Thursday, 26 November 2009

Dour Londoners..

Let me start this by saying that I really do like London. I've lived here for quite a few years now and it is the only other city apart from Lagos that I look upon as 'home'. But..

Visiting London as a tourist was exciting. I'm sure it still is exciting for the thousands of tourists who clog up the streets during the summer months, seemingly under the impression that everybody they see around them is a tourist too just like they are. It was with this same excitement that I arrived in London years ago when I came to live here. But I was not a tourist this time, and it didn't take long for me to realise that not everyone I saw was as excited as I was.

It was in the spring and the flowers were in bloom. The air was crisp, and being fresh from dusty Lagos I thought the air smelt sweet. Then there was the fact that it seemed as if there was a giant air conditioner cooling the whole city. It was my first morning, a Saturday. And when I stepped out unto the street I was very excited. However, it struck me that the pavement was empty although it was obvious that every house on this street had occupants, since on each side of the road was a row of cars parked tightly together. So I was relieved to see that in the distance walking towards me was the figure of a man, although it was as yet impossible to make out the details of his appearance. Anyway, there was someone out here and I wasn't alone, so I quickened my step, walking towards this person who by now I saw was an older man with the olive skin of the people from the Mediterranean. I fixed my gaze on him, smiling, with the expectation that I would greet him as we approached each other. He was looking straight ahead, walking slowly, as of someone completely lost in thought. As we drew closer I could see that he was not looking at me at all, in fact it was as if he did not even notice that there was a person on the same pavement as he was.

My conditioning having lived most of my life until then in the congenial social conditions of African society, caused me to walk up to him and say the most pleasant "Good morning.." that I could muster, a broad smile on my face. The reaction I got was startling. First of all, it was as if he wasn't sure if I had said something to him. He turned his head towards me and when he was no longer in doubt that I had in fact spoken to him, the uncertain expression on his face changed to surprise. He was a much older man and in my culture one must always defer to the elders. So I greeted him again, bowing my head a little this time. Looking up at him, I saw that what was surprise had now changed to shock and then alarm. Then finally he looked at me in the the way you would regard an insect that suddenly appeared on your living room wall, saying not a word to me. His step had faltered only momentarily, and he just carried on walking as if I did not even exist. I slunk away, hurt and slightly confused..

Looking back now, I have tried to imagine what might have been going on in his mind at that moment. Probably those stories he'd read in the papers about knife-wielding black youths who rob elderly ladies in the street. It took this experience for me to learn that in London, you did not just walk up to random strangers and say hello. It seems to me that having been here all these years, I too have acquired a certain frostiness and become a bit like the Londoners who were here before me. I'm no longer as warm and amiable as I used to be.

I was out today doing my rounds from office to court and back and I made a conscious decision to make a note each time I saw someone smile. London is a very overcrowded city, thus you're guaranteed to encounter hundreds, even thousands of people in the City on a weekday. Of the very many people I saw, not one single one of them was smiling. I have heard people comment on how unfriendly London can be, and I regret to say that I will have to concur. The British famously refer to their aloofness as 'the British reserve', and they have set the tone for the rest of us who come here to join them. People hardly even talk to each other and the result is that understanding between individuals and communities is thwarted.

16 comments:

Akin said...

Hello Anengiyefa,

I wonder if that was one of the reasons I left London.

Here in the Netherlands, people do tend to greet each other more, especially if you enter a place, the person entering always mouths a greeting to strangers and foe alike.

I hope your observation does not stop you from keeping a smiling disposition anyhow.

Regards,

Akin

Anengiyefa said...

Hello Akin, welcome. It seems that the only people in London who are not dour faced, aside from the annoying tourists who stroll casually through the underground when you're trying to rush from one place to another, are the badly behaved boisterous teens, who while still in their school uniforms jump on the buses, screaming raucously at each other in a quite unintelligible language they call 'street', causing the already miserable adults to become even more dour faced.

Then there are the Africans who seem to think that because the person they are talking to on the phone is not within earshot, they must shout into the phone in order to be heard. People take glances at this African person and shift uncomfortably in their seats, while the African person carries on, quite oblivious of the effect he's having on those around him, sometimes even roaring loudly with laughter, much to my amusement as I observe the reaction of those in the vicinity. :)

d44 mpule said...

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laBiscuitnapper said...

I always find that Londonders can be surprisingly friendly if you manage to break the ice. I used to work as a leaflet distributor, and would always be surprised by the way even the sternest facedbusiness man would be willing to talk with you if you smiled hard enough. But yes, it's breaking through the ice that's the difficult part. It's one of the things I like about Manchester - everyone is willing to stop and smile (they even say thank yout o bus drivers! How amazing is that?).

Oh and it's 'mmoa' from lj btw. I am curious how you managed to find my post, actually...

Anengiyefa said...

Hi LaBiscuitnapper, I surely wasn't going to mistake you for anyone else, lol. Absolutely wonderful to have you on here. I asked for one comment and I got a deluge, lol.

How did I find your post? Hmm, lets just say I did some track back, tracing one of my visitors who had clicked on that link on your post. Hope that makes sense, eh?

Hey, thanks so much. I really do appreciate the comments and please do visit often. Mwah!

laBiscuitnapper said...

Wooow... small world. Maybe I should get to recommending some other blogs. I had no idea people paid any attention to my rantings - I always assumed it was a sure thing they wouldn't click on a link if I posted one!

Anengiyefa said...

Well, don't underestimate the power of beautiful writing.. People do click on these links. Btw, I too wanted to know how you discovered my poor little blog..

laBiscuitnapper said...

Well, tbh one of my lj friends recced you a while back, but I somehow forgot to follow your blog and ended up rediscovering it via a post on http://revjhp.blogspot.com about the current situation in Uganda and the Church's [lack of] action about Gay Rights.

And, further on the topic of dour londoners, maybe we should get a movement going. I'm a fan of Asia Alfasi - www.asiaalfasi.com - who tried to start a thing where she'd leave sweets on the tube (unfortunately her wearing a hijab meant everyone probably thought it was laced with anthrax...). On a happier note, the first englishman my mum said hello to when she moved is now her best friend - and even apologised for being so rude to her when she first greeted him! See, there's some sweetness inside them after all.

...

Deep, deep inside them, of course...

Anengiyefa said...

ROFL at "laced with anthrax", lol. That will be the day! I can imagine the expressions on the faces of Londoners on the tube in the early morning rush hour, being offered sweets by a masked and hooded woman. I cant laugh hard enough, lol.

Btw, I tried to find that blog you pointed me to and this is the message I got.

"Blog not found
Sorry, the blog you were looking for does not exist. However, the name revjhp is available to register!" :)

Yes I'm aware that deep down the English can make very good friends. But lets just keep that at "some English". The BNP's Mr Griffin is English too you see...

laBiscuitnapper said...

lol - sorry, it's revjph, not revjhp.

And I know what you mean. It's not even the Griffins' I'm worried about so much as the people who think he has a 'legitimate' viewpoint who are worryingly large in number...

Anengiyefa said...

Millions, at the last EU Parliament election..

Anonymous said...

I've been in London for just a couple of days but I have found them to be quite pleasant. Most of them tend to mind their business unless they are spoken to. I'll pick them over the Yankees any day. And it doesn't hurt that the accent makes everyone seem so intelligent- except for a very bad Welsh version that I heard in Central London today. lol

Donald

Anengiyefa said...

Lol, not sure I'm entirely in agreement with you about "everyone seems so intelligent" though. It took a while after I arrived here to be able to understand what was being said whenever the working class common London accent was used, especially the cockney accent.. I used to think I spoke their own language better than they did..

laBiscuitnapper said...

Sssh! Don't spoil it! Let him think we're all super smart if he wants to!

Anengiyefa said...

Lol, how wonderful is that! And to think that I was on your blog just a minute ago..

How are you doing? Its been a while :)

laBiscuitnapper said...

Haha! Gotta love those coincidences.

I'm doing okay now, but studies have taken (and still are taking) a lot of time and what with me being so easily distracted/lazy I don't keep up with my blogs nearly as much as I used to. Trying to rectify that, but we'll see how it goes.

Good to know you're doing alright, though!