More expat stand up – Expat life part 4

The previous post in this series was poking fun at my own country, the USA. This of course now grants me free rein to poke fun at my adopted country, the UK.

There is much more a sense of national consciousness here than in the US, probably because it’s a smaller country. For example, did you know there is a national paint colour? It’s called Magnolia and is the all-purpose, inoffensive, go-to colour to paint everywhere, similar to taupe in the US.

 

magnolia-1519038_1280

No, not THAT kind of magnolia. (Public domain image from pixabay.com)

It’s also the bane of interior designers and DIY show presenters who push people to be “edgy” and to “go outside their comfort zone.” Oh, we’ll just stick with Magnolia they say…

Chocolate is another facet of the British national consciousness.

Britons universally revere Cadbury’s and will happily have lengthy debates about the merits of different chocolates. Cadbury’s vs. Galaxy. Minstrels vs. Rolos. Dairymilk Buttons vs. Dairymilk Freddos.

Britons also universally agree that Hershey’s is rubbish. I am endeavouring to change this one Kiss at a time.

British social customs are another part of the national consciousness that has been well documented. Think “stiff upper lip,” “mind the gap,” queuing etiquette and the like.
However I have found that British politeness is a bonafide phenomenon, verging on an extreme sport.

Extreme in that politely assuming you’re in the wrong and apologising is the universal response for all social situations in the UK.

For instance, one day I ran into a neighbour in the mailbox room of our building. I said ‘Hiya’, she said ‘Sorry’…

Etiquette on public transport gets murkier. From what I can tell, when you sit down on the bus, say ‘Sorry’. When you get up from your seat, say ‘Sorry’. Like I said it’s the universal response.

I’m very sorry if I have offended anyone with this post. In fact I’m sorry for writing it in the first place. I’ll also apologise in advance for my next post of even more expat stand up.

Hiya, Ey up, Where y’at, or How to talk to expats – Expat life part 2

Language is a beautiful thing but it does have its quirks. I spent 20-odd years in the States then moved over here. I am undeniably American in culture, outlook and of course accent (we’ll get to this later). Traveling and living abroad is great because it broadens your perspective and has changed my viewpoints on various issues. However there are some points I’ve observed about interacting with locals and what I try to do myself in terms of welcoming and feeling welcomed. I’ve framed some of these below through the common questions I get asked. Obviously the big disclaimer to this post is that *these are my own views and opinions and do not necessarily represent views and opinions of other expats.*

“Are you [insert nationality here]?”
Some people get offended if you get their nationality wrong. I have been guilty of this myself, and have been on the receiving end as well. However I find it hilarious when people think I’m Canadian or Irish (both true examples). Even if you’re 99% sure, the better path is to just ask…

“Where are you from?”
Don’t guess, just ask!

“What do you think about Trump/Obama/other political figure?”
This can go either way so tread carefully! I used to not get asked this very often. However the past six months of this crazy US election season, I’ve seen a massive upswing as EVERYONE is now asking me about politics. I don’t mind and see it as an opportunity to share what’s actually going on in my country beyond the news bites. The main thing is ask with an open mind and view to opening a dialogue.

“Don’t you miss home?”
This question is problematic on so many levels for me. My only response options being, No, I’m a heartless automaton that doesn’t miss home, or, HECK YES I MISS HOME! DAFTEST QUESTION EVER. Instead I suggest asking…

“What do you miss about home?”
Rather than feeling homesick, this then gives me the opportunity to tell you about all the awesome stuff about my country like Southern hospitality, crawfish boils, stable weather day to day, jambalaya, iced tea, college sports, Thanksgiving…

“What was the biggest difference or the hardest thing to adjust to when you arrived?”
This is a good one. The expat can voice an opinion/beef and the questioner learns something new about both countries.

“Do you get to go back?”
Another that can go either way, depending on how close your next trip home is.

“Your accent hasn’t changed much.”
I usually say something like, give it another 20 years, then it might. I spent the first 21 years of my life in the US, so of course I sound American and that doesn’t change with a plane ride! However my family says my accent has changed and it definitely gets thicker when I go home. So check back with me on this one in say, another 15 years.

Agree? Disagree? Let’s start a conversation in the comments.

Next week, my expat wannabe stand-up routine.

Dorothy in Oz – Expat life part 1

Happy Belated Thanksgiving! And welcome to the first of a few posts on expat stuff. I’m definitely not in Kansas anymore which was brought home to me again last week when I went to do my Thanksgiving food shop. Last year around this time I remember a large freezer case full of turkeys ready for British Christmas dinners but this year was surprised to spot only three in the whole supermarket. Meanwhile there was an entire aisle of seasonal Christmas stuff…

I’ve been reflecting of late about the various ways I’ve changed and adapted to life abroad in the UK. In no particular order:

Metric system

I have discussed this before and how buying a digital scale changed my life (that’s only a slight exaggeration). I still run a hybrid metric-American kitchen operation but it works so long as you have the right tools: digital scales, measuring cups that also show equivalent in milliliters, and a good cooking conversion site (current favourite here).

Dishwashing

On my last visit to America, I volunteered to do the dishes and was merrily sudsing away when a certain family member exclaimed, “Wait a second, are you rinsing??” Alas I was not, because I have adopted this British trait of hand-washing dishes but then not rinsing the soap off before setting out to dry. My family is aghast. I was too when I first observed this phenomenon, but then after about a year here with no dishwasher, it dawned on me I could cut out half the time for this chore by…you guessed it, skipping the rinse stage. Because most of the suds roll off anyway, right?

Crossing the road

Again I’m a hybrid operator on this issue. It’s because I initially got very confused about which way to look for oncoming traffic when crossing the road (except in London where they conveniently write on the road “Look right” or “Look left”) so I just started looking both ways. I still do and now do this when back in the States because I function in a state of semi-permanent cultural confusion.

Terminology / spelling / slang

I’m now hyper aware of when someone uses British or American terminology in real life and on telly, er, I mean TV. I adopted British spelling long ago and set my computer accordingly, though now the poor thing is confused and several programmes, er, programs think British spelling is wrong (Office, I’m looking at you). Though Evernote appears to be equal opportunity and thinks both are right. I still learn new slang all the time. For example, bobbins and egads. I also regularly do the equivalent of your mom running through all the names in your immediate family before getting to yours, but with different UK-US words. For example, in a restaurant, “Please can we get the bill, no tab, no receipt!” In a shop, “Do you have any coriander, no cilantro, no that green herb?”

Next week, how to talk to an expat…or at least to this one!

British vs. American Driving – I’m on the road

Happy New Year! After much talk and delays, I’ve finally gotten my provisional license and started driving lessons! I’ve done about 10 hours now. My instructor is very good, very old school and very Yorkshire. He’s also pretty straight talking (which I appreciate in a Briton) both when you’ve done something wrong and when you get negative. The biggest challenge for me has been learning to do the manual gears. I was surprised that driving on the other side of the car and road is by far the easiest thing. Driving here has been more difficult because the roads are a lot narrower, generally there are more cars about (though that could be because we’re in a city as well) and people park EVERYWHERE and ANYWHERE they can! Often in really annoying/risky places, like just after a junction. I also am having trouble telling where the front left of the hood/bonnet is. I remember having the same problem in reverse when I was learning last time around.

I am slowly making progress (I’m told) with the gears. And I’m learning how to deal with roundabouts, buses and swerving around parked cars, all new to me. Since I already had a lot of driving experience, apparently I’m a difficult student because I lull my instructor into a false sense of security with my good driving and then stall the car or something and remind him I’m a beginner in some ways. So everyone is being kept on their toes!

I passed my theory test last week so the final hurdle is the practical test itself in March.

Other fun facts I’ve picked up:

  • Phobia of driving is a thing here and my instructor’s colleague specializes in teaching pupils with fear of driving.
  • The theory test consists of hazard perception clips that are all created using computer visuals. Something I was really thankful for after practicing with blurry, poor quality dash cam videos where you couldn’t actually see the hazards!
  • There is an authorized vocabulary for driving. I guess this is a good thing because the lingo is standardized as set by the government for various things like driving. For example,  duty of care, hazard routine, and of course all the road signs. But it’s a bit uncanny when your instructor says the same thing as the Youtube video you just watched!
  • Road rules are tailored to manual transmission cars. This is a little theory of mine. I’ve noticed that road rules such as giving way (aka yielding) signs rather stop signs and the light sequence (green – amber/yellow – red – red and amber together) seem suited to manual cars. You don’t have to come to a complete stop at many junctions. At red lights, there is a prep phase (red and amber together) to setting off again after you’ve come to a stop. Since manuals are hard to get going this is really helpful! Anyway, that’s my theory.

Please share any other driving facts, American or British, in the comments.

British vs. American Driving – Part 2

Part two of a little series about driving in the UK and preparing for The Test (the British driving test). For the first post, click here.

I am currently studying for the theory part of The Test, since my driving lessons were put on hold in the summer due to my pending visa application. Since I didn’t want to give the government any more money, I have succeeded in finding many of the relevant theory prep documents free online or borrowed from friends. The Highway Code is ‘essential reading for everyone’ apparently so I started with that. It quickly proved to be a barrel of laughs and confusion because of the heavy use of jargon and (unintentional, we presume) deadpan humour. Hence the idea to compare it with American driving customs for a blog post. The British rules will be italicised and American customs in plain font.

The Highway Code is laudable for many things, such as its consideration of the environment (don’t leave your engine running, how to save fuel etc) but it does exemplify a nanny state type document to me. For example:

  • We are advised (Rule 94) not to wear tinted glasses at night or in poor visibility. Because you won’t be able to see, unless you’re a gangster.
  • Rule 206 – Drive carefully and slowly when passing parked vehicles, especially ice cream vans; children are more interested in ice cream than traffic.
  • Seriously I’m not making this up.
'The Highway Code (UK) - first edition, 1931' by Mikey. Flickr CC-A.

‘The Highway Code (UK) – first edition, 1931’ by Mikey. Flickr CC-A.

The DVSA (Driver & Vehicles Standards Agency) Theory Test prep book also occasionally slips into a vaguely Southern twang:

  • Slow your vehicle right down. You better slow down, Bubba.
  • Kick down (apparently a feature of automatics enabling quick acceleration). Similar to a beat down. Also possibly the name of a football play as in “reverse eagle kick down” or something.

Rule 114 – You MUST NOT use any lights in a way which would dazzle or cause discomfort to other road users.

Americans always use their brights at night on country roads, otherwise you might miss the deer / racoon / possum / other wildlife trying to become roadkill. I really enjoyed the rather saucy use of dazzle throughout the Code and DVSA Theory Test book. Another good one, anti-dazzle, as in setting your rearview mirror to anti-dazzle if the car behind is dazzling, er, blinding you. Side note, wasn’t anti-dazzle that thing that you used to get out the plastic jewels you put in your hair with your BeDazzler when you were twelve?

Rule 123 – National speed limits. There is an entire flow chart/graph for speed limits depending on a) type of vehicle, and b) type of road.

Americans either a) look at the speed limit sign on the road or, b) ignore the speed limit sign on the road.

Rule 225 – Vehicles with flashing amber beacons. These warn of a slow moving or stationary vehicle or abnormal loads.

A beacon is something they have up north on lighthouses and such. Though Mississippi did have a lighthouse on its license plates for awhile. We are still trying to figure that out.

Rule 237 – Keep your vehicle well ventilated to avoid drowsiness.

Put the A/C on full blast, particularly in summer months, otherwise you might burn your butt on the seats which have been superheated by the sun.

Rule 18-30 – Pedestrian crossings. There are several types of pedestrian crossing: zebra, pelican, puffin and toucan. Most people will recognize a zebra crossing from the Beatles’ Abbey Road album cover photo.

Zebras can be viewed at Baton Rouge Zoo. We love pelicans because they are the Louisiana state bird. What’s a puffin? Toucans can also be found at the zoo. We don’t have pedestrians.

'Zebra Crossing?' by K.J. Payne. Flickr CC-A.

‘Zebra Crossing?’ by K.J. Payne. Flickr CC-A.

A few final comments. The catchphrase “mirrors – signal – manoeuvre” was really helpful, but I kept on hearing it in a French accent “ma-NUV-ruh”… I still need to ask somebody what a “milk float” is, all I know is it’s some kind of electric vehicle, presumably used to deliver milk. Road markings and surfaces are elevated to an art form in the UK. There are different colour reflective studs for the different lanes on motorways, different length white lane lines when approaching a roundabout or hazard, all manner of markings for pedestrian crossings, ‘rumble’ features to make you slow down, ‘box junctions’ to tell you not to stop in the middle of an intersection, tactile paving to let disabled pedestrians know there’s a crossing…and that’s not even getting started on the signage.