“Power comes not from the barrel of a gun, but from one’s awareness of his or her own cultural strength and the unlimited capacity to empathize with, feel for, care, and love one’s brothers and sisters.”

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Here’s a video in case you don’t feel like reading. Also you can do both if you’d like: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NejauBWR8c4&feature=youtu.be

So what’s the first thing you think of when England or the United Kingdom? No, I’m not talking about tea, Harry Potter, bangers and mash, Doctor Who, or Big Ben.  I’m talking about the Royal Family. For centuries Kings and Queens have ruled England. Ever since it became a country, there has almost always been a monarch on the throne. I say almost because they’re may have been a civil war or two where the Crown was deposed or switched around. With those exceptions, history has watched as the throne was passed on through a grand line of royalty.

We still have this monarchy today. Of course, the monarchs have lost most of their power and the government now runs pretty much entirely on a parliamentary system. The Queen is nothing but I mere figurehead of the State. Still most of the British people love the royal family. We can see this with the recent events of the coming of Prince George, son of William and Kate and third in line for the throne, which I was so glad to be in this country for. The buzz around this baby is so huge that paparazzi have been waiting outside the hospital for a month and half before the child was even due. People lined up outside of Buckingham Palace waiting to see the Golden Easel which told if it was a boy or a girl. They practically worship the royals here. They’re not too unlike our celebrities in America. Think of Paris Hilton or Kim Kardashian and how people follow them. Now obviously these types of celebrities play a lot on their scandalous lives to gain more publicity unlike the royal family which prefers to be scandal-free, but they do have some similarities. They don’t really do anything except make appearances at important events. They’re just really rich and have really nice houses. Yet people love them, imitate them, worship them.

Speaking of nice houses we’re finally coming to what I wanted to discuss: the royal palaces. During our trip I’ve seen many of the royal palaces. I visited Hampton Court, Kensington Palace, Windsor Castle, and the Whitehall Banqueting House, which is all that’s left of Whitehall Palace after it had burned down. These trips were amazing. They were chock full of wonderful visual experiences and also a lot of interesting information. They were also my first and biggest experience of culture shock. To explain what I mean I have to post a few pictures here for you to get a better sense of what I saw.

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These are just a few bits and pieces of what the palaces were like. I can’t show you much of the insides because most of them didn’t allow photos to be inside, but as you can imagine it was beautiful. These palaces were decadent and extravagant. Giant buildings surrounded by beautiful gardens. There was architecture from across the centuries. Sometimes the buildings had quite contrasting architecture, because one King would renovate something a different King had built. You might be in a room with Baroque ceilings that has Gothic windows. Even Windsor Castle, which one might think to be more somber because of it’s ties with Medieval architecture, was full of luxury. I stepped into these palaces and I was surrounded by the most elegant furniture, paintings, tapestries, and other trappings. Most of them were huge. One room could make you feel like the smallest person in the universe and some of the smaller private rooms we’re big enough to fit a two bedroom apartment inside of them.

This is wear the culture shock came in. I thought to myself, How could this be allowed? How could one family be given so much power and money and be allowed to waste it on material luxury? I tried to check myself. “The President gets the White House and a decent paycheck,” I would say to myself. Then I realized there’s a new president every 4-8 years and even then it could be someone who comes from a very poor background. Potentially, anyone could be president. The monarchs aren’t elected though. It’s all luck of the draw. You’re born royalty or not. I remember turning to someone while looking around a beautifully decorated room and saying, “I don’t know whether I should be amazed or disgusted.” They responded  with one word, “both.” I kept thinking of the poor from the past and present and how perhaps a little distribution of wealth from this powerful family could feed a poor family for a year. This line of thinking only dug itself deeper into my mind when I found out that England is in a recession right now quite similar to the one the US was in back in 2009, which is one of the reasons the dollar is doing so well in comparison.

I kept trying to wrestle with these thoughts and feelings. I was unsure how to placate these feelings. Then I did what all humans should when they don’t understand one another; I tried to be empathetic. I put myself in their shoes. If I was a Brit how would I feel about this and why? That’s when I realized what the royal family meant to these people. They were a symbol, a symbol of history, a symbol of freedom, a symbol of order, a symbol of one of the oldest nations on Earth. The Queen didn’t just represent England. She was England. She was part of the culture. She was part of what it means to be English. I finally got it. Maybe, I could never feel the same way they did about the royal family, but at least I understood why they felt that way.

Some of you may be reading this and ask, “But Josh, what about all that extravagant waste you were talking about? What about the poor?” To you, I say, “What about the poor in your country?” The US has a big poverty problem as do most countries. We may not have a royal family, but we’ve got celebrities, CEO’s, rich politicians, and corrupt bankers. Why don’t they help out the poor? At least the royal family represents something special and historically significant. We have no room to criticize them if we can’t  be more critical of ourselves.

Also, in a way the royal family has been helping the poor, though perhaps not directly. They’re legacy is something that many people come from all of the world to see and tourism is one of the biggest ways the UK brings in foreign money to stimulate the economy. People want to see the palaces, the huge gardens, and the lordly estates. Without all the history and cultural significance of the royal family, their economy might be worse off than it is. In addition to this many places that we’re once property of royalty or lords have become beautiful public parks and historical sights. Some of these places you may need to pay for to get in, but why not help support their economy. At least you’re getting to view history.

So if you’re ever in a foreign place and one of their beliefs or practices makes you feel uncomfortable, try to put yourself in there shoes. Empathy is not only a wonderful way to help make the world a better place and understand each other, it also cures culture shock.

For those of you who found this too serious here’s a funny and related video

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JvKIWjnEPNY

-Joshua Gwiazdowski

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