Friday, 13 March 2009

A good way to waste some time!

I have so much free time on my hands right now. I don't really know what to do with myself. I just got off the phone with Will. He's boarding a plane in Tulsa right now to come here! And I just got to see my Granddot, Abby Pratt, to exchange a hug. She and her parents are here visiting Lydia. It was great to see another familiar face, especially someone in my Gam Fam!

So what should I do with all this spare time I have accumulated? Well, I've been making a mental list of funny things I have seen as well as cultural difference between here and the States. I think now would be a good time to make use of them, so here it goes.

First, the one major difference I see between us and the Brits (besides the way we talk, of course) is the way we walk down a sidewalk. Traditionally, if you're in the U.S. and you see someone coming your way you will both make an effort to avoid one another, allowing enough space for both of you to pass by comfortably. Not so in merry ole England. I cannot begin to count the number of times I've had to walk on the street when I pass someone because they insist on walking right down the middle of the side walk. And if they're walking with someone else? Rather than one person stepping in front of the other for a moment, they just keep plowing down the sidewalk. Once again, I'm on the street. What have I done to remedy this problem? I do as the British do. I feel completely rude, but it's the only way to get where I'm going. So that's issue number one.

Next, girls in England do not have feeling in their legs, or the rest of their bodies for that matter. While us Americans have been bundled up with jeans, sweaters, coats, and hats, the natives prance around in leggings and cutsie tops with no jacket or coat to speak of. We don't know how they do it. Thankfully it's getting warmer now, so we'll be able to blend in with them a little more and trade our bulky coats and hats for a little more acceptable attire.

Moving on, let's discuss an average day on Cornmarket Street. Everything opens between 8 and 9 a.m., usually closer to 9 a.m. unless it's a cafe. You'll see a lot of people having their morning tea or coffee before heading to work. Then the street is a little quieter for a few hours until about 12:30 or 1 p.m. From then on, there are a ton of people all over the place eating and shopping. I always ask myself everyday, don't these people have jobs? I find it hard to believe they do when everyone is out and about at 3 p.m. on a Tuesday, but they have to get their money to do all their shopping from's a mystery. To return to an average day on Cornmarket, everything closes at 6 p.m. at the latest, and restaurants stop serving very early. What do you do? Go to the pub! But even they're only open until about 11 p.m. Bizarre, right? So where do you go at 3 in the morning for a study snack? Food vans! About 8 p.m. (when all the restaurants and pubs stop serving food) vendors set up vans all over the streets of Oxford where they sell burgers, kebabs, chips, pizza, and all other things fried and greasy. They all have fun names too, my favorite being Posh Nosh (Nosh is food). I've heard their cheesy chips are very yummy. I have yet to try them. We live pretty far away from town, so I'd rather not walk half an hour one way for some chips.

Which brings us to the subject of food. Although we speak the same language, Americans and the English definitely do NOT share the same food! We are called the melting pot for a reason; because we have the best of any kind of food from every part of the world. I can't say the same for England. Although they don't really eat beans for breakfast every day or fish and chips all the time, there is certainly plenty of traditional fare to be found. Cornish pasties, Sunday roasts, and crepe stands abundant on the streets of Oxford. And I do love the pastry shops and the open market at Gloucester Green every Wednesday. I will miss that when I'm back in the states. England also has delicious Indian cuisine. Some chicken tikka and garlic nan makes for a yummy dinner!

What you won't find in England, however, are all those wonderful staples of American comfort food. Want to make up some good ole Velveeta Shells and Cheese? Sorry, none to be found here. Having a party and want some rotel dip? Also no Velveeta. What about a BBQ sandwich or an enchilada? No such luck. Poptarts? Nope. You can find Oreos at Sainsbury's, but in my opinion, if it's not Double Stuf, it's not an they don't really have Oreos, if you get my drift. But I can't complain too much. We also have pancake parties and teas... It's not so bad. :)

Speaking of Sainsbury's (our grocery store), it's nothing like Price Chopper, Summer Fresh, Wal-Mart, etc. It's very small, about half the size of the first two stores I named. You won't find anything in bulk, and food expires very quickly. I think they must use fewer preservatives, which is probably a good thing. As a result, you can't go to the store once a week and stock up (partly because it will go bad by Wednesday and also because you can't carry that much back to your flat). Therefore, I end up going to the store about 3 or 4 times a week. And the lines...At times they reach all the way down the aisles! Of course they move much more quickly than those at Wal-Mart because rather than buying a month's worth of groceries, people are only buying 2 or 3 day's worth. It all evens out.

Okay, I think that's enough about the differences between here and there. Now for some funny things I've seen.

  • A woman pushing a stroller with no baby in it.
  • A woman carrying her dog in her purse (I thought only Paris Hilton did that).
  • A man carrying a purse.
  • A man wearing red velvet pants.
  • A man wearing purple velvet pants (what's the deal with velvet?).
  • A man who pulled a backpack out of a litter bin to see if it was worth making another man's trash his treasure.

I can't remember any more right now. I know there are more, but my favorite is a man Madison and I refer to as "the penguin." He is a short, squatty man (shaped much like a sphere from head to toe) and one of the about 7 obese people I have seen in the UK. Every weekend he makes his journey up and down Abingdon Road, which is really about 100 yards at most. He spends the entire day waddling down the street, much like a bloated penguin would. He also smokes (and I'm sure his pack has a great big "Smoking Kills" sticker on it). I have to admit I always smile to myself every weekend when I see him waddling down the street like a weeble (They wobble but they won't fall down!). It's one of those funny things I'll always remember. I'm glad Madison shares the inside joke with me. I hate when there are fun things that happen in a new place, and there is no one to laugh with about them later. ("Schwing!" comes to mind, a little joke I share with my Jordanian friend, Khaled.)

I've wasted a sufficient amount of time my time, and yours now too, so I think I will finish packing for my trip and prepare for tutorial. More to come after I travel!

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Taking a breath

Tonight has been the first night in a long time that I haven't been writing a paper or reading a book, and it feels wonderful. Tomorrow is my last tutorial for Hillary Term. I believe it's safe to say I've officially survived. The past eight weeks have been the most rigorous, enriching, and, at times, horrible weeks of my life. I have learned so much in two month's time, and not just about Political Philosophy and the Holocaust. I've learned to embrace another culture. I've learned to look right first rather than left when crossing the street. I've learned British people don't move out of the way when you're walking down the sidewalk, so you have to be just as aggressive if you want to get where you're going. I've learned that a hoodie and tennis shoes are not suitable attire for going to the grocery store. I've learned that HobNobs are quite possibly the best biscuits ever created, and Cadbury mini eggs are most delicious when eaten late at night after having drinks with friends at Cambridge.
I've also learned a lot about myself. After being in another country for two months, I know I CAN do it. I remember going back and forth about whether or not I REALLY wanted to do this. There were days I was completely against going to Oxford. I had spent far too much time away from home, and I did not want to miss out on making memories at Jewell. I would have missed out on even more had I not made the final decision to get on the plane and fly across the Atlantic. Of course there are days when I really want to go home and see my friends and family, but I know they're thinking of me and they're proud of me. That gives me enough strength to make it through one more day of reading, writing, walking a million miles, and everything else that comes with being here. And when I get back, I'll appreciate what I have all the more.
I've been doing a lot of self reflecting over the past few week, having realized that next year I'm going to be a senior and will have to start planning for the "real world." I've been considering the idea of applying for Teach for America for quite a while now, but I haven't convinced myself completely of being capable of taking on such a task. Today in tutorial, when I was in the middle of reading my paper, my tutor stopped me and asked what I wanted to be when I grew up. I was caught a little off-guard, as I was reading a paper about Nietzsche's political philosophy. I said I wanted to be a journalist. He replied, "I think you would make a very good teacher." He went on to say that I had a way of connecting with people, and that it came through in my writing. He said it was a special gift and he would hate to see it go to waste. I told him I was thinking of applying for TFA; he said he hoped the desire for teaching would stick. I could not have imagined receiving a better compliment. It really made me feel like, "Yes, I am making the right decisions about where my life should lead." It was the assurance I had been praying for, and I had an immense peace as I walked through the parks on my way home.
I'm sure you are all loving reading about my epiphanies, but you would much rather know about the fun things I've been up to, so I guess I'll move on to that now. Yesterday we went on an all-day excursion to Broughton Castle and Syon Park. It was wonderful to spend the day in the English countryside. The weather was perfect, and we all had a terrific time relaxing after working so hard all term. The pictures at the top are from the trip. I really don't know exactly what to say about the castle and park without sounding like a tour guide. Broughton Castle has been used many times by various film crews. Scenes from "Shakespeare in Love," "Three Men and a Little Lady," and "Made of Honor" were shot there. There was even a portion of the wall in one of the rooms that had been constructed for a movie set to cover up some pipes. The owners of the castle didn't like the pipes either and decided to leave the pretend stone after the film crew left. I never would have noticed the difference had he not pointed it out. Syon Park was absolutely gorgeous; I could have spent all day taking pictures there. It made me really excited to go to the Forest of Dean with Will. I can't wait to explore more of rural England.
...Which leads me to the best part about term being over. It's time to travel! Will arrives late tomorrow night, and I'm meeting him in London Saturday morning. I've been furiously booking trains, planes, buses, and hostels, as well as finding directions to and from everywhere. I have all of our confirmation and ticket information in a folder arranged chronologically. (That's for you, Ginia.) I can't wait to get on the bus to London and begin my first official Eurotrip. We're going to London for the first couple of days, then Amsterdam, then Paris, and finally Bream and the Forest of Dean. We'll be in Amsterdam of St. Patrick's day, so what better way to celebrate than taking a visit to the Heineken Brewery, right? Apparently we can "be the bottle" and see the step by step process of how beer is made. It will be an educational St. Patrick's Day. :) I am most looking forward to going to the Louvre while we're in Paris. Ever since I read the Da Vinci Code, I've wanted to see it. I had the special illustrated edition with pictures from the Louvre. I can't believe I'm actually going to be there in just a matter of days! And another thing we have to do is buy a big baguette, some cheese, and a bottle of wine and sit by the Eiffel Tower and people-watch and just take it all in.

So anyway, that's what I'll be doing the next couple of weeks. I'm going to cut myself off now, so I don't begin a novel. I apologize for the rambling. Hope you all like the pictures, at least. And so to bed.