Wednesday, 13 January 2010

"Big Saucy Bangers" and Other Introductory British Details

I'm snatching a moment to catch my gentle readers up before I venture out into the now rapidly falling snow. My second day in Oxford slammed me into both British culture and the enchantment of having professors with the accent. I had Shakespeare in the morning, wriggling with excitement as trips to see "various performances, including in the new Globe and Stratford-Upon-Avon" were detailed.

And then in my travel writing tutorial (which is one-on-one, apparently) promptly made the instructor blush and scramble to cover an embarassed stammer when I declared my conception in England as a reason for coming to this odd place. Um, oops? (But it was adorable, in a pompous sort of way.)

In between I had a "walk-about" with Danielle (one of the many USD girls overrunning St. Clare's at the moment) and a kind South Korean woman named Betty. We wandered past the "Dragon School" (where Emma Watson attended before Harry Potter film fame) and in a general circle.

I couldn't help it - I started snapping pictures of the mailboxes. They inspire a person to write something, if only to be able to pop it into the stately red cylinder which bears the script ER. Must obtain postcards soon...

[Insert hurried rush to class here...must add to this later...]

Back, if a few days later. In any case, my first trip to the market with my new mates was memorable. Would you believe that the British advertise canned goods entitled "Big Saucy Bangers" without a thought to possible resulting innuendos? "Cover me!" I called to Joanne (another USD mate), as I snuck a picture of the offending shelf. Also salad "cream." What is this obsession with mayonaise products, lads? Or don't you British believe in heart attacks?

They also do not sell cream of wheat or salt at the Co-Op in Summertown, as Daina and Colleen found out. "Porridge?" Daina ventured to a slouching salesboy, "But out of"

"What, d'you mean posh porridge or non-posh?" he answered, moving toward the oatmeal shelves.

Daina: "Posh? Um, student-without-much-money porridge?"

Posh Porridge Co-Op Boy: "Ah! That's me as well!" *points to the Co-Op brand of oatmeal and cheerfully bids Daina luck*

She still has not gotten her cream of wheat.

That same day - after a hilarious trundle and bit of bus catchery back to Logan House (the bags broke and laughter bent us conspicuously over several times on the sidewalk) - I visited my first pub. Now. The Royal Oak, which features a sign depicting someone who vaguely resembles Sir Isaac Newton, looks tiny from the curb. About as wide as a downtown shop with an ancient door. Unassuming, only a small pub, described by Carla the activities coordinator as "cozy." Just "around the corner" from Bardwell.

It was a half hour's stroll through the January nip to enter and find that it is in fact a veritable maze of dark mahogany, crimson curtains, and crowds of patrons in various stages of sobriety or lack thereof.

Intimidating as The Royal Oak at first appeared, my little American group (6 Californians and me) found a corner near a table of feverishly photo-snapping Koreans and then sought the bar. Much debate, a smidge of necessary shoving, and some anxiety yielded a spot before the bartender. I ordered a club sandwich and mulled wine, chiefly because my companions and I were unaware of how one might "mull" wine. Half a pint, it was thrust into my hand frothing hot, burning my fingers and spewing steam. When we finally relocated our table I was able to make the following observations:

1) Mulled wine is red wine, heated and spiced. The British add cloves and cinnamon. And also apparently invoke the fire gods to increase the intensity of the beverage as it cools, oddly enough. It began to burn my throat, but by then I'd had most of the glass with my mates and was feeling rather warm.

2) British bacon is limp and extraordinarily SALTY.

3) HP sauce. What is it? We think it may be alcoholic A1 sauce. It was on every table. And made my tastebuds wince.

Our walk/bus ride home was amusing. I was giggly, huggy, and warm, and my friends insisted that the wine had definitely "affected me." I am glad for the sake of British tradition that I sampled mulled wine, but I doubt I will be drinking it again any time soon. It'll linger.

The following day brought more classes, as well as paranoia. Or perhaps not paranoia. The French girls in one of the Bardwell lounges kept casting peeved glances at me. Well, silly things, don't glare at me just because we Americans caught one of you ahem necking in the laundry room after the house meeting. "French-kissing" among the rumbling appliances to emerge with cold Parisian indifference to try to cover your high color.

Paris versus Pawtucket. In a fight, I'd win because your smoke-ridden lungs would give out. Merde, you would cry.

Avoiding the French girls and speaking up in my very small classes made me grateful to stroll to City Center with Danielle on Tuesday afternoon. Pret Manger Cafe! Organic hot cocoa with a literal mound of marshmallows on top. Mmmm. The little pay-as-you-go phone I purchased from a British woman with lots of braids at T-Mobile. The odd KFC - it looks so out of place! The sounds of British children engaging in snowball fights. The smell of all edibles, from Cornish pastries to falafel. City Center may fast become a beloved place. For that matter, Oxford is fast becoming a beloved place. And the Californians help as well.

Who would have thought?

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