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Living on the wrong side of the road

by Archives October 23, 2007

How does one prepare for a semester in England? Read Agatha Christie novels? Check. If someone gets murdered, I’ll be sure to ring up a Belgian detective. Watch Monty Python? Check. I now know what to do with a dead parrot. I even tried driving on the wrong side of the road. Needless to say, that didn’t turn out so well.
Ready or not, in mid September I headed off for a semester abroad at Newcastle University in lovely Newcastle Upon Tyne, England. The city is on the northeast part of the island, about two hours south of Edinburgh, Scotland.
People from the northeast, particularly from Newcastle, are referred to as Geordies. No one really knows why, but according to my Lonely Planet guide book, “the most attractive explanation, at least here, is that the name was coined to disparage the townspeople who chose to side with the German Protestant George I against the ‘Old Pretender’, the Catholic James Stuart, during the Jacobite Rebellion of 1715.”
With a population of less than 300,000 people, the city is not enormous but is very lovely. It is located on the River Tyne and is near the North Sea. It is a very pedestrian town. Two major universities (the other being University of Northumbria at Newcastle) make this a college town with a lot of international students. Yours truly even lives with French, Slovak and Greek flatmates. Yes I use the term ‘flatmates’. When in Rome.
Thinking Newcastle sounds familiar? You’re probably thinking of Newcastle Brown Ale, which is originally from this city. Of course one cannot travel to England without partaking in the local tradition of, um, drinking.
As a responsible journalist, I of course had to try out the famous beer. In the interest of journalistic integrity, I feel it is my duty to further research the matter before coming to a definite conclusion.
Culturally speaking, the English are quite different from us folk back in “the colonies.” As everyone knows they drive on the left, but you can get used to that pretty quickly.
One of the most difficult things to get used to however, is the Geordie accent and dialect. For example, according to Scott Dobson’s book Larn Yersel’ Geordie, the Geordie phrase “Hoositganninathematch?” translates to “How is the football game progressing?” Walk around in Newcastle and you’ll find you’ll need an English-to-Geordie dictionary. The accent is quite thick and I often find myself saying, “Sorry, I didn’t quite get that.”
If you thought Canadians love their hockey a bit too much, you have never been in England during the Rugby World Cup, held every four years. I am fortunate enough to witness the frenzy caused by England acceding to the finals for a second time in a row. Most pubs are standing room only during a match which makes for great ambiance.
I must say that rugby is a very interesting game, once you figure out the rules.
As a Canadian, I am sometimes mistaken for an American, but once people hear my French one common reaction is, “Oh, you’re from Québec, like Céline Dion!” But they do seem to love Canadians.
Fresh off the plane I stepped into the main part of the airport and asked a security guard where I could meet the welcoming committee for international students. One look at the Canadian passport in my hand and he kindly replied, “since you’re Canadian I’ll be happy to help you!”
I have met a lot of French, Spaniards, Romanians and even a few Americans. But as for the Canadian delegation, I am it.
So I will continue to represent our fair country and spread the word about the wonders of hockey, poutine and tuques.

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