Being a Tourist in London When Royalty Is Born

This post was originally shared on the AIFS blog.

Prince George Alexander Louis, Son of Prince William and Duchess Catherine, was born on the twenty-second of July, summer of 2013, and at the time of his birth, I was casually chatting with a group of Australian cricket players outside of Kensington Palace in London, England.

When my two best friends and I decided to study abroad in London through AIFS, we didn’t plan around the upcoming birth of the United Kingdom’s newest prince, however, it ended up being one of our greatest memories and cultural learning experiences.  At that point, we had already been in London for two weeks and were aware of Kate Middleton’s due date.  Actually, I was constantly updated every morning by my best friend who has an obsession with William and Kate and the entire Royal Family.  First thing every day, even before the proper amount of coffee, she was inspecting the online news to check the status of the pregnancy, but with the conclusion of our time abroad around the corner, we were beginning to think we’d miss it completely.

So on July 22nd, we decided to stroll through Kensington Park after dinner and enjoy one of our last nights being charmed by the beauty of London.  We took a break on a bench to watch a cricket game, because after all, cricket is a foreign and strange sport to us Americans and fascinated us.  Long story short, a few of the lovely Aussie fellows decided to give us some company and we stuck around to hear their stories and exchange ours.  One of the boys checked his phone during our conversation and casually stated that Kate had her baby.  Cue emotional freak out by my crazed best friend.  She began running, skipping, and leaping around, shouting that the prince was born and crying tears of joy.  This is where our cultural confusion first began.  As we were celebrating, we were also informing some of the passer byers who were walking by, and to our surprise, nobody cared.

Most of the responses we got in return of the good news were lackadaisical and apathetic one-word answers or blank expressions.  We assumed that the British would be elated at the birth of their newest prince!  That clearly was not the case because even the next day, it still was not a huge deal.  Of course, at the request of my friend, we went to the convenience store and stocked up on all of the newspapers and magazines headlining the birth.  I think that all of the other tourists in Kensington had that same idea that morning.  We choose to buy those newspapers as souvenirs and historical keepsakes, while the locals were buying for the weather forecast or the story on page three.

Per tradition, the golden easel was placed outside of Buckingham Palace with the birth announcement on it, signed by the royal doctors, and of course, we went to see it.  Once again, tourists filled the outside gates of the Palace and were lining up just to get a peek.  Guards were ushering the crowds and only allowing for a quick picture and then you had to be on your way.   In addition, it has also historically been the case that the name of the new royal baby is not released to the public for a few days to a few weeks, but lucky for us, Prince George’s name was announced while we were still in the country.

After bike riding through the gardens, we stopped at Kensington Palace to see why people were crowding the gates.  Turned out, someone spelled out George’s name in boxes of baby powder on the grass.  We spoke to a British woman that evening and asked her why the locals didn’t seem to be as excited as the tourists.  She explained that it just isn’t a huge deal to them and compared it to our reactions to the President and his family, which made a lot of sense.

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The Prince’s name written in baby powder boxes.

 

This really exemplified cultural variations in the public and media response to a pop culture event like such.  Friends and family back in the states were being bombarded by the news and it remained a vital part of the media for a few days.  But regardless of resident reactions, it still remains one of the highlights of my study abroad experience and I can certainly say that businesses and souvenir shops made a good deal of money off tourists and their infatuations with the Royal family.  July 22nd was just another day for most of the British, while I will always remember being right next to Kensington Palace when I received the news of Prince George’s birth.

Now Will and Kate are expecting their second child, and my friends and I want to find a way back to London for round two of royal baby celebrations. 

Written by student Bianca Auriemma.

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