Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Misadventures in Birmingham

Or How I Survived 7 Uncomfortable Situations in 26 hours
Shelby Preston, Spring 2017

This weekend, I went to Birmingham with my friends. The plan was to meet up with my friend’s relatives, who live in the city. We were strikingly unorganized for this trip, so I wasn’t expecting much--which was a good thing, considering how unexpected the trip turned out to be.

There are seven Uncomfortable Situations in this list: three of them include trains, one includes a taxi driver, two include alcohol, and one involves the repercussions of being Americans in Europe, which comes with uncomfortable-ness on its own.

Situation 1.                       The first situation began while we were on the first train--a good omen for the rest of our trip, honestly. Here, we learned for the first time that while tourists are best to remain quiet and respectful on trains, English people can do what they want on them. We desperately tried to use headphones to block out the sound of the very drunk, very loud, very English girls sitting by us. Headphones don’t work for this purpose.
Situation 2.                       The second situation also takes place on a train, but it’s much more exciting. We switched trains at Nottingham; and, about halfway through, as we were all settled down and ready to finally reach Birmingham, heard the train voice offering us another fantastic omen for our trip--“There has been a fire on the tracks at the Birmingham station. All riders need to get off here.” We found our replacement train, though--after walking around for about fifteen minutes asking anyone in a yellow vest where to go and getting completely different answers each time. The fun part is that these two experiences happened on my first train ride ever.
Situation 3.                        Finally--FINALLY--we made it to the Birmingham train station. We got a taxi, gave him the address to the place, and settled down, again, for the trip. This being my first ride in an English taxi, I wasn’t expecting the driver to suddenly inform us that he couldn’t find the address; and I most definitely wasn’t expecting his solution to this problem to be “I’ll drop you off here and you can walk around and find it.” In other words, four female American tourists, holding luggage and using our phones as maps, were wandering around at 10 p.m on a Friday night on the back roads of the second biggest city in England. Don’t tell my parents.
Situation 4.                       The interesting part of the weekend actually begins here. We met up with my friend’s family, her cousin, who took us to the flat that we were going to be staying in for the weekend. He then gave us an offer: he would take us out to an “authentic Birmingham pub” and buy us drinks. We didn’t understand the gravity of this offer, at least not at the time. This man was a...drinking enthusiast, and he liked the people he was with to be drinking enthusiasts, too; this meant rounds and rounds of alcohol were being served to us. Don’t want another drink? Sorry. Haven’t finished your first? Too bad. This did not bode well for me and my three American friends, as none of us had had a real taste for alcohol yet.
Situation 5.                       Luckily, we all managed to survive this; we all were able to get out of his insistence on continuing to buy us drinks. However, we were not able to get out of his insistence on getting us an authentic English serving of chips to take back to the flat with us. Back at the flat, we luckily found a way to insult all of England by determining that this enormous serving of chips was subpar to American fast food fries. We apologize, England; please don’t send us home.
Situation 6.                       The next day, we went out to dinner with my friend’s family--about 12 people total. They were fascinated with us, as were we with them; but the questions were more answered than asked on our part, because if anyone was going to talk, we’d rather it be someone with a British accent. This is when the dinner became uncomfortable. We managed to both break some of the American stereotypes they had...and to confirm some of them.
                        Things we reassured them about:
1.      No, we are not diehard Trump supporters; no, we did not watch the inauguration with popcorn and sodas
2.      No, sorority life at UE is not like sororities in the movies
3.      No, not all Americans are used to warm weather and are dying slowly in this England cold (just some of us).
Things we, unfortunately, left them with:
1.      Yes, of course Taco Bell and White Castle are all Americans’ favorite restaurants, and they are definitely authentic American cuisine
2.      Yes, we are perfectly comfortable being hugged and kissed on the cheek by every member of your family
3.      Yes, of course we are going to go out and party tonight; sleeping and Netflix were in no way the original agenda
Situation 7.                       On the way home, we encountered the last and possibly most scarring Uncomfortable Situation: the train at 9pm on a Saturday night. A train full of drunks sat right behind us. We prayed they wouldn’t be loud; and then they started singing. We prayed they wouldn’t be messy; and then they spilled an entire beer in the aisle and stared at it until someone expertly offered, “We spilled that.” And we prayed they would get off at one of the many stops before we reached Grantham--at ANY of the 5 other options--and then we heard a slurred “Is this Grantham?” “No, it’s not Grantham!” “Well, how long ‘til Grantham?” and so on (with some other choice insults, naturally). We did escape, eventually, to enjoy another--luckily uneventful--cab ride back to the manor.  

All of these situations made the trip to Birmingham very...colorful. Despite the unplanned parts, of being scared for our lives and whatnot, we did manage to see some beautiful sites in Birmingham--this lovely statue of a bull, for example, with whom we posed on the notion of “Oh, it looks cool, let’s get a picture with it” This reasoning is similar to how we explored the Birmingham city center, and how we’ve explored and gotten lost in most places we’ve traveled so far.

The best part of traveling to Birmingham wasn’t experiencing so many things. It wasn’t casually pretending that we felt uncomfortable accepting free food and cab rides from my friend’s family; it wasn’t getting more experience in dissecting heavily accented British sentences; and it wasn’t even the fact that every British person we meet that finds out we spent a weekend in Birmingham repeats “Birmingham?” with shock, even though that’s been my favorite part so far. I suppose I will say that the best part of Birmingham was getting to explore it with my friends.

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