Every Sunday for the past nine weeks, Advice Booth has been open for business on Brick Lane. Questions ranging from the mundane (“why doesn’t he like me?”) to the philosophical (“what is beauty?”) will be answered in exchange for £1. Following an in-depth discussion, customers are given a lollipop and a typewritten piece of paper, outlining the advice. The Booth also has a refund policy, which means that if you are dissatisfied with the advice you are given, you can get your money back. So far, no one has asked for a refund. Londonist met up with the people behind Advice Booth, Debbie (originally from Toronto) and Morgan (from Dublin).
What made you decide to open the Advice Booth?
We had been thinking about London and how difficult it is to make and keep good friends. It is easy to find someone to drink with but it is hard to find someone to confide in. You don’t really know your community or the people in it, but we feel that the Booth has created a stronger sense of community – at least for us.
Why did you decide to open Advice Booth on Brick Lane and not anywhere else?
Brick Lane is close to home so practically it made sense. Shoreditch is unlike any other area of London, it is very carnivalesque, people will dress playfully, and they would like to live their lives playfully. It would be a completely different thing in another area. The state of mind of a person changes depending on where they are, so someone who would ordinarily not give us the time of day will be relaxed and open to the Booth because he or she is having a nice day out on Brick Lane.
Why do you think that Advice Booth has become so popular?
Well, it is easier to give and to receive advice from strangers than from friends. Unlike friends, it is very easy for us to be objective in our advice; we have nothing to gain from sugarcoating an opinion. We dress up a bit to look approachable – nerdy but whimsical. The typewritten advice that we give people is a receipt, a record, something that will help them remember what we spoke about. People really like that, they frame it and think of it as a nice memento. We always take people seriously, no matter the type of question – well, we take it as seriously as the customers do.
What is the worst thing about London?
Debbie: Oh, definitely public transport, the tube is poorly laid out – you could be on the tube with your best friend and still not have anything to talk about because everybody loses their soul on the tube.
Morgan: Inequality – the difference between rich and poor is much greater than anywhere else I’ve been.
What is the best thing about London?
Debbie: It is eclectic, it is international, playful.
Morgan: Yes, anything goes, and Londoners have a great sense of humour.
Debbie: A great sense of humour about themselves. I wouldn’t be able to do the Advice Booth in any other city. It is the perfect place for it.
Londonist sometimes feels a bit lonely, particularly at night. How would you advice us to meet new people?
Well, we would say to join organisations, which are not necessarily bars or drinking related – although they can be, quiz nights in a pub for example. Otherwise, find places that organise social evenings, where people go and see films together or go to concerts – many people join on their own and meet new people. It is important to have courage enough to take a different approach. If you meet a new person whom you think is cool then you should ask them for their phone number – chances are that they are also feeling lonely. Put yourself forward. Ring someone, invite them around for dinner. Just ask someone for their number if you like them. You can meet cool people in all sorts of situations. And London is weird so people wouldn’t be averse to giving out their number as long as it’s clear that you are not coming on to them.
With that, Londonist bids farewell to Advice Booth and skips out into the rain, hoping to meet a new friend right around the corner.
The next date for Advice Booth is Sunday 20th May. More advice is available via Debbie and Morgan’s MySpace page. Debbie is currently working with the Forest Café in Edinburgh and is looking for writers, performers and other practising artists who are interested in taking part in the Forest Fringe in August.
By Charlotte Pedersen
Image taken from Liseration’s Flickr photostream.