Journal from York: The good, the bad, and the just plain weird

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By Dave Masterson

It’s been around a month since I left the U.S. and I already have a boatload of stories to tell.  It goes without saying that I’ve been having a wonderful time.

After flying into Edinburgh and learning that British Airways lost one of my bags, I took the train up to St. Andrews to spend the night with my friend Sam.

My first encounter with a Scotsman came when I sat across from Mike on the train.  A friendly businessman around 50, he immediately gathered that I was an American and followed the usual pleasantries by asking whom I was voting for in the election.

Apparently, the Scots and Brits have no qualms about discussing politics in polite conversation. At least half the people I have met have asked me the same question or inquired as to whether I own a gun.

When I explain that I don’t, and that it is quite a process to own a gun in New York, they seem a bit shocked and said, “I thought everyone in America owns a gun,”  to which I responded, “No, that’s just Texas.”

Many of the Brits I talk to are also quite surprised that I’m from New York, as “I don’t sound like it,” but I was kind of expecting that.  If our ideas of how the Brits speak derive from watching Monty Python or Ricky Gervais, then their impressions come from watching The Sopranos or Goodfellas.

However, I’ve been a bit disturbed that more than a few Brits have not known that New York is a state, let alone understood the concept of a state.  That’s right. I had to explain what the state part of the United States of America was to my three flatmates.

That being said, nearly every European I have met has been extremely friendly and polite. Upon learning that I was turning 21, my flatmates insisted on throwing me a party.  They went all out, buying banners, balloons, a card and cake.

Most of us are living with “freshers,” who are 17 or 18 years old, though you wouldn’t know it.

It’s hard to nail down exactly what makes them seem much older.

Perhaps it’s because they cook and clean without complaint, exude friendliness, and seem to always have their head about them (even while intoxicated).

I have a sneaking suspicion that they are more mature because they are given more responsibility at a younger age, but I doubt the lawmakers who drafted the Drinking Act of 1984 would agree with me.

Foreigners also have an edge on us in the language department. While in Florence, my sister introduced me to three girls taking an Italian class with her.  One was Swiss, another was Japanese, another Argentinean.

All of them were younger than me, yet they seemed years older.  As they effortlessly switched between their native languages, Italian and English, I felt exceedingly stupid and a bit embarrassed that I could only speak English.

Four years of Spanish and four years of French in the American school system has left me with the ability to say only, “Je suis American. Parlez-vous anglais?”

After a few weeks in Europe, I’m starting to understand why Europeans have fought so many wars over land.  It’s just so beautiful.  I saw five or six beautiful churches in Florence that just dripped with incredible masterpieces of Renaissance art.

While they were impressive, they all seem to blend together after a while.  I was far more impressed by the gorgeous Tuscan countryside I saw on the train, and the view of Florence from above the city in Boboli Gardens.

I had the same reaction in Edinburgh.  While it is a beautiful medieval city with wonderful charm, it was the view from the mountain I climbed outside the city that took my breath away.  The train ride along the coast from St. Andrews to York was likewise stunning.

However, I’m already starting to notice little things that we do a bit better. Apparently, the UK never got the memo that hand washing does not have to be a traumatic experience.

Every sink here has two faucets: one to burn your hands  and the other to treat the burn you just got.

And while the sinks never fail to produce scalding hot water, the showers at my flat only do for about three minutes at a time, after which you risk hypothermia to rinse your hair out.

After eating amazing Italian food the first week, transitioning to English fare has been rough.

I’ve experienced bangers and mash, haggis, and blood pudding so far and didn’t finish one of them. And for the life of me, I can’t understand why they haven’t figured out how to cook a burger. It’s a pretty hard food to screw up.

Anyway, my complaints are really just humorous observations.  I really have nothing to complain about; in fact, I’m overwhelmed by how blessed I am to have this experience. I miss my girlfriend and my dog, but otherwise I’m really having an incredible time.  With 12 more weeks to go, I can’t wait to see what else Europe has in store for me.

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