Ready Study Go: Brushing Up on All Things British (and Welsh and Scottish and Northern Irish) for the Life in the UK Test

[Blogger’s note: I’m an American expat twice removed, having relocated to Canada early in the new century and then to the southern coast of England in 2016. This post details an important event in my immigration journey that had me stressing over an exam grade for the first time since my student days decades ago. ]

You know the classic anxiety dream where you’re at school and the teacher announces a pop quiz for which you are totally unprepared? Also, for some reason, you’re wearing nothing but tighty-whities? I felt a similarly palpable panic while wide awake and en route to take the Life in the UK Test, a requirement for immigrants like myself who seek permanent residency in Britain. Mercifully for the townsfolk I passed on the walk to the test centre, I was fully clothed. And sufficiently informed, or at least in theory: I had read and re-read the three-volume study guide published on behalf of the Home Office, the governmental department that rules on visa applications. I had also taken more than 40 practice tests, both in the guide and online, and passed them all – out of 24 questions, you’re allowed six incorrect answers and I had not missed more than four.  And I’d been through a comparable process in Canada when I applied for citizenship there. Yet I couldn’t shake the unnerving sense that I was going to blow it. Long-suppressed memories of my scholastic shortcomings in adolescence resurfaced on cue to fuel this fear – the C- on that baffling algebra exam, the D for that botched frog dissection in biology, the essay that was returned so full of red marks it looked like a crime scene. Let’s just say I was never the teacher’s pet.  

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This Must Be the Place: Putting Down Roots – Finally – As a First-Time UK Home Owner

Chapter Seven: Oh! You Pretty Things
(Wherein the Author Reveals a Frankly Unsettling Obsession with Home Accessories)

I can’t walk through our downstairs living room without looking at the mirror. Not in the mirror, although I occasionally sneak a peek at the old mug in passing just to make sure I don’t have mustard in my goatee or my eyebrows haven’t fused together overnight or something. (I live in mortal fear of the unibrow.) No, at the mirror, a simple oak-framed piece of glass, the latest addition to the still-evolving décor of our flat. It’s as Scandi-minimalist as they come and possibly too plain for many tastes, but to me it is a thing of unparalleled beauty and elegance. Not only does it bounce light around a somewhat dark space, but its blond wood frame is aesthetically harmonious with furniture pieces nearby, so it ties the room together with aplomb. And when the hubby put it up, he couldn’t have positioned it more perfectly on the wall – dead centre over the sofa – so I’m proud to say that it’s very, very well-hung.

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Where Have All the Albums Gone? Confessions of a Reformed* Record Collection Robber

“You must own so many records,” a new friend of mine remarked the other day as we were having a discussion about whether she should buy a turntable. (Shouldn’t everyone?) It was a logical assumption on her part, for even though we’ve only known each other a relatively short time, she’s already learned what those near and dear to me have known forever: Music is my thing. My passion. The flame was lit when I fell head over heels for rock ‘n’ roll at the tender age of 13 and in the decades since I’ve remained a voracious consumer of recorded music in all its forms. I feel like I’ve bought enough LPs, singles, cassettes, CDs, and yes, 8-tracks in my time to fill the Hollywood Bowl twice over. So you’d think by now, at the gruff-and-grizzled age of [REDACTED], I’d have a collection worthy of that Guinness book of other records. Yet it pains me to admit that the quantity of albums currently on display in our guest room/media den, where the hubby and I keep the stereo and other man-cave essentials, is a tiny fraction of what it should be, given all that I’ve spent on physical music over the years. What the devil happened? Aye, ‘tis an epic saga of voyages to new lands, fickle fortunes, and reckless raids on the treasure followed inevitably by crashing waves of regret. So sit back, wee buccaneers, whiles I tells me tale of woe. (I don’t know why I’m suddenly channeling Geoffrey Rush from The Pirates of the Caribbean, but there ye go.)

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Absolute Beginner: The Adventures of a Middle-Aged U.K. Newbie

[Blogger’s note: I was born and raised in America, moved to Canada for love in the early 2000s, and recently relocated again, in my 50s, with my British-born spouse to the southern coast of his homeland. This is an occasional series about learning new tricks in Merry Old England.]

Dinner, Supper or Tea: What Say Ye? Hashing Out the Terms for British Daily Meals

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My spouse and I are about to celebrate the third anniversary of our move to the UK, and every once in a while, when I’m feeling cocky, I’ll think I’m ready to graduate from an entry-level understanding of British life to at least an intermediate status. Then, inevitably, I’ll be confronted with a humbling reminder that I still have lorry-loads to learn.

Take the confounding conundrum of what to call daily meals in Britain. Stateside, the terms are easily digestible. Virtually everyone in North America calls the first meal of the day “breakfast” and the midday meal “lunch.” For the evening’s repast, the folksy “supper” lingers in certain areas – I can recall my dear old southern grandmother beckoning us kids to the supper table – but “dinner” dominates in our pop culture-steeped minds and hearts. After work, we may fill our bellies with a Swanson’s TV Dinner or a KFC Dinner Box or, in Canada, a Kraft Dinner. (Mac ‘n’ cheese to the rest of us.) A few years back, US advertisers force-fed us the slogan “Beef. It’s What’s for Dinner,” much to the horror of vegetarians and contraction-phobes across the country. If we invite that special someone over for dinner and a movie, perhaps we’ll watch the classic Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner or the somewhat less lauded Dinner for Schmucks. And if we find ourselves lucky, in love or otherwise, we might exclaim, “Winner, winner, chicken dinner!” Though we shouldn’t get too attached to that catchphrase du jour as it’s sure to join “Whassup!” and “Gag me with a spoon” on the fad compost heap any day now. Continue reading

Absolute Beginner: The Adventures of a Middle-Aged U.K. Newbie

[Blogger’s note: I was born and raised in America, moved to Canada for love in the early 2000s, and recently relocated again, in my 50s, with my British-born spouse to the southern coast of his homeland. This is an occasional series about learning new tricks in Merry Old England.]

Keep the Change – No, You Keep the Change! The Tricky Business of Tipping in the U.K.

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Illustration by Jeff Cohen

The spouse and I ventured to Winchester one Sunday this spring to see a favourite singer-songwriter perform at a rustic pub near the town’s train station. While waiting for the show to begin, I sauntered up to the bar and ordered a lager, forking over a fiver to the sullen barman behind the taps. He slid the pint towards me and deposited the change, a 50-pence piece, into my outstretched palm. “Mind if I leave this with you?” I asked, hand still thrust toward him. He peered at me with a marked expression of distaste, as if I’d replaced the shiny coin in my grasp with an eviscerated dung beetle, or a ball of freshly foraged belly button lint, or a teeny-tiny MAGA hat. “I’d… rather you not,” he huffed, and folded his arms tightly across his chest as if to further protect himself from our toxic transaction. “Well, okay then,” I muttered, sheepishly pocketing the pence. I slunk away feeling like I’d committed some grievous faux pas akin to clipping my toenails during a church sermon, or publicly declaring that I actually enjoyed the Game of Thrones finale. Continue reading