Being from Southern California, I’m used to smiling. I smile at my 65-year old neighbor walking her dog, the young store clerk as he hurriedly puts my groceries in my bag and just about anyone I encounter on my daily routine. I thought smiling was a widely accepted gesture in all parts of the world—I was wrong.
Not even a day into my study abroad program in London, my preconceived notions were immediately shattered. Nobody smiles here. If you did try to smile, you would be greeted with scowling looks from the locals. And that’s exactly what happened to me on my first day in London.
“Everyone carried on with their mouths shut tighter than a three-year old being forced to eat his vegetables.”
After getting settled into my room, I decided to explore the city and travel by way of the Underground (the tube as it’s known in London). I had heard so many fantastic things about the Underground: it’s extremely efficient, it’s convenient and it’s great for the environment.
What I wasn’t told, was that everyone in this transportation system wants absolutely nothing to do with human connection whatsoever. People are rushing in and out faster than a drag racer intent on destroying the competition. There is no regard for anyone else. And that’s all before getting on the actual train. Once on the train, there is an immense awkwardness as everyone—and I mean everyone—tries to avoid any eye contact, much less smile.
When boarding the train, I tried to smile at the stern looking greeter (really not much of a greeter at all), but I didn’t even notice a hint of a tooth back at me. If he didn’t tell me to hurry up on the train, I wouldn’t have known he had any teeth. Feeling somewhat bothered and upset, I traveled with the same frown as everyone else.
Once out of the train, I met up with some of my classmates. We headed through Soho (a bustling area in London), and decided to grab a few drinks at a local pub. Surely, I thought, some people in this area would be smiling and looking happy. Nope. Everyone carried on with their mouths shut tighter than a three-year old being forced to eat his vegetables. Now my classmates and I had to conform to the ways of the Londoners.
During the middle of this day, I thought London wasn’t going as I had imagined it would. I’ve had to change something I deemed so normal from my everyday life.
Back home, my fiancé, my son and I joked and smiled just about every chance we got. I mean, smiling is basically my job with my son. If I’m not making a silly, goofy face trying to make him laugh, something is wrong. Moving away from this normal way of living hasn’t been easy.
So my first day finished in London not as I expected, but I woke up the next day with the spirit of a true San Diegan. I decided to visit the beautiful Natural History Museum and take a picture. A picture with me smiling.
Now a week into my program, I have acclimated fairly decently. I take lots of joy in the architecture, the history and the landmark locations.
I’ve learned that just because something is different than what I’m used to, it doesn’t make it wrong. The nature of a Londoner is to be more reserved and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. It’s just not the norm for me, so I find it difficult.
And so I still flash a small smile here and there in this gorgeous city, but I await the 21 days until I land back home and can give a warm, embracing smile to my family.
A smile that I don’t have to hold back.
Anthony Lince is a third year English major with an emphasis in teaching. He is traveling with the College of Extended Studies London Summer Program.