18 January 2011

Cheers, mate!

If you have ever been in a car with me, you know that anger rages through me like a curry to a drunk. Now that I'm getting used to driving, I'm noticing many differences within the vehicular cultures, and frankly, the UK tops America in the "better driver" department.


1. There is a slow lane, a medium-paced lane, and a passing/fast lane on all motorways. And people actually abide or you risk getting pulled over. In America, the left lane (of a two-land highway) is reserved for passing, but usually there is some mindless a-hole who still doesn't get it and just sits there.

2. Almost no one honks their horn. I've been warned by several that if you honk your horn, it's a sign of aggression. And when it comes to aggression, the seemingly relaxed English people will go from 0 to 60 in under 10 seconds, get out of the car and beat you.

3. Adversely - and this is my FAVORITE! - 98% of drivers will thank you profusely for letting them into traffic. They will wave, often give you a thumbs up, and the other day an 80-year old man actually blew me a kiss. It warms my heart just thinking about it.

4. Despite the initial confusion, roundabouts are a traffic flower. You could theoretically travel hundreds of miles and never actually come to a complete stop.

5. Speed cameras are placed throughout England. If you're caught exceeding the speed limit by more than 10%, a ticket is sent to your house. If you receive so many tickets, you're banned from driving. I'm still fuzzy on the details, but needless to say, my brother would own a very nice bicycle if he lived here.

12 January 2011

F**k VAT

Right after I moved to Tamworth in December, signs were up in all the shops telling you to "buy before the VAT increase," or some variation of it. After a couple weeks I decided to actually look up what VAT meant.

Value Added Tax. As best I can tell it's a flat rate tax on most goods and services purchased. It's what Americans call a sales tax.

I have a good history of experienced hatred for the sales tax in America. Not that I don't understand what it's for or the good it does for each specific city, but Chicago really ruined for me. Right after I moved to Chicago in 2005, the sales tax jumped to 10.5%. To give you an idea, the Indiana sales tax was a mere 6% (approximately). Smaller goods is one thing, but when you're buying an air conditioning unit for $200, that's not just $20 in tax I have to pay, but also $8 more than I would pay if I just bought the damn thing in Indiana. Oh the price of staying cool!

But then I moved here, and suddenly, the 10.5% Chicago tax would be a welcomed old friend. I might even share a beer with it. For England's Value Added Tax just increased to 20%. Back to perspective, to buy the same AC unit in England, it would cost the American equivalent of $240. This might be why no one has AC units in England.

When I asked Jim why this was so high he said it's because of the NHS. And for those of you not great with alliteration, the National Healthcare System is just that....and it's free. The VAT is sort of like premiums all rolled into every purchase you make. And then some.

So what I do get to look forward to is HMO-like doctor's visits...and it's already paid for. Oi.

07 January 2011

Why the line to the ladies room is miles long

Tonight I had my first night out without the boy. The dear sweet Malissa (Mal) invited me out with a few of her friends into Sutton Coldfield (getting there is a completely new story in and of itself) which is about 25 minutes from where I live. Never shying away from strangers, I was excited to go and be around some femininity for a change (save Jim's general mood swings).

We met up at Apres Bar, which is this red-cladden job, and oddly somewhat family friendly. Though it ain't no gin joint, that's for sure. I took the obligatory run to the toilet to....you know. And while I was washing my hands I noticed an electrical device cushioned aside the sink. The first thing I thought was, "how come I have no electrical outlets next to my sink?!" And then I noticed what it was.

I'm using to seeing bathroom vended condoms or tampons. Maybe even the sporadic bathroom attendee. But this particular bar did not necessitate a bathroom attendant, nor tampons, nor condoms. Apparently it did reuquire a hair straightener. There it sat, staring. I stared back in shock, thinking my one glass of wine was playing up on me. It was pornographic. I just stared at it in total shock. For the American equivalent of $1.35, your hair can be straighter in an instant.

I came back to the table and asked if it was normal. Indeed it is normal. Not every place has them, but it's far from unusual.

This makes me giggly. I straighten my hair with regularity and it doesn't lose it's straightness until I shower. If I were out with my friends, or god forbid a date, with my usual hair....I don't see myself pulling off straight hair simply after one take in the toilet. I'm self conscious enough putting lips gloss on in the pisser, let alone actually changing my coif.

And so I keep on, not bothered by potential broken electricals assuming there are several at the local pub across the road. But mark my words, the day I see an attendant here with a straightener in hand, ready to iron out my unruly tendrils, is the day I move back to America.

06 January 2011

Astonishing Discovery #11

This isn't the most incredible "reeeeally??!" moment since I've been here, but I'm sure there are at least 10 others that I just haven't kept track of. Luckily for you, I will be now!

Shocking discovery #11 came on New Year's Eve. Jim and I hosted a party for 14 people, and I made sure to cut up lots of fresh veggies and roughage for everyone to pick at, and made sure to put out two types of hummus (sp. hummous) to dip it with. Silly me, I forgot the ranch!

So when I said, "I forgot the ranch!" The response was, "what's ranch?"

Come again?

Apparently ranch is an American thing. I should have guessed when I found Paul Newman dressing with a fat dollar sign on the front of the bottle. My face must have looked the same as when I told everyone we deep-fry our turkeys.

05 January 2011

Why American freedom should have come 2nd to my diet

This last summer I went to a wedding near Cloverdale, IN which is "somewhere in the middle", and then a little to the left. I was with my boyfriend looking for a place to have a very very quick bite to eat before we had to be at the rehearsal. Our options, in order of nutritional value, were: Wendy's, Burger King, McDonald's, KFC, and an unknown truck stop which I put last because it may have actually doubled as a slaughter house.

We chose Wendy's since their reputation is for their great burgers (for Jim), and I, the vegetarian, figured they'd have something on the menu that I could eat. At least more likely than McDonald's who has not one thing veggie (not even their fries).

I look at the menu, and alas, there is nothing. Even the salads have chicken or bacon chucked in with the lettuce. So I ask the man at the counter, "do you have anything that doesn't have meat in it?"

Without skipping a beat: "We have chicken." Oh no, no, no.....

I'm currently living in Tamworth, UK, which is....somewhere in the middle and a little to the left. This relatively small town is comprised of maybe 275,000 people. It's a fairly blue collar place, all very nice people, good drivers. I have seen one fast-food restaurant since I've been here (save London, which is just obviously bigger and caters to a wider variety of wider peoples). And yes, it's a McDonald's. I did my research and the McDonald's' here are veggie friendly. No friend, not just the one in London, but ALL of them. They cook their fries in vegetable oil as opposed to hog fat. Score!!

But there's more. Jim and I pulled through the drive-thru, and oh my word, there are like four things on the menu I can eat. From potato balls to fish sandwich to -- deep breath -- a veggie burger. No pause necessary. Burger.

It took like 12 minutes for them to make it but it. was. amazing. AMAZING.

As it turns out, someone/Jim tells me something like a 25% of British folks are vegetarians. Wha?!? Today I went into a gas station Subway thinking I'd walk out disappointed. I was in Fezeley. Ever heard of it?! No! And not only do their gas station Subways have my favorite veggie patties, but my sandwich-making artist actually asked if I wanted her to change her gloves as she'd just made a carnivorous sub for the man in front of me.

Bless you, England. Bless you.

04 January 2011

What's this roundabout about?

I'm now on Day 4 of driving....

Aside from having to get over feeling like a 15-year old again, I've discovered the trickiest part of driving here is dealing with the roundabouts. Just in case you're not familiar, most of England (if not all and most of Europe) has roundabouts as intersections. This amazingly replaces all stop signs with a big round island with a few exits off its epicenter.

Sounds easy enough.....until you hit the parking lot.

I went to the Ventura shopping center today which is what Americans would likely call a strip mall. An L-shaped shopping center with about 10 shops around the bend. The car park (parking lot) is full, and at each junction there is a big dot in the middle, indicating a roundabout. I pulled up to one and immediately went stupid. I had no idea what to do!

Normally there is a white line telling you when you have to Give Way (Yield) to the person on your right. But that was not the case in this car park. I pulled up to the dot just as someone on my right did. We both stopped and my heart raced. I didn't want to appear as if I didn't know what I was doing so I waved him on.

Then I reverted to Chicago Driving Mode.

He didn't move for a few seconds, so I went...just as he started to. Then I stopped, he stopped. This little game of cat and mouse went on for a minute or so until I decided to just go.

Similarly, the other day I approached a two-lane roundabout with three exits. Theoretically you can signal left and turn a standard left from the left lane. This part I have down. If I want to go straight, I can get in either lane, but I must indicate 'left' when I approach the exit, but have to be careful when crossing into the other lane. To turn right, you get in the right lane with your right signal on. As you approach that farthest-right exit, you signal left to let oncoming roundabout drivers know you're exiting and not just driving around the hamster wheel. What a nightmare!!!

Hey kids, there's Big Ben!