London was not on my list of top places to visit. I should experience other cultures, I told myself, get out of my comfort zone. The urban center of Great Britain is not that different from America. But you know what? That’s exactly why I enjoyed this past weekend so much. Don’t get me wrong. Italy has been such a fabulous experience. Three months ago I only knew Italian stereotypes. Now I know Italy. I understand the cultural norms, and I have tried to acclimate to them (though whether I really have is a different story). Culture clash – both in Perugia and during weekend travel – is draining. Mimed body language and late night dinners, catty women and staring men, limited grocery choices and impossibly long (yet simultaneously nonexistent) lines are some of the small differences I face on a daily basis. I think one of the most significant lessons I digested for myself in Cambodia seeing and experiencing the living conditions for the majority of the world. That lesson has continued during my time in Italy. Though Europe is made up of first world countries, even here people don’t live like Americans. These little challenges I face make living abroad memorable and worth it.
As usual, I digress. After a beautiful act of the Lord, the opportunity arose for me to visit London with my dear friend Tracey. No, London is not America, but comparatively, it’s pretty darn close. It is English-speaking, and it is a consumerist, globalized society. I confess, as much as I am trying not to live in a materialistic manner, I grew up surrounded by marketing and movies and Wal-Mart and the best customer service in the world. For one weekend, it was so nice to be able to understand (most) everything someone said and buy anything I wanted. Familiarity is comfortable. On the bus ride from the airport, I was already developing a superiority complex over my ability to understand the language better than the rest of the Italian travelers. We saw a Costco, IKEA, Subway, KFC, and so many other chains just during our ride into the city. We were stoked.
We vowed not to eat any Italian food. Since there was a different ethnic restaurant every fifty meters, that was easy, and so satisfying. At one stop, I spotted a restaurant named L’artista. While I was repulsed by the idea of yet another pasta dish, the Italian woman next to me points to it and begins talking to her friend about eating there that night!
After settling in to Palmer’s Lodge (best hostel experience ever. I am not exaggerating), Tracey and I opted for Indian. The menu was a little overwhelming, so I told the waiter I wanted a dish with rice, chicken, vegetables, and curry, please. When the waiter walked away, Tracey whispered, “Jessica, you are so white.” It’s true… It was very much a When Harry Met Sally scenario, but I was just so happy to be able to get what I wanted and not be told how to eat my food. The supermarkets are even bigger in London than in America, and there’s nothing you can’t get. Other food this past weekend included Chinese pile up from a Camden Market stall, Vietnamese Spring Bowl, Lebanese platter, coffee large enough to nurse for a bit, Mochi icecream (gross), and a Chinese BBQ roll. My stomach has been missing vegetables so much, and it is happy now.
Globalization continued that night when we realized that the second Hunger Games movie was already released. It was fun both to be up on American culture and also act like typical Londoners, enjoying a normal Friday night. The next day we went to the Camden Markets, which provide anything you want at very cheap prices. It is dangerous territory for shopoholics. All of the stuff and the fashionable people wearing even more stuff sends this subliminal message that you need it. I kept reminding myself that no, I don’t need anything. I have everything already. Remember where these goods are coming from, Jessica. Imagine how they were probably produced. The quintessential consumerist devil and aesthetic angel were fighting it out on my shoulders. Mr. Red Horns did win the Battle of Wool, boasting a thick infinity scarf and a Fedora as its loot. The angel won the War, though, re-teaching me an important lesson.
The rest of the weekend was fairly touristy. We saw the sights, killed our feet walking everywhere, and enjoyed some rejuvenation in Regent’s Park. There was green and fall colors, and that did my heart well. My soul was filled up even more after Tracey and I visited Hillsong for church on Sunday. I haven’t been able to really worship since the summer. I haven’t been in a spiritual drought, but I needed some watering. That night, we watched an improv show at The Comedy Stand. My cheeks were sore from all the laughing. Gosh. British Humor – they’re just so clever! We finished up the weekend by almost missing our flight back to Perugia on Monday morning. Fortunately, we huffed it, paid five pounds each for fast pass customs check (where I downed ¾ of my beloved Nalgene water bottle because I forgot to empty it), and experienced the scare of missing the only way home without the repercussions. I buckled into the plane seat thankful to have made it, but also sad to be leaving a city I enjoyed so much.
London was kind of an awesome tease of being back home. The reality is, though, that my departure date is quickly approaching. In a little over two weeks, I will be reunited with family and friends. Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and rather than being home and feasting, I will be flying to my last travel destination of the semester – Budapest. I am so grateful for the opportunity to study abroad. The friends, experiences, traveling, yes – even the cultural trials – have blessed me immensely.