So today is Halloween.
And like all good Americans, I arose early and donned a costume.
Neither of my kids’ schools were dressing up this year. But Halloween is increasingly popular here in London, especially in neighborhoods like mine, which are home to their fair share of Americans. So even though my kids weren’t putting on their costumes, I thought: “What the heck?” and threw mine on for fun.
And that’s – as we say over here – where it all went a bit pear-shaped.
You see, for the past five years I’ve dressed up as a witch on Halloween. This basically amounted to wearing a large, black, pointy hat, a black sweater and some black jeans and boots. But I was tired of being a witch. Plus, my hat had started to droop. So this year, when browsing for my son’s costume in a local shop, I decided to go crazy and buy a wimple.
For those in the know, a wimple is that black and white thing that nuns wear around their faces.(Think Maria, pre-Captain, in The Sound of Music.)
From there, it was just a matter of rummaging around in my closet for a frumpy, over-sized, white turtle neck, a plain, black skirt, some dark tights, a pair of clunky shoes, a semi-gaudy cross and – within minutes – I looked just like my father’s Irish cousin, good old Sister Claudette.
Needless to say, I was extremely pleased with myself. (It’s amazing what can impress you when you’re unemployed.)
But then I went outside. And that’s when the fun really started.
You see, no one realized that it was a joke. That was fine, when I was walking through my neighborhood at eight a.m. past all manner of harried parents, construction workers, commuters and shop owners. They could be forgiven for thinking that I was either a real nun or just…a bit strange. But by the time I hit the school run and – STILL – no one had gotten the joke, I knew I was in trouble.
The first person I ran across was a good friend – (and fellow American, though she’s lived here for 15 years) – who was rushing to catch a train. I greeted her with something on the order of “God Bless you, my child,” at which point she did a double-take and paused to take me in.
“Are you going to wear that all day?” she asked, somewhat aghast.
Then I hit the school gate. After a few odd looks on my way in, I found myself standing in line behind a recent immigrant from Lebanon with the improbable name of – wait for it – Jihad. It was Jihad’s daughter’s first day of school and he had all sorts of questions for me. I got so caught up in orienting him about the school that I completely forgot that I was dressed as a nun…until, of course, I turned to introduce him to my daughter and I noticed that he looked a bit uneasy.
“Oh! Right!” I chuckled, glancing down at my habit. “This is just a Halloween costume. I’m American,” I added, by way of explanation.
“It’s O.K., Madam,” he answered, smiling politely but looking over his shoulder as if a taxi might miraculously present itself within the school yard.
At line-up time, I ran into another acquaintance. While not American, she’d lived in the U.S. for at least five years. But when her gaze fell upon my costume, she looked positively grief-stricken.
“It’s for Halloween!” I said, clapping her on the shoulder, thinking that she didn’t recognize me and was wondering why my daughter had been escorted to school by a nun.
“Oh, thank goodness,” she said. “I thought that maybe…maybe…” Her voice trailed off.
You thought that maybe I’d gone into the convent over half-term?
I left my daughter’s school, dejected. No one seemed to get the joke. No one seemed amused. They all seemed perplexed…and mildly concerned.
Of course, I should have been prepared for this. I’ve appropriated a lot of things during my five years living in the U.K. – The BBC, The NHS, even a fair bit of British slang. But one thing I’ve never quite internalized is the whole buttoned-down, reticent thing. For better or for worse, I’m loud. I’m chatty. And, no. I’m not afraid to walk around dressed as a nun at nine o’clock on a Monday morning in October. Especially if it’s Halloween.
On my way home, I ran into one of my son’s ten-year-old friends who did recognize me, wimple and all.
“Bless you, my child,” I said, half-heartedly making the sign of the cross.
He studied me carefully, looking me up and down.
“But that’s not scary!” he finally exclaimed.
Oh, my dear, you’d be surprised.
Image: Monestario de Santa Catalina/Arequipa by Command Zed via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.