I have spoken previously about a trip I got to make my last year in college. In one of the courses, there was an assignment to write something as if it would go into some sort of publication. I don't remember the exact parameters, but I am pretty sure the field of things to write about was fairly open.
I chose to write about my observations of being in a foreign land, and travelling outside of the country. I had been to Canada, but had never been anywhere requiring a passport until that time.
Funny to think of England as "foreign," but there are many differences between us. The following was written quite some time ago, by a young 20-something-year-old woman. It is at times awkward both in structure and in observation.
I may have altered a little something here, or there, but it is mostly intact from the hand-written original. My teacher was kind enough to give me an 88/B+ for my efforts and told me that it would be published in the Travel Section (which did not really exist beyond its purpose for this exercise).
I share it here, in the hope that it is preserved somehow. Over the years I have wondered if it has gone missing. I also share it as perhaps something to laugh about for anyone who might be from that part of the world, as I do know a few of you.
All I ask is that you not hold it against me. I was, and am still, learning.
Please. :P Thank you.
A trip to London: quite an undertaking if one is from a small town in the middle of the US that is surrounded by cornfields. After the long trek from Carlinville to Chicago to Newark to London (Gatwick) a traveller is most interested in finding his accommodations. However, this traveller was far from her destination, since Gatwick is far from anything else in London.
Upon entrance into the Gatwick airport, one is greeted by many things. For one is the strong use of the color green. Another thing are signs that say "WC," meaning "water closet," in American terms, restroom. And, of course, there is the obvious, people talking with a funny accent.
To make matters interesting there was a group of us, none of whom knew where our destination was in relation to where we were. The first step was to get our luggage. But before we could do that, we had to check-in with the British. At customs they asked questions like "What are you here for?" "How long will you stay?" It was slightly nerve-racking because after travelling for many hours, the last thing that would be of interest is negotiating one's stay in the country.
Also of "concern" was the waiting. Not only was the line long but, as an American, it is easy to wonder how conspicuous one is in the midst of people native to the land. Besides looking tired, we probably looked American.
What is American? For one, much luggage, which only a few of us were not guilty of. Americans also have an athletic walk, complemented by sneakers and a "sporty" look. (The English tend to dress up far more often than we do). None of us were wearing shorts, due to a forewarning of cold weather and also the fact that shorts are simply not worn here. However, there was one obvious thing that, regardless of anyone's prior doubts, stated our native land - our American accent. We may have also been loud and chewing gum - two traditionally American, stereotypic actions.
When we got through customs the "fun" and faux pas began. Besides the fact that we couldn't carry our luggage with great ease - and that when put on a convenience carrier, the luggage fell off - we had to try to carry our luggage on the escalators.
In London, it is of utmost importance that one stands on the right side of the elevator (escalator). This is for the convenience of those in a hurry; the left is a passing lane. We, with our bulk, blocked traffic.
One escalator led to another. They seemed to come in sets and we again made the same mistake.
These escalators led us out of an interminable amount of changes on the underground, the tubes - in American terms, the subway (incidentally, subway in England is a walkway that goes under the roads) and into the railways.
We had the railcar basically to ourselves. It was fortunate that we arrived when we did. Our luggage helped us to take up about twice the room we would have, minus the appendages.
The people throughout our excursions looked at us with almost a frown. We were infringing on their land. We, Americans. Americans don't have an extremely good reputation in the U.K. We didn't help it with our fumbling. But, be it in the U.K., or the states, anywhere new is fumbling ground. It just so happened that here we were pegged as American, tourist nuisances.
This is not to imply that anyone was rude to us. But, rather, we were rude to them in our ignorance. Both peoples carried stereotypes that began the minute a person opened his mouth to speak, and sometimes before.
Upon our arrival at our last stop, we were within walking distance of our lodging. That is, walking distance - without luggage weight. Some (myself included) took a cab. Some more fumbling (the question: to give a tip, or not?)
When we arrived at the building we were very unorganized. Only one or two had travelers checks in pounds. The rest were forced to dump their luggage in their room and run to the bank. With the exchange rate such as it is, it was lucky to get 600 pounds for $1000 US Dollars. However, at least the 600 pounds (£) is worth our $1000 in terms of items bought.
The bank was another unfamiliar ground, and so was the currency. Pound pieces are utilized more often here than £1 bills. The pound piece is also one of the smallest pieces of the English currency. In the beginning it was difficult to tell how many American dollars were necessary to receive the number of pounds required for lodging. This created some confusion for at least one member of our group and for the bank employee to whom he spoke.
Speaking. It was another hurdle. While we speak the same language, we have two versions: one British, one American. It carries with it a number of difficulties because some words mean different things to each of us (i.e. chips (US) = crisps (UK), fries (US) = chips (UK)). But before the difficulty of understanding word meanings, there was at times the difficulty of deciphering the British accents. One man was speaking of the Germans. His pronunciation was "Jammins." There is a tendency in some dialects for the British to leave out consonant sounds.
Today I have seen from a distance Big Ben and The Tower of London. I hope to see them up close before my departure. I also intend to do some shopping. Hopefully I can keep straight my pounds and pences and not fumble with my wallet. As it is now, I have accumulated a lot of change as I attempt to say as little as possible when shopping as I attempt to look like I know what I am doing. I have tried to assimilate myself into the culture by using their words and meanings as a means of self preservation and consideration for their culture.
Now it's time that I take the lift to reception and go to the pub with my mate to have a bitter, or two.
Translation: Now it's time that I take the elevator to the reception and go the bar with my friend to have a beer, or two.
It's a tough life in Britain.