Merry Second day of Christmas! I write to you from my favorite coffee shop, Wesley Owen’s. In a fit of madness/missing the English walking life, I walked here. Today is white and Narnia-ish. The snow is falling in the way snow falls in movies, and the trees are white and twinkling with the sub-teen temperatures. Needless to say, when I entered and said I’d walked, my friends the baristas looked at me like I’d declared my intention to begin a diet of chewing glass and oatmeal with razor blades; is it safe? is it reasonable?
Well, perhaps not, but here I am. Christmas was lovely, loud and invigorating. How was yours?
Last week I wrote on Five things I will miss about England with a promise of a sequel: Five things I will/do NOT miss about England. Consider these not complaints, but observations. England can’t have EVERYTHING right… it wouldn’t be fair to the rest of us. My experience of England was overwhelming positive, these are only things that make me laugh. So, without further ado…
Five Things I do NOT miss about England:
In the final week of our program we had a review in which we talked about the things we liked, didn’t like, loved, and were looking forward to about returning. When I answered, I found myself fumbling for words, and answered something like this:
“I just… America is so efficient… and… well, America has great sinks!”
The room erupted into laughter, and I laughed at myself as I realized how ridiculous that sounds, but if you’ve ever lived over seas, and spent a majority of your time in older buildings, I think you’ll understand what I mean.
A great deal of England just hasn’t figured out modern plumbing.
Exhibit A: The Sinks
In England the options of temperature for the sinks are cold, lukewarm for 2 seconds while its warming up, and BOILING HOT. This is due to the fact that most sinks have a “hot” faucet and a cold “faucet,” and true to their names, one is YOUCH!-*refrains from saying bad words*-hot and the other the-cold-has-penetrated-to-my-bones-cold. Many rookies try to combine the polarizing temperatures by quickly switching between the faucets to create a luke-warm effect, which, in short, doesn’t work, and results in the humiliating I’ve-made-a-terrible-mistake dance while washing your hands in the kitchen.
I will not miss this.
I know, I know. I’m entitled, I’m demanding, I’m American… but couldn’t we just manage some lukewarm water?
The last point leads into my second complaint. I never realized how efficiency driven American culture is. Think about it with me. America is the home of “Open 24 hours,” customer service, and mass production. We have whole industries built around customer satisfaction, 24 hour hotlines, and there is always an online survey to fill out if you’re disappointed.
Not so in England.
England, at least Oxford, is much slower pace than most of America. Most shops close at 6:00. Drive thru’s are not a common occurrence. England has it’s holy-times which no industry or social duty shalt disturb. It creates a relaxed rhythm. A sense of precious time to just be and not work. I appreciate that. I truly do.
I appreciate it until my ceiling is falling off.
One day, after having been gone all day, I returned to find my ceiling steadily dripping, and a five foot wide wet spot on the ground. Oh, and the ceiling was falling off. I present to you this picture as evidence.
Now, imagine for yourself what infrastructure and reaction would occur in America. Got it in your mind? Okay. This is what happened.
I finally got a hold of the person in charge of fixing these things the next afternoon, after having collected 4 buckets full of water from my ceiling, and he informed me that they would take care of it on Monday… maaaybe…..
It was Saturday.
“But… my ceiling is falling off. And my room smells like a science experiment,” I said.
With this compelling argument, they agreed to find someone to fix the leak (1.75 days after it began). Which was great.
They never fixed the ceiling.
Sometimes I like to imagine the ceiling was like a piece of modern art. Sometimes I liked to think it was making me learn to be grateful. Sometimes I liked to laugh at how funny it was that the ceiling in my room was literally falling off.
Life makes me laugh.
The internet at my hall at Oxford was like a game. This is how it went:
Log into internet.
Internet asks if you want to validate the certificate.
You press “yes” and hurriedly enter your password.
You open Safari.
The certificate expires, and you begin the process all over again.
Eventually, you learn to access the book you need on the online library in 57 seconds or less, because that is how long it takes for the certificate to expire.
Repeat X1000000 times
For being one of the best universities in the world, the internet in my hall was comically abysmal. Perhaps it was to encourage us to go to the library.
Doesn’t Oxford know Facebook procrastination is a key part of academic success?
4. Darkness at 3:45 in the Afternoon:
Due to its location on the globe, as winter wears on days become dramatically shorter in England. By the time I left, the sun was almost set by 3:45 in the afternoon. Often, I would find myself peering out of the library window, and thinking to myself “wow! It’s almost dark! That means I can stop working soon and get dinner! Yay I love dinner.”
It’s just generally unsettling for night to come so quickly. After the sun set, I didn’t want to do anything except drink warm things, and slurp soup, and contemplate my existence, play Dutch Blitz with friends, or watch Downton Abbey. What business had the sun in retiring so early when I still had 50 pages of Aquinas to wade through?
Honestly! It’s unreasonable!
5. Pretending like I know what someone just said:
It’s amazing how you can speak the same language as someone, and yet not be able to understand a word they say. So many conversations consisted of me asking something, the other person saying something that sounded like a conglomeration of british syllables which my mind tried and failed to comprehend. This is partly exacerbated by the British-inside-voice tendency, which overall I enjoy and appreciate, except for when my American ears are struggling to understand the understated dignity of the Oxford accent. This would result in my asking for them to repeat what they just said, and after three repetitions, me just saying “mmm… yeah… I know what you mean.”
Of course there was also the case of not understanding a phrase, for instance:
British person: Oh, are you alright?
Me: Ummm… yes! Are you alright?
By this, they mean “how are you doing?” But the phrase can be confusing.
I think, after a short contemplation, I will miss this more than not. I will miss the colorful accents that created the awkwardness, but not the awkwardness itself.
Ah, England. Overall, my complaints and observations only serve to endear me to it more; would you feel such a great affection for something if it it weren’t for its quirks and quibbles? I think not.
So, I’ll wash my hands with lukewarm water, enjoy highspeed internet, speak as loudly as my American heart desires and miss England mightily.
All for now.