ve met thus far has been wonderfully friendly and eager for shared adventures. While we (or at least, I) haven’t done all too much yet while we prepare for the start of term, my hallmates A and K and I went to the park on Saturday morning to do some yoga! Ahh… :)
If anything, even as an extrovert, I’ve lately been feeling a need for downtime. I eat breakfast and dinner in the cafeteria, where there’s usually a line out the door of people ever so ready to sit down with you and find out where you’re from, where and what you’re studying, and so on. But small talk after small talk eventually becomes tiring, and I’m starting to have days when I wish I could eat my meal with nothing but a book to keep me company. Which, as the term sets in, may very well happen.
But the Brits? Truth be told, I haven’t met too many yet, since both LSE and my hall mostly comprise international students. The incredible weather—breaking records at 86 degrees in October—brought everyone out of doors, so I tried my hand at striking up conversations with strangers.
On Saturday afternoon, I volunteered with the Vauxhall Foodbank. Once a month, volunteers stand outside Sainsbury’s with grocery lists that we distribute to incoming shoppers, asking them to buy a few items to donate to local families in poverty. Reactions run the gamut of people who recognize and are happy to see us, grumpy folk who can’t be bothered, weary ones who tell me they need the help themselves and even some dudes who tried to flirt with me. (Um, it’s not like I’m asking you to buy ME dinner! Still, they did drop off a few items, so I guess I’ll forgive them.)
Small, everyday acts of generosity really surprise me and speak to me. For every 10 brusque people who cut you off before you can say “Foodbank,” one person buys an entire crate of long-life milk, or one child overhears the request and donates a cereal box she bought with her own allowance money. When I rounded the corner of the supermarket to start sorting food, I was amazed to see a gajillion trolleys parked there, overflowing with donated items.
Interacting with Brits is fun, too, because it helps me to learn those slight, elusive differences between American and British English. Like trolleys instead of carts, or chatting to instead of chatting with, and the way they pronounce furry over here. I was convinced I had never heard the word before, and the person I was talking to was probably convinced I was crazy. What, do American animals not have fur or something?
I hadn’t heard a single utterance of the (in)famous bloody phrase until—
I took a jog through Hyde Park yesterday, and happened across two people tossing a frisbee. That’s right, a FRISBEE. I got excited, so I asked them if I could join. They seemed surprised, but were fine with it and fun to chat with—er, to—while we tossed. It was their first time ever throwing a frisbee! They were both recent grads who’d grown up here, and had great recommendations for the best places to get Indian and other ethnic foods. While we exchanged get-to-know-you’s between tosses, the girl asked:
“Where are you studying?”
“LSE,” I replied.
I later realized that I was also wearing my Yale shorts, which might partially explain her reaction. It’s either, “That’s impressive,” or “What the *bleep* kind of a person are you?!”
It’s nice to know that I needn’t fear for a lack of friends. But this gorgeous weather won’t hold out for much longer. So I suppose even if I’m feeling tired, I should keep making friends before people burrow in their hibernation holes!