“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.