It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It was the era of frat parties, it was the era of late night library sessions. It was the season of football, it was the season of finals. Charles Dickens didn’t know the half of it.
It would be an understatement to say that traveling 5,341 miles to Berkeley made me feel slightly apprehensive. London is known for being a metropolis of concrete and “plugged-in,” anti-social citizens. Berkeley, on the other hand, is the land of Free The Nipple, with its Birkenstocks, tie-dye shirts and unkempt facial hair. There are stark differences between the two cities, from social to economic, yet I can somehow call both home.
I became aware of this difference as soon as I stepped off the BART at Shattuck Avenue on a sunny Sunday in August. London and Berkeley both have underground systems — but architecturally, the two cities are centuries apart. Literally. London doesn’t have a grid system for its roads. The roads run in twists and turns throughout the city, which makes it a peculiar but essential badge of honor for any hardy Londoner to show off their street knowledge. It’s also a nightmare for tourists trying to find the beginning of Portobello Road. I would have to say it would be Berkeley for the win here, as its grid system makes it extremely easy for a noob like me to find their way around.
It has been said that Britain and America are two countries divided by a common language, and I can confirm that this is true. My first weeks here were spent struggling to decipher what on earth “hella” and “basic” meant. My first Friday night in Berkeley highlighted the difference between English and American as I’d never experienced before. Like all the confused freshman, I followed the pack. The pack ended up in the shithole that is Pappy’s.
The only thing that could make the small talk more bearable was beer, so I walked up to the bar and asked, “Can I have two jugs of beer, please?” The whole bar laughed at me. “You’re ordering tits of beer!” someone shouted. Of course, I was mortified, and needless to say, I haven’t ordered any more tits of beer since. Over time, I’ll adapt to most of the American slang, but the one thing I will never do is call football “soccer.”
Game Days were something I’d seen in films but had assumed were exaggerated — little did I know! The school spirit at Cal is something I’ve never experienced anywhere else. Back home, if anyone has a University College London (UCL) jumper on, they’re a huge neek. Our Cal vs. Stanford football equivalent is the UCL v. King’s College London rugby game. Last winter, as we don’t have our own stadium (sorry not sorry), we had to book one out that has a capacity of 10,000 — we filled about a quarter of it. Cal’s stadium has a capacity of 63,000 and despite the rain, Cal students flocked in the thousands to support the Golden Bears. The games are on television, the team has major sponsorship and you can get a scholarship if you play the sport well — it is not the same in London.
When I found out I had a place at the University of California, Berkeley, I thought I was heading for a year on the beach with surfer boys and sun. I had never imagined that I would be using my North Face raincoat as anything more than a fashion accessory. To my dismay, the weather throughout the past weeks in Berkeley has been pretty on par with London: wet, depressing and cold. I can’t conclude which city wins this one, but being British, it’s always a pleasure to discuss the weather anyway.
If a Resident Advisor invited a bunch of Brits to an ice cream social and told them to go and make friends through icebreaker bingo, I cannot imagine the awkwardness and mumbling that would ensue. Americans, on the other hand, flourish in these social situations; they stride around the room, arms outstretched, ready to converse — it’s both terrifying and amazing.
Overall, I definitely think we could take a few pages out of each other’s books. I have learned so much about American culture and the beautiful people that inhabit Berkeley, and I cannot wait to find out more and get shouted at for ordering more tits of beer.