There is the stereotype of London fog – perhaps bolstered by those Victorian images of Sherlock Holmes walking through London. I think many people in America have this image that England is perpetually surrounded by rain and fog. Perhaps it is also why England, or I should say all of Britain, is the perfect backdrop for a Gothic romance novel.

Nowhere in the States did we ever experience a deep fog that lasts for a long time. Usually, you would get fog early in the morning, which lifts by mid-morning at the latest. Of course, you’d find it with driving blizzard conditions and other storms. Then, of course, some cities were so polluted you would get some smog – a very dirty fog.

But here, it seems so natural to have a fog that does not lift until well into the afternoon; then the sun comes out bright and warm. It provides such a contrast in temperature. Visibility is poor on the road and as you’re driving through the country, it does give you an eerie feel. It’s the kind of thing that is perfect for Halloween.

Today, as we walked through a town in the fog, there was a smell of wood-burning. It inspired images of a log cabin, though you wouldn’t have found that in this medieval town. Mixed with the scent of some of the flowers, it was very nostalgic, but I had difficulty in recalling where I had felt and smelt the sensations.

Interestingly, the fog does not give me the feeling of gloom, as an overcast sky does. Somehow, it is invigorating and exciting. Again, it may be my love of the dramatic and gothic.

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:

http://ladyexpat.multiply.com/

Should Britain join in fully with the EU? It’s a strange question to me, coming from America. I had never thought about a “United States of Europe“. But here, it is a contentious issue. Having lived in several states in the US, I never really thought of each state independently. Yes, each state was independent and had their own set of laws, including tax laws, traffic laws, etc. But they were bound by common laws as well. I was used to it and never gave it a second thought.

But in Europe, where each country had been independent for so long, establishing a new relationship, whereby all member states would be bound by new, common laws, it can become contentious. The EU has been in existence for a long time now, but not all European nations are in it, nor are all those in it fully integrated. Britain is one that is partially joined with the EU. Now there are debates about whether they should join fully or even if they should withdraw.

I may not understand fully the history of the EU or how it currently operates, but I do know that member states must comply with all EU laws, regardless of how fully they are joined. All citizens of this European community have the right to come and go as they please within the EU. They have full rights in all the EU countries.

The reason that the issue is so contentious in Britain is that it is one of the few countries that suffer more as a result of membership in the EU. Because they have not fully integrated, Britain still has its own monetary system, using the sterling, but they do accept euros here. Proponents of the EU would like to see the sterling disappear as they fear that it is a more volatile market than the euro. If they are not part of the EU, Britain may suffer from competition. The EU green laws have imposed many new laws and regulations regarding energy usage. I have always thought of England as a green country, but not in terms of energy. Now “green” has come to have a different meaning. Everywhere you turn, you see “green” advertisements.

One of the biggest disadvantages I have seen is that Britain offers much more social benefits, such as free healthcare, than most, if not all, of the EU countries. That means that those EU citizens coming to Britain are entitled to all those benefits, while Britons going abroad may not receive similar tokens of goodwill in exchange. Because of this, immigration into Britain has risen over the years.

Immigration issues have been highlighted in recent months, with much anger towards immigrants taking jobs away from British workers. However, because criticism cannot be directed towards EU citizens, since those citizens have every right to come here and work (some at very low pay), the anger has been turned towards those immigrants from Asia and Africa. New rules are being put in place to curb immigration from outside the EU, but it will not solve the problems of immigration from the EU.

What feels strange to me is that you have different countries, with different languages, different cultures, different governments and laws joining together under a unified government. They may have different states in the US, but they have basically the same language, culture, and laws. An analogy to the EU would be to have all the North and South American countries unite. In the US, you have state as well as federal taxation. Though the EU does not tax its member states’ citizens, will that come in the future?

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.

 

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.

We were almost in an accident today. Why? Because the other driver decided to go around a parked truck without even stopping to assess the safety of the move. He came around the bend, found the truck in his way and decided he wanted to get around, not even bothering to take into account that we were approaching on the opposite side. We had barely enough time to react and both cars were forced to stop before he could squeeze through, with us backing up a bit.

With the stringent driving test in this country, I am surprised to find so many reckless drivers. Is it because they are so used to the cramped conditions that they feel somewhat complacent about safety? So often, people disregard the right-of-way rules that exist and insist on getting through first. We are always on the defense while we are driving. Though that should always be the case when driving, some people out there only know about being on the offense. Which necessitates us being more vigilant.

The roads in Britain are narrow, even without comparing them to the US. Because it is an old country, with construction already complete in most areas, these roads cannot be widened any further. They are rendered even more narrow when there are parked cars on the side. It can be very dangerous because the leftover space cannot always accommodate two vehicles. Usually, one side will give way to the other to avoid an accident. The person will signal for the other to proceed in such cases. But when one decides he will take the right-of-way without considering anyone else, he is asking for an accident to happen.