Letter From… University College London

Bernot, Kate

Sitting in this little coffee shop on a Saturday afternoon, I can hardly recognize where I’m living. The waiters all speak Italian, the woman next to me is reading a book in Spanish and carrying a bag labeled “BRUGES,” and the couple across from me is speaking in rapid French. I thought that I was coming to an English-speaking country! What I did not realize before coming to London was that a third of the people living in this city of 7.5 million were not even born in the United Kingdom. I watched a movie with some friends the other night and realized that there were only two Englishmen in the room. There was also a South African, a Zimbabwean, a Bangladeshi, a German, and a Dane. It seems that everyone living here claims to be a “Londoner,” a title that I originally thought was unthinkable to claim for myself.When I first arrived I knew I stuck out like a sore thumb. In the midst of men in skinny jeans and women in berets, my Birkenstocks and Patagonia made me feel as if I was walking around town in a clown costume. They are used to tourists here, so I knew people wouldn’t even give me a second look. However, even as I began to get more comfortable in the city, I still felt like I was wearing a tattoo on my forehead that said “AMERICAN.”What I did not fully realize until recently is how London has changed me. A friend from the States came to visit me just before I came back to Chicago for my winter break. While I was giving her a tour around town, she commented, “Slow down, turbo-walker! Where’s the fire?” Living in the middle of a big city has given me a bit more of an edge, a quicker pace. I automatically clutch my bag to my side when in a crowd and get a look on my face as if to say, ” Don’t even try.” My accent is still funny, I still long for a Chicago-style hotdog, and I still miss Lake Michigan. But am I well on my way to becoming a Londoner? How much time does it actually take?There are some things that I will never get used to in this city. For instance, I still loathe the floppy bacon, the ridiculous bureaucracy for something as simple as getting a reading pass from the British Library, and the near-constant cover of clouds. However, I know that when I leave this city after living here for nine months I’m going to miss the look of the Thames at night, the double-decker buses through Piccadilly Circus, my favorite curries from Brick Lane, the pub down the street with green carpet and the wooden bar. This city has changed me, whether I like it or not. I walk faster, my style has changed and I am much more eager to explore something new. Perhaps, come June, I can finally call myself a “Londoner.”