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The Newbie Traveler Suffers Culture Shock

August 5, 2010 at 10:31 AM | by | ()

What would your life be like if you hadn't yet traveled internationally? If you'd spent years reading travel novels and fantasizing over guidebooks, but hadn't made the big leap? This is the case for Andy Miles, who in his late twenties is embarking on his first trip abroad and walking us through the emotions and observations of a true Newbie Traveler. Follow along all week as Andy takes us along on his inaugural foreign journey. Today, the Newbie Traveler meets the locals and suffers a little culture shock.

"London, thou art the flower of Cities all." - William Dunbar

Here's what I already knew: The British Empire set up Thirteen Colonies along the Eastern Coast of North America. They thought, "Hey, this is really great." The Thirteen Colonies, however, were like, "Wait a minute, you guys. Can you really tax us while still providing us with true representation even all the way across the Atlantic?" The British Empire came back with, "Well, yeah." Then the colonies responded by attempting to make the world's largest cup of tea in Boston Harbor and everyone became great friends and lived happily ever after. The End. Right?

Somewhere in a classroom in Texas, my eighth-grade history teacher is crying. Clearly, I was ready to hop the pond and immerse myself in English culture, heritage, and varieties of deep fried fish.

My first real objective after arriving in London was to hear as many English accents as possible. I patiently waited in the hour-long customs line. Nothing. I sat, surreptitiously looking at people on the tube from Heathrow to my hotel. Nothing but a few inaudible murmurs. I kept waiting, and waiting, and waiting. Turns out, like most big cities, London has a whole lot of people from a whole lot of different places. I think spending my youth watching reruns of "Chef!" and "Are You Being Served?" may have spoiled me into thinking everyone in England spoke using the Queen's English, when in actuality only 2% of the population does*.

Moving on to the touristy bits of my visit, there are the obvious attractions that a first-time visitor to London must glimpse: Big Ben, The London Eye, The Globe Theatre, the many museums, and the many pubs that are older than the United States itself. As excited as I was to see those places in person, they still could not surpass my happiness to simply be in London.

My desire to envelop myself in the city was so strong that, looking back on it, the entire trip feels like a whirlwind of adventure. Did I walk down strange, Jack the Ripper-style alleyways? Yes. Purposefully get lost on the un-air conditioned tube just to see where I came up? Definitely. Meet a local and have them invite me to their cousin's going-away party where there's a private bowling alley and free champagne? Of course! Isn't that how all Londoners spend their weekends?

Fish and chips at Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese Shoppe

When it comes to food and drink, two of the highlights of the trip were EAT. and Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese Shoppe. EAT. is a fast-paced, cafe-style eatery with quality food and locations all over the UK, while Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese Shoppe is a pub that's stood in that very same spot since 1667 when it was rebuilt after the Great Fire of 1666. These two establishments really gave me a sense of how London is embracing the new while also preserving their heritage.

Back out on the streets, I did find myself lost a few times. Whenever this happened, I did not hesitate to ask someone around me. Everyone I asked was kind, accommodating and very helpful. Some of them even took out their phones to double-check the information they had provided me. Surprisingly, even I was asked for directions a few times.

The only negative bit of the trip was that I had a difficult time sleeping. Let me tell you that jet lag is a very real thing, but hey—it's my first jet lag, so even it was exciting in its own way. But even aside from that, whenever I woke up in the hotel room, my mind would start racing and I would simply stay awake. I couldn't pretend that London wasn't waiting just outside the window. It didn't matter if it was 4:30am. I got up; I couldn't help it. "Tired, Andy? Suck it up! Get some coffee and go for a walk; the city will wake you up." And it always did.

Tomorrow: The Newbie Traveler shares some life lessons learned from London and his first international trip.

[All photos: Andy Miles]

Archived Comments:

Great story

I love reading this! It reminds me so much of when I first arrived in London... souvenirs. Can't wait for the next chapter!


Really enjoyable read. The fun you had in London really comes through. And you're right, most people in London don't even speak English. I prefer taking weekend breaks to get out of the city so that I can actually mix with people who know what I'm talking about when I say something crazy like "what's the score of the cricket?". Cheers