In the fall of 2004, I went to Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England, to be a part of the British-American Cultures study abroad program hosted by my alma mater, Georgia State University. When I arrived in England, there was a lot to get used to. Our housing was in college flats, cinder-block buildings in which seven people shared one toilet and one shower (separated, thank goodness, so that you could still use the facilities while someone else was showering). The difference between Atlanta and Newcastle was striking, weather-wise: we left 90 degree sunny heat and arrived in 50-60 degree grey wetness. Everyone spoke in a Geordie accent, which is so thick that it took many of us a while before we could understand it (don’t believe me? Have a rhyme).
For many of us, joining this program was also the first time we were away from home, and upon arriving only a few of us knew each other. I had the great fortune of arriving in Newcastle with two friends who were also on the program, so we had each other to rely on for moral support in times of crisis. Homesickness was definitely a problem in the early days there, particularly because the accommodations were so cold and unwelcoming. Small cinder block (or “breeze block,” as they called them) rooms with nearly nothing in them, thousands of miles from home, and surrounded by complete strangers, some of whom spoke with such a heavy accent and with so much unfamiliar slang that you questioned whether or not you were accidentally dropped in the wrong country. It seriously did not sound like English at all in those early weeks.
So those of us on the program, in an attempt to get to know one another (and joyful at the opportunity to drink legally whilst still under 21, which was a novelty for a bit there at the beginning), went out one night to bar-hop. We all got thoroughly hammered, and in wandering back to our flats late that night, we went full-on stereotypical American: loud, boisterous, giggly, and obtuse. And some of our British neighbors were not all that amused.
One leaned out his upper-floor flat window. “Oi! Americans!”
We stopped, peered upward, and yelled back. “What?”
“Are you pissed?”
“No, we’re quite happy, actually!”
This is where the laughter started. We weren’t aware yet, at that time, that “pissed” in English slang means “completely drunk.” We were used to it meaning “angry.” But when the Geordie dude hanging out his window explained it to us, we turned into a chorus of “oohhhhhh.” Learning! Our first instance of it!
Classes started not soon after that, and thankfully, there was a boatload of orientations and freshers’ meetings and, most importantly, a poster sale. Those cinder block walls were far more welcoming when they were covered in pictures of Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean and the golden trio from Harry Potter. By the time we left a year later, we’d come to consider it home — and we’d learned to say “pissed” when we meant “drunk,” and that “love” and “pet” were all-purpose nicknames.
I miss it all the time.