My First Trip to London as an American Student

From the time I was eight, I loved everything English and couldn’t wait to travel to the United Kingdom. My first trip to London didn’t come until August, 1975, when, as a college student, I traveled there after a month of studying in France. I had the good fortune of staying for five days at the flat [British for “apartment”] of a professor from my college and his family, who were on a research term abroad. The flat was in Pimlico, an affluent London neighborhood. And my other good fortune was to have made many English friends while studying previously in France. When I was there, I had locals to show me around.

My friends showed me the usual tourist sites — Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, Picadilly Circus, Carnaby Street, and Trafalgar Square. Seeing these historic buildings in person was a big thrill. We also went for typical tea and scones and, of course, fish and chips. We took buses and the London Underground, also known as “The Tube”. Of course I compared the efficient and clean Underground to the New York City subway, which, in 1975, was dangerous, noisy, and dirty. Passengers in London seemed so polite. Even during the busiest and most crowded times, there was no pushing or shoving. Londoners form an orderly “queue” [line] for everything.

Once I saw most of the historic buildings and the area around the Thames River, two of my friends invited me to dinner at their family homes. This was special because I got to see family life in London, and eat home-cooked meals. And after dinner we went for ale at their own favorite pubs. The neighborhood pub is an institution. It is like our American sports bar. The cricket or football [“soccer” in America] match is always on the “telly” and usually the neighborhood comes to watch together and socialize. The pub patrons and “barkeeps” are like an extended family.

As it turned out, I was to return to London and travel all through Great Britain about a dozen times over the next twenty years after that first trip. London remains a wonderful city to visit. English food, once bland and fried, has really changed. London now has world-class restaurants serving cuisine from every world culture, cooked by internationally-renowned chefs. It is one of the most cosmopolitan and cultured cities, with great museums, affordable theater, and beautiful gardens and parks. And the people speak English, although a glossary of differences in vocabulary, is helpful.

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