A Southern Belle in Britain: Life Lessons in London

In 2007, I kissed my grits good-bye. My husband had received a job offer in Great Britain, and after giving this international upheaval careful consideration (possibly the longest 10 seconds of my life), we made a tearful decision to leave our home in the warm and sunny South. Cheerio, Atlanta. ‘Ello, London town!

Toto, we're not in Kansas anymore.

Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore.

Do you speak English?

Okay, so nobody in London actually says “Cheerio,” unless, perhaps, they’re asking for the breakfast cereal. And that’s just one of the linguistic surprises we’ve encountered.

Vocabulary quiz: Is this man wearing pants? (Yes, but NOT trousers). Is his outfit pants? (Debatable. I say it's fabulous).

Vocabulary quiz: Is this man wearing pants? (Yes, but NOT trousers). Is his outfit pants? (Debatable. I say it’s fabulous).

You might think we share the same tongue with our British brethren, but the first time you utter the words “fanny pack,” you will realize, to your shock and horror, that you are indeed VERY much mistaken. (Suffice it to say, a purse worn around the waist is called a “bum bag,” and let’s just leave it at that).

Except you should also know that pants are called trousers, underwear are called pants, and if something is deemed unsatisfactory, then it’s also called “pants” (pronounced with a sneering curl of the lip).

Presumably, when the elastic finally goes on the “pants” you’ve owned since the last millennium, they are “pants pants!” Confused? Me too.

Less is more

The British have honed the art of “small,” as you’ll notice the moment you take to the roads.

If you saw in the US, you would assume someone had stolen half the car.

If you saw in the US, you would assume someone had stolen half the car.

In America, we like our SUV’s to accommodate a king-sized bed and swimming pool, but when the price of a liter of gas equals the gross national product of a third world nation, you learn to bend those knees and elbows.

I recently saw a family of four unfold themselves from an electric car that made a golf cart look like a Humvee, and they weren’t even wearing red rubber noses and clown shoes.

Also, instead of owning an entire home, you’re more likely to rent a single floor of a townhouse in London.

In our case, this meant that in our first London flat, our giant nude painting, which seemed utterly discreet at the top of the stairs in our suburban Atlanta home, hung just inside our front door, greeting guests in all her lewd, life-sized glory. It was like the welcoming committee at the Playboy Mansion…albeit a Barbie Bunny-sized “mansion” of 600-square-feet.

Infamous painting on the right

Infamous painting on the right in our first flat.

On the plus side, if something needed fixing, it was never difficult to get the workmen to stick around until the job was done. It was getting them to leave (never without a wistful glance at the painting) that was tricky.

Living Large

While the size of our home decreased substantially (and I really can’t complain about having two fewer toilets to scrub), our universe has increased exponentially.

In London, the parks and pubs are your lawn and living room.

Regents Park picnickers_3796

Regents Park on a sunny spring afternoon.

On a sunny Saturday, the entire populace will be practically stripped down to their “pants” on the grass in the public parks.

And no one reads the Sunday paper at home. It’s best to linger over the pages with a pint at your “local” (i.e. a pub within crawling distance of your front door) or with a cappuccino at one of the coffee bars that have sprung up—like mushrooms in a field, or Waffle Houses in the South—on every city block.

Global Gastronomy

In fact, we’ve discovered a Waffle House right here in London, although, with its menu of bagels and brie, this isn’t the Waffle House y’all know and…well, love may not be the word.

While we still haven’t found anyplace that serves 103 varieties of hash browns scattered, smothered, and covered, in our multi-cultural neighborhood we can dine on Turkish, Lebanese, Ethiopian, North African, Austrian, Indian, Japanese, and yep, even Mexican fare within a 20 minute walk from our flat.

Alice's antique shop, Portobello Road

Alice’s antique shop, Portobello Road

Royal Procession

Speaking of walks, my daily goal used to be a brisk stroll to a stop sign near our neighborhood golf course. But when we moved to London’s Notting Hill, I could step out my door and into Portobello Road’s famous market, where I scouted everything from ancient Egyptian artifacts to the sweetest apples I’ve ever tasted. Instead of a stop sign, my goal was the gates of Kensington Palace.

Crimes of Fashion

Princess Diana, who once occupied that palace, remains one of England’s icons of couture. She developed her own elegant, exuberant style, but with London fashion, anything goes.

Closets are tiny, so if you only own ten items, you’ve got to combine them in as many ways as possible. A Pucci geometric print dress with gold sequined ballerina flats and pink fishnet stockings? Why not?fashion_0607 017

Doesn’t match? Doesn’t matter. In a throbbing metropolis of more than eight million people, you’re free to be whomever you please.

Personally, I’m thinking of trading in my tatty old t-shirt and shorts for some royal workout gear. So if you see a girl strutting around London’s parks in ermine-trimmed sweatpants, with jeweled scepters instead of hand weights and a rhinestone tiara crowning an Atlanta Braves baseball cap, y’all be sure and say hey!

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To read more about London’s eclectic and international culinary offerings, click on the links below:

Noshing in Notting Hill http://amylaughinghouse.com/?p=1552

The Attendant http://amylaughinghouse.com/?p=1268

Lanes of London http://amylaughinghouse.com/?p=1030

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