What’s to say I’m a Londoner?


Dear friends,

I am long over due for a blog post! It’s funny how the time goes by so quickly when learning how to become a true Londoner… The question I keep asking myself, though, is how do I actually find myself becoming a Londoner? In what way am I integrating into British culture? Can someone tell merely by looking at me that I am from the United States? (As an aside, I specifically try to tell people that I am from the United States when prompted, and to not say that I am American. It’s not a lie that I am American, however we commonly (and innocently, I might argue) that those from the United States are not the only Americans in the world. Mexicans, Salvadorans, Chileans, Argentinians, Brazilians, etc. are all Americans, too. All too often the word “American” is associated with the United States, so I’m trying to change that in my own subtle way.) (Another aside (here’s when I wish that WordPress had the footnote function, or that I will someday discover how to use said function), is that there doesn’t exist a word for “from the United States” in the English language (or one that I know of). In Spanish, I could tell someone “Soy estadounidense”, or “of the United States”, if I wanted to explain my nationality.)

Extremely long double side note aside, we (being U.S. citizens) have some work to do in describing ourselves as American without (again, I emphasize, oftentimes innocently) including the power that the United States tends to exert over other areas of the world. Footnote capabilities aside, I guess I would insert one here that says this claim should be backed by ample historical research that justifies my imperialist claims. And I shed my wonderful birth country in bad light with these thoughts. I would still consider myself patriotic, however I tend to express this patriotism in alternative ways.

Regarding my initial questions, though, I think I’ve been integrating myself pretty well here. Multiple times I’ve been asked for directions by tourists, and I’ve also been asked “and how are you” in German by a (new) friend who initially thought I was German. I try to follow two basic rules when trying to look like a local:

  1. Try to be quiet and speak less often than you would be inclined to do so.
  2. Look straight ahead and not up at the buildings when walking in the city

From what I’ve noticed of the English that I’ve met is that most like to listen instead of speak in a conversation. I’ve caught myself a few times talking more than I probably should have, and have tried to make a constant effort to listen more during conversations. Sometimes I have to resist the antsy feeling of “Gosh, I *really* want to offer my point of view in this conversation,” which sometimes makes me squirm in my seat. However uncomfortable at times, I was surprised at how wonderful it is to listen more than speak in a conversation. (Footnote, which is a disclaimer this time: I have been described by my friends as quiet and soft-spoken, so I think I do have an advantage for assimilation when coming to the UK with my personality.)

Looking straightforward and directed as I walk will usually give the illusion that I know where I’m going, despite whether or not I actually have real knowledge of the area of town I’m in. I can’t remember if I’ve written this already, but at one point I was walking around Oxford with Google Maps open on my phone, and someone stopped me for directions to some unknown street in Oxford. I glanced down at my phone, and the name of the street was peering right back at me, and I pointed her in the right direction. I subsequently checked the “Be mistaken as an Oxford student” box in my mental bucket list. (Wishful thinking, surely).

Concluding this little bit, I surely have a lot of room to go if I want to call myself a local of London, or a Londoner. I’ve been taking the necessary steps to do so, including listening to the BBC more often than NPR, taking a cup of tea in the afternoon, and making those ever-so-subtle changes in vocabulary that don’t seem natural quite yet.

Shifting gears a bit, I wanted to talk about my last week, which was the first week of “real” classes. I’ll start with the fun bit. (This is a joke; it’s all fun!)

I started out the week with an intriguing “Philosophy of Mind” course, which talked much about introspection and the feasibility of the perceptual model when it pertains to perceiving the mind. This might be a topic for another time but, as interesting as this class seemed, I managed to switch out of it and enrol (yes, again, they use one “l”) in a class called “Public Ethics,” which is *far* more intellectually stimulating while (in my mind) being more readily applicable to what I perceive to be the problems that involve the human condition. (Maybe I should devote a post on what I believe to be the human condition.)

My classes then moved on to my Contemporary Political Philosophy module. I am rightfully terrified by my professor, Dr. Avia Pasternak. To give some context, I was equally terrified with the director of the U-M School of Music Jazz Lab Band, Dennis Wilson. This didn’t deter me from doing well in the class, however my fear really allowed me to improve more than I would have had I been studying under a passive, unconvincing professor. I can say the same about this political philosophy class. The readings are dense and nearly indecipherable at this point, and Dr. Pasternak expects a lot from us, but I’ll be putting in the necessary work to rise above and beyond her expectations for us as students. Last week we explored the differences between “justification” and “legitimacy” when it comes to powers of the state and how they might involve themselves in citizens’ lives. Equally, when is coercion ever justified? What is the difference between coercion and persuasion? Does the state ever have a right to coerce someone into an action? Much of this comes down to, for me, the question of how “paternalistic” we should make health, and whether health of the polity should be a public concern, or dealt with by non-governmental matters.

The following day I had my Philosophy, Politics and Economics of Health lecture (with equal nomenclature to my course title). We had an overview of topics, but then discussed the ideas behind when something becomes an epidemic, and more specifically what really constitutes an “epidemic,” setting it apart from being a mere sickness that is affecting a lot of people. What I’m learning quickly is that much of these arguments depend on how one defines the term (s)he is using, and how they justify that definition. Knowing this, would you define obesity as an epidemic? How far can the state go into preventing obesity? Should they target only children or adults? What’s the difference from the government taking action against the marketing of smoking ads but not the marketing of fast food ads?

On Thursday, I attended my “Illness” module, which discussed more the “lived experience of illness” and how we might come to understand an illness. We discussed specifically the topic of grief. Is grief seen as an illness? Or is it seen as normal behavior? When does grief become abnormal? When can it be used as justification to take paid time off of work? How can we trust someone who has to take 40 days off of work due to grief? What if we could take a pill that allowed us to relieve us of all symptoms of grief? More generally regarding the idea of illness: how can we truly come to understand an illness of someone else? (Hint, look into the field of phenomenology in philosophy.) Furthermore, how does the body play a role in the perceived experience of (generally) the world and (specifically) when the body is ill? Why is it, that one is ill, they have such a hard time remembering or feeling how it is to be healthy?

Some of these questions will lead to coherent thoughts eventually. I promise that tomorrow I will write you with an incredibly (albeit often discussed) thought experiment that our Public Ethics teacher started us out with in class yesterday, since I didn’t give you an explanation of the class here.

It’s about 12:30 AM here, so I’m going to sign off. On schedule for tomorrow: the second Philosophy, Politics and Economics of Health module, a couple meetings with a couple anthropologists, some reading, some pizza with my classmates, and a Spanish evening course. Much to do, so little time! Although, while I write this, I forgot to mention that I have been playing JAZZ this past week, with some really cool cats. (Cats is commonly used in the jazz world to describe feelings of affirmation towards other jazz artists.) I went to a jam session, called “Jam at Phineas”, where the house band lets anyone come play any tunes from 9-11 PM. Phineas is one of UCL’s student bars, and students here love jazz, so the house was incredibly full and bouncing to the music we were making. I had a blast. I also went to the “jazz singers” and “big band” taster sessions, to see how these arms of the Jazz Society are. Naturally, I loved both sessions, so we’ll see what I can do as far as participation goes. Nonetheless, I have chosen to join the Jazz Society here. More to come on that front!

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