Greetings from London, dear friends!!
I couldn’t think of a more wonderful start to my year than a visit to my most favorite place. I just love it here so much… the history, the people, the tea. I spent 6 months studying here at The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art my senior year of college and ever since that experience I have always known that I would live here on a more permanent basis one day. But for now short little trips like these have to suffice. My father had some business here in London, which coincided with the 50th Birthday celebration of a dear family friend, so for Christmas my parents surprised me with a ticket to join them. As you can imagine I was the HAPPIEST of clams. I’ve taken in a play on The West End, visited the Victoria and Albert Museum, lunched at Harrods, and drunk my weight in tea but I still don’t feel quite ready to leave tomorrow afternoon.
Now I love being American. I am a patriot and I am proud to live in the land of the free and the home of the brave, stars and stripes and all that jazz. But I must say… after spending any amount of time across the pond in The United Kingdom, whether it be 6 months or 6 days, upon returning home to The States I suddenly can’t help but feel like everything we do in The U.S. of A is terribly, terribly wrong. Subpar. A Chipotle Burrito Bowl without the guacamole. I can’t help but want to say:
America… Bless your heart.
You try really, really hard, I know you do, but you remind me of a gangly younger brother after just hitting his growth spurt. You might now be bigger than your older sister England, but you’re still younger. I’m currently reading “Drums of Autumn” – the 4th book in the Outlander series – and an American character is quoted as saying the following to a Scot about the difference between Americans and Scots:
“The English think that 100 miles is a long distance while Americans think that 100 years is a long time”.
But age is not the only way you fall behind, America. Oh no… Here are three more areas in which you just don’t quite match up.
It’s not that you can’t buy tea in America… because you can. They even sell Twinings here now, which is truly a godsend. But tea as an institution is terribly absent. In London you can walk into a café and order a tea and without a second thought they will ask “cream and sugar?”. It’s normal. Then there is Afternoon Tea – a kind of pre-dinner meal that includes a pot of tea, light sandwiches, and a scone to get you through the late afternoon slump. And it’s taken every day! This was a marvel to us American students at RADA. We could be in the middle of a rehearsal, working on the most dramatic of scenes, but as soon as it was 5pm our director would stop us and say, “Alright everyone, let’s break for tea”. Yes, you heard me right. At 5pm, we stopped our work and broke for tea. Instead of the fast and furious 10 minute breaks we are given in rehearsals for American productions in which you were lucky to use the restroom and scarf down a snack, we would get a full 30-45 minutes for a tea break each afternoon. Now I know you might be thinking what a waste of time that is, or wondering wouldn’t we have rather just worked through and gotten out early… but that wasn’t the case at all. Our work was actually better because of the tea breaks. Instead of feeling tired and loopy in those final hours of rehearsal we were alert, focused, and got so much more done. And this applies to all lines of employment! We tried to implement a tea break into our schedules when we got back to the states but it’s so much harder to do so here. Time is at such a premium in The States, and everything moves so quickly, but I can’t help but think how much better things would work in The States if people had more tea in their lives.
Traveling in the UK and Europe is made so easy – not to mention affordable. When I was studying abroad, I spent my fall break in Italy. My flight to Venice from London was 20 pounds, and then after training all over Italy for next to nothing, my flight back to London from Rome was 35 pounds. Converted into American dollars my total travel expenses were less than $100. Take a minute to digest that. I pay $400 round trip to go home to Mississippi for Christmas. The same deals apply for trips to Amsterdam, Germany, Prague… it’s incredible. And if you’re not of a mind to fly, Eurotstar and Eurail are incredibly easy and go everywhere. And it’s not just traveling abroad that is superior! The Tube in London is SO MUCH CLEANER than our Subway system here in New York. And forget public transit in LA – it’s a basically non-existent nightmare!! The map of The Tube is a little hard to figure out because London isn’t on a grid system like New York is, but once you work it out it is infinitely more efficient.
3) Judi Dench
I know America has Meryl… who is truly stunning and beloved by our President… but America doesn’t have Dame Judi Dench, goddess divine and sparkling jewel in the crown of The United Kingdom. I was having lunch at Selfridges today in their lovely restaurant off the womenswear floor, and upon entering I was suddenly blinded by a bright beacon of light and hope. There was Judi Dench, head to toe in winter white as only she could be, sipping champagne and eating a salad with more grace and dignity that I have achieved in my entire now seemingly insufficient existence on this earth. She is everything. We are mere mortals being allowed to share her space. My life was all the more meaningful after simply sitting across a restaurant from her, so I can only imagine that a day in the life of a British citizen is made exponentially richer just knowing that somewhere close by, Judi Dench is living, breathing, and probably eating an ice cream. We can’t say the same in The States, making quality of life just that much more subpar.
I could go on but I’m afraid if I do the US government won’t let me back in the country tomorrow night. This blog will pop up on their “anti-patriot” meter and there will be someone waiting to escort me off my plane at JFK to a windowless room until I take it all back. I suppose I could be convinced to take back what I said about tea and travel inferiority… but they could never make me recant on Judi Dench. She has my heart and my unwavering loyalty.
‘Till next time London… I miss you already.
America… I’ll see you tomorrow. I’ll be the one with a slightly melancholy disposition and a duffle full of tea.
With Grace and Good Humor,