Even though I am a seasoned traveler and have stayed for long periods in Italy, Germany and the United States, I never really got to London till last summer! I have heard from friends on London being one of the most vibrant cities in the world and I could not agree more. Wasn't it the famous English writer, Samuel Johnson who said in the year 1777, that when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford!
I was a guest at my cousin's house in London for almost six weeks and while she was busy with her work, I had plenty of time and opportunity to discover London on my own and get to know the British. Leaving the house early, I would sometimes treat myself to a freshly cooked organic breakfast at Pret A Manger with my favorite soya cappuccino to go, and then spend the day exploring London.
I was completely drawn to the British accent even though it took me a while to get used to it and the fascinating British culture with their old-world courtesy and afternoon tea at 4. Here are some of my observances about the Britishers from my daily interactions with them.
I have never come across another culture in the world as polite as the British. In England, I was reintroduced to expressions like 'allow me' and 'after you' and found out that words like 'please', 'sorry' and 'thank you' were perhaps not only the most popular words in British English, but also the most important! I remember when I was traveling by train from Scotland to London, the British gentleman seated opposite me amazed me with his courtesy and good manners. He was from Newcastle and the politeness with which he addressed me and the fellow passengers was simply astonishing. Another time when I was taking pictures at a London underground, the security guard informed me with utter respect that I was not allowed to take pictures there!
In England, I also learnt that along with politeness, there also exists a high degree of formality that embraces the British culture. In America, it is very easy to pick up conversations with strangers and then say goodbye without even exchanging your names! It's totally acceptable when the shop assistant at the supermarket while billing your groceries, asks you your plans for the evening!
However, I did not find the same thing in London. I remember on my first day there, I was at a public washroom and seeing an old British lady comb her hair, commented that it was a good idea to always have a comb on you! She looked up at me rather startled which made me feel like I had offended her by intruding upon her privacy.
As I was further introduced to the British culture and made some new British friends, I experienced an underlying formality with them that defined the friendship.
3. Use of endearing terms
After having acquainted myself to the British formality, I was taken by surprise when strangers addressed me with words such as 'dear', 'love' and 'darling'! I did not know what to make out of it, till a friend explained to me that these were hints on what kind of relationship the Britishers wanted to develop with you!
After learning through faux-pas, I realized that the best way to meet a Britisher was by keeping distance and not getting too familiar. In Italy it is a custom to greet others by kissing twice on the cheek but something like this in Britain could be easily misunderstood for some hidden motives.
5. Perfect hosts
In my visit to British homes, I have also found out that Britishers are the perfect hosts. Whether they are cooking a meal for you or inviting you for an afternoon tea, the attention to detail with which they look after you is very impressive.
6. Afternoon tea
There is nothing like afternoon tea in Britain. Accompanied with sandwiches, tea and cakes, it is perhaps for most Britishers, the most important event of the day. I am an avid coffee drinker but when I was in London, I found myself turning for solace to a cup of fine Earl Grey tea served in fine porcelain cups in the late afternoons.