Don't Go Expecting it to be the Same...
Back in September 2001 I made my first visit to the U.K. as a sort of graduation present to myself (I finally earned my B.A. at 45) and I'm not sure what I was expecting but just because folks in England in theory speak the same language, it ain't the same. I guess it's along the lines of "southern" English vs. "Yankee" English (in America, that is). Things might sound the same but they don't have the same meaning.
For example, what we call a "fanny pack." Now don't go using that expression in the UK. Oh no. You'd better call it a "bum bag" or be prepared for a wave of embarrassed laughter from the Brits. Trust me on this.
That's not the only example of language differences, but it's the only one I can call to mind at the moment. Well, if you're talking to a crusty Radnorshire farmer and you want to really get in with him like you've lived there all your life, and maybe you're up on some steep hill with a bunch of gravel underfoot and it's raining like you-know-what you might say something about how "slike" it is. That'll impress him for sure. He's apt to pull off his tweed flat cap and scratch his head a time or two and twist up his mouth and look up at the sky and then maybe even look you in the eye and with a twinkle say, "Yup." You can hope, anyway.
There are two major things that strike fear in me whenever I'm in the U.K. First, the roundabouts (traffic circles for you Americans). Especially in rural Wales you don't have to deal with many roundabouts and you can go months without seeing a traffic light. Don't look for them over intersections because they're usually inconspicuously placed off to the side of the road where you have to really look for them. This while you're navigating roads about as wide as goat paths. You'll get used to all this after a few years (probably). But back to roundabouts. The thing is that when you go to the U.K. just because English is spoken (well, in most places) things are NOT the same. Give it up. Don't expect it.
So here you are going around this roundabout in the OTHER direction (remember, they drive on the left side of the road so you go left on roundabouts if you want to live long). And there are a few places you can jump off if you remember to be toward the outside and it's not too busy. BUT....and this is a big BUT...you probably won't have the faintest idea which exit to take because the signage in the UK (at least for an American) leaves much to be desired. You know how here you might follow Route 30 east or Route 30 west and follow the signs accordingly? Well, over there you're going to have to figure out which little village on your 200 mile trip comes next and know all the names because it'll be signposted for that place. Trust me. You can spend hours being lost, not that it's unpleasant, but if you're trying to get somewhere by a certain time....
Anyway, I've learned to write long lists of village names along the route so I can make my "best guess" as to where to head for next. The good thing about a roundabout is that at least in theory you can go round and round and round until you make a decision. It's quite easy, really. Just be prepared for having 5 or 6 choices instead of merely looking for a number and heading east or west or north or south on that. The nice thing about roundabout is that you don't have to deal with 29 traffic lights to get through some small town. They do have their advantages! But I get dizzy after awhile on these roundabouts. Of course I could just stay at the house.
The other thing that fills me with terror is going to a small city and trying to find a bathroom (or "loo" as they're often called in the U.K.) The older ladies, ever polite, ask someone where they can "spend a penny" and that means the loo, too. (You all remember the old days when you had to put a nickel or a dime into this thing kind of like at laundromats to get into the stall in a bathroom at a department store?) Well anyway you have just added a new euphemism to your long list, "spend a penny." In a given day I usually spend several pennies but it ain't easy in the UK. Forget about it when you're traveling, especially outside the hours of 8 to 5 and on the "A" (small two lane) or "B" (goat path with occasional passing places) roads. Best thing is find a wood that isn't fenced and sashay in there. But really this is a major concern and discomfort! Why is peeing so difficult in the UK? I love the UK, but it is a very serious drawback. Someone explain this to me. I once threatened to write a book "Where to Pee in the U.K." but probably someone already thought of that. Where can I buy a copy?
Now that I've gotten all that out of the way let me say that given a choice I'd spend most of my time in Wales. The land and its people are fantastic and it's refreshing to be away from the noise and bustle of a place like New York City. More on that later.