There were two things I was warned about before I arrived in London: that Londoners are at best reserved and distant, and at worst rude; and that the food in Britain is pretty awful.
I’ll start with the food. Granted, I live in Hampstead, where the absence of organic porridge on Tesco shelves is cause for serious outrage, but in my experience the food in London is consistently terrific. And not just in restaurants; since I’ve been in London for such a long time (three months), I got stuck in like a local and had most of my meals at home. Beautiful cheeses, organic everything, the best tomatoes I’ve ever put in my mouth (thanks, Isle of Wight), eggs with orange yolks, and the baking. THE BAKING. Britain knows how to do bread. I’ve had a bread revelation in London. I’m surrounded by bakeries, so it’s no problem to stop in for a walnut boule made with whole wheat flour ground on the premises. (I mentioned that I live in Hampstead already, didn’t i?) Pastries, tarts, cakes (and cakes, and more cakes). Scones actually make sense here once you put clotted cream and jam on them. It’s all fantastic. I’m led to understand that the British want the world to know that they’ve gone cosmopolitan with their food, and you can get all kinds of world cuisines in London. I’m confident that’s true. I mean, I’ve seen that. But you can’t turn your nose up at Wales’ Perl Wen or, well, anything from here. And I don’t say no to a cream tea.
I’m hoping British food is a glimpse into the future of food in Canada. I feel like we’re still stuck in the doldrums of cheap, voluminous, poor quality but fast and frozen, something Britain hopped into first and appears to be in the process of abandoning ahead of us. Possibly the European discomfort with GMOs is part of the story. I’m certainly going to miss easy, good quality, fresh ready meals. (Thanks, M&S!) For all the Canadians who told me the food in the UK would be terrible: my breakfast is so much better than yours. And my dinner tonight is going to involve a Yorkshire pudding. So there.
And about Londoners: I realize I’m foreign, and probably quite noticeably so, so my perspective may be a little skewed. Londoners seem very fond of Canadians, so on discovering that I’m Canadian, most of the Londoners I’ve met have been exceptionally kind and warm. The number of experiences I’ve had with Londoners being outrageously welcoming and generous are getting hard to keep track of. When I first arrived I came down with a nasty cold, so I may have looked a little glum while taking a walk on the heath one afternoon. A man very pleasantly stopped me to tell me he thought I looked lonely, and told me I should go down to the pub. (It wasn’t creepy at all! He was walking his dog, and he honestly looked concerned!) The other day tripped on a broken flagstone and ended up flat on my face, and two people rushed over to help me up and ask me if I was okay. And neither of them laughed at all! A week ago I was trying to get my bearings in Lambeth, south London, doing my usual thing taking every single turn off a roundabout except the right one, and a man stopped me, waited for me to take my earphones out, and then asked me where I was trying to go. Just today I was chatting with a woman walking up my road and she told me I must be so happy to be going home soon, and I said, “Well, it’s -12 in Toronto.” She said: “Oh no, you can’t go home, then! You can stay with me!” And I’ve reached the point with the fellow behind the bar at my local that when he sees me come in, he starts pouring samples of the latest real ales for me, and makes recommendations on the ones he thinks I’ll like best. This has been my experience in London: kind, kind people who seem to genuinely care how I’m doing and want me to be happy. No one warned me about this. No one told me Londoners were so easy to love!
I’ve also lost count of the number of Londoners who tell me how much they want to live in Canada. I’m not sure if this is just politeness, or the most obvious conversation to have, but they seem pretty earnest about it. I met a fellow in a full Pearly King outfit who was so earnest about hating London he actually seemed to feel sorry for me having to live amongst them. And I keep saying, I’ve rarely met nicer people. I’ve rarely been welcomed more warmly. Because that’s true.
I think I’m ready to go home now. Because it’s either go home, or this becomes home. It could, so easily. But I already have a home, and I’d better get back to it before I forget.
Two for two on warnings about London. That’s what I would tell myself, if I could whisper into my own the ear three months ago: the food is terrific, and the people are lovely. So much for your reputation, Londoners. I’m on to you.