by Helen ~ June 6th, 2011. Filed under: Uncategorized.

Hello again. We are now on day four of our stay in England and our first day of classes. Our tutor (as professors are called here) for “Jane Austen in Bath” is a very lovely man who obviously knows an awful lot about his subject. We talked to him very briefly at dinner, but it became awkward incredibly quickly. I suppose that will happen when you’ve only known someone for an hour and a half and all you’ve ever done together is read you biography on a famous female author.

The Oscar Wilde senior seminar, as taught by Dr. Foss, has also been wonderful, though not in the least awkward thanks to prolonged exposure to his teachings. We are working in a room known as “Nelson’s Cabin” in Nelson House, which is the only standing residence in which Admiral Lord Nelson stayed (though he was only there ten days). Funnily enough, the heating and cooling system outside makes noises not unlike those of a ship–I expect nautical jokes to become a regular part of our class, just as Tricia’s hammock jokes were the highlight of our journey overseas.

We just got back from a very nice ASE soiree at an art gallery in town where we were plied with wine and canapes and good company. All of these good things very nearly make up for yesterday’s rudeness:

– The downstairs residents of Linley House consist of myself, my roommate Erin, my friend Meg (a recent UMW graduate) and Ivana, who goes to Skidmore in New York. The four of us get on very well: resultantly, we went shopping yesterday at Marks & Spencer, one of the main grocery/department stores in England. We navigated the store well enough, picking up some frozen dinners (as our oven does not seem to exist), fruit, juice, and snack foods. We proceeded to the check-out.

– Once at the front of the register, I said hello to the cashier.

She said “hi” back.

I asked her how she was.

She says, “How am I?” as if I had just asked her if they served cat in the M&S cafe.


“Oh! Fine.” She scanned my items. She rang them up at fourteen pounds, ninety-five pence.

I reached for a twenty-pound note and handed it to her.

She looked at it in disgust. “This is an OLD twenty-pound note.”

“Is it really?” I asked. “I’m sorry. Let me get you exact change.” I pull out a ten-pound note and reach for my coin purse to extract the remaining four ninety-five.

The cashier sets off the bell on her register and calls her manager over to ask how the machine will deal with the fact that, instead of receiving twenty pounds, it would receive exact change. While the manager explained, the cashier nudged her and said, rolling her eyes, “Americans.”

– This REALLY irritated me. Erin was standing in line behind me and she had been talking in an American accent, but I sound English! It’s difficult to explain this in a way that doesn’t sound self-serving, but my accent isn’t fake, so the only reason she would have assumed I was American was because Erin had spoken to me in one.

– I also didn’t do anything wrong. I handed her a note. The old note looks VERY much like a new one, even upon closer examination. The new ones have more reflective parts on them and the picture on the back is different, but if you didn’t notice, someone could easily hand you one in a shop. It looks like legal tender.

– The cashier was also upset with me because I took a while to fish out change. Newsflash: the reason why I paid with a twenty-pound note was because I didn’t want to have to give her ninety-five pence’s worth of exact change!

– The old twenty-pound notes are also exchangeable in banks: they are still legal tender and represent the same amount of money.

– I am probably just upset about this because it made me feel like I didn’t know what I was doing. The whole incident made me feel homesick since, at the very least, I know how to spend American money (perhaps too well). Conflict also upsets me a lot. I don’t see why you would be rude to someone when you could expend the same amount of energy to help them and make them feel welcome. As a big group of Americans we had been to M&S more than once earlier in the week and had had some really wonderful, kind, interested cashiers who even welcomed us to Bath and asked us where we were from and what we were studying here.

– Another reason why this most recent M&S run really stung: I realized that I probably need to feel like I don’t know everything around here. For the sake of my ego–for the sake of my interaction with other Americans in the program–I really need to be a part of this group. We are learning our way around the city, and it feels important for me to absorb this experience as something entirely new and different in order to fully appreciate it.

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