by Karishma Jobanputra
To the reader: there are several things everyone should know before moving to a different country. Especially when that country is irrationally obsessed with pumpkins. I never even liked Cinderella.
Having crossed the pond in August, I have suffered through tea done wrongly and another Starbucks every two streets — I still feel obligated to shun the word “block”. I hope you’ll enjoy my unapologetically British and charmingly obnoxious column charting my experiences on living in New York, as a writer, at Columbia.
Recommendation: read this in Benedict Cumberbatch’s voice to add a little clotted cream to the scone of your reading experience.
Quick-fire list of essentials for the first month of living in NYC as a writer at Columbia:
Bagels are social and political pawns.
Acceptance in this country is based on bagels. Accept this, as you would accept the colour of the sky.
The topic of bagels is the conversational equivalent of the weather for Brits. Be informed. Sample bagels from everywhere within a two mile radius and have a detailed list of pros and cons that includes features such as texture, doughiness, filling options, and friendliness of server. Be aware that a cinnamon raisin bagel with peanut butter is a completely different beast than an everything bagel with tofu. Like lions and tigers, they are genetically compatible but their offspring are a bit disturbing.
Ferociously debate the glutinous products of Absolute Bagels vs. the more subtle and chewy halos from Nussbaum & Wu like it’s Trump vs. Hillary. See if you can find a bagel-badge, rather than an election one.
Inevitably, Absolute will win, but it should not (see how it’s political?) My colour coded bagel grid gives Nussbaum and Wu a solid 9 out of 10, a “bagel staple” if you will. The doughiness of Absolute’s sesame seed bagel and undrinkable coffee scores it a meagre 7, pushed up from a 6 only because their everything bagel is packed with a serious punch of moreish flavour.
Note: my bagel grid never lies.
Americans want to teach you how to spell.
When I get workshopped I watch out for the incredulous looks revealing students’ disbelief that the writing program’s admissions board admitted someone who can’t spell colour, or sulphur, or aluminium.
Option A: I could gracefully succumb and smile wryly whilst changing my laptop’s language settings. Or, B: stubbornly adhere to the spelling principles hammered into me for 21 years of education at Hogwarts.
Of course, I choose B. I’ll temporarily suffer through the wrath of my workshop group and hope it will eventually becomes endearing. Is this sustainable through the rest of the autumn term (translation for Americans: Fall semester)? I’ll let you know.
Do not play cards at McDonalds.
You will get thrown out for gambling. Trust me.
Investing in pepper spray is a good idea.
Realise that black pepper is not an ingredient and therefore the spray does not work by making the attacker sneeze violently. Then wonder if you’re supposed to be thankful that tasers are not allowed in New York.
Overheard at RiteAid:
“Do you have pepper spray?”
“No, but, um, where do you go? Are you a student around here?”
“Yeah, I’m at Columbia.”
“Yeah, you’re gonna want to find some.”
Do not try and convince your friend that you should practice how to use it on each other. You will not be friends after that.
After the bagel phase you need to…
…Embrace your inner American by binge watching Gossip Girl/Sex and the City/anything based in New York on Netflix (I’ll admit, the American Netflix blows the British version out the water).This is a great preparation for getting into writing-mode. I recommend at least 6-8 hours of Netflix before sitting down in order to write to achieve maximum productivity.
It’s an education. Start saying Fahrenheit when you mean Celsius, drink from red solo cups (solo? My editor put that in, who knows what he’s talking about) at rooftop parties and start brunching. Bagels aren’t enough after a few weeks. If you’re sticking to eschewing Starbucks at all costs, you have to ameliorate it so people don’t hate you. Personal experience suggests that pronouncing excitement about the cups seem to have the most impact.
The first month is the hardest, but then the Lucozade withdrawal symptoms start fading. My editor has put a note asking if he should know what Lucozade is. Dear God, where have I come to? How can one describe the nectar of the Gods?
When in doubt, I always revert back to the sound of Benedict Cumberbatch’s voice. Or even when not in doubt. You can trust me on that, even if I spell things wrong.
Cheerio for now, I’m off in search of crumpets and tea.
That Brit who loves living up to the stereotype.
PS Most importantly, if you want to rub out pencil marks, ask for an eraser, not a rubber. Rubber means something else here.
Karishma Jobanputra (good luck trying to pronounce that) is a first year MFA fiction student from London. She graduated from the University of Warwick with a degree in Law and, realising it was nothing like Suits, decided to pursue writing. Although primarily a fiction writer, she also attempts to write poetry and has had articles published online at The Guardian, KettleMag UK and The Boar (University of Warwick).