A Series of Unfortunate Events

There are only two weeks left of classes, and I am starting to look back on my time and determine what was different about coming here instead of remaining at Whitman. There is always the obvious—a different country, different school, different class content, different friends. But what made my time here was different than simply going to a new school back in the states? The truth is there are many adventures I had only by going to a different country.

The first adventure occurred the very first day I got here, when I opened my bedding back and realized we have a different definition of “bedding.” Instead of a comforter I received a duvet; instead of an electric blanket I received a small heating pad that went under my sheets and would put a big lump where the cord was right underneath my shoulder in order for the plug to reach the socket.

Another is food. One night we were told we were going to have pancakes for dinner, which should have been the best—but the pancakes were flatter than crepes, and served only with honey. I thought there was nothing delightful in this. And though I have never had it myself, the bacon here I have been told is “not bacon,” meaning it is “not American bacon,” saddening many American students.

There was also the White Tea Incident. My all-time favorite tea is a mixture of white and green tea, and when I noticed the hot-beverage machine included white tea, I thought I would give it a shot. As I pressed the button for white tea, a mixture of hot water and some milky liquid poured into my mug. It looked exactly like watery milk, and tasted just as bad. My friend, before seeing my mug, poured herself a mug as well in the other machine, but unfortunately some leftover hot chocolate from the last user poured into her mug as well—and this tasted even worse than mine.

Another issue here is the laundry machines, the dryers in particular. You have to pay for laundry here, and the machines run on their own time based on the color and type of clothes you throw in. While this is fine for washers, it is a big problem for dryers because my heavy dark winter clothes do not dry in one load—but I am hardly going to pay another £1.50 for a second round. This means that every 2-3 weeks I have half of my laundry hanging from the doors of my closet and over the hot water pipes.

Though not particular to Scotland, the showers here have caused problems two different times. Once was on the very first night, when the hot water would not turn off. Since no one except the study-abroad students had arrived yet, I had to run down the hall in my towel to the nearest study-abroad student to ask if she could find someone to help. A man dressed in a sweater and jeans came back up and managed to turn off the water for me, but it was a rather embarrassing start to my semester. Then, a month later, the shower started being impossible to turn off again. I learned the trick was to have dry hands, and also an iron will, so for a week I was one of the few able to turn off the shower all the way after use. When the housekeepers (yes, we have housekeepers here) came by the next week to clean, our housekeeper could not turn the shower off. She knocked on my door to let me know not to worry about it and she would get someone, but after twenty minutes I still heard the shower running, so I went out and turned it off myself. When the housekeeper found this out she looked at me and said, “But even the Porter couldn’t turn it off!” So there you go, I, who never goes to the gym, am stronger than the Porter.

The kitchens are my biggest adventure. We are not served dinners on the weekends and have to fend for ourselves, but after a month of microwave dinners I gave in and bought a super cheap pot and pizza pan. My first weekend cooking pasta, I looked at the stovetop dials and realized the labeling had all but peeled away, so I had to play the guessing game at which one to turn on. It then took almost 45 minutes for my water to boil—I know a watched pot never boils, but it was not a large pot! For each subsequent pasta meal after that, it always took a very long time for the water to boil. One time I put a pizza in the oven, waited the 25 minutes, and took it out, only to discover it had not been cooked at all, only warmed. I ended up moving to a different oven other students had just used to ensure it was actually cooked, since no one else seemed to have as bad luck as me.

After about five meals gone impossibly slowly in this way, a friend saw me in the kitchen and when I complained that it always takes forever to boil water, he told me there are actually switches that turn on the entire stove-oven appliance. Once he turned it on for me, my water boiled in under five minutes. What I believe happened for all my past meals was the other appliance other students were using (there are two sets in each kitchen) got my stovetop hot enough so I did not think anything was wrong, but not hot enough to boil the water at a proper pace. Since then I have had no issues at all.

My last adventure was also in the kitchen, when I put a stick of butter in the microwave to soften it so I could make a turkey sandwich. At home I do this all the time, but here when I put the butter in for five seconds, two seconds in I heard a pop and opened the door to see my butter on fire. I frantically blew out the flame and waved my hands to disperse the smoke, and by pure luck no fire alarms went off. As it turns out, the butter I buy at home is in plastic wrap, whereas here butter most often comes in foil. Anyone smart knows that foil does not go in the microwave—there is in fact even a sign right next to the microwave saying not to do so—but it did not occur to me to think of it since I never had to do so at home.

What I mean to get across in all of these unfortunate events is that I may have never experienced them if I had not taken a chance and gone abroad. When I told people I was going to Scotland, a lot of responses involved how nice it would be that I am going to an English-speaking country, that it wouldn’t be that different. While it may be true that Scotland is a lot closer to the US than somewhere like India, they are wrong in thinking that everything will be the same. We have different definitions of words—pancakes, electric blanket, white tea. Electric sockets come with on-off switches. You have a separate drying room in dorms because the dryers are crummy. Buildings are old so it is a lot more likely that a shower handle will get stuck. Even simply because I had to buy a different brand of butter than usual, I learned about the dangers of foil in the microwave.

It is these small adventures, trying new things and learning their unexpected results, that can be the heart and soul of the stories we have to tell when we come back home.

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