Fall in London: Weeks Two & Three

London Living & Edinburgh

Goldsmiths University (pictured: man mowing the lawn on the left).

(Sorry for cramming two weeks into one post, but it had to be done.)

SINCE arriving in London, I haven’t noticed a ton of drastic differences in culture. Occasional phrases will pop up once in a while, which isn’t a barrier, just an adjustment. I’ve found myself opting for “loads” over “lots of” and “quite” instead of “really”, but besides this, everything seems pretty straightforward.

I did, however, have some observations that I wanted explained. So, here’s a brief list of the things me and my American friends have questioned, with commentary from a real-life British person! (To clarify, she doesn’t know I was prying her for answers, but she gave them to me, so I don’t see why I shouldn’t use them.)

Things I Don’t Understand about the U.K.

#1: If cars drive on the left side of the road, are you supposed to walk on the left side of the street?

This seemed important to me, as I’d like to avoid being immediately identified as a foreigner.

My friend Sarah Norman contemplated this for a second and said she’d never thought about it. “I think people just walk anywhere,” she decided.

Cool. Sounds really efficient.

This appears to be true, though. Normally, the best way to avoid a head-on collision with another pedestrian is to aggressively pick a side, and they’ll decisively walk on the other.

#2: Why don’t Brits seem to drink water ever?

This is something that many of us have wondered. There is one single water fountain in the library, which barely works. At restaurants, it’s unusual to ask for tap water. No one really walks around with a water bottle on campus. But they do often have coffee cups in hand.

Sarah didn’t think that British people were particularly dehydrated.

“Maybe we drink enough tea to make up for it.”

#3: Where are all the trash cans? (Or rubbish bins, if you will.)

I’m very accustomed to seeing a garbage can on every street corner. So if I finish a cup of coffee, I can toss it away mindlessly. Not here — it’s a conscious effort to find a bin to throw away cups or receipts. And yet, there’s hardly any litter on the streets in London. Whatever weird initiative they may have, it’s certainly working.

Sarah explained, “Everything in London is expensive, so people consume less.”

Which makes sense. Everything IS expensive.

OK, that was a snoozefest for everyone who isn’t transitioning from America to the U.K., so we’ll move on to the main event of week two: bed bugs.

That hopefully jolted you awake. Because the prospect of bed bugs is TERRIFYING.

The series of events that lead one to realize they might have bed bugs is not a pleasant one, so I’ll skip to the process of getting rid of them.

How to deal with bed bugs

Step 1: Get a professional to find out if you definitely have an infestation

Because I was too scared to lift up my mattress and bed frame myself, I called my dorm’s management office and put in a request for pest control, which was a nerve-wrecking couple of sentences to even say out loud.

Later that day, someone from pest control came to my room. I went to the kitchen while he inspected and made small talk with my flatmate Sehmon in the meantime. When pest control walked into the kitchen with the bad news, Sehmon was like, “Wait. What are you guys talking about?”

I explained that my room had bed bugs, but, like, it probably won’t affect anyone else in our flat, don’t worry.

And then he said he’d been getting bites, like me, and asked pest control to check HIS room.

Bad news. Again.

It was actually somewhat a relief to know for certain that my issue was bed bugs, because finding weird, mysterious, itchy bumps on your skin overnight is an emotionally-taxing experience. You start wondering if you have a disease, or if you’re going crazy.

But also, after we got the confirmation, we just sat in the kitchen in complete shock. Eventually, we managed to move onto the next step.

Step 2: Put everything you own into tied-up garbage bags.

This was a painfully humbling experience, living in this new city and not really having a place to be. We moved our necessities (laptops, phone chargers, jackets) to the kitchen, and bagged everything else up. I had, like, nine trash bags full of clothing, bedding, and pillows.

On top of that, we still had to sleep in our rooms, the university said, because we could be contaminating another place if we went elsewhere. So, we didn’t really fall asleep for the next few days, as you can imagine.

Step 3: Pest control will fumigate your room (1 of 3 treatments), so don’t enter your room for as long as possible while the poison kills ~some of~ the blood-sucking insects hiding everywhere.

But you still have to sleep there.

Step 4: Do a million loads of laundry on high heat. Also haul four bags of un-washable items to the dry cleaners across town.

I spent one full day in our hall’s laundry room.

Then I tied up all my clean clothes into new garbage bags that are still unpacked in the hall, just in case there are any lingering bugs in my room left.

Step 5: Live out of garbage bags, try to sleep like normal, and move on.

The second and third fumigation treatments became routine for us. We’d get back to class, see the white residue of the spray on our desk and wardrobes, and stay in the kitchen until a few hours had passed and most of the fumes had dissipated. Our other flatmates had their rooms inspected, and they were clean, so no more damage there. And we’ve stopped getting bitten- so maybe our nightmare is over? We’ll know for sure next week, when pest control brings in some bedbug sniffer dogs, who can detect live bedbugs with a 97% accuracy rate.

Finally, we’ll move onto something more exciting: visiting Edinburgh!

Edinburgh, Scotland

A crowd gathering to watch a unicycling street performer in the middle of the street.

The first thing that I thought on the bus from the airport into the center of the city was, “Is this real?”

Everything has this antique quality to it. Unlike London, there are zero buildings that have been completely modernized. Every street is lined with cobblestone. It’s like the city has been frozen in time since its original construction, and it’s breathtaking.

The view from my hostel.

I met up with a friend from Northwestern who’s studying abroad at the University of Edinburgh, Andrew, and he showed me the sights on my one full day in the city.

It’s a really neat place. Coming from the bustling city of London, Edinburgh is a breath of fresh air. There are literal mountains, eating out is somewhat less pricey, and you can actually cross streets without almost dying. It also felt very safe, as I was mostly traveling around by myself, usually confused and asking questions out loud to my Google Maps directions.

A visual summary

Featuring: The Edinburgh Castle, Calton Hill, Dean’s Village, the Elephant House and a tour of an underground street (unpictured because it’s apparently illegal to take pictures, so technically not featured at all but it was pretty cool, so would recommend).

Me in front of the castle, temporarily not shivering for the picture, even though it was unexpectedly cold.
The view from the castle.
The iconic point of Calton Hill. There are actually a lot of different views from up here, including one of the mountains, which is amazing.
Another picture that shows how short I am because the rest of me is literally cut out of the frame.
Dean’s Village, past a town called Stockbridge. The walk here was long, but very worth it.
The Elephant House, AKA “The birthplace of Harry Potter,” as is plastered on the front of the cafe. It’s not very subtle about its part in J.K. Rowling’s writing legacy. But, true to name, there are definitely loads of elephant statues.

Cheers! X

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