Thursday, January 29, 2009

My first trip to an English Nightclub

When I imagine a European nightclub, or "discoteca," I think of the scene from the movie Eurotrip. Techno music blaring, people popping E, Carmen Electra-wannabes grinding on a glass ceiling, and of course, two fraternal twins making out. So when I heard Monday night is the big night for Canterbury's main nightclub, The Works, I was stoked.

The opening night's theme was "schoolgirls." Considering my roommates and I had no idea where to find a B. Spears outfit in quaint little Canterbury, we stuck with nightclub gear. We took the bus to the club, packing in the back with other wasted Americans and boys dressed in plaid skits and belly button-bearing oxfords.

Once we got off the bus, people started sprinting. We didn't know why until we saw the massive "queue," as the English call it. The line went around the block, full of more schoolgirls with cigarettes in one hand and a Strongbow in the other (cheap cider). Eurotrip here I come.

We hoped the line would move quickly. And hoped. We were smushed shoulder to shoulder for 45 minutes. Forty-five minutes with drunk schoolboys. In the freezing cold. Every 20 minutes the crowd would surge forward and we could take one baby step forward. I started formulating an escape plan in my head in case I suffocated. It involved my elbow and the word "vomit."

After the 45 minutes and a 10-pound lighter body, I stepped into The Works. Not as glamorous as Eurotrip's club, but it seemed just as wild. Lady Gaga was bumping, fog machines puffed away, schoolgirls swung their braids around and kids packed the bar.

We had to wait another 20 minutes to check our coats (which cost 1 pound), and 25 minutes to buy a vodka shot half the size of my thumb (2.50 pounds). I won't even mention the line for the bathroom.

When we finally pulled ourselves away from lines and hit the dance floor, Bon Jovi was blasting on the "cheese floor," the first of The Works' three floors. The cheese floor plays 90's American music like "Mmm Bop," "Baby Got Back" and "Apache." The English go wild for it. Bon Jovi, yeah! The second floor is techno, and the third is R&B/hip hop (someone said Kurdish music too), but we never made it past the cheese floor.

After one hour of dancing to Aerosmith and two Jack and cokes (which took 20 minutes each to get), we were ready to leave. I needed clean air, space and boys dressed like boys.

So there weren't any twins making out or people popping E, but I think the cheese music and schoolboys sufficed. And now I can say I've been to a European club. Cheers!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Three Stages of Study Abroad

They say there are three stages of adjustment during study abroad: First, The Euphoric Stage, or honeymoon phase. Your eyes light up at every cobblestone, Colosseum sighting, Irish accent, whiff of B.O., etc. Some people stay in this phase for the entire trip, others lose it the instant they learn about the lack of Easy Mac. 

Second, The Hostile Stage, commonly felt as bitterness. You hate everything about your host country. Why aren't the toilets automatic? Why do they drive on the wrong side of the road? Why don't they shave? Why don't they have regular peanut butter? Why does everyone hate Americans? Again, bitterness' longevity depends upon the person. For most, it lasts only a few weeks.

And the third, the best, is The Acceptance Stage. You come to terms with the quirks of your host country, and appreciate it. Yes, U.S. toilets may flush faster, but the U.K. toilets allow you more moments of reflection in the bathroom. Yes, they don't have living rooms here. Ok, that's a problem. But you accept it.

I'd like to think I'm still in The Euphoric Stage, but I've experienced a few annoyances with the British system. 

On the first day of class, I reeked of hostility. I went to the English department to try and sort out my classes, which were all scheduled at the same time. I found out I had to buy two course booklets for two classes--7.99 and 5.00 pounds each. I use them for one day. I also had to buy Shakespeare's Sonnets for 10 pounds that I use for one day. In the whole semester. You know how you hear England is ridiculously expensive? It's those dang course booklets.

I go to the library, hoping that will soothe my nerves. I make a beeline for the cafe, and bundle my English coins while buying a chicken salad sandwich. I walk out to find a place to sit. Can I eat this outside of the cafe zone? Are food and drink allowed? Not knowing a place's customs throws me off. It's a simple task: where can I eat a bland chicken salad sandwich that tastes the way my moldy flat smells? Don't know.

Next I go to the library's PC Room. No Macs, pity. It's completely full.  I trek up and down the three floors, wandering into each full PC Room like a hopeless American. Finally I see a spot no one has taken. I zoom in and see the keyboard has giant keys colored red and blue. Hmm...a standard British keyboard? 

I look above the PC and see a sign that says, "Computer for the Visually Impaired." Damn. Now I have a huge sign on my head that reads "Clueless American Who's Visually Impaired." Off to lurking more computer rooms. After 20 minutes, I find a computer for people who aren't blind, and finally feel off to a good start.

Not so much. I reach for the Shift key, which is the size of a a letter key. Same with the Enter key. That just throws people off. I reach for the @ key. There is no @ key! How can I type my e-mail address? (Do I sound bitter yet?) After scanning the keyboard like a visually impaired person, I spot it on the comma key. This is what they call culture shock, I guess. 

I slump home in my Target rainboots, next to a girl with a billowy jacket laced with gold buttons, black tights and fancy leather knee-high boots. Shoot me. And it's raining. I walk faster.

For dinner, my roommates and I want to use our oven. The temperatures follow: 1, 2, 3, 4...Where's 350??? I turn on the stove, and it doesn't work. We watch our British roommate turn the gas on, light a paper towel with his lighter, and hold this to the stove plate to ignite the flame. Second-degree burns, here I come.

Ok, I sound like a classic stage of bitterness. But it was only one day. And it was just "adjusting." Now, I can laugh at all those petty quirks. I'm accepting, I swear!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Jetlag and Dragon Tattoos: I've arrived in Canterbury

I've made it. Canterbury at last! It has been a hectic past couple days, injected with jetlag and "Scrumpy Jack" (London's form of hard cider that tastes like apple juice with a kick-it's one pound and delicious). 

We arrived at London's Heathrow airport at 6:30 in the morning on Jan. 13. A British taxi driver named Liam, who talked non-stop and had coincidentally bad teeth, met us with a sign. 

On our hour and a half drive to Canterbury, he told us how to "bunk" a train (get on without paying), things that are "dodgy," and how he got a "caution" from the police once. I couldn't believe the British accent, it kept surprising me. We arrived at our campus, which is 10 minutes from Canterbury and extremely wooded. Birds were chirping, pigeon poop was on the ground, and it was a sunny 44 degrees. Bliss. And very different from Marquette.

Our flat is great, we have 5 roommates and our own rooms--no living room though which I found odd, or dodgy, if you will.
My messy bed

We didn't think anyone was there when we first got there. But there were rotting olives in the fridge, doughy spatulas on the kitchen counter, and men's boxers hanging in the bathroom. Suspicious. We later discovered we had a guy roommate who has dragon tattoos on his forearms and apparently enjoys incense who lives on the first floor. Then there's four of us girls living on the second floor, who are all really great.

All right, this is too long a blog. One more thing. The actual city of Canterbury is stupendous. It's described by Virginia Woolf as "the loveliest city" on Earth. Maybe (Detroit might be a smidge better).  But it's very English, very medieval, and very me. 

The view of the Cathredal from campus
A teacup ride in the middle of downtown Canterbury
Cozy pub across from the cathredal serving standard English pies