Cambridge, on a sunny summer’s day, is enough to make me forget about every American institution I’ve ever considered. It doesn’t help that today is commencement at “the other school.” I am tempted, by virtue of the fact that it is not raining, to transfer my allegiance immediately but having spent one of my 24 years as an Oxford girl, I cannot; loyalties of this sort are for life.
Nonetheless, Cambridge is beautiful today. The streets surrounding the market are teeming with smiling undergraduates, dressed in the requisite black and white and fur-trimmed robes. On account of the graduation ceremonies, they’re flanked by scores of proud mothers and fathers, carrying flowers and cameras and wearing fancy hats. I have to say, for the sake of accurate travel writing, that the hats of Cambridge University on this particular Friday afternoon are not particularly lovely. My mother’s are much nicer, and she’s not even English! Maybe I won’t move to Cambridge after all.
In the meantime, however, it’s the perfect place to reacclimatize myself and by “reacclimatize,” I mean reprogramming myself to look to the left before crossing the street. When one of my Quaker friends came to pick me up at the airport this morning, I hauled my suitcase into the trunk (“the boot” rather) and automatically reached for the door on the right side of the car. There, I found myself face to face with the steering wheel.
“Oops!” I laughed. “Wrong side!” Cosmopolitan though I may imagine myself to be, there was no way I was driving from Heathrow to Cambridge.
Fortunately, Cambridge is a city of pedestrian boulevards, tour buses, and cyclists that make Philadelphia’s streets look like a children’s version of the real thing (Gridded streets? Who needs gridded streets when you’ve got a world-class university imposed upon a tangle of medieval ruins?) In other words, Cambridge is the perfect place to regain my left-walking street smarts.
It is also the perfect place to conduct my semi-annual international banking maneuvers. Between two stints abroad and more than a few plans for coming back, I’ve amassed an impressive numbers of bank accounts. Not funds, mind you. Just accounts. And I transfer money back in forth in the most illogical manner possible. I understand that some people—normal people—just arrange for wire transfers, but given the fees involved, I believe that wire transfers should be saved for special occasions.
Instead, I have my own system. First, I locate a Barclay’s branch with an ATM (sorry, “a cashpoint”) just a few feet from the door. Then I insert one of my American debit cards (the one with the pin I haven’t forgotten) and withdraw my daily limit in cash (which amounts to £300). Following that, I dash inside, hoping to not be robbed in the process, and deposit the cash into my Barclay’s account.
I try to remember to say “pay in” instead of “deposit” because I don’t want to sounds like an American, but standing in the Barclay’s branch this afternoon, I had a revelation (must be Cambridge-smarts rubbing off on me): it doesn’t matter if I say “deposit” or “pay in” because I’m still saying it with an American accent. Oh well. There are worse things in life.
Still, not wanting to feel uncultured, I took a stroll through my favorite of Cambridge’s shops: Hotel Chocolat. I have been to Hotel Chocolat at least four times, twice as an undergrad and twice as grad student at Roehampton, but I have never, ever, actually purchased anything there. This is because a purchase from Hotel Chocolat would indeed require a wire transfer. And possibly a loan from my bank. All of them.
Today, I discovered a lovely black box, shaped like a briefcase but made of cardboard with little plastic windows. Inside these windows were the most gorgeous chocolates this side of the English Chanel (perhaps this side of the Atlantic, but I won’t know for sure until I head to Belgium next week). The pricetag, however, was not so lovely.
Nonetheless, they were giving away free samples this afternoon. Milk chocolate, unfortunately, but one must never miss an opportunity to avail oneself of free chocolate, especially when traveling abroad.