Seven Surprising Things About London
It may be the most iconic city on Earth, but it still surprised us!
What’s the most famous, iconic, and influential city in the world? There are probably only three real choices: Los Angeles, New York, or London.
But when you focus on influence over, say, the last three hundred years — which includes, oh yeah, the frickin’ Industrial Revolution — you can make a pretty strong case that for several centuries now, the city of Planet Earth has been London.
Where Michael and I are currently living.
London is one of those cities where you think you know all the iconic sights and locations. Big Ben! Tower Bridge! Trafalgar Square! The Changing of the Guard!
But once you’re here, you realize there are so many more famous things than you realized, and they’re suddenly around you, everywhere you look.
Double-decker buses! And Covent Garden! And fish and chips! And red phone booths! And the Tube! And Piccadilly Circus! And the Eye of London, and the Thames, and the Tower of London, and Kensington Palace, and Kew Gardens, and Westminster Abbey, and the steps of St. Paul’s, and Harrod’s, and chimney stacks, and Chim Chim Cher-ee, and lions and tigers and bears, oh my!
Sorry, that kind of got away from me. London tends to do that to a person.
But it isn’t only the size, scope, and history of this incredible city that has surprised me.
Here are seven other ways, some good and some bad, that London has surprised me too.
(1) Londoners — like most Brits — are currently in a very bad mood.
This one wasn’t a complete surprise. After all, I was well aware of Brexit, and the four prime ministers in six years, and the death of England’s beloved Queen earlier this year (after an incredible 70-year reign).
But I didn’t realize the economy was as bad as it is — that the inflation rate has been over 11% and the (negative) growth rate has been much lower than in nearby Western Europe.
Then there’s Britain’s relationship with America, which is more strained than ever. And strange weather patterns that set heat records this past summer, and caused an unnatural chill this winter — a fact made even worse by sky-high heating costs, thanks to the war in Ukraine.
If that isn’t enough, the last few months have also seen a series of strikes by civil servants at the NHS, Royal Mail, and schools. Even ambulance drivers have gone on strike. The most frustrating may be the strikes by road and transit workers that have made London’s vast and complicated transportation system even more unpredictable.
Then there’s the recent world-wide reckoning over imperialism and colonialism — with more and more people now equating British “greatness” with “theft and atrocity.” That isn’t helping the national mood either.
And Harry and Meghan. Harry’s all over the news right now, and everyone has an opinion (most not very favorable).
Mostly, my sense is that Britain realizes that Brexit was a colossal mistake, and that the city’s standing in the world has been severely diminished, maybe forever.
In other words, Londoners have some pretty good reasons to be cranky.
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(2) No one knows which side of the sidewalk or stairway to walk on!
In most cities, people walk on the right on sidewalks, and up and down stairs.
But London isn’t most cities. It makes sense that people might not walk on the right here — after all, Brits famously drive their cars on the left. But people don’t walk on the left here either.
Or rather some people walk on the left, and some people walk on the right.
Frankly, it’s madness. Everywhere you go, no one knows where to walk, so everyone is constantly running into each other. It’s fine when you’re on less-crowded stairs and sidewalks, but when you’re in the busy center of town? Or the steps to a busy Tube station?
Why does this happen? My theory is that Brits naturally walk on the left, the same side they drive, but that it’s such an international city that there are lots of people from places who drive on the right.
But I don’t understand how this city can have existed in some form for over two thousand years, and they still haven’t figured out a way to communicate to people, “You’re in London now! Walk on the bloody left!”
Here’s the only example I ever saw:
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