Valuable lesson #1: DO NOT BRING MACE SPRAY TO THE UNITED KINGDOM. Pepper spray is illegal in this country, even for protection. Unknowingly, I brought this gift from my Dad to London. Not only did I just bring it to London, I brought it to Parliament.
I approach Parliament’s security guards and metal detector. I forget that I have pepper spray in my purse. I walk up to a 6-foot tall man that towers over me. I explain “I have my pepper spray in my purse. Can I get it back after the tour?” The guard confiscates my pepper spray and passes it down a line of high-grade security guards. My hands begin to sweat. I am quickly sent through security. I am approached by a women dressed in light blue, who also feels like she is 6 feet tall, towering over me. The woman says, “Someone is on their way down to talk to you.” My heart drops, my hands are still sweating, and I feel faint. What is going on?! Who needs to come and talk to me?! What have I done?!
I am directed into a small room. The room is sitting right behind the flowing line of tourists and metal detectors. I can see my group abandoning me as they clear security. I head into a claustrophobic room with 3 chairs, 3 desks, and a couple of Dell computers. I am directed towards the seat that is farthest away from the door. I sit down. I’m unaware of what is going on. A tall security guard in his 40s explains, “I am not allowed to handle situations relating to firearms. Mace Spray is a section 5 firearm in the United Kingdom and the police are on their way down.” THE POLICE?! I feel faint again. How could I make such a giant mistake? I explain, “I had no idea mace was illegal in the United Kingdom.” The security guard tells me to sit tight and asks, “Are you here alone? Is there anyone I need to inform about what is going on?”
I see my professor appear in the doorway after clearing security. While my professor and I are waiting for the police, I have the worst-case scenarios following through my head. Am I going to get a ticket? Will I be deported? Will I be arrested? Will I be able to return home? Will I ever be able to return to London? I feel a sick lump in my stomach, almost as if I had just eaten a giant meatball sub. America–the place where you can go to the nearest Fleet Farm and pick up pepper spray, class 5 firearm, for 4 bucks.
One police officer walks into the room and sits down on the chair across from me. My anxiety begins to boil. It’s hard to catch my breath. The police officer immediately recognizes that I am American. Who else would make such a gigantic mistake? The policeman was wearing a tall black hat with a gold pendent saying “Westminster” on the center of the hat. He wore mostly black and had a baton hanging off the side of his belt. His boots were tall and his uniform was intimidating. Luckily, the officer was very kind. 10 minutes go by. Tears in my eyes. I still feel like I have a giant sub sandwich in my stomach.
The officer explains, “everything is fine and I just need you to fill out some paper work.” The paper work was to claim that the mace spray was mine and I own it for protection. The officer explains that mace spray is considered a firearm in the United Kingdom. Mistakes like this happen a lot because many people are unaware of the cultural differences when traveling to different countries. The policeman claims, “being caught with it at Parliament was a blessing in disguise. If you had been caught on the street with mace spray, you would have been arrested and maybe even deported.” Once I heard this, my eyes widened and I got more nervous then ever. There is a long moment of silence. The tension is building. The officer asks for my signature after asking me a series of questions. I stand up. Barely able to hold the pen in my shaking and sweaty hands, I sign “Kelly Dolan”.