Oxford and other oddities

Lydia Marcus–Staff Writer

From above, much of Britain looks fairly similar to Iowa. Both are patchworks of greenery bisected by strips of gravel and pavement. However, whereas Iowa is a patchwork quilt made by a grandmother armed with a ruler and a rotary cutter, Britain is a quilt made from irregular scraps collected over the decades the grandmother has been quilting. Britain is worn around the edges. It is a lived-in country.

 

Lydia travel column 2

In many ways, adjusting to living life in England has been fairly easy. Its climate is mild, its landscape resembles parts of the Midwest, and, of course, its inhabitants speak English. There are some small differences, though. If you ever find yourself in England (specifically Oxford), here are six (mundane) things to prepare yourself for:

  • The peanut butter. It is apparently made with the same ingredients as American peanut butter, but it is oddly pale and granular, and does
  • n’t taste strongly of peanuts.
  • Traffic and traffic laws. Local pedestrians obey the pedestrian traffic lights quite well—they don’t usually cross the street when the light is red even if there are no cars in sight—but jaywalking seems to be generally acceptable, even across many lanes of traffic. Also, the buses careen sharply around corners; very skilfully, of course, but don’t walk to close to the edge of the pavement/sidewalk lest you get bludgeoned by the corner of a bus.
  • The scale of history. England has a continuous timeline of history that stretches back for centuries. It has veritable layers of history, and its traditions are longstanding. There is a tower near the centre of Oxford that was built by the Normans in 1040 A.D. The United States wasn’t even a twinkle in the Puritan’s eye in 1040 A.D. Also, they use their historic buildings. The 800-year-old cathedrals still hold weekly services, the 400-year-old libraries are still functional, and the 600-year-old college halls still house students.
  • Going to school at a famous institution is kind of like campus visit days all day, every day. Except that there aren’t admissions counsellors to herd the visitors around. Also, you inadvertently photobomb about twelve people as you try to walk from your hall to the library. (Sorry, tourists. I just wanted to check out some books.)
  • Dogs in the park. At least in the parks surrounding Oxford, the dogs are seldom on a leash and they are well behaved. They don’t bark, they leave strange people (and usually strange dogs) alone, and they usually trot obediently before or behind their owners. If a dog is bounding toward you, it’s probably more concerned with the scent of the tree behind you than it is with making a new human friend.
  • Exclusive libraries. I had never been in a library that you could not enter without a library card before. But the libraries in England are well protected. Granted, the library buildings are hundreds of years old, and it would probably be difficult to run a functional library if half the building’s occupants wanted to wander around and take pictures and the other half of the occupants wanted to be left alone to study. Still. These are not public libraries.

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