Sorry, sorry, sorry, it’s been forever. I keep meaning to write about these last several weeks, and inevitably (as the semester becomes sort of like a snowball rolling down a hill, becoming a snow boulder), things come up and I put it off.
But we’re down to the final week, so I’ve got to do some sort of update, because this isn’t my Goodbye England post. I’m not ready to say goodbye yet. More on that later.
I realized there’s no way to properly encompass everything that’s happened since I last posted, so I’m going to give a few snippets of weird stuff I’ve picked up from living here. Britain is in a weird zone of culture shock where everything looks and sounds vaguely familiar, and then you hear/see something that just takes you a few seconds to stare blankly at before you get it. For example:
-Flashing a peace sign(two fingers) with the back of your hand is equivalent to giving someone the middle finger. Wanna know how I learned this? I did it to a vicar. That’s right, a priest.
-Trash cans are called bins. Trash is called rubbish. I love it.
-The word restroom is thought of as frankly, ridiculous. They just call it the toilet. I admire the bluntness.
-“You lot” is like saying “you guys,” and it always sounds vaguely snarky when I hear it, even though it’s not.
-Monologues are referred to as “speeches.”
-It’s pronounced AL-oo-MIN-ee-um (not uh-LOO-min-UM). I know, right?
-If someone’s your “mate,” they’re more of a friendly acquaintance, so “friend” is higher status (BUT, the first time someone called me ‘mate’ I thought I would die of happiness).
-No matter which hand is dominant, you hold your fork in your left hand (upside down) and your knife in your right while eating. What a way to eliminate my eternal elbow-bumping problem!
-The tunes of various Christmas carols are completely different (“Away in a Manger” and “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” for example). It’s very disconcerting to think you know the song and then realize you don’t.
-Yellow lights are not just a suggestion; they only last a second or two at most. Also, the light turns yellow BEFORE it turns green again, so you know when it’s coming. And everyone’s always impatient. If cars or a double decker bus are stopped in the street you’re trying to cross, you scurry around them like ants. Cars will stop for pedestrians, but you know they’re not happy about it.
-Public transportation is almost silent. When I’m with a group of Americans on the tube we sound ridiculous and boisterous for no reason, even if we’re holding a conversation at normal volume.
-Don’t. Take. Your. Garbage. Disposal. For. Granted. Or your dishwasher.
Hope those of you in the States find those as amusing and confusing as I do. I don’t get
much any free time, so it’s fun to find little things to amuse me. I think a lot of people assume I’m on some sort of extended vacation in London, going to play practice and then romping around the city after class. That’s not what it’s like at all.
I still haven’t been inside Westminster Abbey. I’ve been to a movie theater once in 4 months. The only (non-grocery) shopping I’ve done is a brief outing to some thrift stores (called charity shops) for a birthday outfit, and one afternoon of gift shopping for my family. If things like the Tower of London, the Globe, etc. hadn’t literally been built into our schedule during orientation, there’s no way I would have seen them. My day starts at 6:00am and is literally planned out minute by minute until 6:00pm when I get home (and sometimes it’s 9:30pm), at which point the only thing I want to do is eat and sleep.
I don’t say any of this to complain- doing this program has been one of the best decisions of my young life. But don’t get any ideas about me riding around with my head sticking out of a car window, beaming, like that montage in The Parent Trap (because let’s be honest- that’s what I had pictured).
This work is hard. It’s good, but it’s hard. For one thing, I’ll never want to wear black leggings and a black t-shirt again in my life. For another, I’ll never complain about walking anywhere on campus. Also: did you guys know I can plank for two minutes straight without breaking a sweat? I can now (mostly). I also didn’t realize I can, in fact, get stage fright until I was stood up in front of my entire class singing a classical Shakespearean song about an octave and a half higher than my comfortable range. For Gordon theater folks: I laugh boisterously at my former self for resenting the 10 minutes allotted to “warming up” in Voice class, etc. as our workshop director devotes HOURS per rehearsal to just walking around the room a certain way, or stretching our rib muscles, or literally just breathing. I can’t stress enough how much they tell us to breathe.
All of this is stuff I can take back with me. I’ve copied down the acting exercises, the voice warm ups, the weird stretches. I have a huge new acting toolbox (especially for next year’s Directing class). What I can’t take back with me is the way my room smells. The huge floor cushions in the LAMDA common room. The dogs I always encounter in the park I walk through to get to church. (Don’t even get me started on Richmond Park.) The British lady who narrates the tube stops on the Underground.
But most of all, these people. The ones that talk about acting the way I do, the ones I look up to and struggle alongside, the ones that encourage me and challenge me. Some of my classmates are Americans, and some of them even live within a state or two of me. But some of them, as well as all my church friends, are going to be an ocean away from me in a couple weeks. I’m going to return to my old life and be amongst people who (while amazing) have no idea of the world and community I’ll have left behind here. It’s a weird transition I’m heading toward. We’ll see what happens.
During the week of Thanksgiving, I was thinking a lot about what it felt like to be an American away from America during such a turbulent time in my own country. I wasn’t particularly homesick, but I did feel very far away. A quote from the movie Brooklyn came to me:
“You’ll feel so homesick that you’ll want to die, and there’s nothing you can do about it apart from endure it. But you will, and it won’t kill you. And one day the sun will come out – you might not even notice straight away, it’ll be that faint. And then you’ll catch yourself thinking about something or someone who has no connection with the past. Someone who’s only yours. And you’ll realize… that this is where your life is.”
That last part is how I feel about London. Without warning, the sense of home here crept up on me, and so often now I catch myself thinking about things that have no connection to my life before September, or what my life will be in January. It’s really strange.
It’s going to be hard. I’m going to need help. I want to finish well, and begin again well.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a ukulele rendition of a Frank Sinatra song, a swing musical number, and a southern baptist preacher accent to practice (don’t ask).
Stay tuned for sentimental musings and hopefully, some good pictures (when my family gets here!).
P.S. This song is a big part of my mornings lately:
I found my way underground…