Random: Index funds are called Tracker funds here. And they’re not called “motions” to worship songs, but “actions”.

Also random: the vast majority of TV weathermen don’t believe in man-made climate change. Weirdos.

We went to our first English shopping mall on Sunday, for yet another birthday party. I don’t particularly like malls in the US, but it was nice being in one here as it felt kind of like home, something familiar. But not quite the same. The food courts are reasonable foods, not bastardized cuisines. And the stores are mostly all different. But still, it was a mall! Parking! Directories!

The appearance of malls is the subject of some controversy here as many feel they’re killing off traditional high streets. High streets are like main streets. Supposedly, if you look at London from above, you’ll see a bunch of circles, each centre corresponding to the ancient town centre (probably where the water was drawn) and the radius of each circle about a 30 minute walk, something like that. That’s why the streets here are so crazy – the city was built on circles, not grids, and there aren’t long, straight roads. Every road turns into a different road after less than a mile. So when giving directions to taxi drivers, all you need to do is say the name of the road – that alone distinguishes just a few blocks in the city. It’s crazy to me how many of these streets taxi drivers know.

Anyway, yeah, so you have all these circles, which are neighborhoods, and high streets, which are the main streets of each neighborhood, with shops and restaurants and such. And now they’re starting to open shopping malls in London (driven by Westfield, which has opened 2 of them, one a massive one by the Olympics complex in East London). That’s caused a lot of consternation by the Brits. They’re worried that malls kill off traditional high streets (true – wherever they open, the local high streets wither and die) and destroy the British character of the area. I’ve read a couple op-eds saying basically that sure malls are enclosed, have air-conditioning, parking and convenience, but they have no soul, which is fine for the US, but this is Britain.

It’s interesting to me because I feel like the US went through this 30 to 40 years ago. Back then, all these US cities transitioned from town centers to malls, and there was the same sort of community soul-searching that went on there. I think the Sunnyvale Town Center is representative of what was going on throughout America at that time – they ripped out the city center and installed a mall, opened in 1979.

Thing is, now a lot of towns regret it. Turns out there’s a saturation point for malls, and town centers can actually be pretty cool. So downtown Sunnyvale is being restored to a town center-like feel. London will probably arrive at the same place eventually. There will be a handful of malls, and high streets near them will die. But most high streets will persist, because they’re cool.

Although there’s another controversy with high streets themselves – because of the high real estate prices, they’re apparently all starting to look the same. Apparently they used to all have a variety of shops; now they’re all restaurants and coffee shops, and people bemoan that.

So when you hear about a high street, that’s what it is. It’s interesting. We’d been watching the BBC series Sherlock (highly recommended) and saw a few episodes before coming here, the rest after we arrived. What we realized is that the show used a ton of terms that we just didn’t know, but we didn’t even know that we didn’t know them, if that makes sense – they just passed by as English words without making any impression. After we got here we understood a lot more of little things in the dialogue, but it’s weird how we didn’t think we were missing anything before.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *