Friday, May 07, 2010

Up and overseas: Part III

Editor's Note: I've talked about both London and Paris in a lot of words. Here are some random thoughts that didn't fit with those posts to wrap this ever-lengthening ramble up.

Here they are in no particular order:

- For the record, yes, you feel really stupid not knowing how to count currency, a Kindergarten-level skill. It was a humbling experience in both pounds and Euros. (If you're wondering, that's the British National Museum pictured at right. Very cool building.)

- We spent many an hour getting quasi-lost on London’s subway system. A good chunk of that lost time was spent giggling over what must be the most hilariously-named transit station in London - Cockfosters.
Funny every time.

And while we're giggling immaturely, check out this suit of armor. I mean, really? Of all the things to worry about in the heat of battle...
Obviously the king's armor.

-For reasons that escape me, I hear we Americans apparently have a reputation for being obnoxious tourists. No idea why that is.

Oh, in a wholly unrelated anecdote, when we were boarding the subway in London one night, a college-age-ish dude walked by our subway car and happened to yell, "America -- F*** YEAH!!" Never been more proud.

I think being in a foreign country should be at least a little nerve-wracking since you're pretty much a guest in someone else's big house; I did my best to not be a jackass. Later in Paris, I received two "Merci's" from French folks when I made room for them on the transit line. It felt like a massive cultural victory.
A sculpture at the Louvre.

- It was nearing election time when we were in London, and there were a handful of billboards.

"5,000 people settle here every week. Say no to mass immigration," said one message from the UKIP (which defines itself as a "Libertarian, non-racist party").

"I've never voted Tory before, but we've got to mend our broken society," said one from the UK Conservative Party (the Tory Party).

-In London there were a lot of quick-food (I can't say fast) restaurants oriented around healthier and more environmentally-friendly fare (I wish we had a Pret A Manger here). I think my favorite meal of the trip was a pub lunch I had at The Ledger Building the first day I got there, made of linksford sausages, baked beans and chips (like french fries, but bigger). The server at the bar (which, I learned, is where you order your food and then have it delivered to your table), was super nice and patient as I struggled with his accent and in using my credit card. It turns out that over there, they actually check to see if your credit card is signed on the back (mine wasn't).
St. Paul's Cathedral, just up the road from the Pret A Manger where I had a cheese and pickle sandwich.

France had outstanding bread. Even a fairly un-exotic ham and cheese sandwich (which I ordered because it was the only thing I knew) was exceptionally tasty.

- Prices were pretty similar to here, though we totally got ripped off at an open-air cafe in the Jardin des Tuileries, where we each paid 4E50 for glass of Fanta (make sure not to pronounce it FAN-tah -- it's FAHN-tah). One of the CDs I picked up at the Virgin Megastore just outside the entrance to the Louvre was 20 Euros. Also, it sucks have the dollar valued lowered than the Euro and pound.
In the Jardin des Tuileries.

- They say the French take their culture more seriously than most. Judging strictly by film advertising, I'll buy it (what? you expected me to do interviews in French?). In London, nearly every movie poster was for an American film. In Paris, there were Hollywood blockbusters, but a healthy helping of French flicks too.

- English-folk tend to word things a little differently than we do, and when combined with the accents, it was at times a little tough to catch up. Yes, you feel stupid not understanding proper English.
We Americans can be far more efficient and just say "I won't litter."

- A word about the phone booths: No, the people of Great Britain are not stuck in the stone age. They don't use pay phones either. Based on my few days of observation, the booths appear to be primarily used for grinning tourists (see right). Secondarily, they are used as pornographic bulletin boards for adult services, with the average booth wall featuring almost as much nudity as a wall of the Musee d'Orsay. And, judging by the smell of the puddle in the one I posed, if there isn't a tourist in there, the telephone booths apparently make nicely sheltered urinals (pronounced ur-RINE-al in England).

- The whole trip felt surprisingly non-foreign overall. Not that it should be surprising, I mean, we’re all pretty much Western civilization anyways (and on top of that, we toured pretty touristy areas only).

Furthermore, plane trips are so disorienting that it never really sunk in that I was an ocean away from home, and despite some obvious aesthetic differences, neither London or France struck me as all that different from any big city in the U.S. Granted, the languages were different, but you get that on a Boston subway, too. (My country hick may be showing.)
The view from the roof of Galeries LaFayette, a ridiculously huge department store in Paris.

The familiarity began immediately, with the radio on the way over to the hotel in London. Our van driver had a station playing that featured Green Day, The Clash, Keene, Def Leopard, and Coldplay among others. American music was everywhere, continuing right up until the final night of our trip. As we stood there in the night rain, looking up at the lights of the Eiffel Tower, a group of young French folks were dancing and accentedly singing along to a stereo playing Frankie Valli's "Can't Take My Eyes Off You."

"I love you, babeh!"

The trip gave me a brief boost of confidence in walking into an uncomfortable situation in the U.S. I mean, when you can speak the same language, it should be all downhill from there, right?


Jackie said...

I loved all three parts CJ! Sounds like a great trip!

The OE said...

Counting currency is overrated when it changes day to day, you never know which one you can use where, and the possibility of Greece defaulting on all it's debt means the Dollar is back in favor.

It's a mad, mad world my friend but at least we're back to being able to use greenbacks for bribes.