We took off from Philadelphia sometime around 11:00pm, local time. I spent the first few hours of the flight trying to balance my hydration needs and my unfortunate choice of a window seat with two men blocking me in from the lavatory. This did not go well, so I tried to distract myself with the fun little television on the back of the headrest in front of me. I think the person in that chair, though, was a bit of a bipolar sleeper. He couldn’t really decide whether he wanted his seat reclined or upright, so adjusting the aforementioned television in front of me every five minutes was a fun little game I thoroughly enjoyed for the duration of the flight.
My incessant need to pee and endless annoyance at the star of Princess in the Pea in front of me was of little matter, though, because I did make the stellar decision to fly British Airways. The best thing about British Airways? All the stewardesses and stewards have the most delightful accents. It made the whole trip far more bearable. After a long night of not sleeping and eating some interesting “pasta,” or so they called it, I watched the sun rise at 3am over the Atlantic and could see the countryside of Ireland by 9am, local time. We flew around London for a good bit, waiting for the “queue” to clear up so we could land. This always makes me feel like I have some serious intellectual issues because, it doesn’t matter how many times we make that circle, I can never spot the airport before we’re headed right into it.
We finally landed at 10:30am. It had been 23 hours since I’d last slept, I was half an hour late for meeting my cab, and it occurred to me, as I was making absolutely no effort to get where I needed to be in a timely manner, that I didn’t care. I was in London.
For all the big talk the UK Border Agency does and the torture I endured to obtain my UK work visa, the Border Patrol officer was very friendly. In fact, he kind of glanced at my passport and then tried to strike up a conversation about his favorite London pubs. This was entertaining, to say the least. I found my bags without issue (cue shoutout to British Airways) and my taxi driver was waiting for me just beyond the baggage claim exit.
I booked my taxi in advance as my CAPA London Study Abroad program instructed, so the very nice man was waiting just where the very nice email had said he would be with a very nice sign reading “HILLARY ANDERSON.” I thought to myself, Awesome! This is all stellar! And then I approached him and said hello. It took me no more than two seconds to realize the very nice man with the very nice sign spoke very nice Punjabi. But I speak English.
He took my bag cart from me and I followed him deliriously to his taxi. As he loaded my luggage, I went around to the passenger side door and waited for him to unlock the front doors. As I started to morph into a horse, falling asleep on my feet, the cab driver walked up next to me and held out the keys with a smile on his face. “You drive?” I tried to explain to him that I thought I’d hired a cab, not rented a car. I didn’t have a license to drive in England; I didn’t know how to drive in England; my city driving skills are horrible; didn’t I need insurance to do that... While he didn’t understand any of what I said, as I was explaining myself I did glance into the “passenger side door” long enough to notice the steering wheel in front of it. Whoops.
I smiled coyly and made my way to climb into the other side of the vehicle, where I sat awkwardly for the next hour or so, smiling and nodding at everything he said even when his inflection indicated questions. Finally he got to one I could understand: “You go out? Take trips here?”
“Yes!” I responded, “We’re going to opening weekend of Oktoberfest in Munich in a few weeks.”
Though I had not understood anything this man had said for the entire trip to this point, he very clearly answered, “Oh my god. So much penis.” I laughed as he went on to articulate, “German beer lots. Take long time to drink.”
I chuckled as we came to a traffic jam and found myself nodding off a bit. I woke an hour later to still be sitting with the man who spoke no English (except when he was talking about genitalia). I had no idea where we were, but the traffic looked quite monstrous and the language he was using, though still foreign, no longer had a sunshiny tone.
Months ago I decided to stay with a British family during my time in London, and we pulled up to my homestay at 1:30pm. Though my host mother, Sandra, could not be at the house for my arrival, her adult daughter, Liz, met me as the angry cab driver threw my bags onto the sidewalk and drove off in a huff.
To be quite honest, the day turns quite blurry after that. I talked with Liz about her DJing career and I think I may have agreed to something about salsa dancing classes? I make wonderful decisions when I don’t sleep. But she was wonderful, energetic, and so welcoming that I did not feel awkward at all coming into a stranger's home to live. I later met my host mom, Sandra, who is an adorable English woman who writes, tries to feed everyone she meets, and lives life being a generally awesome person. She took me for my very first English scone (pronounced “scon” here) in attempts to keep me awake for the afternoon. The awake part was painful, but the scone was more amazing than I have words to say. It was a thick biscuit-like conconction with raisins in it, and I am absolutely in love. Whoever said English food is terrible CLEARLY did not try the scones.
We had some coffee, and then some tea, and then some more coffee, and somehow I managed to stay awake the entire afternoon and evening. I unpacked my two suitcases into a very lovely room in Sandra’s home and we had a wonderful meal of salmon and sweet potatoes that night. I made it to 7pm, showered, and ended my first day in London dreaming of scones and having everyone I love come see how wonderful this place is.