Monday, July 1, 2013

Virtually Real

For the most part, I am pleasantly surprised when meeting...Oh, wait, it’s the first of the month...pinch, punch and white rabbits and all, where was I?

Oh, yes, meeting up with a person who has heretofore been among my virtual acquaintances, someone who—although I have been engaging with them on Facebook and/or exchanging missives with them via e-mail—I have not actually met and therefore have no reason to believe that we could tolerate, much less like, each other in real life, or—more to the point—that they are not actually a 45 year old serial arsonist currently residing in a secure facility.

Happily, as I began to indicate in the opening sentence, neither of those two scenarios is generally the case, as was true when I met up with Abby, an Anglophile from Sulphur Springs, Arkansas and author of The BritophileDiaries who was in London wrapping up her first “trip of a lifetime” to the UK (and Switzerland). We met up on a rainy Friday morning in front of St. Paul’s and as I approached, she looked at me from under the hood of her wet rain jacket and I nodded a greeting from within the hood of my own waterproof coat and she said, “Hi Mike,” and I said, “Hi Abby, welcome to summertime in Britain,” and we set off to find some place get out of the rain.

It was, as usual, like meeting up with an old friend instead of a virtual stranger. There was no initial awkward phase as we decided whether the actual person was less interesting or more likely to be an axe murderer than the on-line persona we were more familiar with. So we went for brunch at Café Rouge and had a lovely natter about, well, everything.

It was so nice talking with an American—something I do all too infrequently—and for her part, I think by then she was a bit homesick and just as glad for the non-foreign company. She was chatty and friendly and seemingly comfortable spending time with a man who is, frankly, old enough to be her grandfather.

After lunch, we took the tube to St Pancras station because it was one of the few things I thought she ought to see in London that she hadn’t already visited. So I gave her the 50-pence tour, showed her the clock and the big statue and the grand architecture—both old and new—and bought her her first glass of champagne at the (reputedly) longest champagne bar in Europe (also in contention for the most expensive).

Abby having her first ever glass of champagne. Shhh! Don't tell her mom!
She then returned the favour by giving me a tour of nearby King’s Cross station, which I had not been to since it re-openned in 2012. Specifically, she showed me the baggage trolley sticking out of the wall at Platform 9 ¾. Abby is a fellow Potter-geek, so she was happy to wander through the station’s Potter store with me, even though she had already been there. (She was, incidentally, on her way to the Harry Potter Experience, so in the Potter-geek arena, she’s got me beat.)

Platform 9 3/4 and a tourist having her photo taken by the resident photographer.
There is a queue and it costs, but you can snap a picture like this for free.
Soon, it was time for her to head north for her appointment with Potter and, as casually and abruptly as the meet-up began, it ended. At her tube stop, she stepped out of the carriage with a backward wave, as if we were long time friends expecting to see each other in the not-too-distant future.

It was an easy, engaging afternoon that made me, once again, grateful for virtual acquaintances, and how easily they can slip into the territory of real friends; it was also a day that reminded me of how American I still am, and how much I enjoy talking with a fellow countryman, even if I occasionally have to explain things, like “pinch, punch, first of the month” to them. 


  1. I've never asked you this, but what does the missus think of you meeting up with all of us female, virtual friends?

    1. She's okay with it (well, I guess she is, anyway; to be sure you might want to ask her). The expat demographic is slanted heavily in against me (or in my favour, depending on your point of view) as I am one of the few men who have made the move to their wife's country, so any expat I meet up with here is almost sure to be female. As for visitors who pop over and want to meet up with me, they just always seem to be women; I'm not sure why that is, but I'm not likely to complain about it. ;)

  2. Anonymous7:18 PM

    I didn't know about the champagne!!!! thats what the missus thinks.
    Yes it's always young ladies he seems to meet up with. But he always comes home

  3. I've been to England twice. The first time on a tour along with a friend (we were served the full English breakfast every day) and the second time with my daughter who was retracing her days at Oxford on a EuroSpring Quarter. The first time I was pre- surgery for a hip replacement and suffering some pain so I couldn't do everything I wanted to, but I enjoyed every minute! The second time was absolutely wonderful. At one point, Brenda and I were sitting in a bus station waiting for a bus that was late in arriving. She was grousing about wasting time. I told her, "Yes, but we are still in England every single minute!" I guess I should be blogging about this

    1. Sounds like you had a good what about visit number 3? ;)

  4. It was fun to meet up with somebody I "virtually" knew! The conversation was great, and the champagne was a nice touch ;)

    Best wishes,

    1. It was very nice meeting you; thanks for a lovely afternoon!