The stoic guardsman outside Buckingham Palace.
The picturesque double-decker tourist buses.
The red tele booths that beckon new callers.
It’s all a bit romantic, and quite unrealistic, really. Of course, the media is going to fluff everything up a bit, and paint a picture of a scene quite different from reality. But what it misses out on is the real heart of London — the people.
There’s the friendly university student interested in world cultures. The aspiring businessman on the tube in his trench coat. The two Brits at the pub having a laugh. And the homeless man that roams the street, looking for a little conversation as much as anything else.
Riding on the Tube in London, you quickly realize that people don’t really talk to one another. They read. They check Emails. But talk? Especially not to strangers.
Yet my first Tube ride I struck a conversation with a friendly businessman who was off to an interview at a big firm. He asked me about America and was interested in what I was doing in London, what my impressions were. It may have been a quick one, but he offered his full attention and courtesy.
On my second Tube ride, I began scribbling down some notes about the culture and the people. A young black woman eyed over my shoulder, and when I got off to tour Hyde Park, she followed me off and started to pick my brain about culture.
“What do you think about London? Are there any good books you would recommend?”
The eager learner and avid reader, she was fascinated by all things that make the world go round. We began talking about religion and spirituality — typically somewhat taboo in London — and she really opened up.
“You know, I don’t really know what I believe. There’s so much out there, I really want to learn more.”
Then, there were the two Brits at the pub who openly invited me into their conversation. We talked of football, culture, jobs, religion. It felt like good friends having open conversation about life!
Heck, they even offered to buy me a drink!
And lastly, the homeless men that roam the streets, who are not so much begging for money as they were begging for attention, for someone, not something. I stopped a few times to give some money and have a conversation. They were very open and seemed absolutely blessed by our small one-minute conversation and the occasional prayer or “God Bless”. Their eyes perked up and a smile cracked across their worn lips, “Well thanks mate, you too!”
The culture may be vastly different, but the same principles of humanity apply. People want to be noticed, cared for, appreciated, loved.
That’s the beauty of London that I’ve seen. It far surpasses the Gothic towers, the immaculate bridges and the spacious parks. It’s the kind of beauty that a camera can’t capture, because it’s living.