Sunday, 22 January 2012

Not Ready for Lonely London

On the way home after fifteen months of travelling on my own, first to Tanzania, then onto New Zealand and to various parts of South East Asia and India, my head was filled with people saying ‘you must be so excited about going home’ and ‘you must be glad you won’t have to get on another bus or train again soon’ and ‘Oh, it’ll be so nice to be home for Christmas’ but all I felt was not ready! Not ready for the cold, not ready for ‘normality’ and most definitely not ready to slot into the ‘real world’!

Anyway, ten hours after take-off the plane landed in Heathrow.  ‘Welcome to London, the local time is 17:35, the temperature is 2 degrees and it’s raining’! Lovely! Welcome indeed!  Off the plane with me, through immigration and passport control, got my bag and onto the tube.  I was heading to Wimbledon to stay with my bro for a few days before getting homehome to Dublin just before Christmas.
Despite having been on my own for so long, getting on the tube in Heathrow was one of the loneliest experiences of my whole trip.  There were plenty of people about, it wasn’t that, it was that they were all doing their own thing, in their own little bubbles.  There was virtually no eye contact and certainly no talking or exchange of words between strangers.  Everyonewas on their iPhone or equivalent (which my brother was quick to point out were called ‘smart phones’, a phrase that, at that time, I’d never heard before!), they were all interacting with them and not with each other.  It all seemed a bit surreal, a bit ‘computer simulation’ like, made even more so because I was reading George Orwells’ Nineteen Eighty-Four at the time. There was near total silence, everyone just put their heads down and avoided each other.  I know that at times I’d given out about the lack of personal space in India, especially on the trains, but my god this was the other end of the spectrum altogether!  All I wanted to do was chat to someone about how freezing it was and about how weird it was to be home and I couldn’t even catch someone’s eye!

 Anyway I got off the tube and my brother was there to meet me which was great.  It had been 18months at least since I’d last seen him.  On the drive back to his house all I could think was ‘everything is so clean’!  I was seeing stereotypical Britain for the first time: clean cuts lines, neat and tidiness, order.  The houses were all the same, terraced or semi-detached and not ramshackled and patched together with bits of whatever!  It all added to the ‘lemming-like’ feel of the place, everyone going about their business (or the business they’ve invented for themselves?) in a very robot like fashion.  There wasn’t a huge amount of individual thought apparent, although I’m sure some people would disagree! 

Stereotypical British Houses

The next day I went with my brother, his wife and their daughter, into town.  They had a few last-minute Christmas presents they needed to get, as well as a few bits ‘n’ bobs for dinner.  Granted it was the last Saturday before Christmas, but I couldn’t get over the amount of money being spent, cash and credit cards all over the shop and all for seemingly unnecessary things.  Having just spent so long in India, where nothing is thrown out and nothing unnecessary is bought, it all seemed very strange to me.  As well as that, where was ‘the recession’ I’d been hearing so much about?  And yes, I was in London, not Dublin, which I’d heard was a whole lot worse recession-wise, but still, there was no sign of any shortage of money.  It was everywhere: in the fancy cars that every household seemed to have parked outside their houses, in the clothes and accessories people were wearing, in the shops, in the bars and restaurants and in the wallets that all seemed too small for their fifties!

Nice Car, Nice Clothes!

Reverse culture shock has always been something I’ve laughed at! It always seemed ridiculous to me that you can be shocked by your home culture after being away a while.  After all isn’t that where you’ve spent most of your life?  Isn’t it the culture you’re most used to?  I’m not laughin’ any more I don’t mind telling you, it’s as real as I am and it lets you see the way ‘we’ live in a whole new light.

See this link to verify my feelings:

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