While standing in line at a pub, my traitorous American mind drifted back to the thought I’d been having ever since Lauren and I had walked out of King’s Cross station: “The Brits do everything better than we do.”
The gods must have heard me and decided to have some fun, because I then overheard a British man saying, “Americans do everything better than we do.” (Whoever came up with the phrase, “The grass is always greener on the other side,” deserves a pat on the back, and a raise.)
I thought about going up to that particular man and asking him about the Brexit decision, but then I realized that he had already, in a way, given his answer. And it wasn’t like I was short on candidates: the whole town was in an uproar about Britain’s upcoming departure from the EU. On our first day, we stumbled upon a anti-Brexit rally making its way down the east side of St. James’ Park. Thousands of people marching and chanting; I’ve never seen a group of British people so noticeably angry.
It was incredible!
And interesting to see, considering that I had just spent several days in Ireland. The Irish aren’t keen on the British, and rightly so. (I’d list examples, but quite honestly, just throw a dart at a timeline of Irish history, and you’ll land on a point where England’s f*cking Ireland over somehow…) Lauren and I heard a lot of teasing jokes about Britain while we were with the Irish. (Example: “So….did England deserve to lose the game last night?” *Everyone else cheers*)
And we Americans tend to flip-flop on England, really. One moment we’re all for scones and the BBC; the next minute we’re flipping them off and launching fireworks in England’s general direction.
So I was excited about seeing London, while a bit hesitant at the same time. I felt like I was preparing for a first date: Would London like me? I mean LIKE-LIKE ME? Will I like London, or will he bore me to tears? Oh god how’s my hair? I’ve gotta go change into a different shirt this one is terrible–
*COUGH* So, thank you, London, because you turned out to be a scintillating host.
Our first night there, Lauren and I made our way to that pub, and immediately ordered a pie/ale sampling platter: three pies with three ales to match. And it came with mashed potatoes. (To those that claim that the English have no culinary talent, I bite my thumb at you!)
And then, to compliment our previous Irish Musical Pub Crawl, we went on a London Literary Pub Crawl. Our host, Nick, was a storyteller, actor, and producer, because of course he was. And our group included an middle-aged couple, Diane and Dave, and a college-aged couple, whose names I regrettably forget. Both couples were British. Both hated Brexit. And both groups were fascinating to talk to.
Dave: So, in America, you can’t carry alcohol around in public?
Me: No, we actually can’t. We have to hide it in our bags, if anything.
Diane: Yes, because a brown paper bag fools all.
Me: *laughs helplessly*
Nick: T.S. Eliot frequently visited this pub…
Me: Oh, hey! He’s one of ours! We (Americans) are proud of him.
College-aged Brit: *smugly* But then we stole him from you.
Nick: That’s correct. He became a British citizen in 1927.
Me: …Goddamn Brits.
College-aged Brit: *laughs*
Mike arrived on the third day, just in time for the three of us to get on a bus and take off for the Warner Bros Studio Tour. The two Ravenclaws and one Gryffindor (take a wild guess which category I fall into) were stunned by what they saw. It’s a Harry Potter Wonderland.
I didn’t take many pictures while I was there at the studio, because I was 1.) caught up in the moment, and 2.) of the mind that these were things that you must see for yourself, in person. Like the magnificent model of Hogwarts castle, for example (I actually cried when I saw it). And Diagon Alley. And the letters caught mid-flight in the Dursley’s living room. And the Knight Bus. And the grand fireplaces from the Ministry of Magic.
The London Underground isn’t as good a method of transport as those magical fireplaces would be, but it sure comes damn close. As a New Yorker, I’m always impressed with a subway system that’s 1.) punctual, 2.) communicative, and 3.) easy for tourists to use. At one moment, the train stopped on the platform, and almost immediately there was an announcement from an actual person on the intercom (rather than a recording), which said: “We have stopped on the platform temporarily because of _actual reason for stopping a train_. We will begin moving again in approximately 40 seconds.”
I was dumbfounded. And in that moment, I knew I had fallen in love. Like John Green said, it happened slowly, and then all at once. I was in it before I knew it had begun.
I was in love with a underground subway network. This was going to be difficult to explain to my parents.
Yes, we had our bad moments. Lauren and I attempted to use it during peak-hour one afternoon, and ended up waiting for the fourth train because the previous three had been so packed. But my love stayed strong.
I mean, the Underground even has attendants that wait by ticket booths specifically so they can verbally assist tourists with Oyster card purchases.
And the Tube is just so mischievously British. At one point, I saw an ad for a Las Vegas vacation that read: “Go somewhere where your accent is an aphrodisiac.” I almost dropped the coffee I was holding at the time.
I’m almost wary to use the New York subway again. It’s going to know that I’ve been unfaithful.
But before we delve any deeper into this increasingly uncomfortable analogy, let’s move on to where I slept each night.
Lauren and I lucked out on our London hostel mates (Mike was in a different room this time around). She and I had chosen an eight-bed room at Generator Hostel. Our roommates included: Luciana and Josefina (Argentina), Alejandro (Chile), Lee (Korea), and Alejandra (Spain). (The eighth fellow, Oliver, from Australia, didn’t interact with us very much.) Lauren spent much of the time speaking in rapid Spanish with the four of them, while Lee and I exchanged shrugs and high-fives in the background (although Lee can of course speak both Korean and English, so I was truly the only ignorant one in the room).
We had fun moments, including, but of course not limited to:
-All of us spinning around and cheering on a street corner in London, because Lee wanted to film it and post it on Facebook.
-Five of us running into each other at St. Paul’s Cathedral one morning, completely unplanned.
-Alejandro saying “Join the Dark Side” to Lee, thereby sending me into a fit of giggles.
-Josephina and I repeatedly singing “We’re All in This Together” from High School Musical. (We kept getting it stuck in each other’s heads, too, so the cycle kept repeating.)
-Upon meeting Alejandro, Lauren and I began to ask, “So, like the song–” and his immediate response was, “Yes. Lady Gaga ruined my life!”
You know what did the exact opposite of ruining my life? Having high tea one fine afternoon. (And how about that smooth, narrative transition, yeah? Putting that English major to excellent use…)
Lauren wanted tea and scones. I was in it for the scones. Mike was up for anything. So Lauren found the Athenaeum Hotel; this very posh hotel that was revered for its high tea experience.
We had spent the morning walking around Stonehenge, so we were dressed in comfortable travel attire. We got off our tour bus and headed straight for our next destination.
When we strolled into the Athenaeum, one well-dressed man asked me, “May I take your coat, madam?” A waitress — also dressed impeccably well — led us over to a table and carefully laid out all of the silverware, one fork at a time. I stared at all of the other patrons — dressed very well, and murmuring to each other as content, well-fed Brits are wont to do — and then looked up at Lauren and Mike.
“We are so underdressed for this.”
Our food and drinks arrived. Being me, I ordered a passion fruit and orange tea. I’m not even a tea drinker, and yet the tea satisfied me as much as the scones did. And the cakes. And the little finger sandwiches.
Of course, in true Emme fashion, I dropped my fork during high tea. Once the clattering sound had finally stopped, a part of my soul crawled under the table and promptly died, as is proper.
And then our waitress brought a new fork over, on a tiny plate that was — I am not kidding — entirely meant for the transport of the fork. Is that a British thing, or a rich person thing, or a British, rich person thing? I forgot to ask. I was preoccupied with my fork.
And then, when my two friends weren’t giving me a load of shit about the Fork Incident (because what are friends for, if not for that), we had more fun moments in London. Lauren and I sat in St. James’ Park and ate chocolate, because our lives are supremely difficult. We watched a performance of Taming of the Shrew at the Globe Theatre (phenomenally done). We walked across Millennium Bridge, and wandered around Trafalgar Square, and stood outside of Buckingham Palace. There were bookshops, cafes, and countless pubs. I walked all the way out to Kensington one morning. Lauren and I found London’s oldest fruit and vegetable market.
And then, at long last, we visited Platform 9 3/4 at King’s Cross before hopping on a train bound for Edinburgh (using our wonderful, first-class tickets).
I had expected to enjoy my time in London, but I had never guessed that I would LOVE London as much as I ended up loving it. London is old, and posh, and proud, and yet it manages to cater to its tourists in a polite, open way. I went in expecting to be treated…well, to be treated as an American in Britain expects to be treated. It ended up being quite the opposite.
So, thank you, London, for being a marvelous date. I would be more than happy to have high tea with you again sometime.
I promise not to drop my fork.
Thanks for reading,