I often find it quite exciting to discover what tourists think about London. Undoubtedly, our French friends think that we are a roast-beef eating, stuck-up bunch of eccentrics. Our other friends across the pond, the Yanks, generally struggle to differentiate between reality and their preconceived ideas of what British people are, therefore somehow convincing themselves that London is a city full of eloquent, top-hat wearing, cane-carrying Dickensian aristocrats. Overall, however, what I've come to understand is that we have a reputation for being particularly cold, unwelcoming and somewhat unfriendly. Is there really any truth in this?
I suppose there is some credibility to this statement... I mean, it's not rare to see a man fall flat on his face on Oxford Street and be met with 100 grunts, sights and exclamations of "clumsy bugger" before anyone actually offers to help. If Disneyland is the happiest place on earth, I suppose that the London underground could be described as its hellish antipode. Try traveling on the Northern line at 6pm on a Thursday evening and see if anybody recognises your existence. The effort that some tube-goers go through to avoid making eye contact means that you'd be forgiven for believing that Medusa frequently hops on the tube at Tottenham Court Road. Worse than eye contact, if you try and offer a suggestion or make conversation with a stranger, it seems likely that your final destination will be the closest stop with a hospital. Every day, we experience endless example of seemingly acrimonious disregard.
Whilst, for the purpose of this article, I can easily sit here and make cynical judgements about how unfriendly Londoners are, I must admit that I, all too often, follow suit. Daily, I probably appear to be one of those gloomy, introspective city-slickers. In fact, a friend of mine recently informed me that the only thing moodier than the way my face naturally falls is Adele's latest album. What's more, I'm willing to admit that the most exercise I do all week is probably marching up the left-hand side of the escalator, after having experienced an aneurysm, as a result of having to push my way through the hand-holding family of 6 who would probably struggle to beat a doped-up snail in a 100m race.
Even though I recognise elements of our reputation to be true, it I feel as these snapshots of unfriendliness don't give Londoners justice and don't paint a fair picture of what our sprawling, diverse metropolis is really about. Within the last couple of years, there have been countless occasions on which I've genuinely felt blessed to be from where I am from and caused me to reassess my critical outlook on my fellow city-dwellers.
Take the London Olympics, for example. It wasn't uncommon to see two or three small picnic groups in Hyde Park voluntarily morph into one big champagne-swilling, sandwich-stuffing tribe of friends. Frequently, you'd see two strangers, both wearing more St George's flags and Union Jacks than one would expect to find in the average BNP storeroom, embrace and sing 'Rule Britannia' in unison, for no other reason than that of a sense of familiarity and patriotism. Swarms of Olympic helpers told jokes and greeted people in the sarcastic but entirely charming way that only British people can.
Moments like this have made me realise that whilst we may put up metaphorical walls around us, these are only to protect ourselves and others from intrusion. Whilst we may be permanently stressed, it's only because it seems like the normal thing to be when you're 40 miles away from the closest beach. Yes, we may be cold, but that's only because our skies are normally even more miserable than an Addams family reunion.
What events like the Royal Wedding, the London Olympics and Wimbledon show are that, deep down, we are in fact amongst that most genuine and charming people out there. Give us a bottle of Pimms and we'll stumble and knock over our metaphorical walls. Give us a bit of sun as a remedy to our coldness, and our solar-powered souls are reinvigorated. Give us a reason to celebrate, and you'll see that down here in London, we're just one big dysfunctional family. A family in which the kids rarely leave their own, individual rooms, where the parents frequently drink too much and in which each member has their eccentric quirks. However, we are a family, nonetheless.