Last week, my family visited London, and essentially Europe for the first time.
It was so nice seeing them and it gave me a really good break in the normal routine I have fallen into here. At the same time, it was clear that my parents had very different perceptions of London than I did when I first got here.
First off, they loved every bathroom they went into. Every place we went to eat or spend time in, they commented on the bathrooms. “This one was so nice”, “there is so much privacy”, “that one had a sink in each stall”, “the hand driers were so good”. It was hilarious. Never did I ever realize how nice the bathrooms were here. On quite the contrary, I have complained about bathrooms here but in a different sense. Public restrooms are not really a thing. Unless you are a customer within the establishment, you cannot use the restroom, and even some “public toilets” you actually have to pay some odd 20 pence to use. It is a hilariously different concept than in America where that is only beginning to occur.
It is quite possible that my parents were always customers if we were leaving the hotel and never needed to stop to use to toilet, lets say on the trip to the pub/ bar prior to getting there, like the way my flat mates and I tend to find ourselves in that situation.
Another revelation that my parents had, specifically my dad, was the incapability of some service when it came to drinks. Every. single. time. my dad ordered a drink from the bar, it would come out wrong. A Manhattan without a cherry, a club soda mysteriously became a tonic water, a Cosmopolitan with orange juice instead of lime/lemon juice, a dirty martini became a dry one. I felt so bad for the man, but never had this ever happened to me (probably because I order very simple drinks, aka. a pint of beer).
In addition to this, there comes the idea of ice in Europe. Having ice with a drink is a very American thing I have come to learn. We have ice makers, ice boxes at the convenience store where you can buy it for parties, and especially ice buckets in hotels when you wish to make refreshments in the room. Now my parents live for the ice bucket in hotel rooms. Why rack up a huge bill at the hotel bar, when you can create your own bar in the hotel with booze from the grocery store. I get it. But when they arrived at their hotel in Kensington and there was no bucket for ice, oh lord, World War III was upon room 308.
Every day a new person was sent down to the bar to ask for ice, and we got it in a tall beer glass, and that was it. And everyday, the bar tender would look at my family member like he or she had 10 heads. It was hilarious and my parents couldn’t get over their misunderstanding of why we wanted ice. The one time the bartender was like “Is everything okay? Did someone get hurt?” I kept consoling my parents saying it was an American thing, but they were not having it.
The final thing that was also interesting about their take on London was a couple of their colloquial sayings like “cheers”, “mind the ___”, and my favorite, “take with”. Most times we would have food left over from dinner that we wished to take back to the room with us and no matter how many times I told my parents and sister that they say “take with” or “take away”, the ever American “to go” was said. I felt so bad every time the server looked at them with confusion but once again this was the UK and not the USA.
It was very interesting seeing their reactions to things that were small but quite different from the way we do it in the states. I think what I kept trying to get across to them was that this was a different country. As similar as it seemed to New York or another large city, there was an entire ocean between us. Especially that it was okay for things to be different and actually makes life a bit more interesting at times when your forced to be wrong sometimes. I think that was the hardest thing for them, that they were “in the wrong”. This isn’t America, things aren’t “American”, and that it is still okay. That is personally, the greatest thing about traveling. It’s obvious that the big things will be extremely different, like driving on the wrong side of the road, and the accents, and the reservations. But it is where you learn the most about culture in the little things, like the ice, and the sayings, and the bathrooms.
I know I’ve previously written about the little things here, but my parents visiting really brought the importance home.