Monthly Archives: February 2011

Signs, yet again

British sign grammar is becoming a bit of an obsession. (See previous posts here and here.) This week’s entries:

Outside the local tire shop (except they spell it tyre):

20% off Servicing

My reaction: Phwoar! Oh wait, you mean the car.

On a vacant shop along my walk to work:

To let. Capable of subdividing.

My reaction: It’s ALIVE!!!!!!!! Try “can be subdivided” instead.

But the sign thing was nearly a disaster for me earlier this week as I desperately cling to the diminishing fragments of my American identity. I was behind in doing something and had not managed to post a sign-up sheet on my office door that had been promised. I was going to get to it the next day but wanted to indicate that, so I started composing a sign:

The sign-up sheet will be posted tomorrow afternoon. Apologies for any inconvenience caused.

I fortunately stopped myself before I wrote the last bit, but I thought it and it sounded perfectly reasonable in my head.

I keep saying I’m becoming British-influenced. FACEPALM.

My new local

One thing that changed when I moved from the centre of town to the periphery is that I no longer had a local pub within a few blocks of home. Today I had the chance to visit the pub that is my new local.

My friend Chris was in town today. Chris is the ultimate example of what I have found to be true of my British friends: every single one of my British friends have either lived abroad, are married to a foreigner, or both. Chris has lived abroad in both Europe and Asia, and thus in places where the language is foreign in addition to the culture. Chris has lived in my town (although that is not the case at the moment) and so has local knowledge that has been very useful to me. So in many ways I have felt as though Chris has taken me as a charity case to try and introduce me to local culture while understanding deeply how difficult it is to be a stranger in a strange land.

So Chris and I went for dinner today to what is, by geographical definitions, my new local–the pub closest to my current flat and thus a place that I should be frequenting according to British culture. I had not, in the seven months living here, managed to get there even though I knew I should. Aside from it being my local, it’s relatively well-known and well-regarded in these parts for having very good food. Interestingly enough, the food is all Thai and thus not what is normally associated with a British pub, although a quick search on Google indicates that this is not all that unusual in these parts. The place was, on entering, a classic British pub–you ordered at the bar and there was a wide range of cask ales and the like available. The (Thai) food was amazing and the place was hopping, a sure sign of a thriving pub. I’ll be back again.

I’m left to reflect on so many aspects of expat life after the experience. We traded off buying rounds of pints and so I had to belly up to the bar and do my part. I’ve taken my work team to pub nights close to work quite regularly, but have tended to front the money and expect someone else to handle the barkeep. I need to step up on this one and start behaving like the residents of this country in which I have been living for (gasp!) four and a half years. I’ve read plenty on the rituals of British pub etiquette, especially in the wonderful book “Watching the English” by Kate Fox, a text that has become like a textbook in my time here. I’ve been here long enough to no longer have an excuse of not understanding the local traditions.

I also need to spend more time in my local. The food is excellent, and I’ve been depriving myself of it by not having had the guts to venture into it over the last half a year. This is particularly galling now that I know that the pub does Thai take-out as well as table service, since I so often complain of the lack of good fresh, vegetable-filled and interesting quick food in my local town. (My usual cry is for the addition of (a) a bagel place, like Bruegger’s or Einstein’s and (b) a quick-fresh food place like Noodles in the US.) This pub is on my way home from work and thus should become a regular stop-off on busy nights when I am too tired to cook healthy food after a long day in the office. Lessons learned. And most important of all, I should spend more time with the locals and in my local.

On Roads

This is the side of the road directly outside my office in England:

This is instead of some sort of covered sewer or drain; the reason it amuses me is that people parallel park along this road as there are several restaurants just up the street. So on any given day, I walk by and witness clueless drivers whose wheels fall into the trench during an attempt at entering or leaving a parking space that may or may not suit the size of their car. I’ve never seen someone truly stuck, so I assume if one wheel goes down the trench the other three can compensate.

This is, of course, the same road where I’ve seen another real parking crime that I still can’t quite get used to: that of nose-to-nose parking, where someone had to be driving on the wrong side of the street in order to enter the space. Of course, I was coming home from a work dinner last night and my taxi encountered a car coming at us and thus driving down a one-way street in the wrong direction. And people wonder why I’ve hesitated to get a British driving license?

It’s a fact, the roads here are too narrow to accommodate all of the car travel and car parking that take place on them, and thus a bit of anarchy plays out on a regular basis. Cars driving in reverse to make way for oncoming traffic. Cars pulling in to strange driveways to make way for oncoming traffic. That sort of thing.

In order to protect a few narrow roads from regular traffic (and parking, I’d guess), the local council has installed “rising bollards” on one of the streets in town, in both directions. In brief, a bus or taxi who is allowed access through the barrier has to pull up to a card reader and wait for the bollards to descend into the road. I was walking home one night recently when I saw police cars, lights on and sirens going, pull up to the access points in both directions and then have to stop and sit there waiting for the bollards to descend into the road. I don’t know why they had to stop–surely the technology is available to signal the bollards from emergency vehicles from afar. I seem to recall that in the US emergency vehicles can often make stop lights change in order to allow them to pass more quickly. But I digress–availability and deployment of technology not being the same thing, my local council has a situation where police cars have to stop in order to prevent the hoi polloi from driving on a road.

In a final note about my continuing refusal to join the cars on the roads of Britain, I watched the movie “Happy-Go-Lucky” last weekend. If Britain’s road rules weren’t enough to scare me off driving here, the driving instructor in that movie most certainly was.

I’m off to walk to work, and during my work day to book my next flight to the US, where I will happily rent a car and drive along freely on roads that are big enough for cars to drive and park and where the rules of the road make complete sense to me!!!