When I was a student I thought that, like every decent future teacher of English, I should spend some time in the country where the language I was to teach was spoken. I chose Oxford University in England because I wanted to visit one of the oldest universities. I found a good school and I arranged an accommodation at a house that would allow me to practice my English on a 24-hour basis, seeing as I am Greek. Everything was planned; I would land in Heathrow, then I would take the train to Paddington, from Paddington to Oxford, and thence by taxi to my landlady’s house. My knowledge of the language was very good, or so I thought at the moment. We had done most of the works by Shakespeare, so my vocab was rich, right?
So there I was on the platform at Paddington, with Shakespeare’s books in my suitcase, very confident and happy that I was at a place where I could hear only English and my favorite rock songs around me all the time. Fearless, I saw a sign that the train to Oxford would depart in 5 min., I approached the guard thinking it was the perfect time to start practicing. I asked him if the train went directly to Oxford or if I had to change trains, and to my surprise, I didn’t understand a word of his response. Not even a little word that would give me some sort of clue. Oops! But I wasn’t going to give up that easily. I tried again. “Excuse me, could you repeat please?” In response I got the same rumble of words that still made no sense. Oh my.
I gave up the third time; I had to get on the train anyway. Not a very good start. I arrived at Oxford, exhausted, worried, and slightly disappointed. I went to the taxi stand and fortunately the taxi driver’s English was more comprehensible. Feeling relieved, I went to sit in the passenger’s seat only to realize that for some reason the wheel was on that side too. I gave a Hugh Grant, “Right!” and moved to the other side.
My landlady was an older lady who welcomed me with a “nice, hot cup o’ tea, dear.” She told me that her husband had passed away but…”look here” she said, proudly holding a pic she had on the mantle. “Look who he is with!” Her husband was with another older lady with a lovely little hat – but who on earth was she? “Oh,” I said “He is with the…?” “Yes, right! With the Queen!” Phew! Well, at least I knew Queen Elizabeth, the one from Shakespeare’s time.
She showed me to my room, a lovely little space. She said that she would be hosting another student who had arrived before me and so he took the bigger room and the bigger bathroom. Besides, he was an Earl. Poor me, I would never get a big room. Conclusion: before you go to England, learn a few things about the royal family. Also, look into your family tree. If you are distantly related to royalty, you will get big rooms.
And before we said goodnight, she asked, “How would you like your breakfast, love?” How would I like my breakfast? It dawned on me that in England they have English breakfast which keeps you going till the evening. But what does it consist of? “I’ll have what Jan (the Earl) will have.” That proved to be a good idea since we had orange juice, eggs with sausages, milk with cereal, toasted bread with marmalade (not jam), and coffee. I was now ready for everything.
I had no more adventures, unfortunately. Once, I went with my friend to a pub for lunch and would still be sitting there to this day unless a guy with many tattoos told us that in pubs you need to order at the counter. You live and you learn.
I have only fond memories of this trip. I didn’t mind the blunders, at least in retrospect. My teacher taught us all the dialects, so after that I was prepared to talk to any train station guard. My landlady took me to the oldest pub in the area, something like the Jamaica Inn. I went to all the colleges, walked in the corridors where so many famous people walked too. I visited the libraries. I made friends with people from other countries. Also, I saw a Shakespearean play in a courtyard of one of the colleges. Of course it rained in the middle of the play, but blankets, umbrellas, and hot cider were provided (for free!) so we were able to continue watching it. I had a great experience in Oxford.
Will you be partaking in the English culture by watching the Royal Wedding this weekend?