My first term is officially over. Actually, it was supposed to be over on Friday, but one of my tutors extended a deadline for me and another student out of the kindness of his heart. Our tutorial is tomorrow afternoon, but I finished my paper this morning. (The "Oxspeak" for tutorials is "tutes." It makes my inner 12 year-old giggle. My mom's, too.) So, I'm relatively free!
A story from my day offers some circumstantial evidence that still have a lot to learn about adjusting to life in the UK:
Today I got to indulge in that delightful end-of-term activity: return my library books! Woohoo! There's nothing like feeling literal, physical weight lifted off your shoulders at the end of a semester (or term, in my case). It's an ordinary sort of 'sacrament' to me. Anyway, it was raining this morning when I finished my paper. I waited until after lunch, and I thought I saw a relatively dry window... well, it was a drier than it had been. I grabbed my bag of books, slipped on my rain jacket, and set out. The rain picked up a bit. I consider pulling out my umbrella, too, but decided not to - if there's any wind my trousers usually get wet anyway. (It's very, very important to say 'trousers', by the way - say 'my pants got wet' here and it sounds like an indirect confession of incontinence.) Besides, if the wind is strong enough, it's better to just get wet than to have to chase your inside-out umbrella down the street.
This time, forgoing the umbrella was a misstep, and it led me down an odd path of decision making. The rain gradually became harder. At first I thought, "It's not that heavy, I have on my rain jacket, and my pan-trousers! are probably going to get a little wet with the umbrella anyway." This went on for a while as the rain became heavier. There was some turning point at which my reasoning had switched to, "Well, I'm soaked through now, so there's really no need to bother with the umbrella." Rationalization: it's a slippery slope, my friends.
The take-away here is, if you have the occasion to ask yourself, "Should I get out my umbrella?" the answer is nearly always, "Yes." If you think about the umbrella, you probably do, in fact, need it. Otherwise, you end up returning books, picking up something for dinner, and trudging a mile back to your flat with your slightly-too-big trousers sagging lower and lower until you feel like you're impersonating a penguin. It's like that scene in Mary Poppins, but without the animated characters, innocuous flirting, singing and dancing. Just waddling in the rain and whistling "Wade in the Water." (Actually, not much like Mary Poppins at all, I guess.)
On my way back to my flat, I finally decided to go ahead and get my umbrella out anyway. The other thing about umbrellas is that they limit your field of vision. I also had my hood up - now I was soaked and in over-kill mode. That's right, Kel: at least look like you tried your best not to get soaked. With the hood on, I have to pivot my entire torso to spot oncoming traffic. Adding an umbrella means I have to do a pivot-duck combination to peak out for cars. Anyway, I was approaching a crosswalk on a major street, and it's near a bus stop, so it's usually busy. Just as I was about to cross the street, in the very little peripheral vision that I had left, I noticed a rapid, dark streak of movement. It looked like someone was running extremely close to my back, enough that we would probably collide. Even though I knew I wasn't the one who put us on the collision course, I did what any person adjusting to British culture would do. I offered a profuse, preemptive apology to the reckless stranger as if our near-collision was entirely my fault. (They'll apologize for anything here! And apparently, I will, too.) Oddly, the other person said nothing in return, and we did not end up colliding at all.
It wasn't until I got to the other side of the street that I realized I had apologized so politely to the black piece of velcro that holds my umbrella closed when it's not in use. When the umbrella's open, it hangs freely, and its flopping around is obnoxious, so I usually rotate it to the back where I can't see it. I'm an abnormally bouncy walker (I think it's the product of my irrational, die-hard optimism), so the little black strip of cloth had dangled briefly within sight and then disappeared just as quickly. It made enough of an impression that I actually thought it was a person. (I wonder if anyone heard that?) Maybe I should start keeping that little annoying strip of fabric in sight. Or just not use the umbrella, get soaked and waddle home.