Walking through the car park (parking lot) of the grocery store makes me feel like a giant. There are no suburbans, giant SUVs or trucks so big you can’t see over the tailgate here. Forget mere double parking, an F-350 could easily take up four of these parking spots. What football (soccer) moms drive here would probably fit in the back of most US minivans if you took out the back seats. One advantage is that you don’t have to constantly peek around the ends of vehicles as you wander through the parked cars, you just look out over the top of the whole lot as if you were 7 feet tall at a rock concert. Motorcycles are common and I find myself doing double takes often because they seem so huge, until I remember it’s all the other vehicles that are smaller. There is not much more parking space in the neighborhoods. You can see from the photo that everyone parks right up to their house and even a small RV hangs over the sidewalk.
A little boy at the swimming pool asked us if that was our “massive Dodge” out there, which absolutely cracked me up because it’s about the size of a Toyota Matrix. Although the four of us fit nicely in the passenger seats, the space behind our back seat is only big enough for two laundry baskets. One stacked up on the other, of course.
There are roundabouts everywhere. Even what would seemingly be a simple T intersection is a roundabout here. If there isn’t room for a center island, they just widen the intersection and paint a circle with arrows around it in the middle. It feels a bit like they replaced all the stairs with fireman’s poles. There is also a sense of sport about driving in the roundabouts, as if one could earn a medal for merging without slowing down. I have driven once, just around the village, not so much to actually get the hang of it as to keep my apprehension from getting out of control. I did fine, apart from smacking my right hand against the driver’s door when I reached for the gear shift a couple of times. Now I just need to get my game face on and I’ll be ready to venture out.
Some days the differences seem endless.
There are no mailboxes, everything just comes through the slot in the front door like uninvited paper guests. There is one general delivery of the day, but there are also random mailings and flyers that magically appear. Sometimes they are stuck there in the metal flap and others land so far from the door they seemed to have opened the slot and threw them in. It makes me grateful for the three deadbolts and loopy hotel peek-a-boo lock on the door.
There’s the fact that I can’t remember our phone number. My close friends understand why this is so annoying to me–I am the kind of person who remembers phone numbers that I don’t even need to recall any more. My cell phone directory in the US was full, but mostly just to make things faster. My brain is completely wired for 10 digit numbers that come in packages with a set of parenthesis at the beginning and a dash in the middle. Here the phone numbers are 11 digits long. It’s not that I find the additional numeral excessive, it’s just that there is no punctuation. Who knew I would long for a little more formality in England? I’ve tried coming up with my own little system, but the numbers never seem to come at me in the same way. Some people will give you 2 or 3 numbers at a time, others just go for the first 5 and break it up from there, and I am left just blinking slowly at those who rattle off all 11 at once. There is a standard in that the first five numbers are for the area you are in and the last six are for the place, but that all goes out the window for cell phone numbers. So, I have settled on carrying my number around on a slip of paper and having people write down theirs–maybe I should put a trumpet around my neck, too.
I am not feeling overwhelmed so much as I am simply saturated. We have not only moved to a different country–yes, there are bank accounts to be sorted out and appliance shopping to be done—but we’ve also gone from a two-car family to public transit users, home owners to renters, and city folk to village dwellers all at the same time. Not one of the differences is particularly enormous, they all just catch me off guard for one small instant after another. If I were one of those cute little dogs, my neck muscles would be tired from all the tilting of my head and perking up of my ears.