Prior to landing in London, I had never visited a city bigger than my hometown in Dallas, Texas. I was expecting the British culture to be not much different than the southern America culture I know so well, considering our shared language and similarly heterogeneous religions. Right off the bat, however, I realized that English wouldn’t be a seamless bridge between my cultural background and my new environment. The driver who picked me up from the airport had an accent so thick with English and African influences that I couldn’t understand a word he said, making my hour-long ride into the city an unusually quiet one. Even when I arrived and began speaking to native British people, I found myself having to sift through their accents in order to understand what they were actually telling me. Over the course of the next week, I gradually overcame this slight language barrier, but the shock I experienced when I couldn’t understand people in an English-speaking country is still fresh in my mind.
Another shocking revelation I had within the first week was the fact that I stuck out like a sore thumb. It only took a few days for me to learn how to find my way around my neighborhood without looking at a map and navigate the public transportation system with ease. Yet surprisingly, I still looked totally out of place no matter where I went. I could generally identify who was a native British person and who was a tourist by looking at their clothes and the way they carried themselves, and unfortunately, I definitely looked like just another tourist. My bright and former Lilly Pulitzer clothes stood out among a sea of more relaxed black and grey attire. My little black wallets and tiny clutches guaranteed that I was not carrying any real work materials with me, even during weekday rush hours. My accent made me “just another American” who was susceptible to being yelled at by crotchety old men at McDonalds, as some of my classmates were for being American tourists. And so, on the first day I was available to go shopping, I headed straight for the trendy British store H&M to shop for more relaxed grey and black clothes, and stopped on the way home to buy a bigger tote bag. As for my accent — well, there’s nothing I can change about that. But hopefully, the longer I stay here, the more I will pick up on the subtle mannerisms that make the English truly English.