As my time here in Leeds is coming to an end, I thought I’d share with you some of my thoughts, questions I still haven’t found an answer to, some fun facts and personal reflections about England. All the following considerations are based on my opinions and experience and are, of course, subjective. No experience is the same for anyone.
- The weather
Last year, I lived in Lincoln for 6 months doing an internship and although I was prepared to encounter the worst weather, I was pleasantly surprised that my fears weren’t meant to be. Most of the time, it was sunny and from March on the days started getting longer and warmer and absolutely lovely. This meant lots of barbecues and lots of time outside.
So when I moved to Leeds this winter, I expected to find the same. Unfortunately, things have gone very differently. Until two weeks ago (and now again, after some sunny and warm days for Easter, thank God), the weather was totally awful: cold, rainy and windy. No sun, no walks in the green, nothing. Wearing gloves in April really drove me crazy.
I discovered that I can’t live in a place like this. The weather profoundly affects my psychology, my mood and my energy. Maybe it’s because I come from a hot and sunny country like Italy…
- Politeness and politically correct
England is the most polite country I have ever been to, to the point of being annoying sometimes. In my experience, I was shocked of how many times “sorry” is said in each circumstance: you are walking in someone’s way and they say “sorry”, you are standing in someone’s way and they say “sorry”, you crush into someone and they say “sorry”!
It’s absolutely incredible how polite people are in formal and public contexts, with a special attention to being politically correct in everything they say and do (it’s also quite impressive to hear everything they say out of these public context, when you get to know them better, but that’s another story).
- Fashion and style
Leeds is a student city and most of the people living in my area are students, so I had the chance to observe closely their attitude and style. I can say that fashion is a very different concept than in Italy (and I can assure you that I am not a fashionista but an average 23 year old girl, who simply likes to wear nice clothes and go shopping, like everyone else).
Here everyone really wears whatever they want and there seems to be no universally shared idea of style and “good taste”. Most of the people I meet in the street seem to have popped out of vintage shops: most of them wearing 90s styled clothes. I can’t say that it’s the most chic country in the world, but, upstream, the attitude of people towards style is inspiring: each one is free to experiment, play and wear whatever they please, as long as they feel comfortable and beautiful in it (what “beautiful” means for different cultures, again, is another story).
Charity shops are quite a big thing here. I really love this concept: second hand clothes the revenue of which goes to fund charities and non-profit associations. You can find absolutely beautiful and unique items of clothing for ridicule prices and once you washed them they’re like new!
Concerning fashion and style, I have some questions for British people, which I’d be grateful if some of my English readers could answer:
Question to boys: why do you always walk around with the hands in your pockets? The possible explanations I’ve come up with are: either you’re cold (very probable) or it’s because that gives you a tough and cool attitude.
Question to girls: why do you put so much make up on and draw your eye brows so dark and big? And how’s that possible you’re not cold wearing mini skirts and sleeveless tops on winter nights while I am freezing under my 3 layers of clothes?
- Water and drinks: hot and cold
Despite trying, I couldn’t come up with satisfying answer to this question, so if you have any suggestions, they’re more than welcome!
First of all, all the sinks have two taps: one for hot water and one for cold water. But when it comes to automatic sinks in public places the water running out of the tap is always hot, sometimes even burning (like at my university’s library). Why is that? Sometimes I can barely wash my hands.
And same thing with hot drinks: before drinking them I must wait for good 10 minutes, otherwise I burn my tongue. In Italy, each type of coffee is served just warm and it’s ready to drink. So much easier and pleasant!
On the other hand, each time you ask for water at the restaurant, they bring it with tons of ice cubes in the glass, even if the water is already cold. In Italy we do that only in summer, and in some cases you’re also asked before if you want the ice or not.
- London and England
You got it: London and England are two (very) different things. With time (not this time but after a few years my interest for English began) I have come to realize that London, as beautiful as it is, has nothing to do with England. London could be a country by itself, hosting an incredibly vast and varied population of workers, students, travellers. It’s undoubtedly stunning and fascinating, especially if the sun is shining. It’s grand and marvellous. For a holiday, or for a few months, but not more. Personally I couldn’t live here for long. It’s too big, too quick, too stressed (I am still figuring out what my perfect kind of city is).
My point is that, and it’s been confirmed by my experience and by many conversations I have had with Brits during my time in this country, that the England you see in movies, ads and magazines and that shapes your imagination is quite wrong, or, at least, incomplete and based on a well-rooted stereotype. London is not England. Very few people still talk like the queen; even less have tea and scones at 5 pm (they are more likely to have tea all day round), the big part of the population isn’t posh and refined as you see on TV.
Instead, the North (of which Leeds and Lincoln are part) expresses and reflects the true and most authentic England.
Where most of the houses are in red bricks, where people are more likely to have crumpets with butter instead of stylish afternoon tea on a daily basis, where streets can be dirty and there’s a lot of poverty and squalor as well as wealth. Where the music coming out of the pubs and bars of High street on a Friday night can be deafening, and where you see young girls walking barefoot in the street at night because their heels make their feet hurt. Where students wear colourful and crazy costumes for pub crawls at weekends. Where most people are simple and modest, yet polite and dignified. Where the telephone booths are not working anymore and most times they have been reconverted into ATMs. Where parks are crowded with young people chilling, singing and having barbecues as soon as a ray of sunshine makes its way through the clouds. And I could go on and on, but I’d rather stop here.
What I have concluded, after my second English sojourn, is that all places have a soul, which cannot be experienced or anticipated before actually going and living there for a while. Some places speak louder to our inner selves than others. And we see them, experience them and feel them based on how we feel in that moment of our lives. So, in a way, we could say that we transform and are transformed by the places we go to.
In my case, my experience in England this year has been very different than the one of last year. It’s been a combination of factors, but I can’t say I have really enjoyed it this time. But it’s taught me much, about myself, about how I deal with hard situations and people, about what I like and what I don’t like.
And it’s a lesson I will treasure.