Managing culture shock

The night before I headed to London I was in a bit of a grump. I booked my trip about five hours before the terror attack in Paris and for all my outward gung-ho attitude about travelling after something like this (I flew to New York just weeks after 9/11) I still had a feeling of foreboding about the trip. I was also nervous about going to London, such a huge city, after so long time since I was there last.

As I mentioned in this post, I wanted my trip to be relaxed and not stressful. Many of you wished me a good trip and expressed curiosity about how I would find it all.

So there was no Oxford Street or big tourist sights on the agenda for me (although I did try unsuccessfully to get a slot at the Sky Garden just to get some aerial shots of London).IMG_2825As I sat on the Gatwick Express train on my way into London, listening to a podcast, I decided on a whim to go to the Kings Road in Chelsea. One reason was that it was one stop from Victoria on the tube, thus easing me into public transport. But the main reason was that this is my London. I have been going to the Kings Road for as long as I can remember as my grandparents lived close to the World’s End and I remember being terrified of the punks on this street in the late ’70s. I used to come shopping to a lovely little toy shop called Tiger Tiger (long gone now but here is a picture of it) with my Nan for a treat and later to the clothes shops with my mum for birthday shopping. It is much quieter than other streets in London and has quite a village feel to it. I had the perfect hour pottering around in various smaller versions of big UK shops and managed to get all the things I needed here. I even spotted a Joe and the Juice, so it felt home from home.

IMG_2840I spent the rest of the morning in more bookshops and Fortnum and Mason, which never seems to change and brings me great feeling of nostalgia. I wandered where my feet and eyes took me, with no real agenda and I spotted little corners of Christmas sparkle on Burlington Arcade, took in Ai Weiwei’s art installation outside the Royal Academy, had a leisurely lunch in Jamie’s Italian and then headed to my afternoon tea (photo below with my fellow Soulful PR comrades).IMG_2835 IMG_2838I planned to take the Copenhagen version of me to London and I did just that. I smiled at people, I asked for help when I needed it and got lovely responses in return from the Tube staff and the wonderful assistants in Holland and Barrett and Waterstones, I even struck up a conversation on the Tube thus chalking myself up as a crazy! I took the bus when I could and watched the world go by. I poked my nose in places that interested me and asked questions about things. I simply didn’t rush along with the crowd.IMG_2890

I had a great day but in my relaxed state I did note some negative aspects of London but didn’t let then bother me as it was just a few hours of time there. I really struggled a lot with the Tube. Being used to barrier free travel at home and in Berlin, having to fish out my ticket all the time to get through barriers was a bit tedious. I found the Tube claustrophobic with the sheer number of people crammed on the trains and escalators. The fact that no one smiled on the Tube was a bit depressing and there was very little chat to be heard.

When I arrived at Holborn around 2pm I was astounded by the number of people crowding the streets. I realise it was the tail-end of lunchtime but it did make me think that if people spent less time pointlessly roaming about (as it seemed) in the middle of the day they could leave the office earlier having still done the same amount of hours. But that is the brainwashed Danish work mentality in me I suppose.IMG_2843As I expected Christmas is much more gaudy in London with bright decorations and very loud Christmas music but out of choice I didn’t visit many shops so was able to avoid too much of this and Fortnum and Mason’s decorations were fabulous (see above). I did miss candles in shops and cafes and I noticed how most coffee shops I passed in the West End were rather sterile chains that is to be expected for this area and I missed the variety of independents I can choose from at home. If I had more time I would have explored more local spots where there is a flourishing independent scene but with just under five hours spare time and a long list of books to look for, it simply wasn’t possible this time.

I managed to enjoy my day without putting enormous pressure on myself to do and see as much as possible. I barely shopped, I didn’t rush about yet I felt it was a productive day of a positive and happy experience. I did head home certain that I could never live or work in London again and as I cleansed my face later I seem to have collected a lot of London grime. I was pleased I went but I felt happy to be home.

One comment

  1. So glad you had a good day – London was such a staple for work travel that It’s been kind of weird to be without it for a year. I bet I’ll feel the same when I start going back. I used to love the energy I would get from going compared to the sleepiness I couldn’t get used to in Copenhagen but now I think I might find the reverse! Btw, I work at Holborn – and often times if you get out right on time – somewhere between 6:30 and 7:30 its’ actually too crowded to get into the station at all – they close it and you wait or you walk to the next one so at least you missed that!

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