European Travelogue Vol. I : London

Forgive me, it was a weird, weird day.

It’s the first day of in-person class. They call them modules here. I’m prepping for the first physical class I’ve had in two years, studying abroad in central London at King’s College, and I’m nervous as hell sitting in a chair outside a classroom. I tend to be a pretty nervous guy, so of course, I show up thirty minutes early for a one-hour class. While sitting in a chair in an empty hallway, minding my own business, a wiry man in a too-big suit walks in from the stairwell and watches me. Apparently, that’s enough for him to strike up a conversation.

“What are you doing in that chair?” the man asks. 

Huh? I’ve barely been in England long enough to actually understand a British accent in the flesh. I fumble my words and respond, a little shaken,

“Sorry?”

“What are you doing in that chair?”

I still can’t understand a word he’s saying. I don’t know why I half expected everyone to sound more like John Lennon. He’s looking more urgent now, I’ve seriously ticked him off.

“Um, sorry, say that one more time.”

“What are you doing sitting in that chair.”

Uhhhh… what? My mind stops. I’m genuinely boggled by why this is a question worth asking.

“I’m waiting for class?”

I don’t even remember what he said after that, but that was the end of the conversation. It felt so intrusively awkward that my fight-or-flight response kicked in. I stepped away until a more reasonable time to wait and loiter.

But what the fuck? Is it against the law to show up to class early?  Are we not allowed to sit in chairs? And what kind of ivory tower is this stranger perched on to want to school me for sitting? For the first person to talk to me at my new school, to have something so firmly up his own ass that he feels the need to police something as banal as this certainly left an impression on me.

But it doesn’t end there. I realized as soon as class started that not only wasn’t he a professor, he was some I.T. guy there to set up the Zoom meeting for a hybrid seminar. He was there for five minutes to make sure everything was running smoothly online. What authority? But he wasn’t done with me yet.

Out of respect, I spit out my gum as the lecture began, taking out a used wrapper from my pocket to dispose of the blue wad, and the guy shushed me! That was the point, I realized he had no business schooling my behavior, especially when neither instance he found worth scolding had any malice behind it. What was his problem? Why was this my first interaction with a Londoner in the wild? If I’d ever see him again, I’d give him the same treatment and be just as much as a cheeky dingwad in response, but he disappeared into the same abyss from whence he came.

No answers, no reasons, just some weird, weird man wanting to flex some authority he didn’t have on some total stranger. Maybe he picks one person a day, just to bother in mildly annoying ways. Why it was me that day? That’s an answer I’m not equipped to figure out. Maybe someone’s given him a black eye by now. I couldn’t tell you.