In case you wondered what happened to me, I am on a trip that originated in Edinburgh but will finish tomorrow in Oxford followed by a London-Tallinn return home.
What can I say about the UK? Well I am still trying to figure out which George Georgian architecture is named after, and, by the way, how did so many buildings in Edinburgh turn filthy black?
I've had a number of pints on a number of nights, and passed the time contemplating a Republic of Scotland with Sean Connery as its president. The Scottish National Party recently won the election here, and I got to watch their dour leader talk about the Scottish national interest on TV late at night. I was also asked by a random pollster on the street about this victory to which I declared I was happy, because labour and the conservatives are rather boring.
In Scotland, everyone is toasting you all the time. "Cheers, mate" is what my passport control officer said to me as I entered the country. "Cheers" "Cheers" "Cheers" -- I feel like a regular Ted Danson. People like queues as well. This brash New Yorker quite purposefully got out of queue to board a bus and was met with several gasps by shocked queuers. Stores close at 6 pm, which is ridiculous and lame. Just as I am getting ready to shop, they are closing their doors.
Then there's the money. You give someone a £5 note and you get back a small bag full of change. You get on a bus to go somewhere and you are expected to expertly filter through this pile of 20p and 2p and £2 coins to provide the driver with the correct amount related to the number of stops you intend to stay on for. Everyone looks at you like you are an asshole, but, in my opinion, whoever came up with the 2p coin is the real asshole here.
Everything is also expensive. You are tricked into thinking you are in the US because the prices match. "Hey, 4.20 for a kebab combo platter, what a deal!" you think. But in reality it costs more like $8. And that, my friends, like most things here, is a rip-off. That's why Brits come to New York to slum and shop. Our most expensive city is cheap for them.
You'd think that being in an English-speaking country would make my life easier. It hasn't. That's because I feel as if I am speaking a foreign tongue in the way I must strain to understand them and they must strain to understand me. I almost just want to not talk altogether. I thought about faking an accent but I figure that'd get me in more trouble. I get asked where I am from all the time. My English sounds more like the Engish of the local Polish labor force than the stuff coming out of the mouths of Scots.
But I must say, I like it here. History is always slapping you in the face. I literally bumped into an old Anglo-Saxon church here in Oxford today. And the Nokia store in Oxford is actually housed in one of these leaning towers of the Elizabethan era. It's just amazing. It's also nice to have access to interesting foods, and you can bet that when I come back I'll have some local cheddar with me to last me a week or two before I have to switch back to kadakajuust.
If there's one thing that perturbs me, it's the Royal nonsense. In my bones, I really still can't believe that this country has a hereditary monarchy, and that her face is on my money. Even in Edinburgh, there are monuments to tough looking soldiers in funny hats and kilts who fought for the empire in the Second Boer War. This was a war between breakaway Afrikaans (Dutch) states in South Africa and Great Britain. Not exactly something to get worked up over, but I guess any war is good enough to reinforce belief in an empire.
Then there's the celebrity nonsense. Yes, I believe Kylie when she says she is not having an affair with a married man. No, I am not interested in Kate Middleton, Prince William's ex. In fact, I'd like to meet Kate Middleton, just because I may be one of the few people in this country that doesn't know anything about her and dosn't want to know anything either. I am wonderfully uninformed about celebrity goings on here and I want it to stay that way.
Anyway, I am still waiting for Scottish nationalism to bear its fruit and give us a Connery presidency before the "real James Bond" is too old to hold office. And for a little taste of home tonight, I spent 90p on an "American cookie" -- which was an attempt at a chocolate chip cookie. It tasted more like cake and chocolate chips, but it was still really good.