Writing this blog has been hard. As you might have been able to tell from a few recent half-assed posts, I just don’t know what to write about. I’ve had thoughts that I’m willing to share like “you can buy boxed lunches everywhere in London, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Dublin, and they are not nearly as bad as I had first thought,” but that’s not insightful or even that culturally significant. Instead of fast food Londoners more commonly eat pre-packaged sandwiches, which are pretty much the same thing as getting a sandwich to go (especially at Subway where they don’t toast the bread) when you think about it. And just like how Coca-Cola tastes slightly different in every country (and in most countries is made with real sugar rather than high fructose corn syrup in America), it’s neat but nothing to write home about.
I was at Blackwell’s today, picking up a French phrase book so I’m not that terrible American when I visit Belgium and France, and saw an entire display of Bertrand Russell books. I couldn’t imagine an entire display of a philosopher’s works at an American chain bookstore (which Blackwell’s is, a chain, not American) like Barnes and Noble or Borders, so does that mean British people are smarter and more literate? In the States there are plenty of independent or smaller chain bookstores that would display and carry things like that.
A Borders down the street in London looked just like any American Borders, with The Lost Symbol proudly and prominently on display. People on the Tube seem to read more than on the El, but is it because fewer people seem to have iPods or because they like to read? Does it all mean Americans are dumb and illiterate while Brits are thoughtful and deep? And while I certainly doubt that to be true, there are too many nuances to be truly understood on the blogging timeline.
I’ve seen fellow American study abroaders make snap judgments that seemed patently wrong and/or close-minded to me and I’m sure I have similar thoughts, but I don’t want to share those ideas or whims because travel and culture are difficult to understand. It’s called culture shock not because you are having rational and coherent thoughts but because, like having a near panic attack in front of the mummies at the British Museum (true story), they are impulsive and irrational. Even though Brendan Fraser made movies about villainous mummies, I know beef jerky can’t come alive. It was just an inexplicable gut reaction and those sort of reactions aren’t illuminating to anyone. I don’t want to portray London as something it isn’t because of one good or bad experience.
The best stories about travel are always written years after the actual event because even if it sounds like a stream of consciousness, it isn’t whatever pops into the author’s head one sunny afternoon. Jack Kerouac’s On the Road took years and many drafts to complete. The trip, dated in the novel to begin in 1947, wasn’t completed until 1951 and published until 1957. Not that I’m comparing myself to Kerouac, but there’s real difficulty in writing about a new experience that has to be aged.
For the time being, I am proud to report a few fun facts about London food — there is also fried chicken everywhere, especially in heavily Islamic areas (like Mile End where I’m currently situated) because it’s halal. I saw a Bansky today but Time Out London’s Student Guide tells me there are far better street artists in London. So there you go. Neat.