Did I mention that I’m back in London for 2 weeks? I’ve been really busy since I got back, but I started writing this on Monday morning as I made my way to work:
This is the first time I’ve been back to England in a year. I landed less than 24 hours ago and already the contrasts with Brazil have been jumping out at me. Here’s how today started…
Everyone in Britain sleeps under a duvet (sounds like DOO-vay). A duvet is a thick quilt, traditionally stuffed with goose or duck down, nowadays more commonly filled with cheaper artificial fibres. Outside the temperature is just a few degrees above freezing, so the single sheet that I used back in Brazil would be useless.
Morning Water Torture
Getting out from under the cosy duvet is really hard, but things get worse when you get to the shower. Of course the water comes out hot, but in older houses especially, the bathroom itself is often freezing! Back in Brazil I used love a long, cool, refreshing shower in the morning (and usually at least one more later in the day). Here in London it is like cold water torture…
Steam and Bobble hats
There’s no time for breakfast, so I make my way out of the house. My breath billows out in huge, steamy clouds in front of me and many of the buildings I pass are also venting thick jets of steam. There isn’t a cloud in a sky, just clear sunshine, but it’s still freezing! Girls walk past in bobble hats and ear muffs. People are using special scrapers to scratch the ice off their car windows. Why is everyone wearing black? I miss the bright, bold colours worn by cariocas!
Pubs and Speed-walkers
There are pubs everywhere! I’m late, so I’m walking super-fast, but what’s this? People keep overtaking me! Back on the streets of Rio people stroll at an easy pace and I have to weave my way impatiently between them to get past. Here in London it looks like everyone else is late too.
Tube Etiquette and the Deathly Silence
I reach the tube (metro station) and descend a huge escalator. This was the first underground train system in the world (celebrating its 150 year anniversary this year) and consequently they made a major mistake during the design phase – they built the tunnels way too deep. This makes it almost impossible to keep the trains cool in summer, but during winter the warm tunnels give welcome respite from the cold winds above. Despite its shortcomings, the London Underground system is huge and well maintained. I use Rio’s metro system daily – my only complaint is that I wish there was more of it!
As I approach the escalator, signs and announcements remind commuters to “Stand on the right, walk on the left”. I pity anyone who makes the mistake of standing still on the left side of the escalator – London rush-hour commuters are brusque and unforgiving! I squeeze my way onto the busy train and suddenly become aware of a deathly silence. The unwritten rule is: No talking or eye contact on the tube. This is deeply unnerving! I think back to Rio and the cheerful people on the bus who strike up a conversation or offer to hold your bag if you have to stand. Worlds apart!
As I get close to work, I stop in at a shop to pick up something for breakfast. There are so many varieties of sandwich! This is like sandwich heaven! For many Londoners this is lunch – just a sandwich, often eaten at their desk. For that reason the miserable sanduíche natural you see in lanchonetes in Rio wouldn’t cut it here. However, I have to ask myself who is the real winner – Londoners with their excellent sandwiches, or Cariocas who leave their office for an hour to sit down to eat a real meal with knife and fork? Give me rice, beans and farofa any day!
OK, that was my slightly ‘stream-of-consciousness’ account of my first day back in London. More to follow.