The team at LFPR has been planning and talking excitedly about our upcoming summer vacations, which has once again underlined how, to quote Winston Churchill, the British and Americans are "divided by a common language."
When I hit a really busy patch, like now, I tend to revert to my British roots and speak in "English English" rather than first translating into "American English."
What has really caused confusion between us is the language of that great American summertime institution — The Road Trip. The British would simply call this a "car journey," but it strikes me once again how devoted Americans are to their cars and how they think nothing about driving through the night to reach a family reunion or favorite vacation destination. The description of these trips varies a lot between my two beloved nations.
To start with, the British think carefully about driving for more than 100 miles just to reach a destination for a weekend. This is partly because of the cost of petrol (gasoline) is currently around $6 per (U.S. sized) gallon; partly because the traffic congestion is pretty intense around the overcrowded UK adding stress and time to any journey, and partly because it is comparatively such a small country. For example, to travel the whole length of the island of Great Britain — from Land’s End in the southwest of England to John o’ Groats in the northeast of Scotland — is roughly the same distance as from Atlanta to Key West Florida. It is literally impossible to take a longer road trip within the UK without crossing over some ocean to an offshore island or different country, or going around in circles.
Some other useful translations for the car itself include:
• The boot is the trunk of the car. A trunk in Britain is a kind of old-fashioned, large suitcase.
• The wing is the fender of the car, and the wing mirror is the one on the outside.
• The bonnet is the hood of the car.
• The number plate is the license plate.
• The gear lever is the gear shift.
• Dampers are shock absorbers.
Other vehicles on the road in Britain might include a lorry, which is a truck, or even an articulated lorry, which is a tractor trailer. You might also see a caravan (an RV or trailer) and a lot of estate cars, known here as station wagons.
On the journey, it is important to remember not only that the British drive on the left hand side of the road but that:
• A roundabout is a traffic circle and they are much more common in the U.K. than the U.S.A.
• The yellow color of the traffic lights is called amber, and amber and red show at the same time in the cycle before turning green.
• The sidewalk is called the pavement or, if it is unpaved, a footpath.
• A lay-by on the motorway is a pull off from the highway.
• A fly-over is an overpass.
• The central reservation has nothing to do with Indians, but instead is the median between two opposite sides of an expressway.
• A speed bump is known as a sleeping policeman.
• And a zebra crossing is a cross walk, and the pedestrians do have the right-of-way on them. If that zebra crossing has a crossing guard, they will be known as the lollipop man or lady since they are holding a big "stop" or "go" sign shaped like – you guessed it – a lollipop.
If somebody tries to pass you on the interstate highway – if they are British they will be "overtaking you on the dual carriageway." If you wish to insult them by calling them a jerk, they will better understand if you call them a "git" or a "tosser." Just don’t have a prang (fender bender).
All this talk of cars and road travel reminds me of a great quote from the late, irreverent comedian George Carlin: "Have you ever noticed that anybody driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac?"
God bless America!