London Calling

For the life of me, I can’t tell you when my Anglophilia kicked in.

I suspect it may have started sometime in the mid-to-late nineties, around the time I’d gone to London during a college course, and when there was an onslaught of British films (most of them with Hugh Grant) that started making their way across the pond. 

Movies like “The Full Monty”, “Four Weddings and a Funeral”, and “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” appealed to me; here were movies where the main characters were imperfect and played up their imperfections with sometimes hilarious results.  While Hollywood churned out boring, regurgitated remakes and mindless expensive explosion-based movies with plastic actors, England was actually making entertaining and original low-budget flicks with actors so genuinely talented that they became hot commodities in the states (see Helen Mirren, Judi Dench, Tom Wilkinson, and my dream husband Idris Elba).  

It wasn’t until several years later that I would start working with companies based in London.  My first semi-gig was working as a promotional representative for a chocolate company (aka sample pusher).  Then, shortly after 9/11, I began working for the first of two luxury fragrance and gift brands.  Penhaligon’s was a traditional classic brand that held all the entrapments of classic English brands.  The packaging dated back to the days of apothecaries and non-adhesive materials. They were bent on history and name-dropped everyone from Winston Churchill to Prince Charles.  They carried “royal warrants”, which in the states would be the equivalent to being on Oprah’s favorite things list — except it’s the royal family version.  Both myself and the customers were drawn into the mystique of it all.  At Jo Malone, it was a little more cut and dry: you either got it, or you didn’t, and a $345 candle was perfectly sensible for those who did.  Both were so unapologetic in their philosophies that I couldn’t help but love them and feel right at home working for them.

Further evidence of my Brit appreciation as the years progressed manifested itself in my taste in music (Estelle, Coldplay, Amy Winehouse, Adele), growing appreciation for football — otherwise known as soccer to the un-initiated (to be fair, have you seen their bodies??), and the uncanny fact that my longest relationship has been with an English-born man. 

So I guess my recent trip to London to visit some friends could be considered my going to Mecca.  Thankfully I refrained from having a Whitney Houston moment and shouting “My land!” as I departed the plane.  Maybe it was because I was so distracted by how awesome Virgin Atlantic was for giving me hours of entertainment, travel swag, and free booze to numb the pain of the loud Hasidic family that took up the two rows in front.  Or maybe it was the jet-lag.  I’m leaning toward the booze.

Funnily enough, it almost did feel like a homecoming.  Although I’d only been there once over fifteen years before with a group of psychotic college girls, it all felt very familiar and took me no time to navigate my way around on the Tube and develop the same feeling I have as a New Yorker; meaning that as great as I think the city is and as many wonderful things that it has to offer, at the end of the day you need a lot of money to really make it there.  That, and it’s just an overcrowded city with really cool buildings and people… much like home.

Maybe the reason I’ve become so comfortable with the Anglo world is because it doesn’t really differ from the American one, which makes sense, since this country is just the rebellious offspring of England.  We’re both obsessed with each other and spend lots of time and money aspiring to have the same things.  We idolize celebrities and obsess over the monarchy because they represent an opulent and — until recently — unobtainable lifestyle (team Kate Middleton in the house!).  Most importantly, we are both still very much stuck in the past with our political views, and for some reason seem to cling on to the whole “empirical” way of thinking that tends to get us kicked out of other countries.  (The Native Americans clearly didn’t get that memo.) 

What really fascinates me about London is the large number of interracial families, and their acceptance of all cultures.  Where New York is considered a melting pot, you literally have every nation fused into various neighborhoods, listening to all types of music, eating all types of foods.  Like here, certain areas are populated by a specific demographic, but the city of London is basically a Coke commercial playing 24/7.  

In a nutshell, my trip opened my eyes to the fact that as much as we boast about our individuality and American “freedoms”, we really aren’t.  From their news, to their entertainment (some of it awful), the Brits have us beat when it comes to expression, and to some degree give you a straight-with-no-chaser approach to life that I’ve come to respect.  Perfect examples of this are Amy Winehouse and her staunch refusal to go to rehab (even though she needed to), and Ricky Gervais, who got so much heat for his Golden Globe hosting gig where he basically told everyone in the room precisely what they were all thinking, but too polite — or facially frozen — to say out loud.  We tend to be more stifled and almost repressive in everything we do to the point where bad behavior becomes sensational news over major world events that should hold far more weight as newsworthy subjects for a country considered to be a “superpower”.

And if we really are so uniquely American, why do we remake movies originally done in Japan, France and England (“The Ring”, “La Femme Nikita”, “Death At A Funeral”), television shows (“The Office”, “Wipeout”), and even magazines (OK)?  As much as people bitch about outsourcing, the major question is “what, if anything, do we really have to call our own when it comes to products, offerings or trademarks?”  For the record, Donald Trump doesn’t count.  (Seriously, anyone can have him.)  Personally, I have enough of an identity crisis as an African-American trying to navigate through the corporate world to have to think about simply being American contributing to the cause.

Thanks London, and jet-lag.  These are the thoughts that run through the head of a woman who’s had too much tea, chocolate, and not enough rest.  You can keep Harrod’s, Big Ben and Buckingham Palace if I can get my sleep pattern back. 

Oh yeah, I’m keeping my Virgin swag, and my commemorative Royal Wedding edition of Hello magazine… At the end of the day, I’m still an Anglomaniac.

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