Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Floundering in Stereotypes (Second Day)

August 2011

So I awoke at 8.30 on the Thursday morning. Well, I say 8.30am, it was actually 3.30am (NC being 5 hours behind the UK), and I wasn’t too happy about that. It was a pattern that continued for a good week longer. But being knackered from my 24hour day the day before, I pretty easily went back to sleep. When it finally seemed a normal time to rise out of bed, I went and had a shower – interesting experience to one who has never lived in a corridor set up before - and went on the hunt for breakfast. I was pointed towards Franklin street by the RA’s who were sat outside the dorm in eagerness for new arrivals (seriously, they were dead keen!) and went off “a-walking”. Franklin Street is about a 5 min walk from Graham Dorm (where I live) in theory. It actually took me 15, with a lot of confusion to the traffic light system in Chapel Hill. It seems that in some places you can just walk across the road and in others you cant. I played safe, not wanting to get arrested for jaywalking, and waited for some nice person to take pity on me and let me cross.

Front of my dorm

Looking onto Franklin Street

What struck me about the place is how big everything is. Big cars, bit roads, big buildings. Even the wasps are bigger here! The biggest problem for me, especially on the first day, was the size of the food. I went into a lovely place called Carolina Coffee House on Franklin Street, enticed by the promise of omelette “with whatever you want” - I should add here that there was a price involved with that, and they couldn’t guarantee to have literally anything you wanted - but anyways, I ordered an omelette and a cup of tea and made small talk with the manager who had once been to England when he was married (v long story trust me). It was then that I noticed other British accents in the place, and after spying them out in a very English way (i.e. subtly you Americans!) I sat there listening to them (OK, being nosey). I quickly realised they were other exchange students, and I knew I had to go over and meet them so I had some friends. Easier to say than done! It took me all of my omelette (a very long time with the size of the dam thing!) and two cups of tea (not the nicest tea in the world – nowhere can do tea like the UK) to pluck up the courage to walk over and introduce myself, worrying that they would rebuff me and laugh at my food baby visible under my t-shirt from the omelette. Needless to say I didn’t have to worry – they were (and still are I guess!) a lovely bunch and we’ve been pretty much inseparable since (look on the peoples page for info about them if you’re interested). I successfully latched onto them like a leach (well, a desperate person for friends), and together we skipped into the sunset in a happy daze… OK, we walked rather slowly due to the horrendous heat as soon as you walk anywhere.  

The UNC campus has only one word to describe it: Beautiful. Well two then: Absolutely beautiful. I was stunned at how amazing it is. And also how large it is too, compared to the likes of Manchester campus. Redbrick buildings set into huge lawns and trees everywhere! This is probably a place to talk about my door and dorm. As previously mentioned I’ve never lived in a corridor setting before, sharing bathrooms and toilets etc. The room itself is ok, slightly bigger than the one I had in first year, with two windows, desks, beds that can be lifted up etc. Now I should mention the fact that I actually share a room. Yep, you read right, I have a roommate. Now while this may not be a problem now, at the time I hadn’t met the lucky chap who was sharing with me and this was somewhat of a concern. What happens if he’s a loud American who likes chopping down trees? Or a sports freak who gets up for a run at 5am every day? Or a sexual maniac who brings women home every night?! What happens then?! There are roughly 20 rooms on the corridor with 2 people in each (except the RA’s room – lucky bugger!) with a lounge at the end that links onto the girl’s side of the corridor. It is however a new experience to have to walk down the end of the corridor to go to the loo or even to get a drink! An experience likely to be most appreciated when I'm back in Manchester with a bathroom shared with a lot less people and a lot less distance away!

Some images of the campus
That evening the English lot and I went to Franklin Street for a meal in a place called Spankeys. Now I originally misread the place name and got quite excited about there being a Sankeys in Chapel Hill (to you non-Mancunians, Sankeys is a massive club in Manchester), which would have made an awesome photo. As it was I was being retarded and just managed to avoid making myself look a fool. I would recommend the place though as the food was rather nice (that’s the tourist guide-esk part put in!), and they had cool caricatures on the wall which provided a fair bit of amusement!

After the meal I hooked up with my wonderful mentor Pat for a night out on the town (more of a road really). His housemate Madison was DJ-ing at a club behind Chapel Hill so we went along; Pat to support Madison, me to indulge in culture watching again. The club itself was OK, bit like 5th Ave for those of you who get the reference, and was fairly full, which is always a good sign! Queuing for a drink however wasn’t good. Now, I don’t want to make a sweeping statement here but some Americans do not know how to politely wait at the bar for a drink. I was waiting for over 30mins for a drink at in the process was pushed, elbowed, screamed past and at one point almost jumped over by others (mainly girls who thought getting their tits out warranted a free drink). The barman himself was a right dick as well. But anyways, after waiting I thought ‘Screw it’ and bought 10 beers in one (not all for myself I hasten to add!). Pats mates who I met – Willy who’s literally like 7 foot and Rayme who’s literally like 4 foot – were really cool and friendly, and they indoctrinated me into the weird world of US clubbing. Now in the UK you may see people making out in the corners of clubs or in the middle of the dance floor. In the US, its borderline sex. No kidding. Needless to say I was amazed and then ended up in hysterics watching one or two couples not getting too far away from just ripping their clothes off and getting down and dirty on the dance floor. An experience it was! Secondly, Americans are much better dancers. Fact. I felt rather awkward with my usual swaying holding a beer and promptly felt obliged to drink some more and just go for it (Mum if you’re reading this I didn’t do that at all. Honestly….). Eventually I couldn’t push off the jetlag anymore and had to retire for the eve, after facing the tricky issue of finding my way alone and a drunk (read sober Mum) leading to me going down some rather dodgy park pathways. Ah well, im still alive today I guess! Filled with apprehension about my roommate possibly having turned up whilst I was out, I quietly (for a drunk person at least) opened the door and found the room empty. Perfect for crashing out!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011


I was expecting this, and I wasn’t disappointed. We all know that Americans call things differently to the English, and the South is no different. What follows is a list of words I have said to people and gotten a blank look in response, or that I hadn’t really heard before, with its English meaning or explanation.

Y’all – you all.
Heaps – lots of
Dumbass – (self explanatory)
Yankee – peoples from the Northern states of the USA (related to the American Civil War)
Chips – crisps (so confusing!)
Refrigerator – fridge
Only 3 hours away – bloody miles!
“Graaam” – Graham (name of my Dorm)
“Craaaag” – Craige (name of another dorm)
The Pit – The campus center where a lot of people meet up
RA – residential advisor. They are responsible for the corridor and those in it.
Biscuit – a breakfast type edible thing. Nothing like McVities!
Grits – a cheesy potato-y type food
Redcoat – my name in the corridor when I act stereotypically English (usually proceeded by goddam!)
How are you?! – Hello (doesn’t always warrant a response – very confusing!)

Have a good day y'all!

August 2011

So I’ve never been to the USA before. My visions of the US are big people, big cars and big food. Oh and hicks. My first encounter with an American was getting onto the plane to Atlanta. She was a nun, reinforcing the whole Christian image of the states. Putting my anti-religious feeling aside and helped her lift her bag into the overhead lockers. That will be going on my CV for application to heaven.

The flight was pretty uneventful. Just very long. Even longer when Russel Brand is prancing around on the screen pretending to be a big kid or something. I thought it was a documentary but apparently it’s a “popular film” according to the inflight magazine. I then saw that the most expensive perfume on sale was also “popular” so  I stopped believing the magazine.

As we came into land at Atlanta a smile was brought to my face looking down at the stereotypical American houses in the suburbs with swimming pools and cars in the drive. The cheery “have a good day” reinforced the good feeling I had as I left the plane, showing me that Americans sure are nice people! However, this was shattered going through the psychological torture that is immigration and customs. Such a ‘dumbass’ system. Going through immigration wasn't so much of an issue as I had heard about. It amused me watching the different nationalities and how nervous some of them looked in trying to get through the plate glass and enter the US officially. The immigration officer I was in line to looked mean. And I mean mean. Like he was guarding the gate into the Mines of Moria or something. The English charm of “Heya, you alright?” did not work one bit. He sized me up, took all important paper work. Looked at me, at the paper, at me again and then asked something of me. I was taken aback at this point, not having a clue what was going on and in the process looked like some foreigner (Ok, so I am, but that’s not what im trying to get at). Aparently he wanted my fingerprints. That in itself caused apprehension, as I then worried about what if they had matched up the wrong ones at the US embassy. Would I be deported, locked up, interrogated?! After what seemed an eternity (OK, more likely 5 seconds), the guardian of the gate looked at me and asked if I had anything to declare. At this point I felt incredibly stupid and English and replied “Tea and chocolate”. Luckily the beast smiled (these creatures can smile?!) and said “goddam brits with their tea”. I chuckled nervously not wanting to upset my new friend who controlled whether I would actually get to UNC or not. Luckily I was waved on and after dropping my papers and passport on the floor, to the sound of another “goddam brits” muttering, passed officially into the United States of America. 

Now I thought that was the stress over with and I'd have a chilled hour waiting for my connecting flight. Not according to Atlanta airport! For reasons unfathomable to normal human beings, passengers have to take their bags off the conveyer belt, pass through customs and check them back in again. Then go through security again. With a massive queue for each stage. Needless to say I had to sprint down the departure lounge once I got through to reach the plane in time, probably sparking a security threat or something. But screw them I'd had enough of the place by that point. An hour and half flight from Atlanta to Raleigh-Durham saw me touch down in North Carolina to beautiful weather. I was in my jeans, so didn’t really appreciate the horrendous heat that literally knocked me sideways as I exited the air-conditioned airport.

My mentor Patrick met at the airport with a massive handshake (making me think, blimey everything is big including handshakes!) and a cheery “Good to meet you, Alex!” (in an American accent of course). I have to say its incredibly reassuring to have someone like Pat meet you at an airport and take you to your room and help you move in. Though I was a little embarrassed at first because I kept looking round like a child and going “wow” to everything. I know, goddam Brits! 

Anyway, once I had moved in (well, put my bags on the floor as I had no hangers) and put some shorts on (my jeans were soaked by this point), Pat took me to his apartment about 5 min drive away and we 'hung out' for a bit. Then his housemate, Madison, arose from his slumber to give me a sleepy “How you doin’?” and drove us into Raleigh for a BBQ with some of their mates. This was my first experience of being the only Brit in the room, with everyone doing a version of that song ‘whip my hair back and forth’ by Willow Smith (though it was to the side not up and down) every time I spoke. They were cool though and real friendly so that was reassuring. However, I had been up nearly 20 hours and traveled 1000’s miles by this point and was starting to flag. Luckily, Pat and Madison drove me back to my room on their way home, and after a rather long chat with my RA, who was very intrigued to have a international student on his corridor.It was an interesting conversation involving jet lag, time differences, rice crispy cake and random people being introduced to me. I also managed to blag a map (handily highlighted with the locations of food, beer, gym and class) and received my bedding which was delivered to the dorm a while earlier. Always a plus! It then got to me practically falling asleep in the RA's office on the sofa and I bid my goodnights, to a cheery chorus of "Y'all have a good sleep now!" This was to be my first sleep in the States and dam I needed it by that point!

Door to my (shared) room
My side of the room