Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Running in to one another

From time to time, I have had a very few posts which I was reluctant to take down, which I wanted to leave up longer because they were so interesting or because they meant so much to me personally. One of those past posts that comes to mind was Claire's humorous explanation of how one goes about getting a leg over in your fair land. I hated to see that one be superseded by another post. The post that is now below this one is another example. I really am sad to see it disappear from the top of this page. It wasn't even about British words at all, but about values and aspirations, and passion--and about a special lady who calls herself Marmelade--who in my mind embodies all of these things, and so much more. But, with some regret, I move forward, encouraged by the fact that the Lady herself still chooses to be among us.

The most recent chapter-topic of my book, before I was delightfully sidetracked by the discovery of Enid Blyton, was about food. Before that we had quite a bit of sex together (and individually), and I have high hopes of having even more when our dedicated roving sex reporter, Claire, is again able to gather her thoughts and give us a report about yet another fascinating British custom in that arena. But today, we shall open a new chapter called "Traffic and Transportation".

I am not sure who invented the automobile—some German fellow, I think, in the late 19th century—but, very soon thereafter came a great rush of road-building to accommodate all those new automobiles. All that furious road-building, in turn, was soon followed by a throng of adventurous Brits who were just GAGGING to get out and drive on the wrong side of those new roads.

This is a fertile topic of discussion. So great are our differences with regard to traffic and transportation, I am almost hesitant to take it on. But take it on I shall, with your help—although we may indeed expand it beyond the one single chapter before we have exhausted the possibilities. It is hard for me to decide where to start, even. And so, as is often the case with your silly blog-host, I will start, I think, by going in circles.

As I said, there are many differences indeed between British and American traffic rules, and one of the most obvious examples is something called the Traffic Circle. The main difference, of course, is that you HAVE them and we don't. Oh, there are a few of these incomprehensible things, scattered unexpectedly here and there across America, but no American driver worth his salt would have a clue how to use them. You may be sure than any road sign which has a circle painted on it will only cause American drivers to run into one another and begin rolling around in circles.

The above photo makes more sense if you know the little girl's name is Hannah. (Thanks to Colin at ADELAIDE GREEN PORRIDGE CAFE for the photo.)

Worse, you don't even CALL them traffic circles. In your country (I think) they are referred to as "Round Abouts", which, to this poor American mind simple conjures up vague images of children's Merry-Go-Rounds. Which of course, in turn, I suppose you refer to as Carousels—or some even more obscure name, which I can't even begin to fathom right now. But I have made a wrong turn here, haven't I? Let us return to the main road.

What I would like to do, since I have not had the delightful experience of driving in your fair land, is to ask those of you who have enjoyed the hellish nightmare that is the American freeway system, to please begin our chapter by making comments about any obvious differences that pop into your mind. Those of you who have NOT had the pleasure of this mind-numbing torture—and you should thank your lucky stars that you have been thus favored—will still comment, I hope, on any traffic or transportation differences you are aware of, and please bring up subtopics you feel we should explore in this chapter.

Let's not restrict it to any single narrow topic for the time being. Please talk about any differences at all in the names we call things, any differences in traffic signs, laws, procedures--whatever. The only thing I ask is that we limit our initial discussions more or less to driving, and leave trains and planes for another day. Who can start?


  1. No they aren't Round Abouts they are roundabouts. Let's be accurate here, or is that not allowed. Probably not. Am I being disruptive?

    Before I'm banned, and before anyone else gets in with the only three driving differences I know:

    bonnet = hood
    bumper = fender
    boot = trunk

    Oh, and another
    motorway = freeway ? - not entirely sure

  2. @a.-Well, I am not INTENTIONALLY trying to be ignorant of your words and names for things, I just AM. To learn is the purpose of my blog, love. And, in your usual understanding and compassionate way, you have just taught me. I think. Roundabouts. Ok. But what are they good for? Do your taxpayers not feel deprived at not being allowed to purchase huge numbers of wasteful and time-consuming traffic signals instead?

    Other words noted. Although, if a fender is a bumper, what the hell do you call a fender?

    And if you are not entirely sure if a motorway is really a freeway, please stay off it, ok?

    If I might comment myself, I notice you don't seem to have trucks and big semis either. You have lorries. Or lorrys?) As in Petter Lorrie. Is this because you are afraid of them, a.? "Semi" being an incorrect shorting of "semi-trailer rig" I quickly add, before you attack from that direction.... :)

  3. Articulated lorries? Pantechnicons? I don't know what they are in American. Lorries on their own are fairly generic for anything bigger than a van. A semi is of course a house joined to another identical house.

    A fender is something you put in front of a fire, generally a real wood or coal fire.

    I have no intention of driving in the US any time soon, or most likely ever. That is a task best delegated, though I seem to manage fine in France - now that is another subject altogether!

    Oh and you can have lights on roundabouts too, so don't worry yourself on that account.

  4. Oh, I can tell this one is going to be good, isn't it? I am already breaking out a fresh note pad. :)

  5. Traffic light sequence?
    Red - stop ALWAYS, no exceptions
    Red and amber - prepare to move off
    Green - proceed with caution
    Amber - stop if safe to do so (or prepare to stop)

  6. @a.-Two of the primary lights on at the same time? Really? Isn't that confusing? I remember driving in Canada and they used a blinking green light to indicate you could turn left and that the opposing light was still red. This they used instead of an American green turn arrow. Somewhat strange. Canada and Mexico are the only other countries I have driven in, unless you count Viet Nam, where they DO have roundabouts, but which American soldiers in jeeps pretty much ignored, so I don't have the rich experiences you describe. Driving in France? I think not.

  7. "Two of the primary lights on at the same time? Really? Isn't that confusing? "
    No, I appear to have perfected the art of multi-tasking.

    We do not yield, we give way.

    I really think I have come to the end of any useful (or otherwise) contribution. Where is everyone?

  8. Not all Americans freak out at traffic circles. :) I did the very first time I encountered one after I moved to New York. (I never saw one in Illinois, Colorado, or any state in which I vacationed regularly.) Now, however, I find traffic circles actually more sensible than some other roadway configurations I've seen (I'm thinking of the weird stuff they do down in New Jersey). I deal better with traffic circles than most people who've grown up with them.

    This probably means I ought to move to Great Britain.

  9. In the town I went to school, there were 3 small roundabouts which we all attached to each other, it got quite confusing. In fact, been as the roundabouts were just painted onto the road, many people would just drive over the top.

    One of the main differences I noticed is the ability to turn on a red light in the states.

  10. @Caroline-Welcome back stranger. Ok, I cheated and "saw" you yesterday.

    Or should I call you Little Noddy? (I read your comment on the Enid book post. Sorry.)

    Am curious about roundabouts just painted on road. Never seen that or even thought of that. Don't think many people would obey them. (As you say.)

    You should clarify that it is RIGHT turn on red when clear, in the States, and not just "ok to turn on red light". I know very well what you meant, but you know these British--they'll come over here and start darting in front of traffic because Caroline said they could turn any which way on a red light. :) (That isn't a federal law btw. Or at least it didn't start out like that. Like most of our laws--which foreigners don't often fully understand--it began with various states allowing it and then others thinking it was a good idea, then the rest of them making it ok to do in their state. Bet you didn't know that. Although, having lived here for a while now, you are becoming very aware that the real power in the U.S. interior rests with the states, and only foreign policy with the feds. I shall not get wound up about states rights here. But hard to resist when one despises the federal government so... :)

  11. @Kelly. Hi there! Man. With Kelly, your attempts at humor really have to be direct don't they? She probably has the highest IQ in the entire Northeast, and she does this to me all the time. On purpose, of course. Ok Kelly, here is my revision: "Americans do NOT run into each other and start rolling around in circles when they see a Traffic Circle sign." Gaaaawwwwd!!! I only meant--and dammit you know this--that they are rare except in the two places you mentioned which no American in their right mind, except you, would be caught dead driving in in the first place. I'll add that to my list of not driving places for Max: No France. No Northern NJ. No downstate NY. OK. Sheeeeeeeesh! You are more anal today than little a. ! I wasn't sure that was even possible!

    PS--loved your last 2 posts. Wish I had the art brains to make an intelligent comment. But nice reading anyway. And you never answered me about how and where you went to pow wows. Christ, how many places have you lived, anyway???

  12. @a.- You have never given way in your life. Not at a traffic light. Not anywhere else. And my days on this blog would be ever so dull if you started doing so now. Don't you DARE!

    And don't threaten to quit commenting. You know more car part names and traffic thingys. You know MANY more. You are just holding back, waiting until you can think of a less lame answer for what you call a bumper on a car (I said that wrong last time.) Oh, now you have me all confused! Now I don't know if you call a bumper a fender, or a fender a bumper. Help!

    Hope you are feeling a little better today my love. :(

  13. @a-It does remind me of a little joke I read once- one of those little fillers you see in magazines. The Reader's Digest, I think.

    This American guy was acting all arrogant when an Englishman was telling him what the parts of a car should be called. And the American says something like, "You should call them what WE call them--after all we invented the car!" And the English guy says, "Perhaps, but, then, WE invented the language." Hahahaha! It is to laugh, no?

    Ok a.-first of all, I am aware that Americans did NOT invent the car. Already said that. Just a joke, ok?

    Right now, Caroline is going: "Reader's Digest? What's THAT??"

    And a. is going: Read? He wants us to believe he can READ?"

    I'll leave off now, a.--a brief respite anyway. :)

  14. I found what I was talking about on google maps (the roundabout thing), although there seems to just be 2 of them, I remember 3, but oh well.

    Hexham Roundabout

  15. I found the 3rd, its just a little further south :)

  16. Yes, I see all three now, Caroline. Seems weird (to me) to see the left-side rotation. Hard to wrap my brain around that one. I guess I could get used to it after a while. What's that huge building by the south one?

  17. Roundabouts painted on the road are mini-roundabouts. You are supposed to make an effort to go around them. I dare say you are supposed to use your indicators too, but I think I'm the only person left in this country who does.

    Apart from windscreen I really don't know any more car bits in any language, which led to some interesting experiences when taking the car for its French equivalent of the MOT test. Do you have an MOT test equivalent? Every year after the car's third birthday it has to be proved roadworthy.

    Dual/single carriageways. Single carriage ways often have either cats-eyes or white lines down the middle or both. We have yellow lines at the side of the road to indicate parking restrictions.
    Estate cars = station wagons

    I am feeling much better thank you :)

  18. All right you guys have lost me. I am still stuck in the drive thru at Mcdonalds! All traffic sucks, in a roundabout, a traffic circle, freeway,highway,lane,street,culdesac and even a driveway.I am going back to sleep now. I was dreaming about a 50 foot garden hose.

  19. Ettarose, don't be stuck at McDonalds. Go hose yourself down and come play with us. :)

  20. Would you like to hear about my first little car? - an old banger which rarely started without jump-leads or a bump-start. It was one of those that looked like a dustbin on wheels, and with the gear lever sticking out of the dashboard. It was only marginally faster than a pushbike and just as much effort, but it did have character!

  21. A.-Of course I want to hear. Or did I just already hear about it? :)

    And don't think for a moment that I'm not taking everything you're saying down into evidence, despite your woeful lack of knowledge as to what most of these things SHOULD be called...

    All I really ask is that you people speak naturally, comment naturally, AND WRITE STORIES DAY AFTER DAY AFTER DAY, NATURALLY, and you can be assured that you will automatically therein use words that Max will extract and cherish. :)

    (Although all of you may use certain words on purpose. as you please.) :)

  22. Go and look up Swindon's Magic Roundabout, Max. It'll make your head explode.

    Me, I like the rationale behind roundabouts. Unfortunately, I live in an area where until recently there weren't actually very many of them, which means that a lot of drivers have no clue how to behave properly at them, despite road markings and signs. USE YOUR INDICATORS, IDIOTS! (Especially you lot with Donegal registration plates aka from across the border.)

  23. I have no clue what that building is, I don't think it was there when I went to school.

  24. Catherine-what a monster! That's absofuckinglutey mindboggling! Have you ever "experienced" it personally? But, then, I'll bet you are hell on wheels. You probably road race as a hobby. Bet you zoom through that thing during rush hour while reading a book with one eye.

    Not to worry—you'll not find anything like that in the States. (And if you do, stay away from it because you'll be the only one who knows what it is.) :)

    Caroline-so it must have been built in the last year or so? You baby. What are you—19? 20? :) Although—I read your post today. Still digesting that one. Doesn't fit the Caroline I thought I knew. Hmmmm. Does wbf know all this? :)

  25. PS-I'm afraid I may have to call Mum again....

  26. Of course the wbf knows all that... I have no secrets.

    I am older than 19, 20. That building could have been built 10 years ago.

    I do believe my mum knows the story too, but she might be able to answer your question about what that building is. Say hi to her for me.



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