London and the Intimacy of Strangers
A few days before Christmas, my friends and I walked out of Wholefoods on Regent st. full of quinoa and an appreciation for the city.
‘London is such a friendly place!’ we exclaimed.
Many would disagree.
I have always found London to be an extraordinary friendly place. Every time I have wandered around on my own or even in groups of friends, I have always found people willing to engage in some form of human connection. Granted there are the businessmen and women who like to keep themselves to themselves, but stick a packet of Haribo in front of them and ask them if they’d like a fried egg and even THEY will break into a smirk*. Then there’s that lovely barista on beak st. and the bulletproof coffee heroes just outside Aldgate East station who asked me about my plans for the New Year and wished me luck. Then there’s the lady on Waterloo bridge all the way from Hamburg who helped me buy a coffee for the homeless woman and the man in the bookshop on the Cut who recommended me the most wonderful books and the man behind the desk at Somerset House who was as excited about me seeing the Impressionists as I was.
I asked my friend Sophie, who has recently moved to London to start drama school, what she thought about London in terms of friendliness. She said it all comes down to a willingness to engage. The city is a stressful place and it’s very easy to clam up and lock down into your phone and social media and grumble at shop assistants and people walking by you. However, if you are looking and open to friendly exchanges, if you smile at the woman with the crying baby, if you start a conversation with your barista, stop and listen to the buskers and ask the homeless person if they’d like a cup of tea, I guarantee the busyness will stop feeling so lonely.
Over the last week, I have dipped in and out of the city centre. It has filled me with hope and not because of big, extravagant moments. Instead there has been a steady build up of little goodness: coffee at Fleet Street press with the Italian baristas, hilarious florists at a Bloomsbury flower shop, singing carols down the street to laughing passersby, the lovely concierge and his willingness to get on board with our ‘cheer-up Hannah’ plan, the wonderful ladies at Covent Garden Odeon who chatted to us as we waited for our hotdog, the man on the tube who laughed at my santa hat, taking silly photos with friends at Winterville, the Steel Drum band outside Nike Town, discovering Fawn official as she busked outside on Regent str. the tired group of commuters who decided to try and cheer the crying baby up by pulling silly faces instead of rolling their eyes and glaring at the mother. These are only snapshots but they are important. It is so easy to ignore the little things, to throw them over as trivial but if there’s one thing I have learned, it’s that the little bits count and are often more satisfying.
So I hope the next time you’re in London or indeed in any place at all, that you become hypersensitive to the human connections that dance around you. I hope you take the time to smile and find friendliness and I hope you come to know the intimacy of strangers.