When I graduated from college, I got myself a 6-month work visa and headed to London, which I heartily recommend to everyone. Interestingly, I met hardly any actual English people, or even British people, while I lived there â€“ even though I ended up working in the National Gallery. Well, the cafÃ© in the National Gallery.
Instead, I met mostly other travelers like myself, people who for one reason or another had caught the travel bug and headed out. You’d expect the folks at the hostel where I lived 4 of the 6 months I was in the UK to be mostly foreign, of course, but the staff where I worked was mostly foreigners, too. Some were citizens of Commonwealth countries taking advantage of Britain’s ongoing relationship with its ex-colonies. A handful were Americans like me on short-term work exchange programs. And most of the rest were European Union members spending a year or two in London after getting their A-levels (the European version of a high school diploma, except you learn stuff), mostly to learn English.
For most of my friends in London, England was a gateway to their future careers, a stepping-stone to the rest of their lives. They’d all learned English in school, but it was formal, “I’d like a room with two double beds, please” English, not the kind of stuff that real people talk about in their real lives â€“ the stuff that they would be expected to talk about as workers in the mostly English-speaking global economy. London promised the opportunity to hang out, talk about music and shopping and just everyday stuff. Some of my friends and passing acquaintances (you have a lot of intense 2day friendships when you live in a hostel) went to formal English schools, but most didn’t â€“ they learned by talking.
And by doing â€“ I worked with, and for a while supervised, easily a half-dozen folk from France, Italy, Spain, Turkey, and elsewhere who spoke almost no English. With their livelihoods in very expensive London on the line, they learned fast â€“ often through trial and error, and just as often by listening to the chit-chat of everyone else. This, of course, led to some odd juxtapositions â€“ the gorgeous Swedish blonde who spoke with a Cockney lilt, for instance, or the Italian women who picked up my New Jersey friend’s way of saying “cwowfee”. Such a mix of accents, of cultures, of ways of living in and understanding the world!
Frankly, if I were not already a native English speaker, and I were that age again, I can think of nothing that would keep me away from London to improve my English. London is an astonishing city â€“ even though I’ve lived in New York City and San Francisco and various cities in Europe, London is the only true “world city” I can think of, where members of every culture you can imagine are present everywhere you look.
Except, of course, the British.
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