I’m flying from London home to Portland, Oregon on August 27—tomorrow. I’ve been in the U.K. for seven weeks now. The first five weeks I was part of a study-abroad program at Magdalen College, Oxford University (I was studying Medieval British History). Once the program ended on August 13, I spent a week in the Lake District and then a week in London. Obviously, this is an incomplete list. I may do a Part 2 when I get home.
1) Once the study-abroad program ended and I set off on my own around England, there has been the satisfaction and pride of knowing that no one is in charge of me but myself. That has been more or less the case for me since I began university, but now, in a foreign country alone, this is more true than ever. It’s not so much that I am an adult now; it’s that I have to be an adult now. Naturally, there’s substantial fear that comes with this responsibility. But there’s also confidence and trust in myself. Every time I plan something and it doesn’t work out, I learn from it and I figure out—always surprisingly quickly—how I’m going to fix the problem. Most of the time, though, my plans have worked out just fine (knock on wood). And every time I plan something and it does work out, I am proving to myself that I am capable and dependable. Hopefully I won’t miss those feeling of responsibility and capable-ness when I get home…hopefully I can take those strengths with me when I return.
2) “Cheers!” as a greeting or as a goodbye—especially as a goodbye. It sounds so warm and friendly.
3) Eton Mess (layers of meringue, berries, berry sauce, and whipped cream)
4) Sticky toffee pudding (just as wonderful as it sounds—a moist dark brown-sugary cake soaked in creamy caramel sauce)
5) Trifle (layers of whipped cream, custard, fruit, and thin strips of cake soaked in liqueur)
6) Free museums! In London, these are just some of the outstanding free places to experience art, history, architecture, and science: Tate Modern, Tate Britain, the British Museum, the Science Museum, the Natural History Museum, the National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery, and the Victoria and Albert Museum. If you think galleries and exhibits are boring, that’s probably because you’ve only been to boring ones—come to London and I’m almost certain you’ll change your mind. Real dinosaur bones; original works by the world’s master artists; giant statues from ancient Mesopotamia that look as if they’re part-lion, part-man, part-monster; many-centuries-old swords and shields from pre-Roman Britain that looked like they just popped off the set of The Hobbit movie…
7) Pretty, colorful money—and that the bills are each a different size, so you’re not going to accidentally pull out a 10 when you meant to use a 5. And gold coins! (1- and 2-pound notes come only in coins, not paper.)
8) The fact that toilets are just called toilets in England, without our American euphemisms “bathroom” and “restroom,” which make it sound as if you’re taking a dump in the bathtub, or pissing while you’re taking a nap
9) Buses, coaches, and trains everywhere! I’m from Portland, Oregon, which is known for (in theory) having some of the best public transportation in America. But even we don’t compare to Britain, where you really can get a bus to virtually anywhere, and coaches (long-distance buses with space for lots of luggage) sometimes even get to their destinations early. Buses will even take you to very small towns, making it possible to go hiking when you haven’t got access to a car. If only we had this back home—I could hike the Columbia Gorge or take a day trip to the mountains whenever I felt like it. (Well, okay…when I finally get my driver’s license I’m sure I could borrow a car from someone.) And the train stations—they’re like airports!—or at least the ones in the larger towns are.
10) English mustard. It’s ten times spicier than American mustard; I swear they add wasabi to it. Great stuff.
11) Black pudding. I certainly won’t miss the taste of black pudding, just the weirdness of it—spotting what appears to be a black hockey puck on your fellow diners’ breakfast plates adds a bit of the surreal to every morning. It looks like they’re eating a bit of space food. (In case you’re wondering, American friends…when you slice into this hockey puck, the inside is a spongy, stringy mud. It tastes like liver, and it smells like blood.)
12) Ginger beer! Such spicy deliciousness. Intensely gingery, unlike our mild, watery American ginger ale. English ginger beer tastes like pure, carbonated ginger juice, sweetened with cups and cups of yummy sugary goodness.
13) People who call you m’ love when serving you a meal or ringing up your purchases
14) Little children with English accents. I mean, every English speaker in the world has an accent, especially considering there are people who speak English in just about every country—I’m certainly aware of my own West-Coast American accent while I’m in Britain. But something about hearing 4, 5, and 6-year-olds say “toe-MAH-toe” and “MAH-mah-laid” is incredibly delightfully charming, and always makes me smile.
15) Oddly carnivorous flavors for potato chips (called potato crisps in Britain, of course)…like BBQ rib, prawn cocktail, and even roast chicken. And my favorite, a really awesomely delicious flavor I’ll miss—Worcester sauce flavor. (Yes, it’s called Worcester sauce and not Worcestershire sauce like we call it in the US, but it tastes like the same thing.)
16) Hearing grown men and teenage boys refer to their jumpers—as in, “You seen my jumper? Reckon I must’ve left it at the lake…” Even though I know that here, jumper means what sweater or sweatshirt means in the US, for a split second I always imagine the speaker dressed in what we’d call a jumper in America—a little girl’s sleeveless dress, a bit like a pinafore.
17) Anything blackcurrant flavored. Blackcurrants are like blueberries, huckleberries, and blackberries combined.
18) Everything is old; everything has history. Every stone building could be centuries old, and very likely is. You can (and my friends and I did) eat pizza in what was once Shakespeare’s bedroom in the Oxford Pizza Express. C.S. Lewis and Oscar Wilde slept in New Building at Magdalen College, Oxford, the same building I slept in for five weeks.
19) Beautiful stone buildings that look like they rose directly out of the earth on which they were built—and each region has its own color and texture of stonework: creamy golden stone slabs in Oxford, slim slices of gray slate-like rock in the Lake District…
20) Gray stone walls that spider-web the rolling grassy hills of the countryside
21) …and, oftentimes alongside those gray stone walls, are gnarled hedges of hawthorn and hazel, pruned to form barriers between one family’s land and another’s. The hedges create mazes of green that zig-zag over hillsides.
22) The prevalence of signs marking the way to public footpaths, so that you can wander the countryside without worrying you’re trespassing
23) Stupid effing sheep, and their ridiculous sheep noises. Sheep are everywhere as soon as you step out of the city, and often before you step out of the city. Every time I hear one baa I laugh—they sound so sad and silly. Their baas are like a cough crossed with a moan and a scream. Sheep always sound like they’re complaining.
24) Gargoyles. In Oxford especially, but in London too, they peer at you from every building more than a century old. Each one of them is different from all the others. Some look like little children, others like bears or wolves, some are ugly as bats, and others lovely women with something sinister in the eyes.
25) When I order tea in England, more often than not I am served a pot that holds about three cups, plus a miniature pitcher of milk. In America tea is just one mug, sometimes disappointingly small, and usually served with lemon. Lemon’s all right, but there’s something very homey and cozy about milky tea.
26) Turrets and towers that make some buildings look like castles…well, after all, a few of the buildings are castles.
27) Pimm’s cocktails: a pitcher of Pimm’s, lemonade, ice, and slices of lemon, lime, and cucumber. Especially great are the pitchers that have orange slices and fresh mint, too. Best of all was the one time the pitcher had strong black tea mixed in with the lemonade and the alcohol. Yum.
28) Although I left Oxford on August 13, since then I’ve sorely missed the quiet bookish warmth of studying in the lower reading room of Radcliffe Camera. I may not ever be able to do that again in my life; people are only allowed inside Radcliffe Camera with a Bodleian Library card. My Bodleian card, and those of all my study-abroad friends, expired a few days after our program ended on August 13. Unless I go to graduate school at Oxford (possible, but highly unlikely), I won’t be able to enjoy the high sunlit windows or old-book smell of the Radcliffe Camera again; I’ll only be able to see it from the outside.