Well, I’ve been here for just over six months – two full terms – so I thought it might be time for a firmly tongue-in-cheek list of some of the local eccentricities: though Canada and the UK are, by and large, very similar indeed (and far more similar than, say, the US and the UK), there are lots of little differences.
I am aware that this list should, perhaps, be entitled “Oxford’s Eccentricities” – since I have arguably not seen enough of the rest of the UK to be able to generalize – but then I’d lose the assonance from the title, so … without further ado:
- It is impossible to buy a box of Kraft Dinner (or at least, I have not found a store that sells it yet).
- “Rocket” is a green leafy vegetable, not a spacecraft
- “Prawns” are related to shrimp, but you can get them in sandwiches
- We stopped, not once but twice, during the strike of Assassins, for tea and cookies (er, pardon me, biscuits)
- It’s not called a strike, but a get-out
- Food is not ordered “to go”, but “for take away”
- Walking into a coffee shop does not mean that you can purchase a coffee: the options tend to be espresso, espresso diluted with water (“Americano”), lattes, tea, and hot chocolate
- “So you’re American?” is the default response upon hearing my accent
- “Iced tea” and “cider” are both alcoholic here: so much for my go-to non-alcoholic choices whenever I am somehow dragged to a pub
- Speaking of pubs, every single academic / social event seems to involve going to one: yes, “Beer and Beowulf” is an academic reading group, led by several highly respected professors. I suspect I have been to a pub more times in the last two terms than in the entirety of my undergraduate degree.
- “The pigeon post” = Oxford’s internal mail system. So official communications from college do indeed arrive via pigeon post.
- Dorset Flapjacks have nothing to do with flapjacks, but make for a fabulous camping snack
- A flashlight is a “torch”, and I’m not yet sure what the word for a torch is …
- Sweet popcorn is apparently a thing?? A fairly large number of stores only stock “sweet” or “sweet and salty” – and not ordinary (salted) popcorn.
- 5 degrees Celsius is “so cold”
- There is not nearly as much rain as I was expecting
- “The hols” is a legitimate phrase that my fellow students use, not just a quaint archaism in novels about upper class boarding schools
- Apparently pharmacies are only allowed to sell you two (small) packs of ibuprofen tablets at a time
- November to March feels like September. April feels like July.
- Apparently there are no thunderstorms in spring
- Finding an ordinary pair of plain, black, women’s running shoes (not called “running shoes” here) required two weeks of searching and a trip to London, despite every store in downtown Oxford stocking no shortage of black heels, pumps, ballet flats, and other shoes totally inappropriate for actually walking. (Of course they also stock plain black men’s running shoes … )
- Signing off text message conversations with “x” or “xx” is not restricted to overexcited teenage girls
- The stage manager doesn’t get to call the show
- The DSM, who calls the show, doesn’t apparently get to do much else
- I am apparently eligible – and now registered – to vote, despite a) not being a UK citizen, and b) knowing only ever so slightly more than nothing about both UK and EU politics. Serious research required. (Speaking of politics: apparently “immigration” is a major and controversial political issue, and “immigrants” are a serious problem to be dealt with. Whatever happened to multiculturalism?)
- I am also allowed to drive. And eligible to transfer my Canadian license to a full UK one. Given that driving on the right side of the road is obviously not a thing, this is mildly terrifying.
- By dint of much effort, I have thus far managed not to say “pants” in reference to “trousers”, though I am sure I will mess it up eventually
- I can use a “spanner”, “snips”, and a “driver”, but would never have referred to them by those words
- In a country that still teaches Greek and Latin in a substantial number of schools, how did the “tallescope” ever get that name?
- The theatre industry in Canada operates in imperial, despite the rest of the country officially using metric. The theatre industry in the UK appears to operate half in imperial and half in metric, despite the rest of the country officially using metric. This is both more work and potentially more confusing.
- Biking in pencil skirts and heels (or ballet flats, or flip flops) has become no less impractical than it was in November, despite the increasing number of people doing it