I stayed at a hostel when I was in London. If you are on a tight budget and want to truly experience the flavor and adventure of a European city, you should definitely, um, sleep in the park. No one should ever stay in a hostel.
Hostels are like hotels, but with an extra “s” in them, and the “s” stands for “scary.” They are meant for irresponsible youth backpacking through Europe to flop for a night or two, but they can also be used by regular people who would rather save money than sleep comfortably, and who don’t mind sharing space with multitudinous bacteria, many of which speak English.
I thought it would be an interesting (and by “interesting” I mean “costing only 11 pounds a night”) sociological experience. How better to examine a cross-section of world cultures and enjoy a variety of smells than to share a room with seven strangers? It was bound to be exactly like MTV’s “The Real World.”
Here was our cast:
• Dumle, a Nigerian-born Londoner who believes himself to be the most fascinating conversationalist in the world, particularly if what fascinates you are guys who never shut up. He had something to say about everything, whether any of us expressed interest in chatting or not. We looked forward to his falling asleep, only to discover that when he sleeps, he snores like a freight train. (Do freight trains snore? Discuss.) This kept us awake until 2 or so. Were it not for my unfamiliarity with the English laws governing justifiable homicide, Dumle would surely have found himself smothered with a pillow before night’s end.
• Loud Drunk Guy. I’m not sure of his nationality, as I only saw him in the darkness in the wee hours of the morning. He would burst into the room every night at 3 a.m., loudly proclaiming that he was either a) drunk or b) totally drunk. He would stumble around and bump into things for a few minutes, then slam himself into bed, where he would loudly open a bag of loud chips and loudly eat them. He was also fond of talking (loudly) to anyone who was still awake or who had been awakened by him.
• The Korean-born American girl who learned I was visiting from Utah and who then said, in a very disgusted manner, “You’re not a Mormon, are you?” Telling her I WAS a Mormon shut her up in a hurry, though unfortunately it also gave Dumle something to talk about. Having seen BYU’s Julie Stoffer on “The Real World,” I knew precisely how to deal with awkward circumstances like this one: I crawled into a cupboard and wept.
• The French girls who talk. These French girls smelled pretty good, as French girls go, but they talked incessantly, including when people were trying to sleep. This pitfall should have been foreseeable; after all, if you put two girls in a room together, they are GOING to talk, forever, no matter what. If you duct-taped their mouths shut, they would still talk muffledly through the tape and probably still understand each other, to the extent they even listen. Oh, and they were speaking French, so it was impossible to understand them. (Well, unless you speak French.)
• Two other people, known as the Mystery Guests, who arrived long after we’d all gone to bed, and who left before we got up. I believe one of them was Scottish.
Reading this, you’d think my strongest memory of England was people talking a lot and hindering my sleep. But this is not so. My strongest memory of England is the following names of places, which are real: Sheepwash, Tooting Bec, Cockfosters, and Elephant & Castle. It’s worth traveling that far, and getting so little sleep, to hear someone on a train say, “I’ll be getting off at Cockfosters.”
And of course by mentioning that Dumle was from Nigeria, I am implying that all Nigerians snore loudly. And by mentioning that the one girl was from Korea, I'm saying all Koreans hate Mormons. Remember, if you mention someone's race, you're ascribing anything else you say about them to all members of that race.
Also remember that you can say anything you want about a group of people as long as their skin is the same color as yours. All French people smell bad: OK. All Mexicans smell bad: Not OK.
Sorry, I was still thinking about the LAST column. This one reflects the London experience that I felt was easiest to write about. I mean, hostels -- how can you go wrong? I didn't even address the shower issue.
I believe there actually was a moment in "The Real World" when Julie climbed inside a cupboard to escape the camera and cry. If it didn't happen, my brain made it up and convinced me it did, and that's good enough for me.