Eugenia Mitchelstein came to study at the LSE in London earlier this year. Having now found her feet she has started to draw lines of similarity between the life she left behind in Argentina and her life in London.
One of the most usual complaints in Argentina is about bureaucracy. The long queues, the seemingly endless pieces of documentation that have to be presented for simple tasks such as opening a bank account, the time that is lost in government offices. So when I was told I would be coming to the United Kingdom, I thought I would be leaving that behind at least for a year!
Well, think again. 'Bureaucracy', it seems, is unavoidable! So far I have had to queue for: registering with the police, getting the university stamp on my student discount for the tube, registering with a GP, opening a bank account, getting my cash card from the bank and I'm still missing my PIN! - and, finally, registering at the university.
This last queue went up four flights of stairs... and then down those same four flights of stairs, because the registration took place on the ground floor! Whilst us Latin Americans and Eastern Europeans felt quite at home in these circumstances, people from the United States were bewildered. "Why did they made us all come today? Why didnt they organise it better? A to D at 9 o'clock, D to H at 11 o'clock, and so on", were some of the comments I heard on the queue which was great for socialising, by the way.
That wasn't the only preconception of Britain I had to change. I thought the British were polite but not very friendly, and I was proven wrong. The people I met at University students, professors, and administrative staff - have been incredibly warm and friendly. But total strangers have also been very amiable! Twice, people on the bus have noticed I was completely lost in the maze of London streets, and have kindly given me directions. Even the bank employees, the nurse at the GP's office and the police officers have been very helpful and patient with my less-than-perfect English.
There are, of course, differences between Buenos Aires and London. We kiss on the cheek even people we have just met, while the British shake hands even with old friends! The people I met on the first few days looked really surprised when I kissed them, but none of the guys complained!!
We tend to get very close to people whom we are having conversations with, whereas the British like to keep a bigger "buffer zone" between themselves and the rest of the world.
I will stay here for a year, and I'm sure I will encounter more differences and similarities until I go home. I also hope I will pick up some the British accent, which is charming, and some the British sense of humour, which is hilarious.
Scholar content 9th December 2004
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