– Truman Capps
How can I concisely describe my initial impressions of England without sounding like a total idiot?
England looks exactly like it does in all the movies made in England.
England is distinctly English, if you know what I mean.
Everything in England is different from everything in America – it’s like a whole ‘nother country over here!
God damn it…
Specifically, everything is smaller. The houses in England – even in Harrow, where I’m staying, a bedroom community that is more or less London’s equivalent of Beaverton – are far smaller than any I’ve seen on the West Coast. In many cases the houses are jammed wall to wall in a tight row, and few (if any) have front yards.
I feel pretty lucky, because my host family set aside two rooms for the American students; one spacious and open, and the other one slightly smaller than my walk in closet back in Portland. Because I showed up first, I got the larger room, forcing my housemate to live in a room that makes an elevator look huge and breezy.
Cars are also smaller across the board, because fuel is more expensive here and so car designs tend more toward fuel efficiency and less toward “just so you know, my dick can be seen from space” like they do in the United States. Cars are streamlined and compact. There are no trucks, and essentially no SUVs. Even the police drive the sort of cars you’d expect someone’s mom to drive, albeit with a pretty garish paintjob.
On the flip side, though, London itself is huge. The city’s official population is 8 million, but according to one of our professors, that grows to 12 million every day as people commute into the city for work. That’s 4 million people, which is more than the population of Oregon, flowing in and out of the city every day. That means that at noon on any given day, one out of five people in England are in London.
And unlike Los Angeles and the greater LA County area, which boasts a larger population but sports uniformly deserted streets, London actually feels like a huge city. The streets are thick with people – joggers, cyclists, businessmen, families, the elderly, dog walkers, tourists, and ever-ubiquitous maintenance workers (who all wear day-glo yellow reflector uniforms).
One thing London is short on is homeless people – I’ve traversed a fair amount of downtown over the past couple of days, and so far I’ve only seen one bum slumped against a building. Compare this to Los Angeles, where bums are often the only people who aren’t driving, or Portland, where in Old Town I’ve had rival bums fight one another for the right to panhandle me, or Eugene, which Matt Groening once described (speaking through Futurama’s Bender) as a candidate for the ‘biggest hobo jungle in the quadrant.’
The lack of bums could be explained by the fact that everything in London is more expensive – a fact that even native Londoners such as my host family agree on. A pub I visited yesterday was charging 10 pounds for fish and chips, and houses an hour away on the Underground outside the city still cost in excess of four-hundred thousand pounds. The high prices are a double whammy for Americans, too, because currently the pound is worth about $1.50. This results in twofold outrage when at a store – an American sees an unreasonably high price for something he needs and is shocked and appalled, and then multiplies that price by 1.5 in order to figure out how much he’s actually spending.
Over the next few days, I’ll be doing my absolute best not to accidentally spend myself into financial ruin. Then, I intend to do some legitimate sightseeing so that I can write about it, instead of continuing with this Jerry Seinfeld observational bullshit.
Truman Capps maintains a personal blog, Hair Guy, where he posts additional updates from his time overseas.