Reversepilgrims Blog

a northwest family moves to the UK

License shmicense March 17, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — reversepilgrims @ 1:28 pm

The first time I took driver’s ed was the summer of 86′. There I was in my parachute pants, cruising the cow fields of my home town in an old brown 4-door sedan with my best friend and the shop teacher-slash-driving instructor. We only had three stoplights and the biggest hazard we faced was the occasional elderly person who escaped from the nursing home and was hoofing it at a half a mile an hour down the middle of main street. We had to drive 15 miles just to get somewhere we could learn to change lanes and parallel park. It was summertime and aside from a few “emergency stops” to avoid going in the ditch, the worst part of the whole thing was putting up with our instructor’s terrible jokes. The written portion was a breeze and even the practical test in my parent’s old K-car was remarkably uneventful. I think I recall missing a few points for not looking in my mirrors enough.

Flash forward 25 years and 5,000 miles from home. We can legally drive with our US licenses for another 6 months, but if we wish to continue driving, we need to pass the UK tests. Why do they simply let us have a go at the good citizens of the UK for a year with no training whatsoever? It was a mystery to me at first, but I now understand that it is a key component of the plan to stimulate the economy.

The only way to keep from crying over how painful it is to get a driver’s license here is to focus on the fact that it is extremely expensive–as opposed to focusing on the fact that it is flat out humiliating. A more spiritual person would say it is a humbling experience, but taking roundabouts at 30 mph has evidently tipped my chakras out of whack.

The written portion is not simply a multiple choice test, you also have to pass a hazard perception portion of the test where you click as you observe a hazard developing, which could be anything from a tractor to a little girl on a bike, but you have to click at exactly the right moments, and not too much clicking or you will lose all the points for cheating. The practical, as far as I can tell, is a complete racket. It is so hard that you need LOTS of lessons to know EXACTLY what they are looking for and when. There are approximately 25 driving instructors within a 5 mile radius of our village. Coincidence? I think not. I’ve heard of people taking the test up to 8 times and know adults who would rather not drive rather than face it and/or pay for it one more time. That’s comforting. I tell you what, if and when I do pass the test I will be doing more than just posting it on my facebook page. If we have any money left, it’s party time!

We are over two hundred and eighty quid ($450) into getting our UK licenses so far and all I have to show for it is a provisional license that allows me to take the actual test in the next six months and a mildly improved idea of why people are honking at me. I will admit that the honking has gone down considerably since I got a driving instructor. I still have to pass the written test, then I can take the practical test. This will cost a minimum of another 130 pounds, but I’m sure we’ll both need a couple more lessons, so we can count on at least another 200 pounds ($300). Ug!

Why is it so hard, you ask? Between my inability to signal at the proper moments, lack of enthusiasm for checking my mirrors every 5 seconds and apparent hardwiring for complete stops when I should simply yield, I have my work cut out for me. You would think that it would be a thrill to finally be able to treat nearly all intersections as California stops, which they call a “give way” here, but I am finding it quite unsettling to be ‘in an appropriate gear’ as I approach intersections. It does not seem like a good time to be in any gear if you ask me. Every fiber of my being tells me to be slowing down to a stop. I imagine it to be exactly opposite of what the surfer dude with no shirt on driving the VW bus feels like as he cruises through a stop sign in Santa Cruz with the window down and a warm wind blowing through his long blonde hair. I feel an ulcer coming on.

The procedure for making any change in direction or speed is summed up by MSM/PSGL, which stands for Mirror-Signal-Manouvre/Position-Speed-Gear-Look. That’s right, you drop your speed down by braking, then settle into 2nd gear a hundred yards or so before you get to the actual corner. You keep your foot on the gas and prepare to accelerate through the turn, then look to see if you can actually keep going. You can put it in first gear if it is considered a blind corner, but you are still expected to keep going until the very last second and go if possible. If it’s not clear, then it’s a quick clutch-brake. Oh, and if you do stop for more than two seconds, you are supposed to set your hand brake. They don’t call it the parking brake because you are apparently supposed to use it all the time. If I stop at all ‘give way’ intersections I’ll fail the test for not keeping traffic moving. God forbid I slow anyone down on their way to the chippie. Our driving instructor tells us that we should never make other drivers do the four “S”-es: Stop, Slow, Swerve or Swear. That’s bloody well and good for them, but there are definitely a few S-words flying around in my car.

Don’t even get me started about roundabouts. You know that whole thing about not changing lanes while in an intersection–forget it. Crossing lanes in an intersection is a requirement here. The proper way to exit from the inside lane of a roundabout is to head directly across the outer lane and into the outside lane of the exit road. It doesn’t exactly give me that warm and fuzzy feeling of safety, but I’m getting used to it.

I did have a good laugh when I filled out the application for a provisional license, though. Check out the health questionnaire–I really wanted to tick the box for yes to number 9: Repeated attacks of sudden disabling giddiness? Why, yes!


Snowdrops February 13, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — reversepilgrims @ 10:54 pm

All around, patches of these little pure white flowers are popping up. I’ve seen crocus, but these are new to me. They are called Snowdrops. It is nice to see that Spring is on it’s way, even if it won’t be here until next month. What a treat!


Mama bear pokes her head out

Filed under: Uncategorized — reversepilgrims @ 10:39 pm

Most of my posts are about the lighthearted side of being an uninvited guest in this country, but today I am sad, and a little mad. Just to be clear–I am not trying to start a debate, I’m just sharing with my friends and family back home the whole kit and kaboodle.

When I picked my seven year old up from school last week he told me something that broke my heart.  A teacher at his school was speaking to a group of children at an assembly and, in response to an apparently overly exuberant child, said quite forcefully “We aren’t American children, we don’t hoot and make wild noises when we clap”.

My son said several kids turned around and looked right at him, and one lad (who is definitely going on the nice list this year) actually leaned over to say, “don’t worry, I know that not all Americans are like that.” Clearly my son was not the only one who heard the comment and got the underlying negative message.

To the school’s credit, the head teacher took the matter seriously. When I talked with her about the incident, she apologized and explained that she saw it as a clear case of racism and would deal with it accordingly. She talked with my son right after I met with her the next day and she had the teacher apologize to him, too. It’s all been sorted, as they say here.

I knew it wouldn’t be easy to move to a foreign country. I expected some of the other kids to be a bit mean sometimes, to make fun of their accents and give them a hard time, but I didn’t think I’d have to worry about the teachers. With my experience here so far, however, it did not surprise me. It is not as if the wave of political correctness failed to wash ashore here–it is definitely considered a faux pas to ridicule minority, ethnic and social groups just like it is back home. However, it is as if Americans are somehow considered fair game. Even with the French, people still seem to look around with that “I know I shouldn’t say this, but…” before they toss out a zinger, but not so with Americans.

I’ve heard the little barbs on the radio, standing in lines, on TV, and in conversation. It’s usually a witty comment about how an attitude or action (like wasting energy or cutting corners or hooting and yelling wildly) is “so American”. Yes, I know we are far from perfect, but all three hundred million of us don’t drive hummers and idolize Homer Simpson.

The fact is that my son will probably never forget the way he felt that day. It is an awful experience to feel like you are on the outside looking in, but I also know that it is part of life. We all get through these experiences and learn something from them. After all, that is part of why we packed up and moved to a foreign country, to get a little perspective. It’s just that getting perspective isn’t always fun.

I can’t run around plugging his ears, but I can tell him how much I love him and treasure him for exactly who he is, an amazing, creative, kind, polite and also American boy. I can encourage him to have patience and tolerance–other people are not perfect and neither are we. Everyone makes mistakes and the nice ones even apologize, just like that teacher did. And who knows, we might all grow and learn a little bit.

Now, on with our adventure!


Bits and bobs and boots February 2, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — reversepilgrims @ 10:11 pm

I have a new all-time favorite difference between British & American English.

The use of the word ‘trolly’ for shopping cart amused me for weeks, and calling something ‘brilliant’ or ‘brill’ for short to describe something awesome or excellent was my favorite after that.  But, nothing has tickled my funny bone quite like this one.

I was just minding my own business at a birthday at the bowling alley when the  guest of honor showed me his new pair of shoes, which happened to be what we Americans call ‘high top’ tennis shoes. I said they were cool. He said they were basketball boots. What? I said, sure that I had misunderstood. Basketball boots, his mother confirmed. Seriously. Even the old classic Chuck Taylors? Yep. Basketball boots, the whole lot of them.

For some reason I found this completely hilarious. I laughed so hard my side hurt and it still brings a smile to my face when I think of it. It has the potential to be at the top for months, but I’ll keep you posted.

What’s next, soccer slippers?

Here are a few more of my favorites:

I do love the classics, like ‘torch’ for flashlight and ‘boot’ for the trunk of your car. And, of course, you call the things you pull on and zip up to cover your legs ‘trousers’ here–definitely not ‘pants’. Unless, of course, you’ve got your undergarments on over the top.

One that I find particularly descriptive is the use of the word ‘shattered’ for being totally worn out or exhausted, especially if it is stretched out and seems as if the word itself is almost too much to say.

A new friend invited my 7 year old over for “tea” after school one day and I thought, well, that’s a bit formal for a playdate, but when in Rome, right? I now know that “tea” is just their word for the evening meal. However, it doesn’t seem to matter how many times I hear it, I still envision people sitting around on fancy chairs drinking tea with their pinkies and backs perfectly straight.

I also giggled when a neighbor mum walked my son home from the play date. When they arrived at the door, she apologized for him getting a bump on his head and said she had put a “flannel” on it. Odd remedy, I thought, but I tried to keep an open mind. It obviously worked because he was fine. Thank goodness I then recalled a fellow blogger sharing that a “flannel” is what they call a washcloth, or I would have gone on thinking she had put an old shirt on his head.

They use the word “pavement” for sidewalk. This is particularly unsettling. When I hear parents telling their children to walk on the pavement I can’t help but think it is their version of the classic dismissive comment, ‘why don’t you go play in the street?’.

The phrase ‘bits and bobs’ or just ‘bits’ to describe small items or stuff in general is definitely in my top ten. For example, your ‘bits and bobs’ could be your hat and gloves, or that pile of things you need to put back where they belong, or the things rolling around in your pocket. I didn’t realize that I was missing a word for that stuff–thanks!

And if you ever want to feel right out of the loop, try calling to plan a kid’s birthday party at a farm park. I didn’t think the woman on the phone would ever stop being amazed at the fact that I didn’t know what the party game called “pass the parcel” was. If you can imagine her saying that with an English accent “poss the paahsul”, I thought for a moment that she was talking about a hands-on farm experience involving live opossums!

The fun never ends. I’ll keep you posted.


Old friend, new package… January 31, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — reversepilgrims @ 2:49 pm


Oh, yes we did go see a Pantomime! January 6, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — reversepilgrims @ 11:40 pm

Just what a saucy man in drag or a dancing gorilla have to do with Christmas remains a mystery to me, but we are nonetheless thrilled that we joined in the British tradition of going to a pantomime this holiday season.  Friends here told us they never miss it, neighbors shared their plans to go in big family groups, and my older son even went to one on a field trip from school.  Colorful posters and newspaper ads tout the celebrities that star in the classic family plays.  They are most often based on fairy tales, like ‘Alladin’, ‘Cinderella’ and ‘Wind in the Willows’.  After much deliberation over key features, like who had the best poster, we decided to head to Lincoln and see ‘Dick Whittington and his cunningly clever Cat’.

The first thing we noticed was that the leading male role was played by a young woman.  This took a little explaining to school aged boys who asked…why is Dick a girl?  We had not done our homework on Wikipedia yet and were completely unaware of this classic  pantomime characteristic, so we told them that the actor who played Dick was sick and a girl had to step in at the last minute.  Silly Americans.  Then, the guy in drag came out with measuring cups attached to his chest and we knew right away that this was no ordinary play.

The character in drag was the mother of the main comic character and absolutely hilarious.  He/she was over-the-top in every way, especially with the wild costumes and constant sexual innuendo.  We now know that this is a trademark of family entertainment here in England and no longer a reason for feeling like we have unwittingly taken our children to an event beyond their years.  It is all designed to go over the heads of the children, but I do wonder what they think of the endless cries of “did you hear that? He wants me!!” or “oh, take me now…”.

















The story was about a guy who goes to London with his clever cat, is chased by a villain who is a rat, ends up being the hero and gets the girl.  However, sometimes it was hard to follow due to outbreaks of pure silliness.  Thanks to the internet I now know that the slapstick home decorating scene and the part where the gorilla comes out and the audience ends up in a volley with the actors of “oh no he didn’t” and “oh yes he did” are all part of the genre.

Hopefully I haven’t given too much away, but I wanted to share all the fun with my friends back home.  If you want to join in the fun next year, Wikipedia says pantomime is big in Canada, eh.











The table dress was a sight to behold, but the rubber duckie getup was my favorite.











Mincemeat at McDonalds December 11, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — reversepilgrims @ 11:52 pm

It is all the little things that remind me we  aren’t in the US anymore…


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