Sunday, October 16, 2011

Life as a Tourist

I mentioned before in one of my first posts (the one about the London Riots) that I felt there was a difference between how London was viewed by those who live here and those who don't - primarily people in North America. And though that was based mostly on media representation of specific negative happenings, I have spent time recently living the divide between Londoner and Foreigner and again, the difference in perceptions has come to mind, this time in a more positive way, making me think about what is "English" to the rest of the world and what is it that makes a city iconic.

Essentially, I had the good fortune to have some family in town for just over a week. Some had been here before and some had not. This meant that they were determined to get all of the "London experience" in the time they had available and packed the trip full of sightseeing, walking tours, amazing restaurants, and landmarks. As their "native indian guide" it was my duty to make sure that - at least whilst I was around - they were getting the most of their time here. (They were quite sufficient without me there too... so thankfully they drove a lot of the planing and I simply facilitated! And sometimes they didn't need me at all!) But strangely, as soon as someone starts quizzing me on what to do here, the Londoner in me starts to panic.

I have lived here for 9 years. Before I lived here, I came over a number of times as a tourist. You would Think that I have tonnes of things that I can suggest for people to do.... but I don't! My mind goes blank when I try to think about what to suggest to someone to do or see. So much of my london life is spent trying to bypass crowds, get where I am trying to go, avoid traffic, and find the routes to and from places that have the fewest tourists, that I have been able to numb myself to at least some of the things that make London such a unique place to be. And whilst many of the things which are considered stereotypically London are frowned upon or minimised by the people who actually live here for being "tourist traps," they do actually have a reason behind their reputations and deserve more credit from those of us that see them every day.

This is not to say that I don't appreciate the city I live in. Aspects of it constantly amaze me and bring me joy. But I was surprised by how many things I haven't done (or haven't done in a really really really long time) which actually have given me a better understanding of the city. 

As someone that wasn't raised in this country, I do feel as though there are elements of its history that I am lacking - and yet if there is one thing a tourist knows how to find, it is history! Being from a commonwealth country has helped me with the general framework of things (as has my interest in many literary things British) but I was actually really interested to see what information would be found, especially in the few guided walks that I was lucky enough to join in on.

For me, history is not the dates and names of times gone by though... it is the stories, the anecdotes, the idiosyncrasies, and the absolute ridiculous. (Which may be why I was never really a fan of history at school!)  From both ages gone and those still very remembered, Britain, and London specifically, is swimming in such history.

On the two tours I went on (my family went on a few more than that) we had one amazing tour guide that fulfilled all my hopes about the personifying history and making it memorable and one that, for whatever reason, just didn't work for me. But I was struck with how much can be found right under our noses every day, if we only know where to look.

We also toured Westminster Abbey (at extortionate cost!), went to the Globe (and were toasted in unexpected sun whilst being delighted by the play), saw Churchill's War Rooms (and his attempt to make a fashion trend out of a onesie), and viewed a number of other less formulated sights. And the sheer willingness from my family to imbibe as much of London as possible was contagious! This is what we Londoners have lost: this joy, this quest for knowledge about the specific world we are living in, and the appreciation for the wonders that surround us.

So whilst I believe that the view of London that is often portrayed in the media can be tinged with excess negativity, I think that it is with the eyes of the tourist that we should all strive to see more of our city. So open those eyes Londoners - there are few cities out there that can compare to ours!

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