Six years ago today, the first wave of the Flake family arrived on the shores of modern Great Britain. Daughter Number Two and her dad arrived first, followed a week later by Daughter Number One, and then, on the second of October, I arrived with the dog, who managed to get through the defenses set up by Defra.
I look back at those days with amusement. Being driven up the M23 from Gatwick, I swore I'd never drive here—not only were the cars and trucks (which turned out to be lorries) all going the wrong way, but the road markings made no sense. A month later, I got behind the wheel of my car and managed just fine.
Driving isn't the only skill I've acquired. I've learned a second language, too: British-speak. I now know that people can be "pressurized" and women have "the mee-nopause" which has something to do with "ee-strogen". I know that commas don't behave properly over here—they can turn up, literally anywhere in a sentence (or not) and spelling is often accomplished by adding some silent vowels here and there. I try not to say the word "garage" if I can avoid it, since I always pronounce it the French way, but on the other hand I buy aubergines and courgettes.
I am very keen on aubergines. I am brilliant at maths, since "brilliant" here simply means pretty good. And I violate trademark law every time I hoover my carpet.
If I ask a shop "clark", not clerk, for corn, I am directed to the chicken feed. "Berkshire" is pronounced "Barkshire", likewise "Derby" is "Darby". Fortunately I will not go to jail for mispronouncing "gaol" or "Nike" or "Adidas".
I have learned to ask for "water", not "wadder", and I even specify plain, not sparkling. My daughter is at "uni", not college, since she's already graduated from high school. I buy a "return" ticket or a "single", but never a "single return", clearly an oxymoron. I cannot bring myself to speak of collective nouns in the plural, however, so my government are not doing anything about the economic situation. Which, by the way, is referred to on these shores as the "credit crunch" rather than a recession.
I am learning new things all the time. Recently, I learned that a "stremmer" is a weedwacker—not nearly as descriptive. Prepositions are still surprising me: I've run across the construction "bored of" twice in the last 24 hours. The letter "R" is elusive, even in the highest elocutionary circles: Bwitish people should pwactice saying it more often, especially if they're being interviewed on the wadio. (I should offer to trade my R's for their T's.)
The lessons go beyond language, of course. There are subtle behavioral differences between our two cultures. Losing one's temper in public is not done, which makes me very angry. (This was not well done of me.) Complaining about poor service is considered improper (not rude, nor mean, since one means vulgar and the other means cheap), which makes me lose my temper. In the face of adversity, one must pretend as if nothing is wrong, especially if the adversity is medical. Extra points if you can explain away the cast on your arm with a cheery, self-deprecating tale, preferably involving the phrase "pear-shaped".
On the other hand, complaining about the weather is encouraged. (Unless, of course, you're in Malaga, then you should be getting pissed—no, not a violation of the first rule above, but rather falling-down drunk.)
Not all is English roses. I've discovered the dark underbelly of the English psyche, which the Irish, Scots and Welsh surely were on to long ago. Now it's the Eastern Europeans and Asians who are unwanted here, and the baldness of the anti-immigration rhetoric surprises even me: I've been told all of the problems here began when they let in "those foreigners".
Foreigners like me, I suppose, since there is also a streak of anti-Americanism here, usually on display in the Daily Mail. If I read one more article about how Americanisms like "24/7" or "have a nice day" are destroying the social fabric of England, I think I'll lose my temper. In public.
As an ex-pat, I am aware that the minute I open my mouth, I am immediately identified as a North American. I try not to let down the home team.
I admit, however, to feeling a certain amount of schadenfreude when my home team managed to hold England to a 1-1 draw in (or is it at?) the World Cup.
That's football, not soccer. Played at Wembley—yes, Wembley, really—with a W. I drive past there quite often, and the road markings couldn't be clearer.