Last week during class one of my students recounted another of his characteristically colorful memories of boarding school. In this memory, he and some roommates started a bonfire in the alley behind the school, and when they were caught by the fantastically stuffy schoolmaster their punishment was like something out of....well, one of those movies about boys at boarding school. My initial response was, "wow. our school experiences could not have been more different."
"Oh really?" he asked and everyone stared eagerly to find out what my mysterious American schooling entailed. Since it was time to move on to Galileo and the Scientific Revolution, I opted for the short version. I said, "Well I went to high school." They nodded. Yes, that strange institution they'd seen in movies. I added, "And at my school, kids walked around wearing big cowboy hats and giant belt buckles and stuff like that."
They erupted with exclamations of "Really?! No way!" And then there was a silence while they all stared dumbfounded. Then, having digested this new information, the boarding-school boy asked the (apparently logical) question on everyone's lips:
"So do you have a gun, then?"
"What? ...Oh sorry, left my holster with my other pants today. But in Utah yeah, we just went to class with rifles slung on our backs."
They were completely ready to believe this. I tried to leave it at that, but felt that creeping, nagging guilt. I really suck at lying. So I told them not really, but that many households had guns and families went hunting together and it was a fairly common weekend activity to go to "the range" and shoot. I sometimes forget that guns are illegal in England. Even cops don't carry them -- they're something out of cinema only. So my students were blown-over by my revelation. And delighted, too. I told them that yes, we had rodeos (the word itself made them laugh uproariously as they tried to say it with an American accent). Just knowing that in the distant land of Utah people well and truly wore cowboy hats and maintained a shooting range was, for them, pretty solid confirmation that the Wild West is alive and well.