From the Hotel Attic in London

I always wonder when I go somewhere new whether I will run into anyone I know. It’s a hope I keep in my back pocket.

When we went up to the gate desk at the airport to talk to the stewardess about getting our seats moved so that we could sit together, Courtney and I ended up standing behind a tall kid in a red ball cap. As Courtney and I were talking he turned around and I realized that it was my coworker and friend from the university where I study! I didn’t recognize him at first in his red cap, but it was amazing to be on the same flight to Europe with him. Back pocket blessings. And it didn’t hurt either that the stewardess moved us to the seats with extra leg room by the emergency inflatable slide. Back pocket blessings indeed.

The flight was, thankfully, smooth and I slept through a good chunk of it. When I wasn’t sleeping, I watched The Last Jedi or listened to the Irish and Welsh cabin staff speaking to each other.

The one downside to the flight was that were an hour late getting off the ground, which put us in a pinch making it to our shuttle to the hotel, but a nice red-headed kid (a distant Weasley cousin?) working for the bus line got us on the next bus out of the airport when we missed ours, and it all worked out in the end. Plus, the air felt like California and everyone spoke like a BBC show.

If you ask me what surprised me most about London, and my answer sounds silly: I was shocked that everything was in English. You’re probably thinking, Well, yeah. . . England. English. It kind of make sense, don’t you think? But that’s just it—everything was in English.

In the US, or “the States” as they are affectionately called in Great Britain (as if “the states” are privately owned countryside manors rather than independent, united states far from the rule of the crown), we have loanwords all over the place. Many places are named with Spanish, French, or Native American words (Utah, Los Angeles, Nebraska, Baton Rouge, etc.) I am so immersed in them, that I don’t even think of them as foreign words. When I go somewhere new, I am used flailing to pronounce a street name or two.

In London, I had no problem. Everything was in English. The street names easy: Baker, Smith, Warwick, and Victoria. Linguistically, it was like eating a homemade meal after you’ve been at college for a couple of months living on frozen chicken nuggets. Suddenly I had the sensation that I was experiencing English for the first time in its pure form, and it shocked me.

Culturally, however, London was completely different from anything I had seen before. Las Vegas, my hometown, thinks of itself as diverse, but in Las Vegas, diversity is limited to certain groups. Sure, you can find different skin tones, but culturally most people fall into a few groups. London, however, was extremely racially diverse and proud of it. I imagine New York is similar. There were Arabs in hijabs, Brits in skinny jeans, Africans in rompers, and Latvians in American clothes (we met them on the Tower Bridge. They were visiting from Chicago.) It’s hard to explain the diversity without political-correctness alarms blaring in my American-trained brain, but the culture mix was real, rich, and I wrapped in British accents.

We stayed in the slope-ceilinged attic of the hotel with a great view of what would have been the rooftops of London. Instead, it was a view of the chimneys of London—so many that every time I looked out the window I found myself mentally humming Marry Poppins.

Up where the smoke is all billered and curled

‘Tween pavement and stars is the chimney sweep world

When there’s ‘ardly no day nor ‘ardly no night

There’s things ‘alf in shadow and ‘alfway in light

On the rooftops of London coo, what a sight!

 

—M.M

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