Sunday, September 18, 2005

Smoking, snogging and snacks

Unexpected but interesting things about Oxford:

1. Everyone smokes. I'm not talking about the huddled masses who lurk in shadowy alleyways along Seattle's late-night hotspots; I mean, every freaking person in the restaurant, pub, bus stop and college. Apparently, they only banned smoking on trains two years ago! It's a little unsettling to find out that there's a single smoke-free restaurant in town. In most cases, the "non smoking" area (if it exists) consists of a cluster of tables separated from another cluster by a two-foot high railing. 'Cause, you know, the smoke doesn't rise above knee level after you spew it out into the atmosphere. On the bright side, it's made my resolution to keep running that much firmer, as I'd hate to return from three great years abroad with wrinkled lungs.

2. PDA is definitely more acceptable here. In three days, we've seen several couples smooching, groping, and slobbering in front of graveyards, outside libraries, and in the queue at the bookstore. I've never really seen so many hands obviously placed on butts in my life. I've also determined that our general stodginess towards public foreplay is actually a good thing; nothing makes you set aside your brie sandwich faster than a 30-something couple swapping spit in the grocery line. I thought England was supposed to be stuffy??

3. Tofu. Tofu. Tofu. Just writing it brings a tear to my eye.

No one knows what it is. I asked three clerks at Marks & Spencers, a major grocery chain, and each looked at me like I was speaking a foreign language. "Toe-fooo?" one girl asked. I tried describing what it was, which instantly caused everyone within hearing range to cringe. "No, I don't think we have that." Another clerk looked at me and blinked, so I repeated my request. In a gentle voice reserved for the harmlessly insane, he asked me, "Toad food?" I tried again. "Oooh, todfud, well, we don't 'ave that 'ere, I'm sure." For some reason, he directed me to the spice rack, which consisted of salt, salt and chutney.

Finally, after traversing three separate stores in desperation, I swallowed my fear of stereotyping and asked an Asian clerk. He, too, repeated the word, but more in wonder than in confusion. "You're the first person who's asked me for it," he said, smiling, and directed me to a small Asian foods market "somewhere by the train station, I think." My new goal in life is to find that store, then purchase all of their stock and start my own restaurant called Tofu!, in which I shall convert thousands of tuna-mayonnaise-and-jacket-potato devotees to my way of life.


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