Friday, 23 September 2016

Death by crosswalk

Follow the chronicles of an American expat on her new brand new life in London

Written by Lindsay Robinson
As I revealed my intentions to attend graduate school in the UK, friends and family met me with unsurprised shrugs and well wishes.

London is quite possibly the most comfortable and frequently visited European destination for Americans, at least proving true in my friend circle on the East Coast. The language, easy to understand currency, cuisine, wartime ally vibe, and overall friendly atmosphere should make any novice venturer want to dip a toe in, right? Right by a broad extent, but let's dissect.

I have been to London several times on brief visits never surpassing a week. Coming to live in a destination like this provokes a completely different way of thinking and course of action from a quick and easy, visa-less holiday. You observe the fashions and slang with a keener eye, and as you dig around in your purse for coins of all shapes and colours. You try so much harder to slide into the culture and become "normal" than you may on a typical foreign holiday, and some casual words used for the entirety of your life may now have a little flare when they come out of your mouth.

My brief start-up here has been all of these feelings and more, continuous reminders of my life in wee little Washington compared to the rush and incredible bustle that makes up London. To add to this shock, I was placed in an apartment just steps away from the entrance of Westfield Shopping Centre. All familiar, long-time residents of London will understand my new reality when I say that I have never in my life seen more people in one place than I did on a Saturday afternoon at Westfield. A beeline to Primark and H&M turned into a fight for life and gasps for air above the heads of thousands of other shoppers. As my list of needs was ticked off, I gripped my large bags with every ounce of energy that I had left and flailed to safety out the door, knocking over a few victims in my flight path. Thus gave birth to the first vow of my new life: Westfield is off limits on weekends as it is a thrill sport that I am not yet courageous enough to relive.

It makes me dizzy to understand the rules of the road by just the simple change of driving on the opposite side. Is it because of folks like me that the crosswalk edges are marked with giant letters directing pedestrians which way they should turn their heads? I do notice that crosswalks here are only optional and for the most cowardly, but if you are a professional of these streets, a pop out into traffic as soon as you get the notion to cross is the norm. I tried my hand at this when no crosswalk was present in my line of vision, but quickly had my knees up to my ears, running as a cabby came seeking blood. I had unsurprisingly looked the wrong way down the street for oncoming traffic! Stamp American on my forehead and call it a day.

Follow Lindsay on Twitter @Linds_Robins and Instagram @Linds_Robins

Next week: Spend your new 'fiver' on a Chinese take away

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