Something I noticed when I first arrived in London: It’s bloody dirty.
After two months I’ve all-but gotten used to it, but upon arrival it was rather shocking compared to the comparative paradise back home. It’s one of those ubiquitous situations where you say (patronisingly) “you just don’t realise these things about your own country until you’ve left home”. I mock, but seriously, I’ve said that enough times to irritate myself.
I think a lot of kiwis feel a bit uncomfortable about the ‘clean-green’ image of NZ, unsure how we’ve attained and retained it. I think we’re essentially not that great really at recycling and what-not, but we’re just amazingly lucky to have a relatively small population in a young and sea-saddled collection of fairly remote islands.
But whether we deserve it or not, the moniker is TRUE. My first weeks in London, walking about with people who’d lived here before or longer, I would ask, ‘is this a nice area?’ or ‘is this a dodgy area?’ I seriously could NOT tell! Even in the most affluent areas, the streets and pavements and buildings were what I would consider blackened and dirty, with signs dripping water scum like shadows on their posh monikers.
Also blackened and dirty were my feet. Antipodeans beware: the pollution in London (and, to be honest, a great number of other large European cities I’ve visited), makes the wearing of jandals/flip-flops/thongs a hazard of etiquette. Sure, Anzacs are known for, and picked out by our wearing of jandals, and we all revel in it as a point of hardy colonial pride. But now I know why we are virtually the only ones to cling to our oh-so-comfortable and oh-so-casual foot-attire: for the English have learnt to fear the black foot.
I don’t know how it happens. I do not walk directly upon the pavements of London with my bare naked feet. And yet, the black foot follows me – darkening soles with a horror of filth not experienced in the southern isles. Oh how the rain brings further torment, splashing muddy stains upon the upper portions of the foot to match the lower, following the lines of that ungodly footwear, the jandal. I used to think puddles were simply water – fields of play delivered from the skies for the enjoyment of children and sidewalk-hugging sadist motorists alike. Now I know that puddles are simply liquid filth, intent upon the spread of mud, the destruction of suede shoes, and the illegitimisation of our revered jandals.