Welcome to England, It’s Very English

I have no business blogging tonight. I’ve been up for a solid thirty-six hours, and although I arrived in Oxford almost twelve hours ago, I have very little of significance to say about it. Still, I feel like I ought to write down a few first impressions of England – impressions that I will later look at and laugh for their naivety or wild inaccuracy. I’m never going to be able to comment on England in a more unfiltered and wholly unfounded way than now, and somehow, that leads me to think I ought to document this moment.

I arrived in London Gatwick at around ten this morning, and made it through customs in a manner that will require a rant of its own (and no, for once, I did not do anything stupid). Jackie surprised me at the bus station – a truly fabulous moment. On board, we were situated by an utterly batty English lady, who rambled aimlessly about her favorite places to buy tea, her various health problems, and the stone used to build Oxford. She concluded her thirty-minute soliloquy by noting that Americans are very slow to do anything, and added that we have no sense of humor. As if in an act of solidarity with his countrywoman, our bus driver then proceeded to deliver a droll five minute announcement about the proper use of the bus bathroom, warning us about different situations in which the toilet would explode and spew feces across the floor.

Upon arrival in Oxford, Jackie and I spent a few minute getting lost in the winding roads of the town center, my one-hundred-twenty pounds of luggage in tow (apparently, this pegs me for an American). Finally, we found Worcester, which – despite apologetically proclaiming on its website that it is not one of Oxford’s older colleges – has a façade that may well have been constructed by druids. I went inside to see the “Porter” to get my key – a bustling and overly apologetic man who seemed like he could be straight out of a BBC comedy – and checked my “Pigeon-Hole” for mail. Really.

I should also mention that the weather here has, so far, fabulously delivered on all expectations: that is to say, it’s shitty, but not in a “wrath of God” way but more a “God would think it’s humorous to rain on you briefly when you’ve just travelled 36 hours and are late to your first advisor meeting and have yet to learn to bring a raincoat” sort of way. My meeting with my advisor went well, although I don’t remember anything from it except that he had bad teeth a la Austin Powers and used about fourteen synonyms for “jolly” in our conversation. Apparently when I am jetlagged I can only remember stereotypes.

Jackie and I ate dinner in a pub – combining warm ale with curry – and I went back to Worcester for Graduate student induction. It went as expected; we basically heard a laundry list of services offered by the college, the highlight being our strangely irreligious Anglican priest. Naturally, this discussion of our mental, physical, and spiritual health segued into some college-sponsored drinking, as the meeting concluded with the college staff, provost included, pounding port with the new students. Afterward, the “Middle Common Room” for graduates organized a “special bar night,” which differs from a normal bar night in that we continued our drinking outside, rather than inside, the college. I did manage to meet some Brits, though, three-fourths of which look exactly like Prince Harry and all of whom found various ways to make fun of Americans, particularly our inability to distinguish “England,” “Great Britain,” and “the United Kingdom.”

I am already telling people that the “best” piece of advice I’ve received prior to my move here is that England (or maybe it’s the U.K.) is not just the U.S. plus funny accents. It’s an entirely new country and culture (about which I am in this post being horribly ethnocentric, of course). I have no idea if that will turn out to be true, but I’m hoping it does. Culture shock is the one kind of adjustment that I’m actually really looking forward to.

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