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