Friday, October 30, 2009

A Tale of Three Gingers

Most of the Englanders I’ve met have been friendly, welcoming, and willing to repeat themselves until I understand the message they’re trying to get across.

But Englanders have a very serious prejudice.  The target is a group of people who, in America, make up only 2% of the population, but tend to be regarded as particularly beautiful.

Gingers.  Red-heads.

Part I 
A couple weeks ago, Annie and I met for a chat and basic trip-planning in Starbucks on Cornmarket.  Her friend Emma, a Scot who attends Univ, joined us later on, and we began the run-of-the-mill girl conversation about boys.
“Really,” I said, “the only reason I’m in England is to find Ron Weasley and convince him to marry me.”
“Ron Weasley?” she said.  “Are you joking?”
“No!” I said.  “Why would I be joking?”
“He’s… a ginger!” she replied, with a disdainful curl of her lip.
Annie and I burst out laughing.  “So what?” we asked.
“He’s a ginger!  Everybody knows gingers are just less attractive people,” she said, a note of genuine dismay in her voice.
“What!” we shrieked.  “No they’re not!”
Emma stared at us.
Annie caught her breath and shared, “Penelope told me there’s an old wives’ tale that if you put milk in after you pour your tea, you’ll have ginger children.”
“Why would that even matter?” I asked, still laughing.
Emma recovered and said, “Well, NO ONE wants ginger children!”
Annie and I stated that we would both adore little red-headed babies, and Emma went even deeper into her state of shock.
“You’re being completely serious, aren’t you?” she asked.
“Yes!” we said in unison.
“You honestly believe gingers are just as attractive as everybody else,” she clarified.
“Yes.  Definitely.”
“I can’t believe that,” she said, shaking her head.  “I guess I’ve never thought about it before.  Maybe it is weird that we don’t like them.”
We nodded.

Part II
My roommate, Megan, has red hair.  I think this fact escapes most of our American cohorts, most likely because we don’t have a stigma against gingers.
But last week we were discussing the Ginger Prejudice Phenomenon amongst ourselves, and one guy brought up a South Park episode that mocks gingers.  “Everybody knows gingers have no souls!” he proclaimed.  Megan sat quietly, taking it like a champ in the corner, while the rest of the group went scarily near the Ginger Prejudice path.

Part III
There is a lovely boy at Regent’s Park named Chris Little.  Ironically enough, he’s about 6’4”.  He also has red hair.  As we walked home from church on Sunday night, I wedged myself between him and Julia and said, “Chris, I’ve been having all of these terrible conversations about gingers.  Have you just spent the majority of your life just getting bullied?”
“Well,” he began, “It’s pretty bad as a kid, you know, like on the playground.  A lot of people just really take the mick out of you.”
“But why?” I asked.  “Why does everybody hate gingers?!”
Julia chimed in, “I don’t really know.  I would assume it’s because a lot of Irish people have red hair, and there’s a pretty big prejudice against the Irish.  And the Celts.  Everybody hates the Celts.”
“One time,” Chris said, “one time I was out walking with my friend, and we were by a roundabout, and this guy was driving around and around the circle, and he just kept pointing and laughing.  I just assumed it was because I’m a ginger.”

There you have it, folks.  Next time you encounter a ginger, regardless of his or her nationality, be sure to be extra polite and encouraging.  They’ve had it rough.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


We lost a member of our community last night.  I don't know any of the details, but please be praying for Antonia's family and friends, as well as the rest of the Regent's Park family.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

House of Pain.

First of all, check out the FANTASTIC new layout!  Many, many thanks to Holly Smith for doing this for me.  Check out her design blog—her banner is on the right hand side of the page.

Second of all, I’ve finally put up pictures on Facebook.  Even if you’re not on the Facebook bandwagon, you can see them here.

Now for the blogging.  It’s another long one, and not the happiest thing ever, so it’s all under the jump.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

If America Conquered England...

England is really great and all, but there are three daily conveniences America has that could greatly benefit the English people and all their visitors.

1) Water fountains.  This is a land of dehydrated people.  It occurred to me as I was feeling down and homesick the other day that I had had almost no water the whole entire day.  At home, I carry my CamelBak with me like it’s another appendage; I can easily down four in a day.  Here, I can carry it with me, but once it’s empty, it’s empty.  There is no place to fill it up, save for a bathroom sink, but that kind of freaks me out.  And at dinner, we each have a glass that can hold approximately two mouthfuls of water, and then we have a pitcher of water for about every four people. Usually our communal pitcher is empty before we’ve even started the main dish.  I propose we do away with the tiny glasses and each get our own personal pitcher.  But back to the main point—if America conquered Great Britain, installing water fountains could be seen as humanitarian intervention.

2) Reliable toilets.  I should not have a panic attack every time I try to flush a toilet.  In America, unless you’ve really made a mess of things, flushing a toilet is pretty much guaranteed.  Here, if you look at a toilet the wrong way you’re likely to get a small spurt of water into the bowl… and nothing else.  Wiggling the handle, pushing it slowly, slamming it down—once you’ve offended the toilet nothing will yield a satisfactory flush.  In the bathroom on the second floor at Regent’s Park, I have injured myself twice trying to force the flusher down with all my might.  I should also mention that I recently used one of those toilets with the wooden box and chain overhead.  In lamenting the undependable toilets to my mother, she tried to encourage me by saying, “At least they’re not squatty-potties like when I was in India.”  I maintain that I would actually prefer a squatty-potty, because at least they’re entirely incapable of boasting the illusion of a reliable flush.

3) Doors that open the way they should/the way you think they will.  A vertical bar handle means “pull,” and a flat panel on a door means “push.”  Unless you’re here, which means you’re always presented with a vertical bar handle, and no matter which way you try to open the door, you are always going to be wrong the first time.  Always.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Freshers' Week

Well, my two-week vacation in England is over.  I had to go to school today for the first time since last MAY—almost exactly five months ago.  My first tutorial is this Friday, and I can’t say I’ve done any work on my paper.  Let me provide a rundown of the past week, working backwards, and maybe you’ll understand why.

Monday, October 5, 2009

There are no strangers...

            The best advice I was given before coming to England: “Talk to everybody.  You never know where you’ll end up as a result.”

            Today I went to church by myself.  St. Aldates is enormous, old, and right across from Christ Church College.  Here’s the fun, small-world connection of the trip thus far:  Jaci, who gave me the aforementioned advice, studied abroad at Oxford five or six years ago.  She attended St. Aldates Church while she was here.  She now works as an editor at David C. Cook. I interned at David C. Cook this summer, which published an author named Simon Ponsonby.  Simon is on staff at St. Aldates Church.  Are you following me?  Since Cook has a sector in England called Kingsway, a few of the American staff members have been to England and met up with Simon, who apparently gives the best Oxford tour in town.  They gave me his contact information, we sent a few e-mails, and at 10:26 this morning I found myself following an elderly lady and her granddaughters into St. Aldates.  While preserved on the outside, the inside has been restructured to suit a more modern service.  Instead of a long, narrow sanctuary, the room has been turned ninety degrees for wider congregational seating.  As I scanned the sanctuary looking for a place to sit, I noticed some students were sitting towards the back.  Three girls sat next to each other, and since there was an empty seat on the aisle, I asked if I could sit down.
            Service began right away, so I introduced myself to the girl next to me as the band members made their way to the stage.  Her name was Geli (hard ‘g’, short for Angelica), and she’s a Theology fresher at Worcester College, next to the Ashmolean Museum.
            The service itself was fantastic.  I was familiar with all the music, and the energy was really high.  Although it is a Church of England, the only thing I would consider liturgical was a community prayer before communion.  But even then, the language of the Lord’s Prayer was modernized.  I also noticed that the people in the room were widely varied—all ages, races, sizes.
            At the greeting time, I met the two other girls with Geli—Sarah and Rosie.  They’re also Theology freshers at Worcester.  After the service, one of the ushers, a tall, cute old man in a green sweater, came and introduced himself to me.  His name was Alfred.  He asked me if I was new, where I was from, what college I was attending, etc.  I believed him when he said he dearly hoped my year was blessed, and that I would learn a lot about my God while I was here.  He also heartily recommended (complete with a thump on the arm) that I go punting soon, while the weather is nice.  It’s people like that that add warmth to a church.  Tri-Lakes Chapel attendees—I urge you to give it a try next week.
            I also found Simon and introduced myself, to which he responded, “Melody Rowell!  You’re a legend!”
            Upon leaving the sanctuary, the British girls and I went upstairs for a newcomers’ reception-type-thing.  An enthusiastic young guy gave us a brief rundown of all St. Aldates has to offer—a huge college group on Thursday nights (complete with food), pastorates (like Base Camps), evening services, etc.  Geli then said she had to go meet her dad for lunch, and Rosie and Sarah asked if I’d like to go to lunch with them.
            First, we had to find an ATM (or hole-in-the-wall, as they’re called here) because I was down to 80p.  Naturally, my debit card was at home; I had taken it out on Friday in case I lost my bag in the club or something.  I had food already bought at home, so I wasn’t too worried.  I was disappointed that I wouldn’t be able to go eat with them, though.  But as we walked up the street, Rosie said she needed to run into Boots (a chain store really similar to Beauty Brands plus all the department store makeup counters).  In there, Sarah explained the advantages of a Boots reward card (4p for every pound you spend!) and asked a couple of salesgirls if they had any I could sign up for.  We then wandered to the back of the store, which randomly had a cooler of food.  Another new lesson—Boots has a really cheap meal deal!  You can get a sandwich, chips (or crisps, whatever) and a drink for four quid.  While we were standing there, I saw a sandwich that was called “cheese and pickle,” which I had heard of but had yet to experience.  I asked them what “pickle” was, since it isn’t actually a cucumber that’s been soaked in brine.  They tried explaining it to me, but couldn’t, so Sarah said, “Do you just want to come ‘round to our place for lunch?”
            So first we stopped at Sainsbury’s to buy pickle, Marmite, and some other groceries, and then we went to their college.  It was really beautiful and really old, but the dorm area is new-ish and quite nice.  The kitchen was also spacious and had a table, so we laid our groceries out and sat down.  Three of their other classmates came in—Olivia, Joe, and another Sarah.  Rosie introduced me and explained that I was about to try pickle and Marmite (not together. Never together.), and Joe held up his jar of organic peanut butter and asked if that was more in my comfort zone.  He then explained that while they have it, not many people eat it, and they don’t have it in any of their sweets.  I’m so glad I brought that big bag of Reese’s cups with me.
            I made my sandwich: white bread with a thin layer of butter, pickle (which I still can’t describe to you—it’s a spread, though), cheese, and a couple slices of cucumber.  It was GOOD.  I liked pickle.
            Then I tried Marmite.  Again, no one could explain it to me, and the jar only said “100% Yeast Extract,” which is in no way appealing.  Rosie and Sarah told me to smear only the tiniest bit on the bread, or I’d gag.  Have you ever tried to put a little droplet of soy sauce on your rice or chicken, only to have the lid pop off and drench your food?  The salty blast that is Marmite is comparable to that.  I’ve tried it once; I don’t think I’ll ever need to again.
            We sat around and talked for a long while, trying to explain our respective educational systems to each other, among other things.  We did have an intense discussion on their perception of the differences between biscuits and cookies.  Coming here, I was told all cookies are referred to as biscuits, so when someone used the word “cookie,” the surprise must have been evident on my face.  Joe looked at me with compassion and said, “Cookies are a subset of biscuits.”  I asked them what the difference was, and then tried to explain what a biscuit in America is.  They had never heard of such a thing.
            “So, it comes in a packet?”
            “No, not really.  You make it.  When you’re making it up it’s similar to bread; it has a lot of flour.”
            “Oh, so it’s like a small loaf of bread?”
            “No, not really.  It’s thicker.”
            “Is it crunchy?”
            “No… it’s soft and sometimes flaky.”
            Befuddled, they just stared at me and I finally said I’d make some and invite them over. (Dad—can you e-mail me your Angel Biscuits recipe?  And maybe a good recipe for sausage gravy?  Thanks.)
            After a couple of hours, they needed to study (or, “do some revision”) for a Greek placement test later in the evening.  I told them my last name and they all said they’d friend me on Facebook.  So, British friends!

-Bike-riding never ceases to fascinate me.  I’ve seen people ride without using their hands before, and while that’s impressive and all, not until now have I seen a man ride his bike and eat his supper at the same time.  In a bowl.  With chopsticks.

-I am going to trademark the Oxford diet.  It consists of walking miles and miles every day and always being hungry.  Yesterday, as I was walking home, I thought to myself, “Oh, I didn’t have to walk much today.  That was nice.”  Then I realized that I still probably logged about four or five miles.

-The second best advice I got before coming was from Katie Adams, who is a legend in her own right.  I bought PG Tips tea and Hob Nob cookies (or biscuits or whatever) my first day here and have been consuming them like it’s my job.

-I feel like I’m getting cheated when I pay for something with a bill and get a handful of change in return.  In America I only view change as useful when it’s in quarters, and then only to buy a Diet Coke out of a machine.  Here, one coin can be equivalent to USD$3.19.  So getting a handful of two-pound coins really should make me a lot happier.  Long live the Queen!

-Earlier I mentioned that I refuse to adapt to the British use of the word “toilet,” where we would normally say “bathroom” or “restroom.”  I understand that it makes more sense, because when I ask for the bathroom or restroom I am neither bathing or resting.  But I feel safe within the euphemisms of these words, because asking for the “toilet” just broadcasts to the world what it is that I need to do.

-The (presumably) homeless people here are so polite.  They ask, “Might you spare some change?”  And when you say you can’t, they say, “That’s all right, then.  Have a lovely evening, and God bless you.”  And I swear, the British accent makes everyone sound loads smarter than they probably are.

The Oxford Nightlife, part two

            On Saturday night, we hung around Joe and Maura’s house, listening to songs from Glee, watching Bones, and generally just taking advantage of their free Internet and enjoyable company.
            The walk back to our house, though, warranted a Nightlife blog solely for the things we overheard.  I won’t tell you which wee hour of the morning it was.  But rest assured; Oxford is a safe city, with plenty of streetlights, police officers, and sober people also walking home the same time we are.  Plus, we live in a really nice part of town on a main road.

1) Girl in a short, low-cut, sleeveless dress, running barefoot while holding the hand of the boy behind her.  He is dressed appropriately for the weather, but he is carrying her shoes and purse.  They are both repeating themselves, not listening to the other.
            Boy: You shouldn’t talk to me like that.  You shouldn’t talk to me like that.
            Girl: Please come to my bed with me!  Please come to my bed with me!

2) A man is swiftly coming towards us, sometimes on the sidewalk, sometimes in the street.  No way would he ever pass a walk-a-straight-line test unless the cop were as equally as wasted.  “Hey,” he says when we get close.  “I need help.”  He looks utterly bewildered, so we stop.  He’s dressed nicely, and has a gold wedding band.  “Whar’s the tren stashun?” he slurs.
            “Oh, man, I don’t know,” I say truthfully.
            “The tren stashun?” he says again, unable to stand in one place.
            “We just moved here,” I explained slowly, briefly wondering if faking an accent would make it easier for him to understand me in his condition.  “I don’t know where it is.”
            “Okay,” he said, still looking at us like we can help him.  He’s off the curb into the bike lane at this point.
            “I’m really sorry,” I say, and I really am.  I desperately want to help him.  As we start to walk away I say, “Hey buddy, stay on the sidewalk, okay?  I don’t want you getting hurt.”
            He waves his hand and unsteadily steps back onto the sidewalk.
            Where others have made me laugh, this man broke my heart.  Why does he need a train to get home at this hour?  Where could he possibly have been drinking in the north part of town?  What is his wife thinking right now?  Looking back, I probably should have flagged down a cab for him.  I only hoped he would stumble into the police officers that were patrolling a few blocks down.

3) A group of six or seven men, all forty to fifty-somethings, arms around each other, ambling down the sidewalk—straight towards us.  Singing a good, old-fashioned drinking song at the top of their lungs.  The one receiving the most support and singing the loudest looks straight at me and reaches out his arm.  For a split second I don’t know if he is going to punch me, grab my face, or what, but then he says, “Whoooooa!” and goes back to ambling and singing.

4) Two men standing on a corner.  As we pass, one says, “Hello, ladies, we need help practicing our English.  We are from Spain!”  I say, “Uh, it’s --- o’clock in the morning.”  He stands there with his arms out, in complete disbelief that we could be so cold.  To ease his pain I yell, “Lo siento!” over my shoulder.

The Oxford Nightlife, part one

            I picked this optimistic title for a reason—the Oxford nightlife is so bizarre that I hope many more stories will come out of it.
            I’ll be honest—I know pretty much nothing about any other city’s nightlife; maybe all cities ooze weirdos and creepers past the witching hour.  But my first foray into the Oxford club scene couldn’t have been more fitting for my consistently over-the-top life.
            It started well enough: Megan, Corey, another RPC visiting student named David, and I all met up with the OOSC kids at Maura and Joe’s house.  We all ventured together to our destination for the night: an underground club off Cornmarket called The Purple Turtle.
            The Purple Turtle is more or less a series of underground tunnels and caverns that form a U-shaped club.  There’s a bar immediately on your right as you stoop to enter, the bathrooms (I refuse to use the British term ‘toilet’) are just after that, and then you have to turn left to follow the path.  Three semi-circle couches accompany a small table, and we saw more than one group try to cram all kinds of shapes and numbers of people into the small areas.  Stooping to pass under another tunnel/cavern entrance, there are two bars on your right and an immediate left turn.  Standing here, there are couches and small tables on your right and a bar and stools on your left.  If you continue walking forward, you’ll eventually hit the teeny-tiny dance floor.  We parked ourselves at the last set of couches next to the wall that separated the dance floor cavern from the rest.
            The music (almost entirely imported from America, thank you very much) was so loud that it was nearly impossible to hear each other, even when shouting directly into the other person’s ear.  The lights were dim, and the dance floor featured a blacklight.  The air was stuffy and mixed with the smells of damp earth, alcohol, body odor, and stale cigarette smoke.  Basically—everything I’d ever imagined a club to be.
            After returning from a dance break, I discovered Annie wasn’t sitting at our couches any more.  Corey said he’d seen her talking to some British guys at a counter, so I went off to find her in case she needed a rescue.  But as I turned the corner, she was walking straight towards me with the three Brits in tow: one who looked like Mario Lopez; one with crunchy, yet greasy, bleach blonde hair and a hook nose; and one who was cute, tall, and wearing a shirt that said OSAKA on it.
            “Oh!” Annie said as we practically ran into each other.  “This is my friend Melody!”
            They all took turns shaking my hand, and Crunchy Blonde planted a long sloppy kiss on my cheek, precariously close to my ear.
            “Uh…” I said.  Are you supposed to say “thank you”?
            They came over to our couches, and I got sandwiched in between Mario Lopez, who was completely infatuated with Annie at this point, and Crunchy Blonde.  OSAKA was on the other side of him.  Just my luck, CB was verrrry intoxicated and eager to talk.  But as I said before, the music was so loud I could barely understand my American friends, much less a drunk Brit with a thick accent and no discernible train of thought.  Here are the snippets I managed to grasp:
            “…hate Oxford… travelin’ the world… lived here 22 years… been to eight countries in the past year… money’s no object… went to Cambridge myself, spent a year studyin’ there before I was like, ‘What am I doin’?’… etc.”  That may sound like a decent amount of information to pick up, but for 15ish minutes of rambling, that was pocket change.  He also asked me questions, but I’d just shrug and say I didn’t know, since I really had no idea what he was asking.  But then, I did understand his most important question:
            “So, what are you doin’ later, then?”
            “Oh, I don’t really know,” I said.  “I think Annie’s in charge.”
            “Well,” he said.  “I was thinkin’ you would invite us back to your room for a bit.”
            “Uh… um… uh… no,” I said.  “No. I don’t think that’s a good idea.” Ever ever ever ever, I added silently.
            “Why not?”
            Crap, I needed a reason to turn Crunchy Blonde down?!  “We, uh, we live really far away,” I said.
            “You don’t live at the Uni?” he asked.  For a slobbering drunk, he was a little too coherent for my liking.
            “No, I mean, we do,” I said.  “Well, not really.  We live about 20 minutes north of there.  It’s a long walk.  A really, really, really long walk.”
            “Ah,” was all he replied.
            Obviously that killed his desire for “conversation,” and fortunately Annie was having a similar experience on the other side of Mario Lopez.  She stood up, grabbed my hand, and said we had to go to the bathroom.
            Once in the bathroom, we both began vigorously washing our hands and screaming.  As we caught our breath and marveled over the creepsters we had managed to reel in, who should stumble into the girls’ bathroom but CRUNCHY BLONDE.
            He looked at us, then pointed to a stall and said, “D’you mind if I use this?”
            “YOU’RE IN THE WRONG BATHROOM!” we yelled.
            “What?” he said, looking genuinely astounded.  “No I’m not!”
            “YES YOU ARE!” we shrieked.  “GET OUT!”
            He stumbled out without another word of protest, and Annie and I bolted from the bathroom to go hide ourselves on the dance floor.  It worked for a long time.  Maura came and joined us at one point, and she and I managed to attract multiple stares at our… creative dance moves.  The shower, the airplane, the shopping cart… you name it.  I even saw a couple of the less polite gentlefolk pointing at us.
            Back on the couches, Annie and I looked up to see Mario Lopez and OSAKA motioning for us to join them on the dance floor—Crunchy Blonde was nowhere in sight.  Having just reseated ourselves, we waved our hands to signal we weren’t interested.  But these fellas just wouldn’t be turned down.  Finally Annie got up and grabbed my hand once more, and I frantically motioned to Joe to follow us in case we needed rescue.  Mario Lopez was now leading the way, dragging Annie behind him, and I was following them, OSAKA a good three yards behind me.  When we got to the dance floor, I turned around to look for OSAKA, but he was still standing by the couches.  I cocked my head like, “Well?” and he looked at me, turned around, and walked away.
            Completely relieved, Joe and I returned to our couches yet again.  When the song ended, Annie was back by my side, saying I had abandoned her in her moment of need, etc.  We hadn’t been sitting for more than seven or eight minutes when the three amigos were back, once again beckoning for us to come dance.  We rolled our eyes and waved our hands again, but they were insistent.  We moseyed over there, heading for the dance floor, but they stopped us.
            “Let’s dance here,” they said.
            “In the hallway?” Annie asked.
            But they didn’t actually want to dance.  They wanted to stand there gripping their glasses of beer while Annie and I bobbed our heads in time to the techno beats.  It lasted for about thirty seconds, until Crunchy Blonde tried holding my hand, and then we were back in the bathroom, reading the graffiti in the stalls and waiting for the three amigos to get the hint.
            We managed to avoid them for the short while we remained at the Purple Turtle, mostly by getting our whole group of friends on the dance floor and making it apparent that we didn’t need anyone else up in our business.
            But as we left, Mario Lopez managed to stop Annie, give her a lingering hug, and ask for her phone number.  She gave him a fake one.
            As we emerged from the stairway back onto Cornmarket street, we all inhaled the fresh air and considered it a good night.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Longest post ever.

This will hopefully be the only blog of this length... congratulations if you read it in its entirety!  I'll post a jump so it doesn't swallow the whole page-- click to read more.