“So you’re from the States…where in the States are you from?” he asks, as he carefully places a tiny, antique bear in the palm of my hand. 

“California.” By now, my response almost spills out expectantly: I wait for the excited smile to stretch across his face. For him to ask me which part of California I’m from and to then ask me about beaches and other picturesque things. 

All of which he does. 

He asks about beaches, my promximity to the beach, and the always sunny weather. He’s so eager that he’s like a kid at a toy story. Except that he’s not like one; he is one. 

We’re at Hamleys, the world’s largest toy store, and I’m buying a handmade British bear from a kid-at-heart. 

To a Londoner, California is often a cool, chill and charming place; it’s filled with beaches, perfect weather, and celebrities from “The Hills.” Everything about California is fascinating. And you’re from there. So, you’re fascinating. 

I feel the same excitement about London. I almost don’t want this child-like fascination toward the city to wear off because to me, fascination means a thirst for understanding. 

I’m fascinated with the daily commuters on the tube. On weekday mornings, it’s filled with men in business suits reading The Mirror. On weekends, it’s filled with young families and tourists struggling to drag their large luggages. 

On my way to work, I sometimes wonder if others view me as a tourist or a Londoner? Can they see through my smart casual attire as an American student studying abroad? Maybe my automatic smile during sporadic eye contact gives it away?

Or maybe they’re just not wondering at all. With millions of people crammed into an isolated island, I’m bound to be just another out of the millions of students, tourists, foreigners.

Maybe these are questions that I’ll have answered by next month. Maybe these are questions I’ll have answered by mid-June. Maybe these are questions that I’ll never have answered.

The fact that I’m even questioning these seemingly trivial matters suggests that I’m an outsider.

But after living in London for three weeks so far, I don’t feel like a full outsider. I walk at a quick pace — although this could also do with my personal habit. I buy groceries at the local Sainsburys. I work in an office filled with Brits.

But neither am I an insider. I have my American accent that immediately “gives me away.” I (and my nose and lungs) have difficulty adjusting to the smog and smoke. I say “Lemonade” to mean lemon juice mixed with sugared water, not Schweppes.

I think this is where that child-like fascination comes from — always being on the edge, like walking on a tightrope that divides two worlds. Sometimes the rope shakes and quivers, and the two worlds either collide or mesh. 

So in the seven story Hamleys, I purchase from the excitable salesman, the single, 1-inch bear. It…fascinates me. The intricate details, the handcrafted top hat, the welcoming stance. It’s an embraceful work of art, like it’s welcoming me to London.

It also helps that I am a kid-at-heart with a soft spot for teddy bears.

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Tags: Abroad, California, Culture, Intern, Kingdom, London, Study, United

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Comment by Janelle Bitker on August 18, 2011 at 9:16pm
Judy, they said they hated how people called themselves Californian? Interesting! I guess I can see how it would seem egotistical. I'll have to keep that in mind. PS I am definitely hitting Cologne at least one weekend on an art class field trip!
Comment by Judy Hanna on August 18, 2011 at 9:14pm

Janelle, I remember when a friend of mine from high school was visiting me in Berlin, "California Gurls" started playing. All the Germans around us started singing along so loud, while my friend and I were saying, "That's not the California we know!"

On the other hand, a lot of my fellow EAP students would introduce themselves as Californians, rather than Americans. I don't really understand why, I always said I was American first, and I do know some of the other international students actually really hated it.

Comment by Tiffany J. Lew on August 18, 2011 at 5:34pm

Janelle, what a hilarious story! Yeah, it seems Californians are known for many things including that Katy Perry song. Haha.

 

Sadly, my three months in London have ended! But I'm planning on continuing the experience with more blog posts in the future, so thanks! :)

Comment by Janelle Bitker on August 18, 2011 at 4:10pm

Ah, to be a Californian in Europe! When I was in Switzerland this summer, nearly every time I told locals I was from California, they would break out singing "California Girls" by Katy Perry. I had never heard the song before so I was... confused.. to say the least. 

 

In any case, I'm looking forward to continuing to read all about your London-ing. 

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