I strolled into the doctor’s mess around lunchtime today and found one of my colleagues (a fellow Londoner) sitting on the sofa looking a bit glum.
“Are you ok?” I said, with a concerned tone “What have they done to you in theatre?” I quipped. “No, no I’m fine. Just my normal face – you’ve been up north too long, people around here are too happy”. We both laughed.
I’m from South East London. Born in Harrow but raised on the South Side. Now don’t get me wrong, London isn’t as cold and unfriendly as some of the non-natives make out. Walk through your local London market at and you’ll likely have very friendly conversation with the cheeky chap selling his bananas about the weather or the ever increasing price of fruit. Arrive in the middle of a tube strike, and you’ll find at least a couple of your fellow passengers very happy to make miserly small talk with you about how all tube drivers should be damned to the 7th circle of hell, right next to Boris Johnson and his stinking congestion charge. In fact, I’ve even had the occasional pleasant conversation with a complete stranger sitting next to me on a bus. Key word being occasionally.
Since moving to the Midlands, I’ve been horrified and flabbergasted by the sheer volume of people who think that it’s perfectly acceptable to shower complete strangers with copious terms of endearment such as ‘bab‘, ‘shug‘ and ‘honey‘ and then proceed to have full blown conversations with them.
This flies in the face of every piece of London etiquette I know, and I find it extremely uncomfortable.
Not content to allow this unabashed display of human warmth and kindness go unchecked, I decided that having a well read book on my person at all times would be enough to dissuade these well wishers.
To my horror, I sat in the hospital foyer, book open, clearly enthralled by my hefty theological tome only to be greeted by a sweet old lady who proceeded to relay to me her entire medical history as well as her grandchildren’s latest exploits. Too shocked to protest, I listened mouth open and nodded at the appropriate intervals until 5 minutes later she said “Well, I’ll let you finish reading your book now”. I murmured my thanks quietly and determined to put in place more robust measures to avoid human contact in this carbuncle on the face of England they call “the West Midlands”.
But I couldn’t think of a more clear signal to other humans that I didn’t want to be engaged in conversation than reading a thick book, other than a T-shirt that says “Londoner. Please do not engage me in conversation unless your Google Maps function on your smart phone has stopped working, or you have gone into cardiac arrest.”
So I’ve decided that if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.
I’ve just decided to live with the fact that random people will try and engage me in conversation at bus stops, on buses, in shopping centres, and at work. People who I don’t know in any professional or unprofessional capacity smile at me. At first I thought I had something on my face, now I realise people up here sometimes just smile at random strangers. In my attempts to smile back it sometimes comes out more like a grimace, or the type of face I make when I have period pains, but hey, it’s better than nothing.
Any of my fellow big city dwellers had a culture shock moving out?