Thursday, December 14, 2006

Proper foreigners

I realised on Tuesday afternoon that my flight from Bratislava to London was on Thursday.. not Friday. This meant one less day with the guys in Vienna, no going away dinner and no drunken late night conversations. The upside to this was I would see Jo and Craig a week early, as they are due to jet off to Paris for 5 days on Friday, the same day I thought I was meant to arrive. I figured this might make for a good surprise and thankfully it did. I met Craig's sister Melissa, her husband Matt and their new, smiley baby Alexis. It all paned out really well and it's so great to see my sister again after 9 months. Family reunion in isle 5. But as most things that seem to happen on this trip, it's not the destination where the story is, it's the journey.

On the email from Ryanair:

Do not wrap any presents that you are carrying in hand baggage as the wrapping will be removed at security. Merry Christmas from all of us here in Ryanair.
Merry Christmas indeed. Very Un-Australian.

Freshly equipped with my missing day, I did more things in Vienna in one day than I did in three while I was there last time. I bought gifts, had lunch with friends, went to galleries, explored streets and back alleys I missed the first couple of times. Basically I spent an entire day riding around on my bike, saying goodbye to it in the best way possible. Using a borrowed camera, I took more photos of the town I had thought I had already captured and found cool shops I had somehow overlooked last time. I got a bit emotional when I said goodbye, but knew that I would always welcome back to Hirschengasse. I donated Frankenbike to the household, so he wouldn't just be left in some shed gathering dust. Then I grabbed a train to Bratislava and stayed with Radovan again. In the morning I followed a backhanded route to the airport (take the free Ikea bus to the shopping centre, then take the number 61 - which is usually too full for a conductor to operate - to the airport). I gave myself plenty of time and apart from the fully loaded run from Ikea to the 61, my journey to the airport, check in and boarding was all performed with the serenity of a Hindu cow. Taking off in thick fog was cool, because as we got above it, the low cloud carpeted the ground, breaking on the hills around Bratislava like water lapping at the banks of a lake. The flight was uneventful, with Ryanair cutting costs everywhere (some overheard conversations: you mean I have to give back my in flight magazine? Stansted is how far from London? Why is only one toilet working?). As I've had a bit of a stomach ache on and off over the last few days, my only concern was Where's the vomit bag/cheap film processing packet? Too bad if I ever wanted to do both. I wonder if anyone has posted vomit to the film company before..

Arriving in the UK was weird. Signs in English. Only English. I could understand all the announcements. I was able to eavesdrop. The amount of useless information we are presented with in day to day life is only highlighted in the first couple of hours of when you arrive back in familiar territory. But like being confronted with ear splitting rush hour city traffic after a weekend in the country, eventually it all becomes common place background noise. It's been 9 months since I was in an English speaking country. Sure, nearly every young person in Europe speaks English, but the world around them is always in their mother tongue, not mine.

After walking through the labyrinth of Stansted, I finally find my way to immigration. About 200 people are standing ahead of me and they're not moving very fast. Arse. I then notice the 3 different lines: UK citizens, EU citizens and ALL OTHERS. I walk over to the ALL OTHERS line, and there is only two people ahead of me. I walk past the huge queue as if in the VIP line of a nightclub. I felt a bit like royalty or some fancy pants celebrity. I had a big grin on my face and started to whistle Rule Britannia, singing the '6 Chinese crackers up your arse' bit quietly to myself. I get to the big yellow line you stand behind when waiting for the next person to get their passport stamped, a guy hands me a little form and I go fill it in. I then come back and start chatting with him.

me: Ahh.. It's so easy being back in an English speaking country. It's a big relief just to be able to read the signs.
guy: yeah?
me: yeah.. I haven't been in one for about 9 months. and this is my first time in the UK.
guy: Really? you staying in London long?
me: About three weeks. I've heard so much about it and I'm curious what all the fuss is about.
guy: you gotta keep an eye on your wallet though.
me: yeah, I heard the UK was kind of expensive.
guy: nah. Lots of foreigners.
me: (looking at my passport and the guy) What? Like me? I'm a foreigner.
(waving a hand at me as if to say "don't be silly") No. You know.. Proper foreigners.
me: Oh.. you mean the ones that take all the jobs and marry all the women? yeah.. big problem that.
guy: can't trust any of them.. and with this EU thing, so many different people coming and setting up shop here. I dunno.
me: Kind of like reverse colonialism.
guy: erh?
me: All these places occupied or attacked by the British way back when, finally coming back to the "mother land". (exaggerated quotation gesture)
guy: not sure about that. 'ere, mind ya way.

..and he waved me through.

Welcome to the United Kingdom.

In the Nothing to Declare section, there was no one to not declare anything to. I peered around the corner into the Declare section, and again there was no one there either. Later, to prove to myself how open minded I am, I asked a young Muslim woman for directions." 'ang a right at the next lights, then a left and then up a bit 'til you get to the brightly coloured offie and then take a right'. But it wasn't her mouth of marbles British accent which caught me off guard, it was her Calvin Klein branded Hajib which made me double take. No assimilation my arse.

After hanging out with Jo and Craig for a few hours, the last 10 months seems like a dream. While I like to blab about the cool things which are happening to me on this blog, in person I'm fairly reserved about it, holding back on the 'when I was there' stories. I remember around the time I was beginning to think quitting high school to work was a bad idea, I started meeting people who had just returned from their gap year holidays. Their stories of European adventures told with Cockney accents picked up in the transfer lounge at Heathrow really shitted me. I always got jealous, but it wasn't what they told it was how they told it. This lead to me making a promise to myself that if I ever got the chance to travel, I would try not to be a precocious wanker about it when I got back. But if I ever bail you up and start dribbling shit about killing pigs, riding bikes and getting arrested, Andy, the American guy I met in Budapest, felt the way I want everyone who hears/reads my travel stories to feel:

"I'm not jealous. I'm inspired"

Go see the world.

Get off your arse and open your mind. Even if you can only do a bit, see something different to your little world. And if you can't travel, make a friends with someone from another country. Eat something you've never heard of. Catch a random bus somewhere in your town. Talk with someone standing next to you in the bank. Geeze I sound like one of those cheesey life coaches.

I haven't explored the city yet. That's tomorrow.


Pippa said...

hei, it's good to hear that you've met up with Jo and Craig and got hugs however belated they may be. I hope that everything goes well for you guys over Christmas.


ElmoreGirl said...

is that a Coopers Pale in father christmas' hand ?