Reading Culture Shock! London and Culture Shock! Great Britain is both informative and intriguing as one preparing to adventure to England in the fall. Reading about what to do and not do, the layout of London, the vast differences of the people, and how to go beyond a tourist perspective are all helpful in understanding the journey we are about to undertake.
Of course, reading the texts, one wants more than outdated comics. Maps of the city and charts revealing demographics would be helpful to visualize the content. With neither being the case, readers such as myself rely on the British movies and TV shows such as Harry Potter, Downton Abby, The Crown, the Great British Bake Off, and Love Actually among many others to paint a picture of the life and culture. These shows give enlightening, while sometimes fictional, insight into the realities of the politeness, language, and class system of England.
In particular the insight around class in both books stood made me curious. While Culture Shock! Great Britain played down the classes and described it as antiquated, it seemed much more realistic in Culture Shock! London that the class system is a valid aspect of the identity of those who at least live in London. “Class is the index that Britons use to establish how they fit in, and how others fit into their society. In other words, it is a significant component of most British people’s identity.” It is obvious from both texts that a minimum of three classes exists, including the working class, the middle class, and the upper class and aristocracy. The largest classes are working and middle but regardless of where one is situated, most people do not marry or associate outside of their own class. This has much to do with comfortability and privacy.
With there being more than two hundred different languages spoken in London and one-quarter non-English residents, it is of interest how class breaks down for those who are new and non-native to Briton. Do all foreigners get lumped into working class? How do people move from one class to another? Is it possible to marry or associate beyond your own class without being isolated from those within your group?
Even more interestingly to me are questions of how the class system effects the church. Do churches reach only one particular class? Are people willing to come together outside their class in the Protestant church in England? How is evangelism done? I recognize these questions are many but I also wonder if becoming curious about other regions of the world will help to inform one’s perspective on home to be able to have new eyes and curiosity.
In the United States it seems at first glance there are just people, who are free and not class bound. However, just as churches tend to be segregated racially, they seem to be tailored more generally to middle class communities. Even Wesleyan churches, which have a heritage of reaching out to the most marginalized in a community, are looking toward financially viable models that extend themselves to those who can give toward a pastoral staff that focuses on caring for the needs of most middle-class families.
Let’s be clear about class. There is nothing wrong with being in a particular situation in life. What comes as a condemnation, at least from an American Christian perspective, is the inability to be valued as important or worthy of dignity by others, often from a higher class than one’s own. This same truth can be transferred to those of color or gender differences. Classes have to do much more with economic status and education though there tends to be racial and gender divides that follow with many class distinctions in both America and Great Britain.
One quote from Culture Shock! London recognizes the variance of London in attempting to stereotype a whole city of people; “who a real Londoner is—what makes him or her tick. The reason for this is there is no such thing. London is too big, too diverse and too transient a place for any grand, unifying values to take root and prosper.” While muddied in the cities, class, ethnic and gender distinctions are much more distinct in suburban and rural cultures. Both texts reveal that there are characteristics fitting of all people in Great Britain but there are more defining aspects of those in London, whether as more diverse or more hurried, than to the greater area of the country.
The work of diversifying a community can be good, negative or neutral. Within the church, where there is much less diversity, there is a need for outreach to different people groups. I am looking forward to learning from Dr. Clark and an entire community of people from London to Oxford (and hopefully many people in between, including our LGP students and advisors) on how to politely and appropriately see the gospel bring good news across historical, geographical, and even political barriers.
Onward to England…glad we got an invitation!
 Hargraves, Orin. CultureShock! London . Marshall Cavendish Corporation. Kindle Edition. (Location 891)
 Hargraves, Orin. CultureShock! London . Marshall Cavendish Corporation. Kindle Edition. (Location 971)