London Smokers / London Drivers

They sure love their cigarettes in London
They sure love their cigarettes in London

By golly, there are a lot of smokers in London, although the vibe coming from them seems a bit different from what I usually witness in Quebec – a more defiant attitude, and consequently, a higher level of pure pleasure and enjoyment to be had. Many people I saw seemed to radiate a “Gee, I really deserve this smoke” energy.

In Quebec, the I-am-a-slave-to-this-wicked-addiction vibe is very strong. Seeing smokers outside shops and office buildings as I walk around Ste. Catherine Street inspires nothing but sympathy and, sorry to say, contempt.

As the two weeks in London continued, this perception of mine changed a bit: smokers are smokers all over the world, I thought: addicted and miserable, although there was still a bit of that “F___k you, world” rebelliousness in their attitude, but perhaps in not such a strong dose as I originally felt.

I also noticed a large number of Londoners smoking thin, little cigarettes, obviously fags rolled by themselves, and a larger number of “vapers” than you would find in Montreal.

Yet, the sheer number of smokers in the capital was a bit of a disappointment.

On a similar note, an article that I noticed in a local newspaper discussed the happiness level of Londoners, comparing different boroughs and districts (how do they measure this, anyway?), the bottom line being that Londoners were not such a happy lot, generally.

Happiness is a very relative value: an “unhappy” Londoner might be much happier than a contented Montrealer; it depends on someone’s personal expectations and how societal pressures can influence how one answers a survey. May I humbly propose that Londoners, compared to many other people in the world, are very happy (even if they don’t know it!).

Another thing: Naomi and I detected very few overweight people anywhere we walked – on the tube, in the streets or serving us behind counters or at a restaurant table. So, you end up with this interesting contradiction: a slim, jogging-crazy population, miserable (supposedly), that loves to smoke and drink beer!

British Drivers

One of our biggest issues while in London was staying alive while crossing the street. I know that Montreal has a reputation for crazy drivers but at least you wouldn’t call them eccentric.

There seems to be only two instances where you can traverse a street without worrying about dying (from being hit, or from fear): when you see the green crossing light at an intersection and at a crosswalk, distinguished by sometimes faded white lines. The rest of the time a pedestrian is “fair game”, as we discovered in the Wapping District where Naomi and I first stayed, while trying to cross the street at a roundabout. The car crossing at the same time as us did not slow down in the slightest, and I made it to the other side by the skin of my teeth.

Cars do not slow down in the least if you should happen to cross at a place not mentioned above. (In fact, I suspect they speed up.)

The situation got so bad that by the end of the trip, whenever Naomi and I would cross the street anywhere, even on a green light, we would look left and right about 16 times in each direction just to be sure that we wouldn’t be run over by a car coming from nowhere. Remember, that coming from Canada, it took most of the trip to learn to look in the proper direction, i.e. right instead of left, when checking out traffic. (There are often written pronouncement on busy intersections for just this reason: Look left or Look right, but we were so confused at times we resembled nervous chickens crossing the street, heads bobbing back and forth numerous times.

However, at the crosswalks, no matter how eager London drivers seem to be to run you down, they are very scrupulous and patient, stopping every time. The drivers play by the rules – if you should break them, well then, good luck!

A rare moment with no cars racing towards you...
A rare moment with no cars racing towards you…
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