6/26/10: London, England
To Joey Tribbiani, London is just “London, baby!” It’s the city of tall British flag hats, meetings with Sarah Ferguson, going into the map and Chandler being Westminster crabby. To us though, London is much more than that. It’s actually playing a huge role in our lives as travelers: it’s our transition period back into real life.
Let’s face it, you would not want to hang out with us right after we’d spent four months in non-English speaking countries, more than two months of which were in underdeveloped areas. We wouldn’t be able to hold a conversation. We wouldn’t know what to do with toilet paper if there was no trash can around. We wouldn’t drink anything that didn’t come in a tightly sealed plastic bottle. My hair and facial hair would both be out of control, and I wouldn’t know what to do about it.
Today’s lesson in adapting back into the world we left ten months ago: talking to people we know.
We met Nick and Sarah on our overland tour through Africa at the start of our trip. Nick lives in the Barbados but has been traveling off and on for over a year, and this was his last day. Sarah lives just outside London and has contributed to society through the form of a job ever since Africa. Both are very fluent in English and I assume they would both slap you if you were being an incoherent idiot.
In order to block out all extraneous English surroundings and concentrate on the conversation at hand, we went to a Chinese restaurant for lunch. It was incredibly hard for me not to lead in with the standard greeting:
“So, where are you from?”
“How long are you in town for?”
“Have you been traveling for a long time?”
I know the answers to all these questions, and by this point in the post, you do too. So I had to dig a little deeper, back to conversations from last summer.
“So, how’s work?”
“Are you still seeing so-and-so?”
“Any big plans for the summer?”
(Other questions I remembered usually revolved around whether Skyline Coneys were better than B-Dubs chicken wings, but I sadly filtered those out.)
I quickly found out that the key to a good conversation lies in what you’re doing when you’re not talking. You should be listening. In traveling conversations, it’s very easy to put yourself on auto-pilot and not soak in anything the other person says. Many times I have found myself guilty of such an offense. But in the real world, you can’t really move the conversation forward without paying any attention.
“Wait, Sarah, you were promoted? Congrats! Does the new position have a lot more responsibilities?”
“Nick, you’re thinking about moving to London? Why would you ever leave the Barbados?”
It may sound so simple to all of you, and I’m sure the concept was simple to me too a year ago. It was also simple ordering a milkshake a year ago, yet for some reason the last three milkshakes I’ve had on the road didn’t contain any ice cream. On the other hand, a year ago I didn’t know Angkor Wat from Ang Lee; or Ha Long Bay from Hudson Bay.
Looking back on the day, things actually went surprisingly smoothly, although Zhou and Sarah did negotiate some souvenirs they bought (I feel like that is more frowned upon here). I think I’m ready to take the next step: learning to use a credit card again.
Picture of the Day: We tried to get tickets to see a show in Shakespeare’s Globe, but everything was already sold out for this week. Don’t these people know he was a fraud?!?