Nostalgia hasn’t quite set in yet, but jetlag has. If you have ever been on a study abroad trip, graduated highschool, or had any experience where you knew you were leaving a people and a place you liked very much very soon, I think you’ll understand my exhaustion. There is this constant drive to stay up one more hour, go on one last adventure, and generally not waste a single precious moment with people. I think I’ve had a cumulative of 4 hours of sleep in the last 48 hours. I may or may not have stayed up till 3:00 watching all 6 hours of the BBC Pride and Prejudice last night. (Hint: I did. I definitely did).
All this to say, I’m currently sitting on the final leg of my journey home, and I decided it would be a worthwhile venture/method of staying awake to write about what I will miss from England. So, herein I shalt include my current musings and missings of the Old Country. Here is my list.
1. Cultish Affinity for Tea:
Tea and I were fast friends before England. Next to Jesus and my favorite books, Yorkshire Gold Tea is probably what I evangelize most enthusiastically about. This being the case, prior to my term abroad, I figured I would be in the good company of tea aficionados in England. But tea in England is different.
What I had previously assumed a healthy budding relationship with tea, I soon realized was a paltry flirtation in comparison with the passionate love affair that most Brits have. In England, tea isn’t just a beverage, it is a lifestyle.
During my first three weeks of lectures, there was a break cut out in every day’s schedule purely for the consumption of tea and biscuits (cookies). It was as regular in the schedule as a lunch break. Because tea is important.
I discovered this phenomena is not so uncommon. Tea is a social liturgy. A part of the rhythm of life. It brings a bit of civility to every single day. It is a tangible way to remind yourself to “Keep calm and carry on… and eat a dark chocolate digestive.”
2. Colored Trousers:
First off, let me preface this with saying, I don’t think I will ever be able to call the article of clothing you wear on your legs that is not a skirt “pants” ever again. In England, “pants” refers to undergarments. After one accidental slip of complimenting someone’s (say your professor?) pants, you will forever be marred with the trauma and convert to the name “trousers” for the remainder of your life. I speak from experience.
All this to say, I will miss the rainbow array of trousers I encountered on a daily basis at Oxford. Sky blue, mustard yellow, grass green, dead salmon, king purple, and of course, the classic red trousers are a must for Oxford fashion, especially if you are a gentleman of swank-ish taste.
It is always odd to me that the Brits, so famed for their subtly and pervasive sense of embarrassment, wear such brightly colored trousers! Further even than trousers, however, is the number of startling combinations of colors, prints and textures which so many of the poshiest of the posh manage to mish mash together in one array of apparel. The sight of an Oxonian chap, resplendent in pale pink trousers, a baby blue button up, polka dot bow tie, striped scarf, pointy shoes and distinguished umbrella was not an uncommon one. The effect on the eyes is an aggressive cheerfulness. There’s something delightful about it; even the most dignified of Oxford gentlemen can’t resist an outfit of mixed pattern and a bow tie. And every time you see someone thus be-garbed, you can’t help but smile.
I frequented a corner coffee shop, and rather made it my own. Something I loved about it was sitting, drinking my flat white and listening to the lilt of conversations around me. On my right would be the French couple, talking to one-another in sweet nasally nothings, pushing back their dark curls and sounding like a wine commercial. On the left, the well groomed Austrian speaks English precisely, while explaining German vocabulary to a language student who sounds like he’s from Essex. Then of course, there’s the various English accents: Northern, London, poshy-boy’s school accents, etc. And then there’s the Irish.
Oh, Gosh, the Irish.
I think if an Irish man walked up to me on the street and asked to marry me, I would, entirely involuntarily, accept. I would be utterly incapable of uttering anything other than “yes!”
Oxford is place full of internationals, and I absolutely loved being in an atmosphere permeated by a diversity of culture, expressed through a symphony of accents.
Ermegersh. Irish accents are the best.
4. The Bodleian:
I thought I knew what a library was, and then I went to England. At my home university, when writing a paper on a particular topic, you enter your search terms and find a suitable, but modest number of books which you could find on one of the three floors of books. Someone already checked out your book? Bummer. Try the La Mirada Library (lolz).
Altogether, it is a fairly effecient, compact and helpful library.
Not so at the Bodleian.
At the Bodleian, within a typety-type and a few clicks on SOLO, you have access to literally millions of books, housed in multiple buildings, with every edition you could want, and you can order them to whichever particular library you desire.
The other cool thing? You can go touch old books. Like REALLY old books.
Once, I was researching for an essay on virtue, and while mining the depths of SOLO (the online library directory), I discovered a sermon on virtue by Thomas Mole. The sermon was date 1732. My first thought was “Oh! This is probably a copied manuscript in a collection of sermons.” Nope. It was an actual copy in an actual book actually from 1732. Which, if I reserved it in the collection library, I could go look at. And touch.
Okay… so it might take you an hour to find one book in the basement of the library where you have a distinct feeling you might be murdered by old academic ghosts… still… OLD BOOKS!
What a wonderful world.
5. Nature, walking, and contact with the weather world:
On a slow day in Oxford I walked at least 3 miles. Oxford is a walking/biking city, and I absolutely loved it! Every day, no matter how many hours you spent in the library or your room pouring over books, you still had to come in contact with the great green world. And, oh, but Oxford is green! Nature seems to stumble into every sidewalk in Oxford. I don’t think the English are quite as fixated on finicky floral manicuration. The leaves fall and they don’t rake them up. Gardens spill over with flowers and ferns. Everyone composts and recycles. It is a place where you cannot escape the natural wildness of the world. It is all about you. Under your feet. In your hair.
I suppose that was one downside (if you want to call it that) of Oxford living. One never really has good hair days, because as soon as you curl your hair, your bound to get rained on, blown through, or frizzed out by the British weather. That’s another thing, I understand now why the British always talk about the weather… it’s so interesting over there, how can you not?
Well, I’m rambling, and I could go on doing so for days. England will always hold a chummy, charming, changing power in my life. I want to head back soon.
But in the meantime, the flight is over, I’m home safe and sound, and I need espresso to ward of the jet-lag lethargy.
Tune in next time for 5 things I will NOT miss about England.