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English and wet

Kaitlynn Riely | Thursday, April 17, 2008

LONDON – It took three months and a bucket’s worth of water, but yesterday I developed a stiff upper lip.

Since January I have been living in London, but I think my American citizenship has been obvious, at times painfully so. However, I wanted to immerse myself in the culture, so I’ve changed some of my behavior and habits so I don’t stick out quite so badly.

Now, I only wear tennis shoes – trainers – when I’m exercising, and not when I’m just walking around the city. I don’t say soccer; I say football. I go to google.co.uk, not google.com.

But as soon as I open my mouth and reveal my accent, the game is up. And I’ll never get used to the unspoken rule that no one talks on the Tube. Also, try as I might, I just don’t enjoy drinking tea.

Since I am doing an internship here, two days a week I am the sole American in a building full of mostly Brits. On those days, I am far more aware of my obvious American-ness than on the days when I am in the classroom building with 130 other Notre Dame students.

Yesterday, one of my co-workers ducked into the office where I was working to take me to lunch. I grabbed my coat, and we headed out the building toward the restaurant to meet up with a man who frequently does work for the organization. We were planning on spending the lunch talking about a project I had been doing for them.

Liz and I were walking down the street toward the restaurant, when all of a sudden, seemingly from out of a cloudless sky, I was completely drenched by a downpour of water. Dripping, I looked up, and saw that water had poured out of a spout in the building, all over my head. Liz had doubled over laughing, and three girls sitting on the bench across the street were laughing as well. As soon as I was sure I hadn’t just been doused by sewage, I laughed, too.

I’ve found Notre Dame’s Career Center very helpful in the past, but if they give advice about what to do when, on your way to a business lunch, you find your hair and coat soaking wet because you’ve walked under a drain, I haven’t seen it. I did what I could to dry off, and then Liz and I continued on to our lunch meeting with Jim, where we mentioned what had happened, to explain my drenched appearance.

Later, on our way back from lunch, with my hair dry, we passed by the same building where I had showered earlier. I made sure to steer clear of the water spout. Liz mentioned she was impressed by the way I had taken it in stride, and then, Jim, who is Scottish, threw in his two pence.

“How very English of you,” he told me.

A quick recovery from a sudden, unexpected downpour and my immersion into British society is complete.