I was walking around Westminster Abbey at lunchtime today, and happened to stumble through the celebration for the seventieth anniversary of the Battle of Britain. This was a) unexpected and b) very exciting, as we were all craning for a view of the Queen (and Princes William and Harry. When in London…) We got to see a military band, as well as a division of the Royal Air Force. The most exciting part was definitely the flyover of a Spitfire and a Hurricane from the period, two planes that were very important to Britain’s victory. For more on the flyover, see this article from the BBC: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-11120357
It was really interesting to see this celebration, especially since we don’t give World War II the same kind of attention in the States. It really made me realize the lasting impact that the war has had on Britain, however, especially as the procession marched past the statue of Winston Churchill outside of the Houses of Parliament.
At the same time, this was my first real brush with classism. We caught the tail end of the ceremony, so people were starting to filter out from the Abbey. The streets were completely blocked off, both for traffic and to keep tourists at bay. These physical barriers only enforced the class divisions that were already on display. Everyone leaving the Abbey was dressed to the nines, feathery hats and all, just as I had always imagined the upper eschelons of British society to dress (think tabloid pictures that have appeared of Camilla Parker Bowles and her entourage). As they left the ceremony, these lovely ladies and dapper gentleman were escorted by policemen and military guards, all very proper.
The weird thing for me was that the tourists and “commoners” were queued up just gawking at these people, like they were another parade. We all moved to one side to let them pass, and everyone just stared. And they stared back! It was like a zoo. Granted, there were a lot of tourists there, and I feel that some allowances must be made for foreigners who are prone to gawking at everything. But the fact that the upper class stared back at us was really unsettling because I feel like we shouldn’t have been that interesting. I mean, we were just a crowd of regular people. But everyone automatically gave deference to the upper class filing out from the Abbey, which was also interesting to see.
I’m interested to see how classism manifests itself at UEA, because my friends who have studied in England have assured me that it’s definitely there. They said that students will judge each other by where they come from and that there won’t necessarily be outward hostilities, but that everyone will know where their friends or flatmates stand in terms of class. I haven’t decided yet if I should practice smashing my peas onto the back of my fork.