A key part of my standard travel gear is a hoodie. I have two, one from my law school alma mater and one from my undergraduate alma mater. I’ve found that both of these have generated interest and conversation from strangers while I’m traveling, but the William and Mary hoodie in particular seems to possess almost magical powers of garnering attention (I’m basically never wearing the thing near the East Coast, thus it’s far from a common siting). Introvert though I am, I’ve found that I enjoy the polite conversations I usually get when someone lays eyes on the green and gold and strikes up conversation.
Usually, the hoodie results in one of three conversation starts: (1) General comments on the quality of the school (2) Mentions of friends/family/co-workers etc. who attended the school (and the “do you know?” game that follows). (3) Geographic comments (“Oh! You’re from Virginia?”). Once in a great while, it gets (usually from children seated next to me on planes) “Who’re William and Mary?”
But this most recent trip to Australia generated a new kind of conversation starter for the hoodie.
Now, understand, The Hoodie has been to Oz before (it got high praise from a gentleman in the International Terminal of San Francisco Airport on my way out, and a “Hey! William and Mary! Great school!” in a parking garage in Canberra. So the bizarre change I encountered in both Australia and New Zealand on this trip was a head-scratch-er for me.
I had four different people, in widely different areas of Australia and New Zealand, question why I had the names of old British monarchs on my shirt.
Not “Who are William and Mary?” No, they were all very clear on who William and Mary were. The mystery lay in why a person would embroider the names on a sweatshirt in large letters.
All four were from some part of the Commonwealth (a Brit, a Kiwi and two Aussies), so that kind of removes any reason for surprise at them knowing who William and Mary were in history (unlike the U.S. where an astonishing number of people don’t have a clue). Since I’ve traveled around and with so many Aussies, Brits, Kiwis, Canadians, etc before, it’s really rather strange that this is the first time that it happened.
In two cases, it was all very pleasant. I grinned and assured them, yes, it was the same William and Mary from that list of monarchs some ancient schoolmaster made them memorize, and explained about the charter. None of these people had known anything about this part royal history, and they seemed pleasantly surprised and then the chat turned to the usual “What brings you down here?”
But one (and I’ll let you guess which nationality), well, let’s just say the encounter was far more amusing for me than the questioner. The woman (whom I’d heard behind me, commenting to a companion something about “American girl…monarchs…shirt…” in a none-too-friendly tone) all but marched up to me:
“Do you know William and Mary were our king and queen in the late 17th century? WHY are their names on your shirt?”
I could see it in her eyes and hear it in her voice: there was a challenge. This wasn’t just a question or a demand. She was expecting me not to have the answer. I don’t know if it was a moment to confirm American stupidity, or if it was just another opportunity to use blunt confrontation to establish her intellectual superiority (I think it it’s the latter–I heard her giving an unsolicited lecture to a group of Asian tourists about English shrubbery a bit later), either way, she failed rather spectacularly. Instead of gaping like a fish, or giggling inanely and making a reduced-IQ comment about liking the style, I met her with a very cheerful smile.
“Yes, they were, and during their reign, in 1693, they chartered The College of William and Mary in Virginia.”
The superior stare faltered and she actually took a step back.
“1693, well, yes, that would be the right time period…I never–” she paused, and her shoulders sagged a little. “Well, I didn’t know that.”
I could tell the admission pained her and before I could sweetly begin to elaborate on how The College was supposed to educate clergy for the colonies and about how Thomas Jefferson was an alum….she walked off. I probably shouldn’t be this delighted about it, but I’m quite pleased. I could tell it really stuck in her craw that she hadn’t one-upped me, and had, in fact, been one upped herself.
The Hoodie went from a tool of conversation to a tool of education smack-down.
As I turned away from my little victory, a couple from approached and asked me to take their photo. “We saw your shirt. We’re from North Carolina!”