What Londoners Do When It Rains

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The first thing to know about London is that it will rain. Every day. Despite knowing this, I still made a few rookie mistakes during my extended stay. I learned right away that hanging out in London for a week with the convenience of a centrally located hotel is quite different from a three week stay in the suburbs. The first major clue to this epiphany was coming home with wet shoes, socks, and pants after every outing into the city. Without a dryer or sunny, warm weather it took three days for a pair of shoes and socks to dry out and two days for jeans. I was starting to run out of dry clothes!

When I was down to my last pair of dry socks and shoes, I decided to be a little more observant. Tired of cold legs from damp jeans, I asked myself, “What do Londoners do when it rains?” Wherever I went I noticed they had dry pants and shoes, so I knew there had to be a trick. After a few days, I had some answers and learned how to stay dry!

1. Always carry an umbrella.

It doesn’t have to be big, but it does have to be sturdy. The wind along the Thames can kill a weak umbrella in under two minutes. Londoners always seem to have one stashed in their pockets, purses, or tote bags. Even if the newspaper said it would be sunny, I learned to carry an umbrella anyway. It was worth every bit of the room it took up in my purse.

2. Wear shorter pants.

Both Londoners and Europeans in general wear shorter pants than Americans. I never understood why until I realized the bottom hem of my jeans soaked up rainwater faster than a chamois. Even after the shortest walk on The Strand my jeans were wet up to my knees! There wasn’t much I could do other than fold the hem under a couple of inches, but it did the trick. A discreetly placed safety pin attached the hem to my sock. I never came home with wet jeans, again!

3. Hang out inside.

Even when out in the city, there is always a place to duck in and escape the rain. Stores, tube stations, and coffee shops are all excellent places to wait out the kind of rain that demolishes even the best umbrella. At the entrances/ exits of Tube stations there’s usually a group of people reading the newspaper while it pours outside. Museums are also an excellent way to  dodge the rain as most of them are free and very warm inside.

My favorite way, however, to wait out the rain is to hang out in a coffee shop. One rainy day, I was walking along the Embankment when it suddenly started to pour. I decided that moment was the perfect time to sit down for a warm cup of coffee and a brownie. I joined many other Londoners in what I assume is a tradition. Sit by a window with your cup of tea or coffee and simply watch it rain. Be thankful for a moment where everything just stops, except for the rain.

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Starbucks on Fleet Street
Photo by: c.b.w. 2011

4. Stand under a tree.

This sounds stupid, but it works. Throughout London, there are huge and heavily foliated trees. In particular, trees along the Embankment near the Globe Theater are proven rain blockers. One day it started raining and I watched as seasoned Londoners began to gather beneath the trees. I followed them and realized it was perfectly dry under those trees! Barely a drop had touched the sidewalk even though it was pouring. The key to this strategy is to stand at the base of the trunk. It rained for almost an hour, but hardly any moisture hit the ground where I was standing. To pass the time, I did what other Londoners did, I read a book.

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Rain hits on the South Embankment. These are not the magic rain blocker trees, but they are still beautiful!
Photo by: c.b.w. 2011

5. Stand under a bridge.

Again, this sounds silly, but it works. There are tunnels, benches, and spaces beneath almost every bridge in London. In many cases, there are buskers in these areas, so while you’re waiting out the rain you can enjoy some great entertainment. However, I wouldn’t recommend standing in these areas alone, but rather with a group. Especially, if you are one of those super obvious tourists.

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Hiding out from the rain under Westminster Bridge
Photo by: c.b.w. 2011

6. Wear your wellies.

Those big rubber boots aren’t just for gardeners. They are sold all over London and I watched as people carried them in tote bags or by the back loop. If I didn’t have such a small suitcase, I would have invested in a pair. Made out of plastic or rubber, these boots protect your feet and legs from puddles, splashes, and wet grass. I swear London is the only place on earth where people don’t look ridiculous wearing wellies while on a walk through the park or rushing through the financial district.

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Wellies!
Photo Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

The last lesson learned? When the weatherman or newspaper forecast says it’ll be sunny, don’t believe it. The idea of sunshine all day long is more wishful thinking than it is reality. The rain is always there, ready to sneak up from behind and catch you by surprise!

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Other Articles in the New Familiars Series:

Grocery Shopping in London

Lunch In A Chinese Home

The Language of Signs: London

The Language of Signs: Prague

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c.b.w. 2014

Lunch In A Chinese Home

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While in China I had the unique opportunity of experiencing several home visits with everyday Chinese people. On one such visit, I got the chance to go to an apartment in what is considered an upscale neighborhood of Changchun to have lunch with a Chinese family.  Even though I was in such a foreign place, I found unexpected familiarity and warmth, reminding me once again that we are more alike than different.

Upon arriving, I couldn’t get past the fact that the apartment building was bright pink. It looked like something right out of Miami Vice, but I decided it was better than the usual grayscale color schemes of communist architecture.

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A very pink apartment building in Changchun, China
Photo by: c.b.w. 2005

No elevator meant climbing several flights of stairs in a series of concrete hallways. The drab and industrial surroundings made me wonder about the Chinese definition of “upscale.” However, when the hosts opened the door to their home, I saw a beautiful little apartment with wood floors, modern furniture and “stone” decorated walls. Before stepping through the door,  I was asked to remove my shoes and wear slippers. Apparently, the floors were new and the family didn’t want them scratched!

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A living room in a Chinese apartment.

After spending time in hutong homes and rural farmhouses, I now understood why this neighborhood was considered wealthy. This family had more money and domestic conveniences than many Chinese will ever see, including a big screen TV, a portable A/C unit, and a state of the art Western bathroom.  Most Chinese bathrooms consist of a hole in the floor that requires some skilled squatting, so this is a really a huge luxury. However, I was a little put off by the glass doors. The Chinese have a very different sense of privacy than the West in that there is little or no privacy!

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I’m a little jealous of this bathroom!

Despite many conveniences, the family had to hang their laundry out to dry on the patio. The concept of in-home washer and dryers is almost nonexistent for the everyday person in China. Hand-washing and line-drying is the most common way to clean clothes. In almost every window in every town, I saw clotheslines!

In comparison to the rest of the house, the kitchen was very simple. On one side there were small cabinets and counters, while the other side had a small dining table.  There were no full-size appliances. The stove was inset in the counter and consisted of two burners, while a small refrigerator and pantry were outside on an adjoining patio.

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Super small cabinets and counters didn’t hinder these master chefs!

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Getting ready for a buffet in the dining area of the kitchen.

Despite the small space, the entire family set about making the traditional and delicious meal of meat-filled dumplings.

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A few more stirs ought to do it!

Once the filling was cooked, the family taught me how to make the perfect Chinese dumpling. A spoonful of meat filling goes in the center of a thin dough circle. Then, the circle is folded in half and the ends are pinched together. It sounds easy, but it takes some practice! Too much filling can make the fold split and too few pinches can cause the whole thing to fall apart. After stuffing and pinching, the dumplings are steamed to cook the dough.

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Yes, they are as good as they look!

Dinner was served buffet style and the family insisted on incredibly full plates. It is considered rude not to sample everything on a host’s table, so I loaded up my plate and ate everything! Every bite was incredibly tasty.

As with many Chinese families, multiple generations live under one roof. In this instance, the grandparents on the mother’s side lived with the family. The Grandfather was a particularly colorful character who loved to talk to anyone who would listen. Even with a language barrier, he was a chatty one. Towards the end of the meal, he started a drinking game in the kitchen. He could down a beer faster than anyone I’ve ever seen. After chugging more than a few, he was the life of the party.

Even though I was wearing slippers instead of shoes and I was surrounded by a language I didn’t understand, I strangely felt right at home. Good food, good people, and a funny Grandpa can make the distance of an entire ocean disappear.

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Just curious . . .

Any ideas on why stuffed animals in plastic bags are on display in the living room?

I noticed the cabinets were different colors in both the bathroom and the kitchen. Is there a reason for this or does it simply not matter that they don’t match each other or the house decor?

Is lack of privacy the result of cultural evolution or is it related to high population density? Or both?

Got a question, observation, or reaction? Leave your thoughts in the comment section – Let’s get a great conversation going!

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Previous “New Familiars” posts:

Grocery Shopping in London

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c.b.w. 2013