This trip to London and Oxford promises to be most exciting. I have been in the Heathrow Airport . . . but that is my only experience in England. I have visited Scotland twice, so my time on the Island of Great Britain has trended toward the North. But this time I will experience all that London, Oxford, and the Southern region has to offer. Additionally, I look forward to immersing myself in this new place. Like many who have never been, my main references to London and England are from Harry Potter, Poldark or Downton Abbey; it will be positive and foundational to ground my understanding much more in reality.
Let’s take sport. I know more about Quidditch than I do about football, or as it is called here in America, soccer. My children both play soccer, and it is a joy to view when played well, however I do not understand basic plays, strategy, or vision, much further than “don’t use your hands.” Interestingly enough a sport popular in Great Britain that I would love to learn more about is polo. A regular polo match recently began being played weekly just minutes from where I live and I plan on seeing a few matches this summer. Much unlike soccer though, where the equipment for someone to start is only a ball and a few friends, polo is “known as a king’s sport or for those with money to burn, and the elite as it costs an arm and a leg to own and maintain polo ponies.” Many here in Westchester County have the cash to burn and so this local game promises to at least be fun to watch. Perhaps it will at least provide me the “prospect of rubbing shoulders with the rich and famous.” Hello Prince Harry!
Let’s take fashion. A huge Downton Abbey fan (when the traveling exhibition was here I was able to actually stand in the service kitchen!) I am more familiar with what Matthew, or even Mr. Bates, wears than what is fashionable in London. However, it appears that not only is Scottish Tartan a popular choice, but so too is the creation of one’s own fashion sense. “Since the 1970’s the emphasis has been on individuality rather than prescribed fashion dictates.” And this clearly meshes well with, “fashion is pretty much an important priority among most . . . though there is a marked absence of that ‘total, pulled together’ look.” For this soon to be visitor, thank goodness!
And finally, conversation. I heard a wonderful interview on NPR recently with the actor Damian Lewis. He is a Brit and had a great time discussing the technical way he has to move his mouth to achieve an American accent. Apparently it involves intentionally raising his tongue for most of his dialogue. Luckily for me, in both his birth dialect, and his American accent, I understand Damian Lewis. Alas, after two seasons of Poldark, there are still many characters whose accents I just can’t follow. Of course, there are numerous Americans whose accents I don’t understand either, and I do look forward to having the phrase “would you speak slowly sir, I cannot understand you” in my back pocket for when I absolutely need further assistance.
The history, the influence, and the legacy of both London and Oxford are incredibly rich. I look most forward to exploring both of these places with all of you.
 Terry Tan, Culture Shock! A Survival Guide to Customs and Etiquette Great Britain (Tarrytown, NY: Marshall Cavendish, 2008), 207.
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