It has come to my attention that two of my closest English chums are not Harry Potter fans. Shockingly, we have decided to remain friends. Although, when my one mate told me that she had not read or seen any Harry Potter (which I would argue is why she is not a fan- no exposure beyond marketing- which no one likes), I choked on my drink and had to leave the room, which is a completely valid and not at all dramatic reaction. As for myself, I started reading Harry Potter a little late, I think I was a young adult, but I quickly caught up and was swept up in the mania. I mispronounced Hermione for the first 3 books, there were no movies then to set me straight. There were also no movies to influence my imagination, which I love. I adore the films, but my imagining of Hogwarts and it's cohorts has been forever shaped by the images and music of the cinema, for good or for bad (for mostly good I think). I pre-ordered every book release and read into the night, or took over reading after my husband read all night, and we were not to speak of the plot until both were finished. I stayed offline to avoid spoilers. I saw every film in the theatre, most on opening night, once dressed as Rita Skeeter following a Harry Potter Party that I hosted. I often dressed my cat as Professor McGonagall. I cheered for Harry and I cried for Harry and I quote Dumbledore more than I should.
Imagine my surprise, after moving to England, as I slowly began to realize that so many things that felt like pure fiction or magic, were part of regular life in the United Kingdom. So maybe Harry Potter is not as exciting to someone born and raised in the UK. Maybe Anne of Green Gables would feel more magical as it takes place in such a different world? Anne's magic is of a more symbolic nature, to be sure. Personally, Anne and Harry will always be my loves. I have had loads of fun discovering the differences between what is British and what is magic, in the world of Harry Potter.
1. Chocolate Frogs. I had never in my life heard of a chocolate frog. I was completely shocked, when I realized that a Cadbury Freddo, a literal chocolate frog, could be purchased absolutely everywhere. That people in the UK like to measure how old they are by how much a Freddo cost when they were young. Presently, one chocolate Frog is 30p. It's definitely worth the price. Now, the chocolate frogs I have been encountering do not hop about or come with collectable cards. I remember once trying to create chocolate frogs in Canada, dipping a gummy frog into chocolate, delicious, but absolutely inaccurate.
2. School Uniforms. Unless you go to an expensive private (independent) school, or a Catholic School in Ontario (but not in Alberta)- Canada is anything but consistent- we do not wear uniforms to school. We wear whatever we like within a (really quite loose) dress code. I spent most of my teenage life wearing completely wild clothing combinations to school (plaid suits, actual vintage polyester leisure suits, a lot of secondhand, a lot of colour) and I feel like it had a profound effect on who I am today, for that reason, I prefer children to wear whatever they like to school. I do see the benefit of "levelling the playing field" by having everyone look the same but I would really rather teach everyone to be nice and accept differences. It is a time saver though! The school uniforms in Harry Potter are quite lovely, much fancier than what my son wears at a public (state) school at the age of seven. However, even in a public (state) school in England, teenagers are wearing dress shirts, ties, and suit jackets. They look quite smart actually. Just add a wizard robe, and they would be right at home in Hogwarts.
3. School Houses, House Points, House Cup. I cannot believe that these things are real. I honestly cannot believe it. I was waiting for my son at school one day in the fall, and as I sat in the reception area, the sunlight streamed in though the window, illuminating a large trophy, labelled, "House Cup." I nearly fell off my chair. Then, after some further exploring, I discovered that there were indeed 4 different houses, all of the children were "sorted" into various houses, and there was in fact a points based system followed throughout the year culminating in one of the houses being the winner of the house cup at the end of the school year. My son was soon after placed into the red house, called "Windrush," and I had to bite my tongue to not say, "Did they use the sorting hat, then?"
4. Going to school in a castle. Okay, so it depends what school you go to, or how much money your family has, but there are legitimately schools that I drive by, every day, that look like castles. My children do not go to any such schools.
5. Cupboards under the stairs. When we were living in Ottawa, Canada, we had a fun secret cupboard or storage area, under the stairs, that was only accessible through a small door within a closet. We called it the Harry Potter closet. Now that I live in England, literally everyone I know has a cupboard/closet under their stairs, and yes, it is the perfect size to have an unwanted child sleep in, and yes, we are the only people I hear calling it the Harry Potter Closet.
6. House Elves. Okay, these are not real, but I want them to be SO bad. I would be really nice to my house elf. I would.
7. Traveling by train. I know that you can travel by train in Canada, a Via Rail trip from coast to coast looks absolutely dreamy, and is on my bucket list. It would only take 5 days if you never stop. If you rode a train in England for 5 days in one direction, you definitely wouldn't be in England anymore. In Great Britain, there is absolutely no uninhabited/uncultivated land (this is hard for my Canadian brain to truly comprehend), and the rail system is well established, and widely used. You can take the train anywhere. The trains are as a rule, less romantic than the Hogwart's Express, but more romantic than an Edmonton Public Transit bus. You could save all your pennies or pence, and hop aboard the Jacobite Steam Train, as featured in Harry Potter. The route looks absolutely beautiful, as does the train.
8. Boarding School. They do exist in Canada, they are not very popular. If you google, "Boarding School in Canada," the first search result mentions "troubled teens," so that let's you know our general feeling about boarding school in Canada. It's for rare and sometimes extreme situations, and I do not know anyone in my life who has attended one. Boarding at Hogwarts sounds amazing! The only time it seemed at all sad, was if you were left behind at Christmas, and everyone was off with their families. There are many many boarding schools in England. I walk by one frequently, the boarding house itself is beautiful, and one can only hope that they are all having as much fun as the students at Hogwarts, although maybe getting into less trouble.
9. Shopping. When everyone must floo powder or apparate themselves to Diagon Alley to purchase all their school supplies, I always felt like it was so very magical, and the street and shops so very full of character. Now that I live in England, I realize that if you throw in a Boots and a Starbucks, most High Streets look pretty cute and not that different from Diagon Alley, and every one is forced to shop there, because there are no malls or other options, so we pay for parking and hurry along because everything closes at 6 pm. Some of us have discovered another form of magic called Amazon Prime, and now we only go to High Street when there is an emergency or we would like a treat.
10. Universal Health Care. All the health care in the Harry Potter Universe is free. There is never a word of St. Mungo's hospital charging for any service. Canada is the same, we do not pay for health care, as it is in England. It did occur to me that if you lived in a country that did not enjoy Universal Health Care, this aspect of Harry Potter might feel quite magical indeed.
I am so grateful that I get to spend some time in this part of the world so full of magic, even if my British friends won't talk to me about it! Let's remember that “Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.”― J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone