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What side of the road do I walk on?

| Thursday, September 7, 2017

I, like the unique and trend-setting individual that I so strive to be, have spent the last three weeks in London as a part of Notre Dame’s study abroad program. I know what you’re thinking — “how brave of her, to leave all that she knows to go where no college student has gone before! I sure hope she posts hundreds of pictures in front of various European monuments that all look vaguely identical so that we can ogle at her worldliness!” I myself wondered how any other city could compare with South Bend in terms of rich diversity and history, but have been pleasantly surprised so far in terms of options for Thursday nights, to replace my Feve habit.

After getting settled in and finally emerging out of the three week-long stupor that comes from a combination of jet-lag and legally being able to consume alcohol, I have been keeping a list of some of the differences between American and British/international culture as a whole, and some of the downright perplexities that I still haven’t been able to get answered. A quick Google search will tell you that I am by no means the first person to comment on British peculiarities, but I have never let repetitiveness or redundancy stop me before. In no particular order, here are my musings and questions about life in England so far.

First, and honestly the most pressing in my mind: Why does everyone in this city run with a backpack on? Not only have I seen more people running for pleasure in the past month than I’d ever seen in my life, but they all seem to wish to add to their struggle by carrying backpacks, ranging from a measly camelback to full-on hiking packs. As anyone who has ever been late to class knows, running or sprinting with a backpack is no easy feat. Some people have speculated that they are running to and from work, but I don’t buy it. Sure, some of them may be, but I have seen people of all ages at all times of day participating in this masochistic act, so I call bull s— to the theory that Londoners collectively decided to shame all other people and run to work voluntarily. If anyone has any ideas, please let me know, because I’m stumped.

On a somewhat similar note — what’s with all the parkour? Within one day of being here, I’d had four close-calls with teenage boys attempting acrobatics.

Another thing that has confounded me about this city so far is how people go about their days knowing that such a place as Target exists but they can’t reach it. After having to do all my shopping in tiny, gas station like stores, and also needing to take a 30-minute train ride just to find Tupperware and school supplies, I can safely say America has England beat on it least one thing.

On what is perhaps a deeper level, I have never been exposed to more diversity in my life. I run into more people of different backgrounds, nationalities and social classes walking to class than I have in two years in South Bend and 18 in the American suburbs. With this comes amazing perks. My sense of entitlement and self-importance has already taken a much-needed beating, as I have seen just how many different people live and coexist together, and the thriving art and cultural scene here has been something of an eye-opener after spending years finding entertainment from watching boys play “Mario Baseball” for hours on end. Plus, you can find food from all corners of the globe within a mile of you, and what’s better than that?

One thing that will take getting used to is the different cultural norms in terms of politeness and courtesy that comes from being in such a cosmopolitan area. As someone who thrives off of smiling at people as they walk by, and am guilty of letting out the telltale Midwestern “Oops!” when I bump into someone, the somewhat abrupt and scowling mannerisms of many non-Americans seemed hostile at first. I’m beginning to realize that I can’t possibly have pissed so many complete strangers off, so the reasoning behind their lack of smiles and pleasantries must be cultural.

If anyone has any answers, comments, recommendations I’d love to hear them, but what I really need to know from you is what side of the bloody road is it customary to walk on? So far all I’ve been able to deduce is that there is no order to the chaos that is a London sidewalk or staircase, and it has been slowly driving me mad.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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