Sunday, May 13, 2012

Mind the Gap: Tourist vs. Townie

Once again, the crowd in front of me had come to an inexplicable standstill encompassing the whole of the sidewalk. "God, I hate tourists," I would mutter to myself as I wove my way through or dodged around or shoved past whatever people had decided to stop directly in front of me.

While it is true that no one in London knows how to walk, I'm not really sure that it's fair for me to be so incredibly frustrated with the people unknowingly blocking my way. Especially considering that I encountered these people while trying to do the same touristy things they were doing - exiting the Tube at Westminster, and later watching the Changing of the Guard.

I seem to be in the middle of a weird dichotomy. I both am and am not a Londoner - I have been here since January, and this city feels more like home to me than the town where I have gone to college for the past three years. I've learned a lot in the past five months, enough to feel incredibly comfortable navigating these old streets on my own, enough to be able to give directions when asked, but not enough to keep from turned around coming out of the Tube and having to backtrack. I certainly haven't got encyclopedic knowledge of all of London's many streets and corners, and there's still quite a lot I haven't seen, but there are certain areas that I consider to be mine. The street where I lived, the journey from the flat to school, the South Bank walk - all these are places that feel like they belong, at least in some part, to me. I know them well, and they have seen me come and go many a time.

I live here. Or rather, I will be living here for another few days. And yet, at the same time, I'm doing many touristy things this week - the Changing of the Guards, for one. Camden Market, the parks, the museums... all of these are places that the locals might visit, of course, but certainly not as often as the tourists do. And I should think that a Londoner going to the Changing of the Guards happens with the same frequency that New Yorkers visit the Empire State Building - only when they have guests from out of town!

So where does that leave me? Am I a Londoner, or am I a tourist? Am I both? Neither? Does it really matter? Probably not. I've just been struck by this strange mixture of belonging and not belonging over the past few days. I've had a very strange reception here - just about everyone I meet seems to think I'm French until I start to talk, and then my accent automatically pegs me as an American (and then, sometimes, the automatic exasperation will start to appear by degrees).

I think I'm simply wrestling with the dualities of my last week here. Am I a Londoner or am I a foreigner? How much am I looking forward to going home, versus how much do I wish I could stay? And perhaps the biggest question - how do I go about leaving one home in favor of another?

But those questions don't need to be answered just yet. So for the time being, I will simply enjoy this city that I have come to think of as home, and I will make the most of those tourist attractions, even if I will curse the crowds and the queues like the most savvy of locals.

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