Thursday, January 19, 2012

"It's all London, baby!" part 2

The People and the Language

In London, there are lots of people. This might sound silly, and you might say 'Oh yeah, I know there are 12 million inhabitants there'. Finns and people from other small countries: yes, you may know that as a fact but it is difficult to understand it if you haven't been to a big city before. It the same as not being quite able to grasp the size of London: you cannot quite grasp the amount of people everywhere. The feeling is rather claustrophobic when you try to walk down Oxford Street at any time of the day (there are tourists who sometimes park themselves in the middle of the street) or when you try to board the tube in rush hour. Sometimes I just get this overwhelming feeling sometimes of not being able to understand where all these people come from!

It is bewildering for a Finnish girl who comes from a very white surburb of Helsinki to be thrown into somewhere as multicultural as London. In my primary school in Finland I think we had maybe two Asian children and they both were adopted so no foreign children at all despite there being about 600 pupils. It was not that I was racist or that I did not want to make friends with people from different ethnic backgrounds; it was much more about not being used to people looking so different. I have gotten over that now, of course.

The Tower of London
In London everyone always seems busy. It gets worse the further into the city you get. However, the politeness that is very alien to Finnish people still remains. For instance, saying "Sorry" when you bump into someone regardless of whether it was your fault or not (generally you find an English person apologising for you stepping on their foot by accident). Another key rule is that you do not speak to anyone unless you have to or if you have something common to moan about. Say the bus is late or the train you are supposed to catch has been cancelled. That's when you are allowed to make a remark out loud and you will have people agreeing with you. On occasion it is acceptable to applaud and cheer to the bus driver as a group with the other passengers if you are on the bus and there has been a minor problem with the vehicle but the bus driver has managed to fix it. However, generally Londoners like their private, individual space. That said, if you are a tourist, you are exempted from this rule. Londoners are generally happy to help out tourists and because of the tradition of small-talk and because of the advantage the Londoner has with English being their native language, they probably come up with more to say to the tourist than vice versa.

To those people who do not think they are good enough at English: trust me, whoever you speak to, you are unlikely to be the least competent English speaker they have met. The English are not known for their skills in foreign languages so they are generally impressed with foreigners who make an attempt to speak English. You might even get an apology from them for only knowing their native tongue. I always found the general spoken English in London very comprehensible so that was at least helpful. Although obviously, London being the capital, it attracts people from all over the country so you may well come across accents that are a bit more challenging mainly if you are not used to them (e.g. those from the northern parts of England and from Scotland).

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