When we visited the UK this time last year, we drove around Wiltshire and found a small village holding a Mayday Fayre.  Very “villagy” setting.  It had food, music, a few games and several table-top stalls.  But, having a British husband, I knew we were not getting the full traditional fayre treatment.

So, we hoped to do better this year.  It was with dismay, however, when I found that two places nearby were holding a fayre and neither sounded very traditional or interesting.  The Friday-Ad did not list any others.  So, I turned to the internet.  The problem with that is that many villages would not think to advertise there.  But, I figured, if they didn’t use technology and they wouldn’t even list in the papers, they probably either didn’t have one, or it was not worth listing. I guess I didn’t realise that some of these villages might be so well-known for having a grand fayre that word-of-mouth was adequate.  Since we are not too well-acquainted with anyone in our area, we didn’t hear about any.

Anyhow, I turned to technology.  I know we should plan our weekends way ahead of time, but nothing in our lives ever fall into place with our plans anyway.  So, I was searching for activities on Sunday.  I was quickly frustrated with the Google searches because I could not find anything nearby.  Some great fayres were being held in various counties around England, but none in our area.  A fewer smaller events were taking place in villages in our Sussex, but they were not close and they were for Sunday.  So, we had already missed out.  If the family was willing, I thought we might try one of the fayres in a neighbouring county.

But the kids were having too much fun with cutting the grass.  (Oh, yes, we couldn’t use the sheep, so we bought hedge shears – they were easier to store and a lot cheaper than a lawn mower.  The kids decided that they wanted to cut the grass, so we let them have at it.  Please don’t report us to the authorities for breaching child labour laws.)  They didn’t want to go anywhere because they found some snails and placed them in a jar and were using their cut-up grass to make salads for their new pets.

Monday morning and I turned to Google again.  After several pages of listings, I finally came upon a small village between Horsham and Crawley, called Rusper.  It didn’t sound big, but certainly bigger than the one last year.  Besides, it was a fairly short trip.  The kids were interested, but not overly enthusiastic.  The younger one liked the idea of a teddy bear parachute.

Well, that was the first stop of the day for us.  We arrived two hours into the festivities and looked around to see what was available.  One of the first events we witnessed was the end of the first Panto Horse race.  It was hysterical and they were calling for people to participate.  The older one had a blank expression on her face and was clearly not impressed with anything.  The younger one pressed for the parachute, so we headed over to the church.  There, Pooh Bear made his first parachute jump from St. Magdalene’s, boasting the highest church tower in West Sussex.  Pooh Bear even got a certificate of achievement for his bravery.

Pooh landed in time for us to witness the second Maypole dancing of the day.  A group of young girls expertly twisting and turning the ribbons around the Maypole was a new experience to me and our girls.  Things went very well until the last dance, when the girls had weaved an intricate pattern on the pole, then went out and each returned with an audience member.  Whether it was the number of dancers present or the newcomers having no idea what to do, it was hard to say, but there were a few moments of confusion as they tried to disentangle the ribbons.

We had already missed both Punch and Judy shows – we have yet to see one.  We went back to the little park where stalls were set up for Tombola, Lucky Dip, some kids’ games, and a few table-top sellers.  We missed the Tombola, but they took a turn with Lucky Dip and the younger one went to hook some boats.  We went back and forth to watch some Wellie Throwing, Panto Horse racing, and coconut shying.  Finally, our older one took an interest and tried the coconut shy.  She was unsuccessful but did manage to hit a coconut once.  Daddy had much less luck.

She also wanted to go in on the Panto Horse, but by this time, it was too late.  But she did jump in for the tug-o-war at the end.  There were several battles between the three pubs in the village.  Then there was the kids’ one, followed by women.  Now, the girls were winning their war when a group of older boys jumped in and pulled the boys back.  More boys joined in for the second war and still had a hard win.  Quite unfair when most of the boys looked to be about 10 years and over, while most of the girls looked to be about 10 years and younger.  Oh, well, they had fun.  They’re looking forward to more May Fayres and fetes.  Tonight, we have a circus.

At first, I thought it would not be much different from the US, that it would not be too difficult to adjust. It has only been six months, so some may forgive us for not having completely settled. But we are finding some aspects very frustrating.

The language has not been a major obstacle, obviously; but at certain moments it does present a problem. There are all the colloquialisms, the jargon, pejoratives, etc., that I have never heard of. Sometimes it is the phrasing that confuses me. Another thing I have found is that the way a Briton answers questions is very different. In the US, you present a problem and even before you can frame a question, the other person delves into an answer that is all encompassing, even if the information may be superfluous. Here, the person will wait until you have asked your question and then attempt to answer it. If you have difficulty framing your question or if you think your question is implicit in your presentation of a problem, your listener may choose to look blankly at you. I don’t know if the person is purposely being obtuse or just does not want to appear foolish by answering a question that was not asked.

Driving is probably the worst issue. After driving in the US for 25 years, I will have to relearn practically everything. My husband already got his license, but it’s easier for him since he is from here (though he only started driving when he was in the US). It’s not just the traffic laws, it’s the road and driving on the other side. We thought when we moved here that we would be living near school and work. It has not turned out that way and we are driving more now than we did in the States.

Cost of living is higher in the UK and I cringe every time we get a bill or go shopping. I also had to get used to the metric system (for some things). Buying gas (petrol) by the litre rather than the gallon – and the British gallon is larger than the US gallon. I still haven’t refreshed my memory for converting Celsius and Fahrenheit.

When we imagined coming to the UK, we had a totally different perception of what it would be like. Reality never measures up to fantasy. England is no longer quaint little villages, pubs, and cosy cottages. The British culture has changed so much with the rise in immigration. In the US, we had the Mexicans. Here it is much more diverse, but Indians, Pakistanis and Eastern Europeans are probably the largest migrant groups. Sometimes I feel as if I’m not in England at all, but stuck in the middle of Southern Asia.  And I find it funny that in Britain, people referred to as Asians are Indians or Pakistanis; whereas, Orientals are those from the Orient.  In the US, they are all called Asians now because at some point in the last 10-15 years, it was non-PC to call them Oriental.

The children have settled into school, but it was difficult because of two reasons. One, they were previously home-schooled, so now they have to adjust to going to school. The other, of course, is that they are in a new country. There were moments they had problems understanding their friends or teachers. They have not picked up on the accent in their speech, but they sure do very good imitations of their friends’ accents. Sometimes they like to pretend they are English and they will sing with British accents.

There have been minor obstacles that have caused major issues for us, but overall, life is not much different from the US. Because of the worldwide recession, we are facing much of the same problems we would have had, had we stayed in the US – with the exception that we might have had a steady income. As it is, we are struggling to find a job. This, of course, has tainted our view and turned our dream into something of a nightmare.

America to Britain does not sound like much of a difference, but America to the Orient must be a major cultural shock.  Our LadyExpat friend from Canada, now living in Korea, has a visually awesome website, which seems to suggest she is having a wonderful time:



This realm. This majesty. This England. Words from a United Airlines advertisement to promote tourism in England from some years back. It conjures up many images from childhood of a land of enchantment, fairy tales and legends, quaint villages, grand palaces, strong fortresses, good kings and queens, wicked villains, valiant knights, and humble peasants. Stories from books and scenes from movies all add to this image. Sometimes, reality does not live up to these fantasies.

“This England” is not the land it once was. I have always been an Anglophile, but I can see the changes that have been wrought over the years. I do not only mean the ethnic make-up of this country, though that certainly has affected the character of this country in recent times. Immigration has led to expansion in housing and modernisation of many towns and villages. Though there are groups working hard to preserve Britain’s heritage and ancestry, it is impossible to save or recreate what England once was. That’s why it is such a joy to find hidden treasures, which are becoming more and more obsolete.

Unfortunately, it is not just the foreigners who are changing or want to change the face of England. Some native Britons appear to have become jaded with the English culture. Some have called for an end to the monarchy. I realise that in recession, people can become jealous of the monarchy’s wealth, especially if it appears that members of that monarchy are not living up to expectations. However, since tourism still depends on the image of “Old England”, I say, “Long live the queen!”

Then, recently, there are reports on “the real Robin Hood”, called “Robert Hodd”. Okay, so maybe Errol Flynn wasn’t such a good guy after all, but he did look good in tights. Why do we want to de-romanticise such a legend? I’m sure I wouldn’t want to find a real King Arthur who turned out to have devils around a square table.

Perhaps, I still view England with rose-coloured glasses. But I’d rather do that than point to all its negative aspects or to take a positive feature and make it sordid. It’s very deflating to be constantly barraged with pessimism.


The cup of tea is a British institution that transcends bounds of class, generation and all other societal distinctions.

It is remarkable how uniform the art of tea-making is among the British, almost as if they are taught from the same age-old textbook at an early age.

After much observation and empirical research, here are my recommendations on making the perfect British cuppa.

A clean kettle and fresh water are the first two ingredients. Much of our region of the southern British Isles sits atop substantial chalk deposits. This could create a little more limescale than in your region, but I always recommend flushing out the kettle then filling with fresh water as needed. The quality of water can influence the taste of the end result, so if you are unhappy with the taste of the water from the tap then I recommend trying still bottled water from a spring. Soft water is ideal.

While the kettle is boiling, warm the teapot. I use a John Sadler earthenware pot and usually warm it by filling it with hot water from the tap. You can also warm it on the stove, or even in the microwave. China pots are just as good. Stainless steel teapots seem to be popular as they are not breakable and are often easier to keep clean than their china or earthenware counterparts, but some claim they dull the taste.

After warming, add the tea to the teapot. The amount depends on how strong you like your tea. I generally use one heaped teaspoon of leaf tea per cup, plus one for the pot. If using teabags, one teabag per cup, plus one for the pot.

As soon as the kettle boils, pour the boiling water in to the teapot, stir, replace the teapot lid and cover with a tea cozy. Allow the tea to steep for up to 4 minutes.

While the tea steeps, prepare the cups by adding a small amount of milk to each.

When ready, pour the tea through a fine mesh strainer, aiming to achieve a rich, appetising colour.


Many people are not interested in politics, but you certainly can’t avoid it when it’s discussed everywhere. And there’s still so much I need to learn about British politics. On some levels, it is similar to the US, but on many others, it is completely different.

It’s easy to understand the election of a Member of Parliament (MP) for each constituency. That’s like voting for a Congressman or Senator. But unlike the US, the voters do not choose the Prime Minister (PM). He/she is voted for within their party. Of course, when they go to the polls, the people already have an idea who the party leaders are, and that may influence their vote for their MP. Whereas the US has Congress and the Senate, the UK has the House of Commons and the House of Lords. However, the people only vote for their MP in the House of Commons. The Lords are appointed or inherited.

One of the most notable differences is that the UK has 3 major political parties and various minor ones, some of whom have seats in parliament. The US really only has 2 parties and a load of little, almost invisible, ones. But if you look at the political affiliations of the Congress and Senate, they only belong to the 2 parties. Once in a while, you’ll get someone who decides to call himself an Independent. The party in power makes up their cabinet, just like the US president does. However, the two other parties will make their own ‘shadow cabinets’. It’s an interesting concept and it makes for some heated debate between two or three ministers who are well-versed in their roles. In the US, you have politicians forming committees and one person may be on several committees. Then, you’d have all of them acting as watchdogs for everybody else.

What I’m still trying to learn is how the UK government is tied together. It seems that England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all have their own parliaments. Is there a UK parliament? Then there are issues about how the UK fits into the EU scheme of things. More to explore from that end. There are still many debates going on about whether the UK should fully integrate into the EU, stay the same, or withdraw. Other questions that have sprung up are, who gets to vote over here? It is just British citizens? There’s some talk that EU residents are allowed to vote. Is that fair? Unfair? There are arguments about ‘taxation without representation’, so it may be that EU residents can vote. Maybe someone out there knows and can enlighten me.


Nothing can really prepare you for the life change when you move from one country to another. You can read about different issues that affect your new country, but you cannot really know how different it is until you live there. The only thing I didn’t need to worry about in moving to the UK is the language. Though that may not be entirely true.

British English is definitely different from American English. And I don’t mean just the accent. There are various accents over here, some more easy to understand than others, but that is not very different from the US, is it? And the Brits will tell you that they are the arbiters of the language. Therefore, if you want to speak true English, you will have to follow the British example.

My husband had pointed out some differences when we lived in the US; and he certainly pronounced words differently, such as, ‘garage’ with the emphasis on the first syllable, or ‘depot’ with a short ‘e’. There are many other words that are pronounced differently, and it takes time to get used to hearing them pronounced that way. But after being in Britain for a while, I noticed many other differences. One is the US habit of adding ‘-ing’ to the end of nouns to make them adjectives; for example, ‘drinking’ or ‘shocking’. The Brits would never use them as adjectives, only verbs. Whereas Americans would say that someone has a drinking problem, the English would say a drink problem. Similarly, we hear about shocking news, but the English hear shock news. In the US, we would say that someone goes to school or work, but then add ‘the’ to hospital. Why is that? Here, it’s always ‘to hospital’.

Then, of course, there are all the swear words and other pejoratives. I remember reading about Bono calling Chris Martin a ‘w@%&#!’. I had no idea what that was all about and had to ask my father-in-law. He laughed and said I must know what that is. He started to spell it out and my mother-in-law finished it. I just looked at them and asked what a ‘wanker’ was. Though I didn’t get a direct answer, I was led to believe it was a male anatomy. Other terms that seem completely inoffensive to me, such as golliwogs and Pakis, are considered pejoratives over here. I guess that just points to differences in culture.

There is also a fondness for acronyms over here. That’s not to say the US does not have its own acronyms. Perhaps, I have been so used to the ones used in the US that it doesn’t seem unusual to me over there. Whereas, the acronyms here are new to me. I don’t know. But it does seem that acronyms are used on signs and if you have no idea what it is to begin with, you wouldn’t know if it was what you were looking for.

What something may be called in the US may not be the accepted term over here, even if it’s understood. For example, instead of asking for a bathroom or restroom, it would be easier to ask for a toilet or water closet (WC). Better yet, ask for a McDonald’s.

So, even though we use the same language, so to speak, there are variations on that language. Some would argue that’s what makes the English language so rich, while others may bemoan the deterioration of English as spoken in other countries. At least, wars won’t be fought over it.



Yesterday, Oxford and Cambridge announced their teams for this year’s boat race on the Thames, to take place on Sunday 29th March.

We plan to be among the 250 000 people who line the Thames rooting for their favourite of the ancient universities. (Hopefully from Chiswisk Bridge as a victorious Cambridge boat crosses the line!)

Traditionally, Americans seem to be more aware of Oxford than Cambridge and root for them accordingly. And with 4 Americans (and no less than 5 Olympians) in the boat it’s likely to be the same this year.

Cambridge have named 1 American, 2 Australians and the rest of the contingent British, 5 of whom were in the losing boat last year.

I’ll be rooting for Cambridge who I tip to beat the heavily favoured, Olympian-laden Oxford boat.


It is great to know that as a foreigner, there are places to go for advice. Of course, there is always the American Embassy for some big issues, but you don’t want to have to go to London every time you need advice on everyday matters. In Britain, that’s what the Citizen’s Advice Bureau (CAB) is for.

There is a CAB in every town and it is essentially run by volunteers trained to give information to ordinary everyday folks. The CABs serve only residents within their county boundaries. Some places require appointments, while others are exclusively run on a “first come, first served” walk-in basis. You can get information about how and where to find a doctor, what you need to know about getting your license, how to resolve disputes, issues with your landlord, etc.

In recent years, with the increased rate in immigration, the CAB has turned into a stopping point for immigrants to get information on how to get benefits and other issues related to living and working in the UK. From the leaflets, posters and other advice on view, it seems the CAB deal a lot with immigration issues. The other big area that the CAB seem to focus on is discrimination – of all kinds, sexual, racial, sexual orientation, etc.

I don’t think there is an equivalent institution in the US, although you can get some information through your Town Hall. The CAB is distinct from the Town Hall as it can provide semi-legal advice. If the volunteer does not have the answers readily, he/she can look in their database for the relevant information or point you in the right direction. It is a wonderful and reliable service, even if you might have to wait for an hour before being seen. Any newcomer to England should be aware of this invaluable institution.


This is a follow up to a previous post about the peculiarly British phenomenon known as TV licensing.  Several readers were decent enough point out answers to questions raised in that post, for which I am grateful.

In the light of ITV’s recent announcement that they will be laying off 600 employees in reaction to falling profits and asset depreciation, I felt I had to comment on another bizarre offshoot of the whole TV licensing situation in the UK.

My understanding is that a TV license is required in order to watch or record any live TV.  That’s any live TV.  So, no matter whether you watch ITV or Channel 4 or Sky or BBC1 on a TV then you must own a TV license.

However, the BBC take all the proceeds from the TV license.  So we have a very unique, anti-competitive situation where if you want to watch only Sky (as many people do), or even only ITV, then legally you must subsidize its principal UK competitor.  Is this fair market competition?

How has this situation remained unchallenged in the law courts for so long?  Perhaps there is something about the British psyche I have yet to fathom.


Arguably no country has done more to spread global democracy and personal liberty than Great Britain. However, the whole concept of a TV license and its enforcing authority reeks of indirect, petty, restrictive nanny-government involvement in an area that should be outside of its remit.

It is hard to believe but in the UK, it is mandatory to own a license in order to watch television. In fact, it is a criminal offence if you watch television without a license!

Imagine our surprise when within a week of moving in to our house we received a threatening letter from the TV Licensing Authority stating their records indicated no TV license on file for our address (the letter also emphasised the penalties – 1000 GBP plus costs – if we owned and used an unlicensed TV).

Of course, we own no television set and see no reason to own one if it is going to be taxed at a rate of GBP 140 per annum. So, we wrote back with a short, sharp response indicating we neither own nor plan to own a television. Shortly after, TV Licensing wrote back with another emphatic statement regarding criminal offences and penalties, and that we should expect a call from enforcement officers to determine whether or not we do need a TV license. This was about three months ago now and we have yet to hear from TV Licensing again.

Despite the aggressive, heavy-handed manner in which they are enforced by TV Licensing, it is worth being aware of certain aspects of TV licensing in the UK. Here is some information we have found out recently.

TV Licensing is essentially a subcontractor performing the BBC’s dirty work. They say that you should own a TV license if you watch TV in the UK. There are few exemptions (such as the over 74s). The license is renewable yearly and from April 2009 will cost a whopping GBP 139.50. Even if you do not own a TV but watch programs on the internet as they are being broadcast live on TV, you still need a TV license. If you own a TV but only use it for watching DVDs and videos then you can inform TV Licensing of the arrangement and they may grant an exemption.

We have not been able to find out the answers to these questions:

Do I require a license if I use my TV to watch only non-BBC television programes. (Why should you subsidise the BBC for watching Sky or other services you have already paid for?!)

Surely, it is only a matter of time before the anti-TV licensing brigade gain sufficient momentum to take a case to counter this unfair indirect taxation before the European Court of Justice.