Over the winter break I had the opportunity to fly across the ocean to the land where they call pants “trousers”, underwear “pants” and sweaters “jumpers”. That’s right, I went to England.
Though I did the typical touristy type things while I was there, I mostly stayed in the countryside with friends. Sitting in pubs with good company, having long conversations about love, politics and art gave me a better understanding of British culture than I would have gotten if I had just stuck to the tourist hotspots.
Even though I found American and British culture to be distinctly different, both countries are still part of the Western world. This means we follow much the same trends in fashion, music and art. So I wasn’t surprised when I went into museums and found many of the same things I have seen here in the States. The biggest differences in art and culture, I think, aren’t found in museums, but in exploring the country and its history. It’s in the architecture, the antiques and in the people themselves.
England is a small country, but it is a country with an extremely rich and vastly different history than America. Just driving around the countryside you can see castles and manors off in the distance that could tell stories about a time before America even existed.
While the tourist hotspots in London are a must see for anyone traveling abroad for the first time, I found myself preferring my time exploring nature reserves, small towns, and old antique stores. One of the greatest things about England was how easy it was to find relics and pieces of art older than my entire country. There were stores that had old guard’s uniforms, ancient grandfather clocks, delicate tea sets, and there was even one store that had an absurdly large portrait of the Queen. These were the sort of things that I, as an American, found to be extremely charming and distinctly British. I relished in finding the subtle differences that I hadn’t had time to notice on my previous trips to England.
One of my favorite things about being a foreigner was to obnoxiously point out every single detail that makes our countries different. At first, it was the obvious things like driving on the opposite side of the road and the fact that the sun never came out, but then I started noticing the differences in culture, language, attitude and the way people interacted.
Even though I preferred exploring the unconventional sites, as an art student, I had to go to at least one art museum while I was there. That was The Victoria and Albert Museum in London. I didn’t know much about it before I went in, but I was instantly amazed by what I saw there. Upon rounding the first corner of the museum there was an enormous room filled with casts of some of the most famous works of art in the world. Michelangelo’s David, Giovanni Pisano’s Pulpit and Raphael’s School of Athens. The Victorian and Albert Museum is the world’s largest museum of decorative arts and design. It houses a permanent collection of over four million objects and has many other, more modern featured exhibits. Even the building itself was a work of art, having been built during the Victorian period.
Though the museum was a great experience, it wasn’t something I remember as being distinctly British because art is appreciated in much the same way in England as it is in America. What made the difference for me was the context and history in which it existed. Seeing castles and beautiful Victorian architecture in a country whose scenery exposes its history was a tremendous experience. I encourage every tourist to go see all the grand sights there are to see when traveling abroad, but to also take time to slow down and get in touch with a country’s history. It is through the history and the scenery that we can truly see the differences in culture and in art.