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8.24.2011

Days 3-5: Lessons Learned in Keswick

After attending a lovely Christian Science service in Oxford on Sunday morning, we traveled by train and bus to Keswick, which is part of England's gorgeous Lake District. A friend and I enjoyed a few hours on the first train ride putting together readings for our Wednesday evening testimony meeting. We focused on Psalm 91 and the story of the Hebrew boys in the fiery furnace. Throughout the second train ride, I marked my books and chatted with a new friend while engaging in occasional witty banter with some friends behind us through the crack between our seats. The final leg of our journey was a fifty minute bus ride, and I was unconscious for about forty of it. In a delirious moment between naps, I looked out my window and saw a huge hill cloaked in mist, grayish-green in the twilight. The first thought I had as I stepped off the bus was, "Wow! I already understand Wordsworth better!"

I think it will be easiest to describe my two days and three nights in Keswick in terms of the lessons I learned, so here goes.

Lesson One: Ask before you order. Yay, me for trying new things! Silly me for ordering a "garlic bread pizza," which turned out to be garlic bread cut in slices like a pizza. No cheese. No sauce. Six pounds. (That was how much it cost, not how much weight I gained by eating it.) Recovery: I used the marinara left over from a friend's meal to turn my appetizer/side into a meal.

Lesson Two: Bring a Camera. Obvious, right? Well, I didn't bring one on our Monday morning hike to the Castlerigg stone circle, which was created around 3000 BC. It was a beautiful hike, and although I was glad to experience the people and the scenery with my eyes instead of my camera lens, I would have enjoyed taking a few pictures of my own. Recovery: I had a friend take a fun picture of me with her camera, and I now take my camera in my purse wherever I go.

Lesson Three: Have some bonding time with a friend in a way that connects with his or her area of expertise. This is a lesson I learned by doing it right. Hurrah! On Tuesday, we were free between breakfast and 7:30 PM. Heidi asked us at breakfast if anyone wanted to go with her to see William Wordsworth's homes. (Dr. Heidi Snow, one of the two professors leading our abroad, is the reason I am an English major; her classes are the most interesting and most challenging I have ever taken.) I was the only student to take her up on her offer and BOY, AM I GLAD I DID! We took a bus to Grasmere. (Quick side story: we waited in a queue for the bus, and when it arrived about 15 feet away from where it was expected, the queue snaked around gracefully so that those in the front of the line could still get on first. SO different from the American scramble! Queue-jumping is a major violation of the unspoken rules of English culture.)

Dove Cottage
Back to the Wordsworth story... Heidi and I had plenty of time to chat during our two bus rides, the walk to Dove Cottage, the hike between Dove Cottage and Rydal Mount, and the hike back to the bus stop. We talked about everything from Wordsworth's writing process and his sister's clothing to the merits of the Restorative Justice system at Principia and which shop in Grasmere sold the most authentic gingerbread. We paid to walk through the garden at Rydal Mount, where we enjoyed lunch and Heidi read a few of Wordsworth's poems. A marine biologist on his first trip to the ocean after years studying at Sea World might understand what it was like to be an English Literature major in the Lake District. It was especially fun to share that day with Heidi after taking six amazing classes from her.

Lesson Four: Bring an extra camera battery. Again with the camera lessons, but, hey, I'm learning! During my Wordsworth trip with Heidi, I took two pictures of a hilarious sheep and three pictures of Dove Cottage before my camera battery died. It gave me a nice opportunity to have no reaction whatsoever because there was nothing constructive I could do about it. I was disappointed, but I committed myself to taking some mental pictures as we enjoyed our day. Recovery: Heidi had an iPad with her, courtesy of Principia, so we figured out how to email ourselves a few pictures we took.

Lesson Five: Yes, you are supposed to tip at English restaurants. Oh, dear. I'm pretty embarrassed about this one. On Monday night, we ate at an Italian restaurant. One of our party was convinced that, in England, you are not supposed to tip your waiter. We believed this easily because the English can be a little uncomfortable dealing with money, especially in service situations, partly because they don't like to focus on anything related to class differences. For example, after ordering a drink at a bar, you say "...and one for yourself," indicating a tip, after which the bartender adds the price of a drink (his tip) to your tab. Although we won't have the opportunity to try this, we have joked about saying "and one for yourself" after ordering fish and chips. Ha! Anyhow, we found it believable that the tip might be included in the price of the food, just as the tax is already included. So we didn't tip our waiter.

The following night at the same restaurant with a slightly different group of students, we debated again about tipping. I was concerned that if they avoided the whole tipping process on purpose, it might be offensive to leave an extra tip - it might communicate, "I feel bad for you; you're a waitress and are therefore more deserving of this pound I can so willingly spare." So, again, we didn't tip. Eager to double check the validity of the course of inaction I had promoted, I asked Heidi and Chrissy about it. To my dismay, they said you are supposed to tip waitstaff about 10% at a sit-down restaurant. Recovery: I ran back to the restaurant and, apologizing, overtipped our waitress. Then I found a waiter who had been there the night before and falteringly tried to identify who our waiter had been the night before. I left him a sizable tip with a few waiters and fled, quite embarrassed but still glad to make things right.

Lesson Six: Speak English, laugh American. On Tuesday night, we went to a production of Noises Off at the Theatre by the Lake in Keswick. It was absolutely hilarious and very well-acted. During the first act, I noticed that after every funny moment on stage, the English audience members laughed, but nowhere near as loudly as our group did. I was already a little concerned about our volume level in general, as most English folk are pretty quiet and polite in public. I saw a number of other audience members giving our group a look after each burst of hilarity. I talked to the students around me, asking whether they thought we should attempt to mellow our laughter a little bit. The general consensus was that we should just enjoy ourselves, so I backed off.

After a hilarious third act, the audience was invited to stay for a talk-back with the actors. We eagerly moved to the first few rows and, along with about thirty other audience members, asked some questions about the play, the theatre, the actors, etc. At one of their witty answers, we all burst out laughing, and the actors gestured excitedly at one of our party. "That's him!" they said, "There's always one laugh we can pick out of the audience, and yours was it tonight! You have a wonderful laugh!" We jokingly apologized for being such a loud group of Americans, but they quickly stopped us, explaining that they absolutely love to have a crowd that is into the show. Occasionally, they have a very quiet audience, and it becomes difficult to keep the momentum going onstage. We were all cracking up at this fun feedback, and I was relieved to be proven wrong again. Recovery: I apologized to the few people with whom I had discussed our noise level during the show and expressed how overjoyed I was at being wrong. It was a fantastic conclusion to a laughter-filled night!

All in all, it was a wonderful half-week in Keswick. I definitely learned a lot and enjoyed every minute of our time there. In some ways, the Lake District was the "true England" I was hoping to experience on this abroad. Maybe I'll be back someday!

Hiking with Heidi near Wordsworth's home in Grasmere.

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