Raising the Standard for News and Views
Passion concert results in spiritual sensation
Being English in America
“Are you from England?”
It is a question I’m getting used to hearing almost as soon as I open my mouth. I’ve been living in Pittsburgh for nine weeks now, as an exchange student from England. People’s response to a none-native accent still gives me a smile!
If you’ve lived in the USA all your life, you may never realize how many things in your country are particular to America. Most people only witness them in films (sorry movies) set in America.
For a couple of weeks I would get quite simple by having satisfying kicks from just seeing school buses, yellow cabs, fire hydrants in the street, and eating a Twinkie (they are terrible, I realize that now). My learning experience has been rich and varied so far, and I love it!
America is big! You know that! Space is not bad at a premium. European town layout has its roots way back in history. Buildings are smaller, more crowded together, and roads are narrower. Our cars are a lot smaller so it is frustrating to see so many cars here with V8 badges. Petrol (gasoline) is ridiculously expensive in England – close to $5 a gallon, so smaller engines make more sense around town.
College teaching is much less spoon-fed. A typical class in the UK is 2 lectures a week, graded on perhaps two essays or lab reports, and a final exam. That’s it. If you want to skip all your lectures, only hand in one piece of course work, confident that you can ace the final exam, that’s up to you.
Combined with a legal drinking age of 18 and some amazing night life in most major cities, you can understand why sometimes people do not do so well at the end of the semester exams, but I don’t think the end result differs too much from here. Dropout rates are similar, but I think those who succeed in England will be more motivated self-learners.
My 21st birthday arrived about three weeks after I stepped off the plane, so I was in the curious situation of being forbidden by law from “partaking of alcoholic beverage” for the first time in three years. Not such an issue for me, as I drink very little – I have never been drunk, but it was a little weird. It is nice not having so much alcohol around because it is quiet in the halls during the night. Also, it prevents alcohol induced one-night-stands (I have several friends who’ve been messed up by such things). Most of all, more work can be done.
I do miss the UK nightlife though. Our Union building similar to the William Pitt Union hosts club nights in the basement 5 days a week. Most have cheap drinks and cheesy 70s tunes, but Tuesday nights have a serious reputation for drum & bass, hip-hop, & attracting big name DJs.
Another revelation: one Saturday I went shooting. In England, handguns are illegal. Longer barreled firearms need a fire permit and gun club membership before you can even start shooting. Here, I just paid my money and took my choice of few rounds with handguns and some shots with an AK-47. My friends back home are going to flip when they see the pictures.
My girlfriend is convinced I am not going to stay thin. It will not happen, but it is a real concern. Food here comes in bigger greasier portions than I thought, despite being warned. People here seem more prepared to eat bad food and go to the gym every day fuelled by a mix of vanity and unhealthy food. I really miss having lots of fresh fruit and vegetables around. I want to just eat right in the first place instead of eating bad and working out to stay attractive in other people’s eyes.
There are some amusing differences that occur quite quickly when living in the States for the first time. “Excuse me” has to be one of them. In England the phrase implies that someone wishes to be in or pass through the space you currently occupy, the polite response is to move, perhaps apologizing for the inconvenience, and the other person will likely thank you. Here, it means someone is passing through where you are currently standing and is likely to walk into you unless you move.
I love the tactful avoidance of the word “toilet” as well. It is a “bathroom”, “restroom”, “men’s room” or – my favorite – “comfort station”. It makes the word toilet seem dirty and obsolete, but it is sort of amusing. I know I will never be stuck for a polite term for the “out-house” when I am in the company of the upper classes.
Tuesday September 11,2001 is another talking point. Living in England you become used to the Irish Republican Army making noise and causing terror of it’s own on a regular basis. It is not a surprise and does not seem close to you - it’s over in Ireland, across a little bit of sea.
However, what happened in NY, DC and Somerset was a shock. I watched CNN from 10am that day and felt completely numb for some time. Hearing “a plane went down near Pittsburgh” repeated on the news made it more real to me than any previous IRA attack. I rang my parents and girlfriend as soon as I could. Considering that over 300 British citizens died that day made it the worst terrorist attack the UK has ever known.
Seeing the start of America’s New War over here made me miss English TV a lot. A compulsory fee called the TV License that all TV owners pay supports the BBC. Therefore, we get some of our channels with no advertisements. Our news service is exceptional and portrays a good deal more of the human side of events, sometimes in more graphic detail, than any news service here. Finishing on a positive note, settling in here has been an intense experience and has taught me more about where I came from than I thought possible. If you get a chance to live abroad, take it.
Volume I, Issue III