Conquering the Art of Driving in the UK

A long, long time ago, I wrote about taking driving lessons in preparation for my UK driver’s licence exam. (That is not a typo rather that is how licence is spelled here.) For my first couple of years living here, I walked, took the bus or train, hired taxis, and relied on friends and family to get me where I needed to go. I didn’t mind any of that, and, truthfully, I didn’t miss driving. However, with a baby on the way, passing my driving exam would present me with more independence here in England.

I had many months (from July 2013 to March 2014, to be precise) of driving lessons with a brief hiatus for the birth of our daughter. I studied hard for my theory exam using the recommended dvd and taking multiple practice exams. The exam has 50 multiple questions as well as a hazard perception test in which you have to click the computer mouse every time you see a potential hazard. It was not easy and nothing like the test I took in the US. It was much more intensive and I invested so much time into making sure I passed. Thankfully, I did pass with flying colors in October 2013 and continued on with my driving lessons. I booked my practical exam for two weeks after my due date because I was convinced she would be early…hahahahaha! She ended up being born two weeks late, so I rescheduled my exam for January 2014.

My instructor felt I was ready, and, more importantly, I felt ready too. We even looked at a few cars the weekend before my exam…maybe that jinxed me! You can probably gather that I failed. It was all going so well until I was about 5 minutes from returning to the test centre with the examiner. I got a little too much speed and things got messy. I didn’t crash or anything, just had a weird sort of stall thing happen that caused me to hold up traffic. It was not my finest moment. So, I failed. I’m a perfectionist and that fail was not easy to take.

Test number two was scheduled for some time in February. I failed that, too. Again, I was doing so well and was about 10 minutes from returning to the test centre. The examiner and I were chatting away about how I liked living in the UK. I came to a roundabout and my driver’s side tires (which are on the left side remember) went onto the white dotted line separating the two lanes in the roundabout. I knew at that moment that I failed again. I could have burst into tears, and I’m quite sure that I did later in the day. Talk about gutting! It is the worst to tell people that you’ve failed once, but to tell people you failed again is really not fun.

There was no way I was giving up though as we had invested a lot of money into my driving lessons and my (ahem…multiple) exams. I got home from that second failed exam and immediately booked on for my third attempt.

At this point I should explain that the driving practical exam is done in your driving instructor’s car with you and the examiner (who carries a dauntingly thick clipboard and makes notes randomly whilst you are driving, which leaves you constantly questioning how many marks you are receiving). The exam lasts approximately 35-45 minutes and includes driving on the roads as well as at least one parking maneuver.

This is compared to my US practical exam which lasted all of 10 minutes in which I drove around a neighborhood and parallel parked within four parking cones set up in the car park of the exam center. If I remember correctly, I ran a stop sign and still managed to pass on my first go. Honestly, there is no comparison. A good friend sent me this article and I can completely relate to the author’s experience. He puts it perfectly with, “A UK license is basically a PhD in driving.” I wish I could say this was an exaggeration. It is not. At all.

Test day number three rolls around and I awoke to absolute pouring rain. Great! The day was starting off differently from the other two already, so as much as I didn’t want to say that this time felt different, it really did. I sat anxiously with my instructor in the waiting room anticipating my name being called. I met the examiner and we headed out to the car. I had to defog the front windscreen and it took ages, so we sat in silence. It was awkward. And then, I realized I didn’t have the key turned the whole way, so only the electrics were working. I attempted to play it cool by slyly turning the ignition on, but obviously he knew. The windscreen cleared rapidly then and we were off.

I was more cautious driving than I was with the other two tests, but I felt calmer this time. I also felt confident that this was the last exam I would have to take, but I didn’t want to get too cocky. About 20 minutes into the exam, the examiner started to ask me questions about why I moved to the UK and if I like it. (Everyone wants to know!) I picked up on his Cockney accent, so I asked him similar questions about being a Londoner living in Yorkshire. The chatting made me feel even more relaxed and I just continued driving as if I was driving with someone I knew.

We pulled into the car park for the exam centre and the examiner usually waits for your instructor to come to the car before telling you if you have passed or failed. My instructor was walking towards us when the examiner told me I passed, so I literally yelled my instructor’s name and “I passed!” Way to keep your cool, Becky – ha! I was so excited!

As soon as I had a chance, I called Richard and could hear the hesitation in his voice as he waited to hear the result. Needless to say, he was thrilled, particularly because that meant the end of dishing out money for lessons and exams!

So, the UK driving exam was definitely a challenge. And, despite the fact that I now drive an automatic here (yep!), I am so glad I went through the process of obtaining the full licence in a manual.

A couple of months after I passed and after not driving a manual during that time, Richard left me in Edinburgh city centre to park his car as he was running late for the start of the Edinburgh Marathon. I spent the first 5 minutes trying to figure out why the car was making a weird noise every time I tried to drive. Yea, the parking brake was on. Oh well, at least I could still drive the manual. I knew it would come in handy at some point!

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My First Driving Lesson

After two weeks in the U.S. and driving on the other side of the road and the car, I returned to the UK full of nerves for my first official driving lesson on Wednesday night. I say “official” because Richard tried to teach me how to drive a manual twice and both times ended in disaster. Those disasters usually involved tears and may or may not have included me getting out of the car and starting to walk home. (We can laugh about it now!) Those “lessons” took place last year when I was still legally allowed to drive in the UK on my U.S. driver’s license (or licence in the UK). So, after I received my FLR(M) visa in March, I went through the process of applying for my provisional UK driver’s licence. Basically, I am starting from scratch and currently hold what is the equivalent of a driver’s permit in the U.S. This means I have to take both the theory and practical part of the driver’s exam to get my full UK driver’s licence – ah, the joy!

So, back to Wednesday night…I was extremely nervous. I had spoken to the instructor on the phone and explained to him my situation, so to have him know my driving background was comforting, but I still felt anxious because of my previous UK driving experiences. Thankfully, he didn’t put me in the driver’s seat from the start. We drove to a quieter road where he explained to me how the manual transmission and gears work. (I realize this is Driving 101, but I’ve driven an automatic for 15 years, so I needed the full lesson.) Next up, it was time to get going and I took my place in the driver’s seat. For the first time, driving a manual seemed to make a little bit of sense to me. We started out slow (really slow) with me only using first and second gear during this first lesson, but he was happy with how I was doing so he let me drive the majority of the hour. I was gripping the steering wheel like I was 16 all over again learning to drive for the first time, but slowly I gained more confidence and he had me making right turns across traffic. This is big, people!

I still have a long way to go, but I feel much better about learning how to drive a manual on the opposite side of the car whilst driving on the opposite side of the road. I have two more lessons lined up and I will no doubt require more that that, but this is a great start and I look forward to gaining some added independence when I get my full licence. I explained to him my goal is to pass my test before the baby is due in late November and he seemed fairly positive that this could be done, even after telling me most people require an average of 45-60 hours of driving lessons prior to taking the exam. (Does that seem like a lot of lessons to anyone else?)

When I returned home from the lesson that night, I was so proud of myself for basically driving no more than 20 MPH and making a few turns! I’ve been living here nearly two years now, and it really is the little things sometimes that make the biggest difference when adjusting to life in a new country. I’m excited to continue learning to drive “on the wrong side of the road”!

 

Say what?!

I’ve seen other bloggers with partners from other countries share snippets of the hilarity that can come from language differences, so I’d like to start posting some of ours.

Two Saturdays ago, we were at the grocery store to pick up a few items because we had friends coming for dinner that night. We walked down the beer aisle and this is what happened from there:

Me:  Do we need some more beer? I can’t remember how much we have in the house.

R (in his best attempt at an American accent):  Hmmm…maybe we should get a six-er. 

Me:  What is a six-er?

R:  A six-pack of beer. It’s what you say in the US.

Me:  Ummm no. We call them “six-packs.”

R:  No, you don’t. I’ve seen the movies.

Me:  Wrong. It’s a six-pack.

R:  Call your mum and put her on speakerphone. 

Later in the day, we had a conversation (on speakerphone) with both of my parents in which they confirmed that we do in fact call them six-packs.

Winter wonderland!

Growing up in western Pennsylvania, I’m used to snowy winters, so I was very excited when news hit last week about the possibility of a real snowstorm sweeping the UK. I think, in a way, that I felt the snow would make me feel closer to home, so I was eagerly anticipating a few inches coating the ground. To me, winter isn’t winter unless there is snow.

I’m certain my sentiments were a rarity amongst those in the UK because snow does mess with the infrastructure of this island, plus I (obviously) don’t have any children who were being kept home from school because of it. So, snow doesn’t affect me the same way it does most others, and I couldn’t wait to see fluffy white flakes floating to the ground. I was not disappointed with the blanket that settled, and it makes me smile because it doesn’t seem to be melting anytime soon.

I thought I would share some of the photos I took of the snow as my wedding posts are taking a bit longer to write than I had planned, so hopefully you will accept these as my wintry peace offering!

The first two were taken on my phone and posted to Instagram (follow me at yankinyorkshire) when we took a walk around our neighborhood on Monday, and the third is of our back garden.

 

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You say tomato, I say tomato.

Okay, that post title doesn’t have the same effect as when it is actually spoken, but I imagine you understand where I was going with it! 

I’ve mentioned in previous posts about the fact I’ve been slipping British slang and phrases into my speech and about how sometimes the Brit and I speak a different but common language. Most recently, according to the Brit, I have begun to use a new arsenal of American-English words that he has never heard before. It is very funny to see him look at me quizzically while I fumble my way through explaining, for example, what a ‘jagger bush’ is.

Not only have there been new words, but our pronunciation of words has caused fits of laughter between the two of us and many ‘lessons’ as I try to learn how to ‘properly’ (depending on which of us you ask!) pronounce certain words.

I realize this might not be as interesting to everyone else, but it really does show how even though the U.S. was born from England that we really are different in many ways. As I said to a friend of mine the other day, “Oh, the joys of a bi-cultural relationship!” But still, I thought it would be fun to share, so you can better understand what I am writing about.

Jagger Bush

This might be a western Pennsylvania thing, but I’ve always referred to bushes with thorns (I am not talking about rose bushes) as ‘jagger bushes.’ One day, we were on a walk and I said, “Watch out for that jagger bush!” And, the Brit just looked at me and then proceeded to ask me multiple times what I had said. This type of bush is referred to as a bramble in the UK. I’ll stick to jagger bush.

Swamp Ass

Ha! This is a common side effect of exercising in humidity in which your bum gets very sweaty – sorry! We had come back from a run and I said something about having ‘some serious swamp ass.’ Cue the confused looks then my explanation followed by lots of laughter! The Brit now gets a kick out of using it!

Graham v. Gram

Apparently, I don’t say ‘Graham’ or ‘gram’ correctly. I am led to believe this is true because I have said both in front of multiple people and those people have asked me to repeat myself. I have actually taken to just spelling the words now, which is very often because gram is a frequently used unit of measurement here. Also, why do graham crackers (except at American Soda) not exist here? I made a cheesecake for the Brit’s birthday and it called for a graham cracker crust. This led to an intense 3 grocery store search for the elusive crackers with no success. I finally settled on using ginger snaps, which worked just as good, but still — no graham crackers! I also had a conversation with an English friend who travels to the U.S. for work on a regular basis and at a conference she attended, she was blown away by the s’mores bar/buffet they had set up during the conference break! She was trying to explain graham crackers to me, since she didn’t know what they were…it was pretty funny!

Craig

I pronounce this men’s name like I pronounce the name ‘Greg.’ Again, I am apparently mistaken in my pronunciation.

Other Words That Don’t Always Come Out As They Should

I say ‘water’ and people hear ‘latte.’

Those of us from the U.S. often replace the double ‘t’ in a word with more of a double ‘d’ sound. I notice it so much more here and find that I feel silly trying to pronounce the the double ‘t’s’ more clearly, in words like ‘butter’ or ‘nutter’ (yes, I say ‘nutter’ now).

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You have no idea the amount of time we will spend where I will ask the Brit to pronounce these words and I try to mimic what he is saying. So far, my attempts have been futile as it usually just ends in us laughing at the whole situation and my extreme seriousness in trying to learn how to ‘properly’ say things.

So, that’s that! I think I’ll try to keep these posts going when new words and phrases come up that cause us confusion.

The American-themed Birthday Celebration

I think it is fair to say that I love my birthday. It usually turns into a month-long celebration, and this year was no different!

On my actual birthday, I didn’t have many requests, but I did want to have ‘American breakfast’ or as close to it as we could get with the Brit. You see, traditional English breakfasts are fine and all, but it is just too much and I do question some of the foods that make up this meal (um baked beans and fried tomatoes? no thank you.), so I wanted an omelette or pancakes (not crepes, but pancakes!).

So, I spent way too much time researching restaurants that served breakfast near us and found the place…Ricci’s Place in Halifax. I’d been there for lunch a few times with the Brit’s mum and sister and enjoyed it every time, which made me feel certain we were in for a treat with this breakfast.

[I should also mention that the Brit loves American breakfast as much as me, so he wasn’t disappointed at all that this was what I wanted to do. We like to tell the story about one of his visits to Washington when the two of us went for breakfast and he just kept ordering more and more food. When our food was ready, it took two servers to bring it to us and the woman who took our order turned to her co-worker and said, “Yes, this is just for the two of them,” or something similar. It was quite funny!]

Luckily, the breakfast at Ricci’s was spot on for what I was craving. I had a fruit smoothie, a stack of three fluffy pancakes with maple syrup and fresh blueberries, and the two of us split an order of eggs benedict. Seriously, it was delicious and made me feel like I was back home for a brief moment, even if everyone around me had accents. It was the perfect morning.

The Brit then asked me what else I wanted to do. And, because we started the day off with an American theme, I figured we should continue it and head to a shop I had recently found online while attempting to purchase American candy for the Brit’s sister’s hen party. (She was a counselor at a summer camp in Pennsylvania, so shares a love of sweets from the U.S. with me.) Little did I know when I found this shop that delivered overnight (thank goodness!) that it was a mere 35-minute drive from us, so off we headed to American Soda near Manchester.

Literally, I was like a kid in a candy shop. I couldn’t get over the sodas and sweets and other random foods they had in this little shop! Does anyone remember the soda, Big Red?! I can’t remember the last time I saw Big Red in the States, but I now know where to get it if I ever want some in England! Plus, Big League Chew! What?! I’m getting sidetracked here, but check out my stash below. I didn’t want to overdo it…oh, I had already eaten the Mike and Ikes and the rest was gone within 2 days.

We ended the day with a great meal and drinks at our favorite local pub. It was the perfect birthday, even if I was on a bit of a sugar high by the end of it!

Thank you for the birthday wishes, especially from my family and close friends! It meant so much to hear from you since I’m so far away. I felt much closer to home because of your calls, texts, and emails. xx

On the cost of gas in the U.S. and England…

A few nights ago, I was talking to my dad on the phone. As our conversations go, we typically talk about practical things and that night was no different. Dad mentioned that the cost of gas had really gone up, but sort of stopped in the middle of his sentence and asked, “How much is it there?”

I relayed this question to the Brit who was sat next to me on the couch and his response, “I’ll get right back to you.”

You see…gas or ‘petrol’ in England (and actually Europe as a whole) is sold by the liter and not by the gallon. So, truthfully, when I see the price of gas advertised here, I have no idea what it means in terms I can understand aside from ‘expensive.’

The Brit did all of the calculations and determined that a gallon of gas here in England costs roughly $10 (and that is being generous).

I then give my dad the answer to his question and all I hear is, “I will never complain about the cost of gas again.”