I got back yesterday from London, after having a really nice time. I kept thinking before I got there that it would feel so different to be there, that I would constantly want to pinch myself because I was in London, but honestly, it just felt so normal to be there! I really enjoyed the city, didn't get to do half of what I wanted to of course, but that's just an excuse to go back, right? Mostly I'm disappointed about my eating. I went to see a show every night I was there but one, so I was always running around eating fast sandwiches to get to the theater on time rather than getting to enjoy the cuisine (by which I mean eating a lot of Indian, not a lot of English food). Lunch of course was the same because I was running around to see different things. My favorite thing was the British Library. Remember what a big nerd I am? This was like nerd central: one of Jane Austen's notebooks, Shakespeare first editions, illuminated manuscripts, and a really amazing collection of Buddhist and Hindu sacred texts with gorgeous artwork.
One thing that I really realized while I was there was how much more at home I feel in an anglo-saxon culture than I do here in France. Duh, I'm American, not French. What I mean is that I really prefer the openness and friendliness of the anglo-saxon culture to the aloof French. What really brought this home for me was how easily I met people and became friendly and had conversations with them while I was in London, just travelling around alone. They were interested in talking to me for myself, not because I was some kind of cultural oddity (une américaine en Picardie? Sacré bleu!). And it was so easy to talk to them! Everyone was so friendly and open and willing to talk about themselves, which is so unlike France. I had read before coming here that the French are very private people, with the example being that they don't talk about family unless you're close, and it's true. I heard one of my teachers criticize someone once for talking about his family when they don't know each other very well. The closed nature of the culture here is so alien to me, and I often use that as a joke with the French, that in America everyone is best friends and they think it's hilarious. But it's the truth, and it's more sad for them that it isn't true here. The fact that London felt so much more friendly was a big reason why I liked it so much.
Here's an illustration of what I mean. On Saturday I visited Westminster Abbey and St Paul's Cathedral (which is when the best Jews go to church). While I was waiting in the ticket line at Westminster Abbey there was a group of French people behind me (in general there were Frenchies all over London, I heard more French there than I do in Paris). They were debating if they could get a discount on the entrance with their metro ticket for a long time, so I finally turned around and said no, there's no discount, in French, trying to be helpful and friendly. They said nothing, just kind of stared at me and went back to talking to themselves. Now, I know it's kind of weird for random people to turn around and speak in your native language to you and proove that they were listening to your conversation, but I also know (because it's happened) that an anglophone would say thanks and then engage you in conversation. As a contrast, when I was at St Paul's later I started talking to this English guy in the ticket line and ended up walking all over the cathedral with him (and would totally have gotten a date out of it too if I weren't such an idiot. This is why I'm going to end up lonely and alone). That would never happen in France.
There are definitely some French people who aren't like that. Maybe it's a generational thing; I only hang out with teachers and other middle aged folk, and maybe people my age are different. The vast majority of people here are very nice, they just aren't overly warm and friendly like anglophones tend to be. I miss that, and I don't know if I want to spend another year somewhere where I'll always have to fight to try to make friends. I was so successful at making French friends this year, I'm sure next year will end up about the same. But then I'd get to travel so much more.... debate will continue.
Anglophone travels are messing with my French cultural experiences! Maybe the Hungarians will make me like France more? I hope not. I decided to tell my one teacher that I won't be teaching on Thursday because it's a hassle for me, unless there's a stink or they ask me to babysit the kids who have to come to school anyway. So if all goes well I'll be in Budapest on Wednesday afternoon and I'm really looking forward to it. I always loved listening to my grandpa's stories and am anxious to visit. And nervous. Hungarian is a very different language - I tried to teach myself a little once upon a time and it was tough. I hope I don't feel totally overwhelmed!