Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

Walk This Way

September 16th, 2010 · 2 Comments

I am not a city person at all–my hometown has maybe four stoplights, and I’m used to having to drive twenty minutes to get anywhere worth going. So the whole business of having to fight through a crush of humanity in order to get a sandwich is completely new to me (beyond standing in line for the wok up at Dickinson).  I enjoy walking, but having to stop every thirty seconds because someone has cut me off, or bumped into me, or stoppd short in front of me does not qualify as actually walking. It’s more of an exercise in agility. Not a fan. What really bothers me, however, is the fact that there seem to be no established traffic patterns for pedestrians here.

In my experience, pedestrians normally stick to the unspoken rules in the States–you walk on the right side of the sidewalk, you try not to walk through if someone is taking a photograph, and when hiking the people going up step off the path to let the people coming down through. So you would think, “Okay, people drive on the lefthand side of the road here, so they probably walk on the left, as well.” Well, you would be right about one-third of the time. The second third walks on the right hand side (where I tend to walk, out of habit), and the last third just books it down the middle of the walkway. According to Kate Fox, the English seem to love little rules and social regulations, so why haven’t they figured this out for walking in London? Maybe if everyone adhered to the same traffic patterns, people wouldn’t run into each other so much. But then we’d all lose the chance to say, “Sorry!” so often.

Since this has been bothering me for a while, I’ve been thinking about possible explanations and doing some experimenting. Whenever I’ve been out walking by myself, I’ve tried to walk like a Londoner. Sunglasses, iPod, staring straight ahead, long stride. . .and go. I’ve realized that if I just focus on a spot ahead of me and walk like I’m going somewhere, I have no problems. People actually move out of my way. I was walking to the British Library the other day, and someone actually stepped off the sidewalk to let me go through. So maybe Londoners themselves have this whole walking thing figured out, and it’s the tourists that causes all of these traffic fiascos. I still haven’t figured out whether or not there is a determined side that people walk on, but it seems that walking with purpose is enough to get from A to B without too many “sorries!” Maybe that’s the only way to get through the sea of tourists.

Tags: 2010 Holly

Synagogue Reveals Stunning Insight into British Religion

September 16th, 2010 · No Comments

While visiting the Central Synagogue a few days ago, something that our tour guide said stuck with me.  “Here in England, we don’t have the separation of church and state that you have in America.”  This idea had never struck me before, but after thinking about it for a bit, I realized he was right.  While America has no official church or religion, England assigns the Church of England as its national religion.  However, it seems strangely paradoxical to me that, in America, a nation of no official religion, atheism is detested and atheists are looked upon as social deviants; whereas in England, despite its national church, the English seem remarkably apathetic toward religion.

After vacating the Prime Minister’s office, Tony Blair converted to Catholicism.  His reasons for doing so were not to gain some perspective after losing the Prime Ministry, but simply because his wife is Catholic.  This begs the question, however, why didn’t he convert earlier, before his political career was over?  As our tour guide explained, Blair waited until after he was out of office, because the English would think he was “a bit weird” and would feel uncomfortable with a Prime Minister with significant religious faith.

This notion is fascinating to me.  Blair’s political career would have come to a dead halt for converting to Catholicism; but, more importantly, simply being an ardently religious person is enough for one’s constituents to feel uneasy.  This is the completely the opposite case for America.  Politicians have to repeatedly assert their strong religious faiths; for, in not doing so, they would jeopardize their electoral chances, almost entirely.  It will be interesting over the course of this year to do some additional cultural research regarding the ideas of a national church that breeds atheism and religious apathy, while the separation of church and state breeds strong faith and a society that views atheism as some sort of social “other.”   As ambiguous as this connection seems, I believe it is vital in explaining the ways in which religion has developed so differently in these two nations.

Tags: 2010 Luke