Living in England is generally benign and not much different from living in the U.S. I'd say living in England is even easier than living in the U.S. because bears and wolves are extinct and I've never heard of a poisonous snake here, or a spider that could set off a case of necrotising fasciitis. The only mishaps I've had in England so far have been cultural. It's sad that in America I've never seen The EastEnders or Coronation Street on T.V. while so many people here can talk knowingly about Breaking Bad or Mad Men. Perhaps I wouldn't have made the following mistakes if British culture played a bigger part in American prime time. So even though we have a lot of the same ancestors and speak the same language, there are several things I've flubbed so far.
Beer: You might think it's the monarchy becoming better looking, or the world's most amazing museums, or the tea rooms and ancient churches in every village. But what a lot of Brits might say they are most proud of is their beer. CAMRA (The Campaign for Real Ale) was started in the early 1970's with the goal of promoting more flavorful, handcrafted beers throughout the country. Though I do love pub culture here, I have to admit British beer hasn't won me over. It's rather flat, rather room temperature and much more subtle than American micro-brews. When I told this to a friend, I saw a look pass over her face that honestly said "I feel SO sorry for you." Then she brightened and essentially announced that she would add "Convert Karin to British beer" to her bucket list. I regret this admission and promise to try harder to enjoy warm, flat beer simply because I like her so much.
Pedestrian Rights: If you hail from Seattle, you know that most motorists will give a pedestrian the right-of-way, often at risk to other drivers. Frequently, Seattle drivers respond to a pedestrian who is blatantly crossing against the light not by honking but by smiling and mouthing the words, "After you, of course!" So given these inalienable rights as a citizen of Seattle, I was bound to have some issues in England. After being nearly mowed down three times while crossing small residential streets, I snapped. Returning from a school drop-off, I had two feet in the intersection of a T-junction when a car turning left, just behind my tail, laid on the horn. I stopped in the middle of the road, turned and found the driver with her window down chewing me out for not watching where I was going. I raised my hands and marched toward her saying in my high school drama voice, "Do pedestrians have no rights?" She snarled "You didn't even look 'round before walking into the street!" I repeated myself two octaves higher. "DO PEDESTRIANS HAVE NO RIGHTS?!" By that point several cars had collected in both directions, waiting for me to clear the road, which I did quickly when I suspected they might all turn on me. A few weeks later I asked my driving instructor (more about him later), "If I'm crossing a street and a car runs into me, who has the right of way?"
"Well, that depends." C shook his head, resigned that I was going to argue with a driving instructor about the poor treatment of pedestrians in this country. "If a car runs into me when I'm crossing the street and the police get involved, who has the right of way?" "The car." Trust me, this is one of the biggest cultural differences I grapple with.
Slang: After studying in England for a short time in the 80's, I learned enough about common words and phrases to know what not to say when I returned to the States. I would no longer "knock you up" or bum a "fag" at the bar. But I really don't remember what, from my American world, shouldn't be uttered here. The biggest mistake I've made was during school drop-off when the playground was buzzing with kids and parents. A friend was walking by, an American who has lived here for 14 years, and we were due to meet up at a gym class that morning. Because it's a tough class and because both her mid-sized kids were with her, I didn't want to sound crass and ask if she was ready for "...our butt-kicking workout." So instead I said, "Ready for our fanny-kicking class?" at which point her daughter covered her mouth and I heard snorting from the adults. My friend got close to me and pointed to the female anatomy that resides between her legs. "This is your fanny." she whispered. "Honestly," another friend said, " 'Fanny pack' is the most unfortunate name for a piece of luggage ever invented."
Hen Parties: If you ever get invited to one of these, don't assume it's just a girls' night out and there's sure to be another one in a month or so. A Hen Party is an event. It's a bachelorette extravaganza. My neighbor invited me to her Hen Party the month before she married the father of her three kids. We were planning our typical weekend getaway to start Friday afternoon. So I texted her back, "Next time, thanks!" as though I couldn't quite bring myself to celebrate her marriage to this particular man but would consider it for her next go-round. Take the fact that she didn't respond as evidence that the English are too polite to correct your mistakes. A few weeks later when I confessed my misunderstanding, she pulled out her phone and showed me photos of the male strippers who had entertained at the party: totally naked and slick with oil. It's one of those cultural experiences I wish I'd had, but part of me is secretly relieved I didn't. Honest, Honey.
"Are you alright?": The first time someone asked me this I think I was tying my shoe so I just laughed and said, "Oh yeah, no problems!" and thought how lovely it was that they should ask. Then this popped up with the people I was getting to know at the gym so I assumed they were asking because of how beet red and on the edge of a brain attack I looked after a workout. It wasn't until people started saying this to me as we passed each other on the street that I became suspicious. I thought, "Hmm, I'm showered, my clothes are on right side out and I even put on makeup today. What gives?" More often shortened to "You alright?", it's the British equivalent of saying "How you doing?" with the equally American expectation that you wouldn't dare tell them how you really feel.
Given we've lived here nearly a year, these aren't terrible mistakes. I will bumble along, not afraid to laugh at myself, and hopefully I'll be accepted some day. And that will be important because I'll want to have some visitors in the hospital. After I get hit by a car.