Looking past the London exterior

Columnist Natasha Shapiro compares and contrasts life in London to Philadelphia. Visit temple-news.com to view her complete photo slideshow.

Columnist Natasha Shapiro compares and contrasts life in London to Philadelphia. Visit temple-news.com to view her complete photo slideshow.

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Biweekly, columnist Natasha Shapiro transcends her study-abroad experience through both words and photos.

Coming to study abroad in London, England, we were all expecting to experience some degree of culture shock. We sometimes say “dollar” instead of “pound,” encounter near death experiences every other day because we can’t remember which way cars are coming from and secretly love when someone says “cheers,” or “mate” to us.

But, while there are obvious differences we still seem to be adjusting to, they can hardly be considered “shocking.”

There isn’t a language barrier to struggle with, and though our accents make us stand out like a sore thumb, there is a strong level of familiarity with the city.

London, like New York City, seems to be more of a global center than a national one. The liveliness and diversity of the streets comforts me, after leaving Philadelphia.

Imagine you’re in London for the first time. You walk around with a camera. It’s completely natural, mandatory even, to be completely absorbed by the city’s characteristic attractions. Tourists swarm to capture that perfect postcard image to show their families, and you join, determined to take the most picturesque one.

Contrary to what you were expecting, the weather is beautiful, and you photograph Big Ben, Parliament and Westminster Abbey against a bright blue background.

Pleased with yourself, you move on to the red double-decker buses and the trademark telephone booths. You photograph every memorial or statue dedicated to deceased members of the monarchy. You shoot the pubs on every corner (and the three in between) and even all the “fish and chips” signs.

After capturing every clichéd image of London and satisfying your touristy appetite, you look around, wondering what there is to notice next.

All these places, all the action and all the people are individually insignificant within the context of the city as a whole, but it’s the familiarity of these insignificances that makes them significant.

Once this realization sets in and you stop looking at the city through a tourist’s eyes, you see what you already know.

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Natasha Shapiro can be reached at natasha.shapiro001@temple.edu.

1 Comment

  1. Dear, Natasha

    I read your article – “Looking past the London exterior” today and it immediately jumped out at me because I am from London myself!
    I recently came to Temple for my academic year abroad from the University of East Anglia in Norwich. Your article was very interesting and I could most definitely relate to the observations you made of my home city. Since being in Philadelphia I have come to the conclusion that problems and some cultural aspects are universal and I can definitely compare some of the London city life to North Philadelphia. I too have to be extra villigent when crossing the road as I naturally look in the right direction!

    If you don’t mind me asking, what University did you study at?
    I am assuming you will be reporting all about your experience in London in all your articles? I have my own website which I am recording my time at Temple and in the US and have already written one post entitled “First Impressions” – please feel free to read it, if you have some time: http://lemelp.com/blog/2009/09/07/first-impressions/
    Hope to read more of your experience.

    Best Wishes, Lemara

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