Reading our text, CultureShock! A Survival Guide to Customs and Etiquette: London, this week brought fond memories of the time my wife and I were in London almost six years ago. It was a very special occasion because a good friend who was completing his D.Phil. at Oxford at the time invited my wife and I to a small intimate retreat he had organized for a few friends in the Cotswolds. Our special guest and mentor for that weekend retreat was Os Guinness, one of the most influential Evangelical leaders of our day.
Needless to say, it was an incredible time of fellowship and deep learning. I blame Os for igniting my passions to continue my studies and further my education. He is responsible for opening my mind’s eye to look afresh at Christianity’s transforming influence in the world, especially in the West and the work required to preserve it. One could only imagine my sheer delight when I got the chance to drink a pint of Guinness with Guinness (Os is the great-great-great grandson of the Dublin brewer, Arthur Guinness) in one of the local pubs1 at Oxford.
One of the first things I like doing when I enter a new country is observe and simply take in the culture. Traveling to London was no exception. I rarely take public transportation now-a-days (that’s a cultural statement since public transportation is almost non-existent in Southern California), but my wife and I decided to soak in as much London as we possibly can in the limited time we had, so we got our Oyster cards at Heathrow airport and headed for the Tube to make our way to the hotel with luggages in tow. We learned quickly that you don’t “get off” the train. No, you “alight” from it to your destination tube station. Before long we were zipping in and out of tube stations thanks to the city planner’s foresight to build one of the most efficient transportation infrastructures in the world, also known as the London Underground.
When we alighted on our station we started walking in the general direction of our hotel. We struggled to locate the street names for a moment until we realized they were affixed onto the outside walls of buildings, not on poles hoisted over intersections like they do here in the U.S.. That took awhile to get used to, not to mention the extra conscious effort it took to look to the right first before crossing streets.
Checking into the hotel gave us the opportunity to talk to a real “Londoner,” at least that’s what I expected. The people behind the desk were professional, courteous and friendly, not unlike what anyone would expect from people in the service industry. I don’t know why I had imagined a different experience. It was probably due to my linguistically-challenged ear. My close friends know I often joke around that I have a hard time understanding the British accent. But then there are times when it’s not too difficult. Thanks to Hargraves, he points out there are several kinds of British accents and each is tied to a social class. I was not aware of that until now. The kind folks at the counter most likely spoke RP2 (Received Pronunciation) which was rather quite3 uneventful in my memory.
As I’m writing this many other incredible memories have surfaced. Memories of strolling the banks of the Cherwell River, enjoying a drink at the Eagle and Child, sitting where C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien sat, perhaps sharpening each other’s literary chops; dining in Formal Hall at Oriel College, reading books in the library that predated the Reformation, etc. Good memories indeed.
1 Orin Hargraves, London: Cultureshock! A Survival Guide to Customs and Etiquette (Tarrytown, NY: Marshall Cavendish, 2010). Loc. 3516, Kindle.
2 Ibid., Loc. 3770, Kindle.
3 I managed to use the two words (“rather” and “quite”) Hargraves mentioned in his section titled “Death By Submodification.” I think I’ll fit right in.