Desperate English Housewife in Washington, chapter 263

Don’t blame my mother for the rain

So, just because my ma has come over from the UK, I’d like to confirm that she did not bring this current onslaught of weather with her!

This is crazy rain. My American friend said that she had heard a Brit describe UK rain as ‘polite rain’. True! ‘So what’s this U.S rain called?’ I enquired ‘Unapologetic rain,’ she replied. True again! Big, tough, relentless, unapologetic rain!

We’re on flood warning, yes we are, folks. And there is more unapologetic chuffing rain on its way 😦

Nooooo!

Nooooo!

The weather service said that two to four inches has already fallen over the last two days and that several streams are reaching their banks or beginning to flood. I hope Ellicott City is going to be okay….

‘I was hoping to find some sort of covert ‘fight club’ in these wealthy suburbs to blog about….

Yes, that is a quote from me about me in a new interview I’ve done for the website Live, Work, Travel USA.

Florida-da-da

Florida-da-da

The site is run by Dan, whose been living in the United States since 2005. He focuses on giving advice about preparing for the big move and getting adjusted to the United States so new folk can hit the ground running instead of making rookie mistakes.

Take a look through the site – you’ll find a host of helpful and interesting stuff about Uncle Sam!

Some funny Brit / American stuff

Not all of you are on my Desperate English Housewife in Washington Facebook page (if not, why not?!) so you don’t get to see some of the funny links about Brit / American stuff I put up. So, cos I loves ya, here are some of those very things to make you chortle.

British words that mean something totally different in the USA

True British heroes….

Pants / Pants

Pants / Pants

Driving in the USA

Driving is one of my favourite USA topics, because it all kinds of crazy out here. Kate Allison, who writes a multitude of fab stuff for The Displaced Nation, has written a guest piece for my blog all about driving – you have to read it! It’s brillopads!

CROSSING THE CENTRAL RESERVATION

I am not one of Life’s natural drivers.

Even though I am married to one of the biggest petrolheads (that’s “gearheads” to you Americans) and, from March through November, weekends wouldn’t be complete without ESPN’s scream of Formula 1 cars and the German national anthem, my love for the internal combustion engine is lukewarm.

To put it in car-speak: there’s no spark.

While some people make second careers of test driving cars at dealerships, I prefer the comfortable familiarity of a longterm relationship with a vehicle, of knowing where the major switches are and what they do. I cannot, as some people effortlessly can, insert myself behind the steering wheel of a strange rental car and instinctively know that a button with a hieroglyphic resembling a strip of bacon actually functions as a rear window defroster.

Driving in the USA

Driving in the USA

That’s assuming I find the said button, of course. My petrolhead husband still tells with much hilarity the story of a marital squabble on a dark winter evening many years ago, when I banged the front door shut and stomped out to my car for a sulky cruise around the neighbourhood. Unfortunately, his newly purchased car was blocking mine on the driveway.

“No matter,” I thought. “I’ll take that one instead. Serve him right.”

After a couple of minutes, I sheepishly opened the front door again, and asked: “Where’s the switch for the headlights?”

As I said: not one of Life’s natural drivers. Not a great one for dramatic exits, either.

So you can probably imagine, a short time after The Case of the Missing Headlights, my horror at the prospect of not only having to drive a strange car but, for the next three years, driving one with a steering wheel where the glove compartment should be, and on the wrong side of the road, to boot. (Or maybe that should be “To trunk”.)

It wasn’t a problem for the first couple of days as a newly-arrived, first-time expat in the States. I rode shotgun next to Husband and navigated our way through New England towns and Interstates. (What I lack in driving skills, I make up for in map-reading — a dying art in the age of GPS and TomToms, although still handy if you’re going to rely on Apple maps as your principle source of navigation.)

Watch out!

Watch out!

On the third day, just as I was thinking I might get away with a chauffeured lifestyle until my mid-thirties, we went to dinner at the house of some expat friends.

Now, as everyone knows, expats like their gin and tonic. It’s a rule, as mandatory as the faux-modest bragging about the number of immigration stamps in your passport or air miles accumulated. In addition to G&T, expats also like their beer and red wine, and during dinner while our hosts were regaling us with Useful Tips On How To Survive In America, these beverages flowed freely in every direction — except mine.

Here, I will add my own Useful Tip which I learned that evening: don’t arrive in a new country when you are ten weeks pregnant if you don’t want to be the designated driver for the next six months.

At the end of the evening, Husband handed me the keys. “You can drive back to the hotel,” he said. He knew me too well: that unless I was forced, I’d never pluck up the nerve to drive and would be content to take a bus for three years. Except, this being semi-rural USA, there weren’t many buses. Or trains. Or even taxis.

Big yellow taxi

Big yellow taxi

After a brief internal tussle — should I use the keys to unlock the car or to poke his eye out? — I sat behind a steering wheel where a glove compartment should be, for my maiden voyage on the wrong side of the road.

And yes, I survived the ten-mile journey: along unlit country roads with no cat’s-eye markers down the middle, to sharing eight-lane Interstates with vast, shiny eighteen-wheeler lorries which I would soon learn to call “trucks”. All in a car longer than any I’d driven before, with the suspension of a waterbed and the turning circle of a Brontosaurus.

If this unwilling driver could do it — anyone can.

So here are some handy hints for the Nervous British Driver In America, from one who knows and understands.

1. The Driving Test. Don’t be insulted by this. It’s nothing personal, and certainly not a reflection on the standard of driving in Britain. No matter how long you have held a British driving licence, you will have to take another driving test in America. Even if you’re American, if you’ve let your old licence expire, you’ll have to take another one. The test consists of three parts: eyesight, written (usually computerised and multiple choice) and the practical driving part where you have to remember to drive on the wrong side of the road and how to do three-point turns (called K-turns in these parts.) From my own experience, I know it helps greatly if you happen to be eight and a half months pregnant when you turn up for the practical driving test. The examiner took one look at me and decided he’d prefer to give me a licence on the spot rather than have my waters break all over his car.

2. Cars whose cylinders outnumber their owners’ brain cells. Beware of oversized SUVs (“Chelsea Tractors”) such as Chevy Suburbans, Lincoln Navigators, Hummers, etc., because they are invariably driven by thirty-something mothers with cellphones welded to their right ears as they discuss the latest scandal in PTA politics. These cars are capable of doing a lot of damage, particularly when driven by someone who is using only one-eighth of a fun-sized brain.

3. Pickup trucks. Never argue with a pickup truck. Smile and let it go ahead of you, and be relieved when you’ve done so, because there’s probably an NRA sticker on the bumper, especially if you live south of the Mason-Dixon line.

4. Old Cadillac sedans It’s a curious fact that little old American ladies like big, whale-like cars. The worse drivers they are, the bigger and more whale-like the car. Beware of any dark red Cadillac or elderly beige Buick moving at a constant 20 mph, apparently without human assistance. It is unlikely to be the latest design in remote-controlled technology; instead, it almost certainly has an eighty-year-old driver who can’t see over the steering wheel.

Stop, bus!

Stop, bus!

5. School buses. For all that the rest of the world criticises the USA for its poor transportation systems, those yellow school buses are a wonderful invention. They prevent the clogging of streets around schools and ensure your kids arrive where they should on time. Just avoid being on the road at collection and drop-off time, because being behind a school bus that’s making a stop at every lamppost and street corner will treble your journey time. As for overtaking — don’t even think about it if those red or amber lights are flashing on the top of the bus. People have been sent to Siberia for lesser crimes.

6. Ford Crown Victoria. The car of choice for the discerning state trooper. Do your research on Google Images and find out what one would look like in your rear view mirror, before you find out properly the hard way.

7. Stop signs. Generally, America doesn’t have roundabouts. There are a few here and there — Massachusetts has some, which are called “traffic circles” — but all-way stop signs usually take the place of mini-roundabouts. The idea is you take turns to go through the intersection in a first-come-first-served manner, and once you get used to the idea, you’ll find it’s very civilised. None of the long tailbacks you get at busy roundabouts because one artery is more heavily used than the others. Just remember how roundabouts work when you return to visit the family in England. I remember being furious at someone who whizzed past me from the right. “I was here first, you moron!” I shouted at him, before remembering where I was and which set of highway rules I was supposed to apply.

Hanging in the air....

Hanging in the air….

8. Traffic lights. A very sensible rule in the US is that you can turn right at a red traffic light unless there’s a sign stating otherwise. I remember reading, years ago, that David Cameron was thinking of establishing a similar left-turn rule in Britain. It might be a good idea to wait until this is law, rather than trying unilaterally to introduce this manouevre on your return visit to Blighty, no matter how sensible you now think it is.

Postscript: Our three-year contract in the USA still hasn’t expired, seventeen years later. So if anyone has any Handy Hints For The Nervous Driver Upon Driving On The Left For The First Time Since 1999 — please let me know before I go to that wine-tasting party in London next month.

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5 Responses to Desperate English Housewife in Washington, chapter 263

  1. Andy says:

    5 stars as always! Loved the driving piece from Kate and it’s all 100% correct of course. Soon after our arrival here my driving test in Virginia consisted of going around the parking lot of the shopping center that the DMV office was situated in with a bored DMV employee. 🙂

  2. Dan says:

    A long one but sooo worth reading. Love the driving part!
    One type of vehicle I’m personally very cautious about are big trucks on the Interstate. They are usually the ones who do the most speeding, and loosing tires left and right. Front fender damage guaranteed. Sometimes I have to drive slalom around tire parts and road kill on the road.

  3. Pat and Pam says:

    Re your mother and the deluge: When we were living in Maryland, the weather gods ALWAYS scheduled a spell of 90F (32C) heat and 90% humidity for any time in the summer we were expecting Brit visitors. NEVER failed.

    Re driving tests in the “other” country: When I retired over here, I had to get a UK driving license. I had heard of several cases where Americans had failed their tests, even after years of driving experience. I had been driving at least 35 years and I was DETERMINED I would pass my test. To be sure, I took a course with a well-known driving instruction firm. I am really glad I did, because I learned about rules that even some Brits did not know existed. I did pass on the first go.

    Re 3-point turn vs K turn: When I was driving in the US, it was still a 3-point turn. K turn is a new one on me. But, to be fair, I have now been living here in England for 17 years now.

    Loved the links to Brit vs US words and to Brit heroes. AND you blog, of course, as always.

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