England exceeds elegance expectations

Liza Duerholz, Editor-in-Chief

This previously ran in our December 2022 print issue.

I have always associated England with tea, royalty, and “proper” behavior, but I did not fully comprehend the elegance of the country until stepping foot on the streets of London.

     I visited London with my family over the Thanksgiving holiday break – a last-minute trip which was thrown together to give me a taste of western European culture before heading off to college next year. All I knew about England essentially came from movies and history classes. So I expected a true, modern-day London to be a lot like New York City: skyscrapers everywhere, a lot of cars, dirty. But this expectation differed slightly from reality.

     It wasn’t that there were no skyscrapers, but they did not intrude on where we spent most of our time, which was in the older, more tourist-y areas. Most of the buildings we were around did not exceed five or six stories, which revealed an aspect of city life I was unfamiliar with – the sky. 

     On the same note, I felt as though we were walking the streets of a movie set, as the architecture was grand and beautiful, projecting prestige and history. A pallet of gray, white, and tan stone, crimson brick, and black window detailing completed the pallet. The structures were built together, blending into a row on each block, each with their own carvings and pillars that set them apart from the next.

     The roads themselves were narrow, and I struggled to understand how multiple cars could drive down them without hitting each other. Apparently, Londoners struggle with this as well, since on multiple occasions, I had to move out of the way so cars could pull up on the sidewalk and temporarily stop. 

     Compared to other US cities I have been to, the amount of cars on the road is significantly less (aligning with my previous point). The roads are mostly populated with double-decker red buses and black cabs. Public transportation is extremely popular, including the highly-organized underground railroad system that reaches essentially all of London.

     Even the weather contributed to the scene. Stereotypical of London, the air was cold and wet. It usually rained at some point during the day, but this did not hinder anyone in the city from their daily activities. The outdoor markets stayed open, people still rode their bikes and went out – life went on without skipping a beat. 

     I am not sure if it was the lack of tall, echoing buildings, less cars on the road for honking, or the peaceful qualities of rain, but everything just felt calm and quiet – the opposite of how I would describe most cities.

     I also appreciated London’s investment in their environmentalism. Completely gas-powered cars were few and far between. As far as food, when we were given disposable utensils, most of the time they were made of wood or some compostable material, and the bags or container it was given in was also compostable or biodegradable. Even the bottle caps to plastic drink bottles read in large letters “Please Recycle.” 

The food itself felt more natural, less processed, and typically came in smaller, more manageable portions. The largest portions I was given the entire trip was when we went out with an English family and they took us to an American restaurant. 

  One unexpected aspect of London was their commitment to the holidays. There were large, bright, decorative pieces hanging between buildings and across streets and alleys were lit up with string lights wrapped around buildings, trees, lamp posts, and anything else that could display them. The universal, grand scale of holiday spirit was unlike other towns and cities I’ve seen before.

   There is one exception to this theme of elegance that surprised me. The people.     Don’t get me wrong, the English accents and the way they utilize vocabulary and language in such a thoughtful way is impressive. For example, take-out is referred to as “take-away,” backyards are always called, “gardens,” and my favorite, anytime they go on a trip, it is called going on “holiday.” 

     However, being American, from the moment I opened my mouth, I would feel an immediate coldness and judgment, which left me slightly embarrassed. For example, my mom and I went shopping one day, and I watched as a customer asked a question, and the employee responded with engagement and concern. Then I asked a similar question and received a look of annoyance and a half-attentive response.

     In addition to the already tense relationship, we just happened to be there when the UK played the US in the World Cup, which they take extremely seriously. We were told by our friends, with 100% honesty, not to be on the streets during the game, or at least not to speak to anyone.

     And yet, the annoyed glances and extreme sports enthusiasts could not overshadow the overall beauty of the city. In my opinion, London certainly lives up to its portrayed-level of sophistication and grace, and not because of the tea.