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Foreign Fisticuffs

By Andrew Stamm

So there I was, standing on a rainy street in Norwich, England in the middle of the night with an eight-foot tall (probably), drunken Englishman sticking his finger into my chest while my friend Morgan looked on in disbelief a few feet away.

How did it come to this?

The university I attended kinda made it ridiculously easy to study abroad. Unfortunately, I didn't realize this until my junior year when my roommate decided to hop on down to Australia for six months and live on a beach (even though he couldn't swim) and um, study.

So I visited the student affairs office and the next thing I know I'm booked to spend the first semester of my senior year studying at an art school in the UK about an hour away from the English Channel. I've always been something of an Anglophile, which no doubt influenced my decision, but I think I was also a little depressed as my junior year wrapped up. I guess we all have expectations of ourselves as we go off to college and mine weren't quite panning out, as probably most people's don't.

Of course, rather than realizing this and taking it in stride I decided that since the first change of scene wasn't quite working out, maybe an even more drastic (and more brief) one was in order.

Upon his return from Australia, the aforementioned roommate had a conversation with me about how terrifying it is to fly to a foreign country where you don't know a single soul, and consequently, how much of a relief it is to get off of the plane and see your new student advisor standing there to greet you. Turns out as I deplaned my Air Canada flight in London that he was spot on in both regards. My new advisor, Graham, was there to meet me. And as much as I would've liked a nice cinematic moment of someone standing at the terminal with my name on a cardboard sign, that would've been entirely unnecessary as Graham and I had already met back when he came to my school as a visiting artist.

The next thing I knew I was eating Indian food in downtown London with other students from my university, before heading into a cab later that night to hit some random London nightspots. This camaraderie was short-lived though, as day or so later I was on a train alone (the other kids from my school were all heading to different universities in the UK), heading to Norwich, where there would be no one to greet me. All I knew about where I was going to be living was the address and the key I'd been given.

To make a long story short (and to further expedite getting to the meat of this story), I was the only American living in a house with six British students. I was pretty pleased with this situation my new roommates were all friendly, and a house is always preferable to living in a dormitory. Of course, it did mean a longer walk to school (I swear, uphill both ways, and perpetually in the rain).

As far as "study" abroad programs go, I don't think mine was the most vigorous. I was given a painting studio and pretty much set free to do as I pleased, meeting with a professor or my advisor maybe once or twice a week. Surprisingly, though, I got a lot of work done. Even more surprising when you consider that one floor below my painting studio was the student union. Much more surprising when you consider that the student union was pretty much a small pub with a pool table, which opened and served beer at 10 in the morning. What's not surprising is how much time I spent in the student union...

And it's actually outside of the student union where my run-in with the nine-foot tall (more than likely), drunken Englishman took place.

The evening started out calmly enough at my Welsh friend, Morgan's dorm room, as we listened to Super Furry Animals records, drank Vodka & orange Fanta, and had a smoke or two. Unable to get a hold of any of our other friends from the painting program, we decided to head to a concert at the union and have a few drinks.

It was a good enough time, not the most raucous of nights I had spent there (no, that would be the Christmas party where I discovered absinthe), but we ran into some people we knew from the photography and print-making programs, including one particular guy, whose name I can't remember, but who I'll now refer to as long-haired, tall Steve.

I remember passing a giant, older looking fellow as we walked into the union and making a comment to Morgan about how out of place he looked. We went to a very small art school and would most certainly have recognized this guy from campus, so we both assumed that he was a townie, either there for the concert or to try and pick up on art school chicks. (If the latter, I can't really blame him, as that was most certainly a large part of the reason Morgan and I were there that night.)

So the evening passed without incident, nothing more then several pints of Stella with Morgan and long-haired, tall Steve, who had taken off just before Morgan and I decided to pack it in for the night.

As we walked out under the night sky, a giant mass suddenly appeared before me, blocking out the moon and all streetlamps, and impeding my progress home. I looked up to see it was the townie from before, and he looked mad... and quite frankly, smelled a bit of refuse.

He was poking his finger in my chest right about now and slurring something incomprehensible at me. Not quite understanding him, and still getting a hang of the accents, I politely (I'm sure) asked him to repeat himself.

"Where's that tall fucking friend of yours?"

I understood him now. No doubt he was referring to long-haired, tall Steve. Keeping this in mind, I formulated an appropriate and witty reply.


"Where's that long-haired bastard who dumped a bin bag on me?"

Well, that explained the odor emanating from this ten-foot giant. I'd get the full story from long-haired, tall Steve the following Monday at school. Apparently this pituitary case had been making an ass of himself at the union the entire night, and when long-haired, tall Steve saw him leave he thought it'd be a good idea to follow him out and dump the contents of a garbage receptacle on the drunken lout. The drunken lout had apparently seen Morgan and me conversing with long-haired, tall Steve earlier in the evening and was now demanding reparations.

I eloquently composed a fitting reply: "Look asshole, I don't know where the fuck he is or what you're talking about, so why don't you just get the fuck outta my way."

"Don't bullshit me, and don't give me that bullshit American accent!"

Now that's a response I didn't see coming.

In the year 1999 and at the age of 21, I wasn't exactly what you would call the most patriotic of Americans. Yeah, I voted and followed the news, but I wasn't exactly gung-ho about it all. And sure, I had taken some heat from my classmates about America, but most of it was good-natured and had to do with our lame-duck president getting his ya-yas out with a chubby intern.

But "bullshit American accent"?!! Suddenly the lager had kicked in strong, and I was seeing red, white and blue. I had had just about enough of this limey bastard.

Keep in mind when I tell you my next action was to throw a punch at this guy's jaw, that in my head I pictured the events that would follow happening entirely differently. In my mind, the punch I had just landed would leave this Brit stunned, opening the door for Morgan to jump into the fracas, allowing us to outnumber the guy, who was clearly more inebriated than us, and pound ourselves a path to victory.

What actually happened should be viewed as a cautionary example, and a good reminder of why I don't usually engage in street fights.

Yes, my punch did indeed land, but he certainly didn't look fazed. In fact, I'm not really sure how he looked after that, as the next thing I knew I was in mid-air on a lofty trajectory towards the middle of the street.

Nor had Morgan followed my lead and plowed into the fray with the reckless abandon that I had. No, Morgan hadn't even moved. (Apparently I had forgotten how stoned he had gotten over the course of the evening.) His sole contribution to my one-man defense of American accents everywhere was to stand on the pavement muttering "Please, don't fight... stop."

Luckily for me, my trash-covered adversary saw no use in flogging a dead horse and had stumbled off once I was disposed of in his further pursuit of long-haired, tall Steve. Leaving me with nothing more than a rather large bump on the head and this lesson, which I wholly believe ties together my thoughts on patriotism and the quest to truly find ones self in a foreign environment

Never get into a fight with nothing but a stoned Welshman at your back.

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