The biggest insight from my Fulbright experience was probably – and I know this sounds cliché- learning about cultural nuances, breaking down stereotypes. There’s a train culture in England that I wasn’t familiar with. If you think of British people as reserved and almost stand-offish, take a train from Durham to Edinburgh on a weekend night. On Friday/Saturday, people travel to the nearest town and go to pubs, watch a show, hang out with friends. They are very nicely dressed, despite the cold weather, and when they return, they drink, sing, clap, and are very, very loud.
At the beginning, when we first encountered this train culture, my children and I thought they were inconsiderate to other passengers, and we kept waiting for the other passengers or the train conductor to say something. But that never happened. Instead, sometimes the other passengers and the conductor would join in! So, we realized we were the “odd ones out,” not them. And slowly, we adjusted to this merry train culture. Instead of taking a book on the train, we started to take a pack of cards and just play cards. Since then, I like to say that British people are Latin people who just happen to speak English. If they didn’t speak English, they would fit very well in Spain, Italy, or …Romania.
My favorite memory was giving a research presentation in the Trevs pub at Durham University, with my audience drinking a glass or two while listening. I wonder if that’s why I got lots of questions and comments! A small group of faculty and graduate students continued our discussion in the pub, and we lingered for over an hour after the presentation. It was a lively conversation, and I got some really good ideas and feedback!
Also, if you think language differences between the U.S. and U.K. are minimal, try ordering a rocket and courgette pizza with a fizzy drink, and see what you get. Or an aubergine parmigiana with a side of crisps. A jacket potato, or banger and mash. A Toffee apple for dessert. And learn not to expect ice when you order water in a restaurant (as a Romanian native, I always have my water without ice anyway!).
Cristina Elena Ciocirlan – Fulbright to UK 2015