This Halloween was scary for me, but not in the way you might expect.
It was because this week was the first time I saw the inside of an American hospital when helping a friend who had to go to ER. It was the same as a hospital in the UK with the long waiting times and hard working and over-worked staff – until a nurse came to ask for my friend’s insurance card. It was only after she had also handed over her credit card for the $100 copay that they would touch her.
American health insurance is a topic that is much discussed and disparaged in the media, even put to comic effect – as in the episode of The Office (US version) where Dwight is put in charge of choosing a health care plan – and a visa stipulation meant I had to take out a policy, but seeing how the process fully works in person is still quite shocking and upsetting. It all seemed so deeply unfair that life and death are so explicitly linked to economics. One is forced to become a doctor to themselves and decide if their condition is life-threatening enough to make that visit to the doctors or emergency room worth it. I feel so privileged with the health care under the NHS (despite any flaws people feel it may have) that I take for granted in the UK. I don’t understand how this system still exists in America. And on a practical note, the experience was a definite wake up call to carry my insurance id on me at all times.
The nightmare of that awful incident and my first exam-style midterm over, it was time to fully embrace Halloween in America.
This involved trying and failing to get into the immensely popular Rocky Horror Picture Show produced by GW theatre society Forbidden Planet Productions, going to the uni-organised Boo Bash in Kogan Plaza (a stereotypically American affair with free burgers, candy floss and candy apples), and the uniquely DC event of Trick or Treating on Embassy Row – my first ever time trick or treating. The British embassy slightly let down the side on that front by refusing to participate which is a shame when their ‘candy’ is among the most prized!
I must admit I was a little sceptical when my American flatmate back in Edinburgh told me Halloween was her favourite ‘holiday’, as in England people will just use the night as an excuse to have a party, but here there is a whole culture around Halloween and it is a key part of the celebration of all things ‘fall’. There are many activities leading up to Halloween – remember, we exchange students picked our pumpkins for it two weeks ago – and the night itself almost seemed anticlimactic because so much had happened before. Halloween carries the importance of a holiday and there is a general festival atmosphere in the air, it being common not only to see a pirate shopping in the days leading up to it, but acceptable to guess and compliment their outfit choice – when someone appreciated the carved pumpkin I was carrying, it did make my night.
For the over-21s, October 31st meant heading to Nightmare on M Street along with a staggering amount of others in costume. An observation of Stateside attitudes to Halloween costumes is that really any kind of ‘fancy dress’ (as the British would say) is on show, whereas in the UK people tend to dress up more readily for other events, so feel the need to make their Halloween outfit suitably ‘scary’ to fit the occasion. And again in America, there is some truth in cliché, as I saw a number of costumes of the kind mocked in Mean Girls.
Though Sunday meant an end to Halloween activities it also was the day of something I had been looking forward to all week since passing the place whilst walking back from the gallery and museum: having dinner with a friend at The Hamilton. The food was delicious, the ambience classy and the company fantastic, so was the perfect way to celebrate the transition into another month of exchange life, the second truly scary part of the week being the feeling that the end of the semester is coming too close.
The week ahead is a little less crazy but equally exciting, with events such as the GW Alternative Breaks Fall Ball and a tour inside the White House itself!
Anyway, to sign off with an American phrase that I heard for the first time this week –
Catch you on the flip side,