Thursday, September 8, 2011

English as a Foreign Language

I recently spent about 8 days “across the pond” in England. The purpose of the trip was to participate in a three-day academic conference held by the Brontë Society at Cambridge University (in my other life, I’m sort of an expert on the writings of Charlotte Brontë), but I added five days onto the end of it to be “on holiday” as they say over there.

I “hired” a car when I landed at Heathrow and set off toward Cambridge. Seated on the right (wrong?) side of the car, with no
“SatNav” and no one to read the map for me, I “gave way” at countless “roundabouts,” waited in “queues,” dodged “lorries” and “HGV’s” on the “motorway,” and tried to remember to “overtake” only on the right, all the while trying to figure out why they measure distances in miles but buy “petrol” by the litre. Once in Cambridge, I wandered back and forth on the “ring road” before finally finding my way to the Homerton College “car park,” so I could check in at the “Porter’s Lodge.” Sunday, after the conference ended, I headed north for Yorkshire, taking “the A14,” which is a “dual carriageway,” to “the M1.” Before it was all over, I had learned about “zebra crossings” and “zig-zag” zones, “lay-bys” of both the “nearside” and offside” variety, and how to “negotiate a compromise” with the oncoming driver on country lanes that calling a one-lane road would be an exaggeration.

Needless to say, driving on my first visit to the UK was an adventure. Most of the folks I met at the conference couldn’t believe I was brave (or foolish) enough to do it. But I’m glad I did. My experience of British culture was much fuller and richer because of it. What I discovered is that, even when they talk funny, people are pretty much people, whether they’re in Cambridge or in Crockett. And when we remember our similarities and appreciate our differences, I think Jesus gives a rat's ass about that.