After my first few days in London I thought I was in some alternate universe where I was back home, but everything was just the slightest bit different. It felt like Auckland, but with a Harry Potter themed makeover, as the roads looked like Mt Roskill combined with Privet Drive.
There are the same dairies on the corner. The same grassy hills in the outer suburbs. The same sense of impending doom written on people’s faces within the CBD.
That’s when I realized I’ve been living a lie. New Zealand is a just a remix of England. An extension. I am aware that the settlers were from here, but I didn’t know how similar our lifestyles were considering we are so far away from each other.
That’s why my first impressions of London have been quite subtle. Despite the obvious differences and big tourist attractions, I have made a few small, interesting observations.
IT’S TRUE, LONDON IS MULTICULTURAL AF
I am so proud that Auckland celebrates the many diverse cultures within it. Yes you can get hung up on petty racism and violence, but on the whole it’s pretty sweet. Pasifika, Diwali, Chinese Lantern Festival, even Christmas in the Park. But it’s nothing compared to the immense melting pot of ethnicities London’s got going on.
There are mosques down the road from chapels. There’s an Iranian kebab shop next to the Indian restaurant, next to the Jamaican grocers. Not to mention all the other different white Europeans, like Polish, Danish, French etc. There’s even a New Zealand part of town where all the expats live.
If I walk past someone on the street here, there’s about a 60% chance they’ll be speaking English. I’m usually pretty good at telling where people are from too, but here I’ve got no chance. At Thorpe Park we were on a ride with this kind of Vietnamese-looking family. I said hi, just making small talk, and out comes the thickest Scottish accent I’ve ever heard. It was like Braveheart singing a Paolo Nutini song.
It’s truly astounding. The quickest way to learn we are all the same and that racism isn’t a rational way to be, is to be exposed to a wide array of cultures early on. London’s got that on lock.
LONDONERS ARE A FRACTION MORE EXPRESSIVE
This cements how New Zealand is unique in this field. More than enough times for it to be a coincidence, I’ve seen people a little bit more expressive than what’s considered socially acceptable in New Zealand. I’ve seen people have arguments on their phones a little louder than what I’m used to. People rush around for trains a bit faster than back in NZ. Buskers aren’t seen as a charity case, but are celebrated and appreciated.
It’s just little things, but I notice it a lot because there are a lot of unspoken rules you need to follow to be a ‘normal’ New Zealander. If you don’t believe me, try watching a loud American adapt to NZ life. It’s not easy for them. Much like a bit more Japanese discipline could do NZ culture good, I love the idea of there being a bit more social freedom to be who you really are back home.
TOURIST ATTRACTIONS AREN’T THE HIGHLIGHT
No one I’ve met who visited NZ as a tourist spoke highly of Auckland. “Just went through the airport” or “Mt Eden was cool, that was kind of it…” These people are missing out, but you need a local to drive you around and take you to the right places. Waterfall climbing in Huia, hiking in Hunua, ice-cream in Takapuna, that’s the better side of Auckland.
London is very similar. I think I would have been underwhelmed if I came to London just for tourism, mainly because I don’t really care about the Queen. The palace, the church where the prince and princess got married, all that kind of goes over my head. I actually feel bad for Queenie, it must be isolating. I wonder if she has a royal councillor.
Just like home, you won’t find the best of London where you are told to go. It’s having a pint at an almost empty open mic night that ends up rowdy as. It’s the seemingly endless historical sculptures, buildings, and landmarks that go unnoticed because there’s so many of them. It’s the ridiculously high quality of buskers scattered throughout. Much like a good booger, it takes a bit of digging to reap the most satisfying experience.
I’ve got another week or two here while I finish working on my songs, then I’m going to take off and get travelling around Europe!