One of my favorite expat expressions goes something like this: “the English think 100 miles is a long way, and the Americans think 100 years is a long time.” Given that I come from a state that is celebrating its 160th anniversary this year, living in London has me in perpetual wonder—and near constant confusion—over the city’s long history and traditions.

Flag and carriage at the Lord Mayors Show in London

One such tradition is the Lord Mayor’s Show. At 785 years old, the show is world’s oldest civic procession. It travels along a three-mile parade route through the historic streets from Mansion House to the Royal Courts of Justice. Upon arrival at the courts, the Lord Mayor (who, confusingly, is different from the actual mayor) takes an oath of allegiance to the Queen in the presence of the Lord Chief Justice and the judges of the Queen’s Bench Division.

Dragon on a float at the Lord Mayors Show in London

Basically, it’s a grand old tradition that is now a great excuse for fancy dress and some fireworks.

People dancing on a float at the Lord Mayors Show in London

This year the Lord Mayor’s Show took place on Saturday morning. Having never been before, I went with a friend to watch the parade near St. Paul’s Cathedral.

Tall statue at the Lord Mayors Show in London

As a foreigner, the first thing I noticed about the Lord Mayor’s Show was that it had quite an eclectic blend of floats. First came a toy-covered float sponsored by a large children’s store in London. This was closely followed by several military tanks and bands. Charity floats came next, and after them a hodge-podge of floats with all kinds of people from heavy metal youth bands to Notting Hill Carnivalesque performers who were bizarrely representing a medical college.

Medical college float at the Lord Mayors Show in London

The most confusing part of the parade came at the end, though. There were several carriages carrying official-looking people dressed in bright red robes. Despite the pomp of their attire, they were all holding hand puppets. Smiling like children, they—or rather, their bears, toucans, dogs, and other assorted furry friends—waved to the crowds as they passed by. My friend and I smiled along with them, a bit bewildered by it all.

People waving from a carriage at the Lord Mayors Show in London

At the end of the hour-and-a-half long parade, a beautiful red-and-gold carriage went by. Inside was the Lord Mayor, who doffed his tri-cornered hat as he rolled past.

Giant cake at the Lord Mayors Show in London

After the Lord Mayor’s Show receded into the distance, my friend and I went to have tea to warm up. As we discussed the procession and its traditions, I realized 100 years may not be such a long time after all. However, 785 years is quite long enough to develop customs that confuse all but the locals!

3 Comments on Lady at the Lord Mayor’s Show

  1. Thank you so much for sharing all of your wonderful English experiences! I too am intrigued (and somewhat baffled) by some of the English traditions. I’m actually heading to London next week for some fun and pub time. Any interesting events you’re aware of going on next week?

  2. Well, as an ex-pat Montrealer living in London nothing surprised me more than St George’s day. I woke up one morning in late April and small children were charging at me with their swords. At first I thought it might be a celebration of medieval anti-immigration policy but wikipedia was kind enough to shed light on my confusion. To be honest, I loved every second of it. To see a culture celebrating a hero that died around 300 AD, actually, 303AD to be exact, tells me how old this culture really is…they actually remember the exact date of a hero’s death. Great post. Believe it or not I actually regret missing Lord Mayor’s show. For all its confusion, English culture is actually fun to dive into…especially the food and pubs!

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