A Healthy Sense of Humor, OR How to Cope with Nearly Zero Comfort

It really takes a healthy sense of humor to fully enjoy living in England. Otherwise I couldn’t look at all of my recent life inconveniences with the mildly amused hmm that I’ve been employing lately.

This morning, when trying for the umpteenth time to illuminate the toilets, I tried the four light switches right next to the shower room door and discovered that they correspond to four different sections of hallway light.

Why. Why.

In the US, hallway light switches are usually kept apart from doors to rooms in order to do away with the implication that the switches are somehow for the room. But nope, not in the UK. Let’s put light switches wherever we damn well feel like it. Door handles, too. Sometimes they’re on the left, sometimes they’re on the right (never mind that all the dorm room doors are otherwise the same), and waaaaay too low for anyone of average stature to access without crouching to half-height.

Almost nothing about England is convenient, and the only things that are have something to do with tea. Like kettles.

Let me rewind a little.

– – – – –

I arrived in the UK at around 9 am Monday morning, and had a mini heart attack at the border. I saw there was a little sign by the border check lines asking for first-time students to have a CAS number, medical documentation, etc….and I had basically nothing on me except for my passport and UCL enrollment info. I internally shook my fist at my school’s Office of International Programs for letting me think that was all I needed.

Except it turns out the sign was just a suggestion! The passport was enough, and I was whisked into the country. Didn’t even need a visa. The same thing didn’t happen this week for Chris Brown, who was blocked from entering on grounds of criminal behavior. Sometimes I love the world.

– – – – –

I spent my first 20 pounds filling up an Oyster card and used my first swipes to take me from Heathrow into Fitzrovia. It was roughly a 1 hour trip but I was wholly entertained the whole time, since it turns out that part of the Underground is, in fact, above ground — a stretch of track between Hatton Cross and Acton Town, where uniform-looking brick houses and crowded little family gardens whiz by outside the window.

(While in transit, it briefly occurred to me that this leg of my journey was basically the UK version of my NJTransit train ride from Newark Liberty International Airport to Penn Station in New York City this past June.)

– – – – –

The super-bright, super-clean Tube makes the New York subway system look more like shit than it already objectively did. Yeah.

Heathrow terminal Tube station, my first look at the London Underground.

One interesting point of contrast between the UK and US so far: print advertisements in the UK tend to be wordier, even full of fine print, as if the expectation is that people will stop and read through everything. In the US, ads tend to use as few words as possible in order to avoid losing the reader’s attention after an initial glance.

– – – – –

The view from my window.

I live on the edge of Fitzrovia near Bloomsbury. The noise outside my window never stops, but it’s a small price to pay for the relative convenience of Tottenham Court Road being so nearby (I say relative because it’s still nothing compared to a shopping center with a Target or Wal-Mart in the USA.)

When I arrived yesterday, I quickly found that:

1. None of the 3 lights in my room worked

2. There is no wi-fi in my building

3. My ethernet connection is basically under the bed, nowhere near my desk

4. The tap water isn’t consumable

5. The toilet lights wouldn’t go on

6. There’s no hot water in the shower, only in the bathtubs

7. Laundry costs £3 a load, and it’s also bring-your-own-detergent

8. The dining hall is only open Mon – Fri (and doesn’t serve lunch)

9. Nothing nearby sells household items (today, I’m going on a desperate hunt for towels)

Again — you can only grumble internally, scratch your head, and take it with a sense of humor.

 – – – – –


Goodge Street Station.

– – – – –

Foraging: I was looking for something familiar for dinner while I was out on Tottenham Court Road yesterday, so I picked up a prosciutto sandwich at Pret-a-Manger because it reminded me of New York, where the restaurant dots the entirety of the Midtown area. Maybe I was just really hungry after crappy airline food, but that thing was the best sandwich of my life so far.

– – – – –

Missions for today: find my English seminar classroom without getting lost in Bloomsbury; get some towels and possibly a hairdryer; find some way to get hot water in the shower, because hell if I’m going to go through a cold-ass autumn without it.


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