When I first arrived in London in 1999 I was a lot like one of those tourists in Westminster tube station hungry to tap into this city through its royal places, history, cultural venues. But after living there a while, those icons faded into the background, side-lined by other, less obvious, fascinations.
Back then I had lots of plans in my head; goals to accomplish so that when I did move back to the U.S. 'two years later' (yes, this was part of the plan), I would have this and do that. Of course, none of those things happened. The future did not unfold as my ego wished. I learned here not to plan too much, too far ahead.
Never mind the grand plans. Everyday schedules can quickly go haywire. While the UK is becoming more convenience cultured, the vagaries of London public transportation alone can scuttle the best laid plans of mice and men. You're never quite certain you'll get to your destination until you get there. Most homes don't have the space for appliances that many Americans would consider basic. Washing machines are usually in the kitchen and maybe if you're lucky it'll be a two-in-one with a dryer function. In winter, I often felt like that John Candy character in 'Uncle Buck', roasting and broiling damp clothes over kitchen radiators. By spring, I'd look into the sky to divine whether the sunlight was strong enough to hang the towels. But you learn about timing; how Life has its own flow outside your control.
The land of Shakespeare lives up to its reputation. I'm still astonished by the upper-class ability to speak, turns of phrases and vocabulary, words rolling and frolicking off the tongue all the whilst saying very little of any substance. In the working classes, no one verbally hugs better. Where else do vendors call you love, darling, or sweetheart when buying apples? Once a Royal Mail lady called me darling so many times when I bought stamps that I thought any second she was going to open the glass partition, reach over, and give me a hug.
In London, there's such a variety of people in your face on an average day. Almost every demographic group was represented the length and breadth of my Sumatra Road in West Hampstead. From squatters to power-lawyer couples to to the professional dog walker. On Upper Park Road in Belsize Park, I lived near both a Hollywood film actress and a drug dealer collecting job benefits. One day stands out: in the morning I was inner-city shopping at a market. By evening, I was in 'Richistan' at a party in a Holland Park mansion being served bottomless crystal flutes of Dom Perignon.
The poor, the rich, and the few of us somewhere in the middle of these growing extremes. You can interact and engage with them all, in ways I've yet to experience in any American city. The opportunity for spontaneous interaction is everywhere, and what I learned is that true engagement with another means transcending exactly all this societal stuff, the labels, the cultural conditioning. I will remember all this as I settle back into America.