On a campus as close-knit as Carleton, it’s easy to forget the world outside of the Carleton bubble. However, embarking on off-campus studies can be a jolting reminder of Carleton’s idiosyncrasies.This January, I boarded an eleven-hour flight from Los Angeles to London, where I expected to encounter very little culture shock, aside from a few more accents, smaller cars, and posh people. What I discovered is that London is basically a weird alternate-universe version of an American city, and I was not prepared for the strang cultural differences I encountered.
Everything is old in the UK, and anything that isn’t old is always under construction. We encountered statues from the fifteenth century on walks to dinner, and passed thousand-year old churches almost daily, but the sky was also peppered with cranes that marked the changing skyline. London has more art museums, tons of ancient artifacts (stolen from conquered countries), and plenty of leash-less dogs running around. I encountered groups in parks with more than ten rampant dogs, which would be a dream come true in America, except British dog owners aren’t nearly as patient with eager dog-petters as their American counterparts.
Instead of flushing, the toilets struggle to empty after a push of a single, ineffective button, and if you’re lucky, you’ll find a street sign on a third of the streets you encounter. Around ninety percent of stores close after six or seven PM, and late night delivery is nonexistent, so you’d best have food before then. I’m still incredulous that I can have a pizza delivered to my dorm at two in the morning in rural Minnesota, but one of the world’s most vibrant metropolises won’t bring me one past ten at night.
On my first trip to the grocery store, I searched for eggs for twenty minutes before finally finding them: unrefrigerated, next to the flour (apparently British eggs are safe at room temperature). In my hunt for eggs, I discovered that high quality cheeses cost about half what they do in Minnesota, and that “frozen food” isn’t in the British vocabulary as much as “prepared refrigerated meal that expire in five seconds”. Arugula doesn’t exist, but “rocket” is ubiquitous, and to my chagrin, tortilla chips are not a food group in Britain. Local foods scream their origins from the rooftops, as “British chicken” and “grown in Cornwall!” are ever present on labels. Coffee shop tables are outfitted with brown sugar, which is now the only kind of sugar I’ll put in my coffee. When I was particularly homesick, I found myself craving LDC rice and Sayles curly fries.
There are SO many people in London, and it’s such an international place that I didn’t even hear an English accent until around three days into the trip. This also means that nobody can agree which side of the street to walk on, as Brits walk on the left, and everyone else wants to walk on the right. I constantly ran into people, and learned to live in a constant state of frustration with humanity very early on. The Tube was blissful at times, but during rush hour, it and everyone within a mile of it became my arch nemeses. The trendy Londoners pressured me into embracing my inner high-fashion model, but the second I found myself on Carleton’s campus again, I kicked off my laceup boots and returned to my beloved Birkenstocks.