Pictures and memories continue to come to mind from a recent trip to London. Important tourist and historical destinations were on the agenda my daughter planned, as well as shopping. I quickly realized shopping was a priority, however, as she’d toured many museums and historical places the previous summer on a school trip. I thought we should particularly notice and talk about the cultural differences of shopping in Europe to get full value from our trip.
A walk through London’s department stores such as Harrods, Harvey Nichols, and Selfridge’s showed us how important hats are to English ladies. Stocking caps, ball caps, sun visors, and straw hats found in the U.S. are fun, but can’t compare to the exquisite detail of feathers and veils attached to the finest felt and silk-in every color! We were politely reminded not to try on the hats without proper assistance. The temptation to buy one was great, but I wasn’t sure how many occasions I would have to wear one.
Food courts found in each of those department stores captivated my attention. I studied the artful displays behind the counter while listening to Londoners select their main courses for the evening. U.S. grocery stores are good, but the presentation of the deli items found at the English food courts are phenomenal. Not being able to prepare a meal at our hotel, we opted for one of the many cafes found in each department store. The sushi bar was fascinating, as plates of food on little conveyor belts rolled past us. People-watching, while enjoying traditional fish and chips, proved entertaining as well.
While a Starbucks coffee shop could be found on almost every corner-for the tourists and foreigners, I suppose-tea is still preferred by most English people. We did enjoy High Tea one afternoon, complete with cucumber and salmon sandwiches, scones, delicate pastries, and an endless pot of tea. Tea at 5 p.m., with dinner at 9 p.m., seemed a bit excessive to me, but it was worth the experience once.
A trip to Covent Garden and Portobello Road allowed us to bargain a bit with street vendors. We did select a few one-of-a kind treasures, but I’m not sure who got the bargain. An elderly English man posed for a photo with us, as I selected a framed print-my souvenir of choice when traveling. I smile when looking at the photo, remembering our pleasant conversation, his meticulous wrapping of the print for travel home, and his obvious delight that we were having fun.
A trip to Windsor and tour through Windsor Castle will always be a special memory. We watched from the front row for at least 30 minutes at the changing of the guards. Several photos later, we toured the castle. Later that evening, Prince Charles would host a fundraiser for the London Philharmonic. We were fascinated by the florists who were decorating the royal gold pieces for the event, and others who were setting up the stage, chairs, and tables. A chat with the guard told us it was, indeed, a special day as the gold is rarely brought out for public viewing. We pleaded that our invitation must have been lost in the mail, and with a smile, he proudly welcomed us to England.
Mind the gap! That was just one of the phrases my daughter and I learned to appreciate. The "gap," of course, referring to the space between the London Underground train and the platform. But we applied the term in our conversation to a variety of situations. We chuckled to ourselves many times at the "politeness" of the English people.
Upon return, I wondered how visitors view our city for the first time. Whether here for a concert, convention, sports or recreational event, shopping, dining, golfing, or just a stop along the way, visitors are watching us as we go about our everyday lives and forming an opinion of the culture of Peoria. Mind the gap! AA!