Alexandra Sieh

Landing at Heathrow Airport, I was practically bouncing with excitement.

In large part, this was because I would be seeing Manfriend again. While I was zipping around America for a month, he had stayed in Beijing. He then flew out to England to see his family, and we decided I would join him for a week before returning to China.

This was also my chance to play tourist a bit. Unlike in Asia, I knew language wouldn’t be a problem, nor would the culture exactly shock or awe. Still, this was a nation I had been dying to explore — an easy end to the holiday.

Walking through his hometown of sorts, I was already eager to throw my suitcases aside for photos. He didn’t much care for the area, just a small, sleepy sort of town north of London. I, however, already loved the streets (with cars on the wrong side of the road and all), the buildings and just the feel of it all.

As we walked into his family’s shop, though, I realized language may be a challenge after all.

You see, while Manfriend was born and raised in England, his family is largely Turkish. He had often traveled to Turkey on summer holidays and has been fluent in Turkish since he was a child. And while his family greeted me in English, with many hugs and smiles, I spent much of my week in England surrounded by a whir of Turkish discussion.

I’d done a grand job of getting myself low-level fluent in Chinese this past year, but Turkish? I knew a solid 10 words, and I can’t say knowing “bread” and “apple” were all that helpful.

Suddenly, my trip was far more fascinating. I sat quietly all week, listening, smiling and eating plate after bowl of delicious vegetarian Turkish food. For days, I met family members and friends, trying hard to not step on any cultural toes.

“Wasn’t this trip supposed to be easy?” I mused, thoroughly enjoying being bemused by yet another language.

In between time with his loved ones, Manfriend and I jetted out to York and Derby, eventually making our way back to London. Blissed out on the history — I’d practically swooned at Westminster Abbey — it had been one hell of a trip.

Sitting in a little cafe, we ate our English breakfasts with coffee and scones. I had already earned a raised eyebrow from the waitress with some of my Americanisms and was eavesdropping on our dining neighbors between bites of toast.

“Even in a cafe, I can’t understand anyone,” I said quietly to Manfriend. Their thick Scottish accent was even harder to decipher than our waitress’ thick British accent.

Manfriend just chuckled, his own accent growing stronger every day we spent there.

“Welcome to England, babe.”

I couldn’t have been more wrong. Perhaps my days of “easy” travel were over.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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