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How not to meet creeps in London

How not to meet creeps in London

Twenty-Something Travel was one of the first travel blogs I discovered–and wondered why the heck didn’t I think of that? Needless to say, I’m a big fan of the site and its message and I jumped at the chance to guest post for Twenty-Something Travel when I was launching C’est Christine. I love that Steph decided to return the favor and guest post for me the subtle adaptations you make when integrating into a culture. Here’s her take on how to not attract creeps in London.

London sky

On my very first day in London I was chased down the street not once, but twice. Both times it was big, burly Eastern European guys, who leered and confidently asked me personal questions in thick accents while I struggled to find some place, any place, to disappear to.

It was my first time away from home by myself, and I was both terrified and confused. I wasn’t dressed provocatively and I’m certainly no supermodel. At first glance I couldn’t look that much different from the hordes of British women going about their business unmolested. Why were they singling me out?

After some close observation of the locals, I realized what I was doing wrong. It was something so subtle and natural to me that I’d never given it a second thought. Whereas native Londoners walk briskly about the city with their heads down, avoiding eye contact, I was strolling down the street with a huge smile. And looking strangers in the face. Apparently that was all the invitation these guys needed to single me out as different, friendly and possibly easy.

Tower Bridge
I’d done my research before moving to England, and I thought I’d learned the important cultural differences. Traffic drives on the left, say trousers instead of pants, etc. No matter how prepared I thought I was, there was still a lot of learning to do. There are a lot of unsaid elements in any culture, things like body language and tone of voice; things so subtle that you can’t learn them except by observation and adaptation.

My big, American personality didn’t quite fit into London. I’d managed to find a job as a receptionist for a ritzy art auction house, but when I greeted clients with an exuberant “Hello! How are you today!?!” the looked confused and somewhat put out. “Calm down,” my supervisor told me in a clipped accent, “you’re startling people.”

St. Pancreas Station
The tea situation did not help matters. It’s no secret that the English love their tea. I have always been a Diet Coke girl, but I found myself drinking upwards of 7 cups of tea(milk, no sugar please) throughout the working day. I couldn’t help it, it was part of the office culture. I’d barely be halfway through a mug when a new, full one would be thrust upon me. I don’t know how everyone else manages to stay composed. I was a jittery, hopped up, smiling maniac.

After a few weeks in London, I did learn to tone myself down a bit. Not completely, but enough to stop scaring clients, or attracting unwanted attention. Big sunglasses helped, as did figuring out how to channel my self-assurance. Being a confident, smiling, slightly loud American is part of my identity, and I’m okay with that. I like the fact that I’m friendly. It has its perks: my dating prospects exploded with cute British boys impressed with my boldness. In less social situations, I tried my best to restrain my natural exuberance and fit in.

So yes, I changed myself for England, but in the long run England also changed me. I’m different in a myriad of ways, both subtle and significant. I’m much better at blending into the crowd when I need to and I’ve perfected my icy stare. More importantly, I’m much more attuned to social cues now; I’ve realized I can be me without being ME full throttle all the time.

Oh, and I still love tea. But only one, maybe two cups a day now- I like being able to sleep at night.

Stephanie Yoder is a girl who cannot sit still. She writes about travel for young people (the why, the where and the how) for Twenty-Something Travel. When not on the road she lives in Washington DC.

  • LostInCheeseland

    I really enjoyed this post! Funny and honest. We all have these faux pas moments when we first move to a new country (maybe even a new city?), but that's how you learn the ins and outs of your adopted culture!

    Great read.

  • I really enjoyed this post. The cultural differences between Americans and the English may not seem huge but they are quite apparent. I love drinking tea so hopefully this helps me assimilate when in London!

    I have a question though – where do the non-creepy, cute British lads hang out?!? 😉

  • SoloFriendly

    This is a great article, Steph! “Calm down, you're startling people”–I'll be chuckling about this all day.

  • camorose

    I'm sure you have plenty of great stories about adjusting to life in Paris–I thought of you as I wore my running shoes today through town! I simply didn't bring shoes for rain combined with cobblestone streets, and the weather was ridiculous. Decided I would rather endure the judgmental looks than twist an ankle.

  • camorose

    I'm sure you have plenty of great stories about adjusting to life in Paris–I thought of you as I wore my running shoes today through town! I simply didn't bring shoes for rain combined with cobblestone streets, and the weather was ridiculous. Decided I would rather endure the judgmental looks than twist an ankle.

  • camorose

    I love drinking tea as well, but I didn't fit in in England as I drink my tea plain–no sugar or milk for me! British people definitely picked up on that, and gave me funny looks. Oh well!

  • Love this, Steph! And don't ever, ever losing that smiling attitude. I had a similar experience in Europe…my friends had to tell me to stop being so “naive.”

    Also, my mom drinks 13 cups of tea a day .For real.

  • LostInCheeseland

    haha I do indeed but this one was particularly well written.

    I'm proud of you for wearing your running shoes! Remain strong! 🙂

  • I'm milk no sugar all the way!

    I met cute british guys at couch-surfing meet ups but I swear they are everywhere!

  • My ex drinks like three cups in the evening before going to sleep! Maybe British people are immune to caffeine?

  • Love the post! I am a naturally bubbly, smiley person too and I always have to remember to tone it down a few notches before I travel. The hardest part for me is the whole smiling at strangers thing — in the US, it's totally normal; abroad, I may be sending the wrong message!!

  • camorose

    I'm getting way better at perfecting my scowl as I walk. Although I always try to smile at old ladies–they probably think I'm crazy but sometimes they smile back!

  • Gosh that would be terrible. In Paris one time, a woman was chasing me down to ask for money and I was proud to know how to say “get lost” in French – She was shocked at my audacity and I was shocked at her rude manners. I refuse to let strangers ruin the fantastic potential of any city for me, London most definitely included. Not making eye contact is very important and I am sorry you learned that the hard way but grateful that you chose to share it here.

  • Yep – no eye contact is a good one. If you are getting any kind of unwanted attention, I suggest going “right off on one” as us Brits like to say. Screaming obscenities at someone at the top of your voice will soon have them diving for cover in fear of your complete lunacy – works every time!!

  • Yep – no eye contact is a good one. If you are getting any kind of unwanted attention, I suggest going “right off on one” as us Brits like to say. Screaming obscenities at someone at the top of your voice will soon have them diving for cover in fear of your complete lunacy – works every time!!

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