Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Downtown vs. City Centre

The other day, Udita was in Seattle for a conference and she emailed me to ask whether or not the UW campus was "close to downtown Seattle".  I squinted at her message on my Blackberry and had to think for a while - because spending 3+ years living outside of the United States has completely worn down my American vocabulary - more so than you would think - and I momentarily forgot what "downtown" meant.  Okay, I didn't forget what it meant, but I found it hard to picture in my mind.  What did it look like (more like, which shops were there?)?  How far was it from the U-District?
You see, here, what someone might refer to as "downtown" in the States, is known (relatively more or less) as the "city centre".  When I first moved to England and lived in York (whose university campus is located "outside" of the "city centre"), the term "city centre" sounded overly formal and peculiar.  But now I know it generally refers to where the major "high street" (another British term for where all the popular shops and restaurants - mostly chains - are found) businesses are and find myself referring to wanting to go shopping "in the city centre" when visiting a new place (for the record, Salisbury city centre is immensely disappointing.  York is not.).
I had to laugh when my dad came to visit a couple years back and referred to Oxford Street as "the main drag".  "Can we go back to the main drag?" he asked, as we were half-way up Regent Street.  "What main drag?" I asked, exasperatedly. "You know," he said emphatically, as if waving his hands around would help illustrate his point.  "The main drag," he repeated.  But in a city the size of London, it's hard to differentiate between the "main drag" of Oxford Street and the other main drags of, say, Marylebone High Street or The Strand.  Those could all be considered "main drags".  You also never hear someone referring to "downtown London" or "London city centre", because it's simply too big for those definitions.   
So I felt a hint of nostalgia when Udita's email popped up on my phone.  I wouldn't mind being back in a city that had a "downtown" fairly soon (not to mention, a Nordstrom).  In the meantime, I'm certainly enjoying the city centres.

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