An American Girl in London


Emily Chudzik, Staff Writer

I have always been fascinated with our neighbors from across the pond. When I found out that Millikin offered a study abroad program in London, I was ecstatic. I knew right away I wanted to do it because London has always been a city on my bucket list of places to visit. The rich history, the famed red telephone booths and the posh accents were just some of the things that really drew me in.

At first, I wasn’t sure it was possible, but with the help of my advisor and my parents, I carefully planned out my four-year schedule and figured out how to save up money. My dream finally became a reality about a week ago when I touched down in the Heathrow Airport in London.

But I’m not going to talk about that just yet.

What I want to talk about is my first experience of culture shock in the airport in Copenhagen, Denmark. I was traveling with two of my friends who were also studying abroad, so we were chatting away about how excited we were while we walked to the gate for our connecting flight to London. Naturally, we were laughing and talking at a relatively normal level, but crowded places in America are full of boisterous conversations, and this airport would be no different, right? Wrong. After the third odd look from a passerby, we realized that no one else was even half as noisy as we were. I was astounded at just how quiet everyone was.

It was no different when we found our gate and sat in the waiting area. We continued our conversation normally, and again found that we were louder than everyone else. That’s when it hit me: were we being those stereotypical Americans that Europeans find obnoxious? Looking around at people’s faces gave me my answer: YES. Feeling uncomfortable, I wanted to talk quieter, but it was hard to do so. A few minutes later, a boy around our age sat next to us and somehow joined in on the conversation. His name was Michael, and he was from Sweden. He was very polite and definitely had a sense of humor, so I decided to ask him if he thought we were being loud. He gave a shy smile and answered affirmatively. He asked me if it was loud in America, and when I said it typically was, he said he would get a headache living there.

Great. So we were being those Americans. However, we were able to shrug it off and hope that England would be more like America. And it would be, wouldn’t it? I mean, they also speak English and share a few things in common with us, so we could expect something similar, right? Needless to say, we were shocked yet again when we landed at Heathrow. It was incredibly busy, with loads of people hustling from one place to the next, but it was nowhere near the sound level of O’Hare Airport in Chicago. Was I going to stick out like a sore thumb for the entire semester?

Luckily, I soon discovered not all Brits were quiet and proper. A good deal of a person’s common speech level has to do with differences in age, environment and culture. London itself is as much of a hodgepodge as America is.

There are many different cultures mixed together in the different boroughs of the city, and each borough has its own flavor and way of life. For example, it’s obvious just by walking down a street that Chelsea is more calm and residential, while Soho is booming with entertainment and nightlife. It’s definitely more likely to pass by louder conversations in sections with more bars and pubs than in sections with flats and food markets.

Age is also a factor, which seems to be universal. Teenagers on the Tube, London’s version of the subway, are typically louder and more animated than the adults riding home from work. Young, college-aged adults can be rowdier in a coffee shop than middle aged adults. In this regard, England is extremely similar to America.

The final factor, culture, can be the most influential. A few friends and I went to a Bangladeshi restaurant one evening for dinner, and we noticed immediately that there was a proper etiquette to follow. Most of the other patrons were of Indian or Middle Eastern descent, and their conversations never got louder than an occasional laugh. We did our best to be respectful and mind our volume, but it was a bit difficult. It was interesting to see just how different some cultures really are from one another.

However, of course these aren’t set in stone. They aren’t molds that everyone from a certain culture or age group fits into. These were simply my generalized observations while in London thus far. It has been fascinating to see how these observations do and don’t hold up.

I’m excited to see where this journey takes me, and I’m glad there are other people in London just as loud as I am.