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posted by Megan Wadsworth on Nov 3

There is no American translation of the phrase ‘taking the piss’. If an American were to vocalize some of the things an English person feels free to express, we’d call it ‘being an asshole.’  Taking the piss is akin sarcasm, but usually far less mean. It can also mean ‘to take advantage of’ but the former is the interpretation I’ve experienced the most.  

English don’t poke fun at someone to be cruel or make a point they do it show a familiarity with their friends, to let them know they see and accept all sides of them.  Rule number one of taking the piss is that you do it to someone you know well. The Tesco check out girl with the bad attitude and blue mohawk would be out of order. Valid, but out of order. Interestingly enough this is where an American would step in and vocalize their distain. But it would not be funny. Bad service is not something Americans find amusing in contrast to the English who seem to hardly notice. Taking the piss however, is meant to be very funny. Rule two is that the recipient must have a good sense of humour and be able to laugh at themselves. Most English are pretty thick skinned so this isn’t an issue. American’s skin? Not so thick. Human flaws to an American are not something to be spotlighted with light humor. Flaws are to be fixed, or failing that, hidden. It’s not as if people don’t notice them it’s just not considered polite dinner conversation. The English are of course well versed in what is polite dinner conversation but every so often they will defy the rules and this is one of those times. 

The British love to talk about their collective clever sense of humour and how it’s difficult for foreigners, especially American’s, to understand as we don’t get irony. This annoys me as you might have sensed. When I was once accused of ‘not getting British humour’ because I didn’t laugh at an asinine  joke, I made an attempt at a ‘piss taking’ rebuttal explaining that I didn’t laugh, not because I didn’t get the joke, but because (gasp) I didn’t think it was funny. I was met with a stare of death. I must admit, I knew I was entering a no-go area. The Brits are very sensitive on this subject. They are allowed to imply you are a stupid but you may not accuse them of not being funny. This is considered very bad form. There is an art to taking the piss and I had failed miserably. The fact that I was completely justified is not the point. I tried my hand at taking the piss, or sarcasm, with a topic that already annoyed me. If a person senses resentment it’s no longer a light hearted game. It’s confrontational. Which is certainly more American. I suppose I can’t help who I am but I can keep my mouth shut. Or try to anyway. Taking the piss is only successful if you aren’t angry. One needs to fully accept and even cherish the flaw they are bringing into light. Only then are you met with laughter.

I have grown up with American sensibilities and behaviour patterns but the longer I live here the more I notice a merging of two ways of living and relating to people. Having said that, the two do often remain separate. Of all the people I know in the US there is one single person whom I allow to take the piss at will and never take it negatively. In the UK? Loads of people take the piss out of me and for the most part it’s quite funny. It’s an inclusive act. It’s all part of forging friendships over here. Even though I’m much better than I once was at being at the receiving end of these antics, I still remain terrible at being the one dishing it out. I end up hurting someone’s feelings and having to call and apologize. It’s just not me really. The English are good at sensing boundaries which makes them innately better at this than many Americans as our borders are more blurred lines rather than stone walls. This is evident both emotionally and physically. English gardens are fenced off from their neighbours where in America it’s often difficult to tell where one property ends and another one begins. 

None of this is to say that the English don’t also get it wrong sometimes but it’s gotten over faster as the British ‘Stiff Upper Lip’ won’t allow for too much wallowing.  The Brits don’t necessarily do long drawn out conversations about feelings and the meaning of life. They like to try to find the humour in life first. Perhaps they have point. Maybe we American’s don’t always get it.

posted by Megan Wadsworth on Sep 20


My first born has started school. The eve and morning of the first day was a tear filled affair with agonizing pleas of staying home with Mommy and my son was no better off. I was a complete wreck desperate to tell him he didn’t have to go. The pregnancy hormones were not helping (baby number 3 due February 2011). My husband, the northern epitome of British ‘keep calm and carry on’ sensibility, insisted on telling me over and over that he was going to be fine. Shockingly, this did not help. However, by the time we got to the gates of the school, Joseph was fine. He saw a couple of friends from preschool and was happy. The teacher’s report at the end day was positive and he’s been fine since. So why am I still a bit uneasy? 

Feeling stress over this big event is not uncommon I know. I’m hardly alone yet I seem to have the added stress of feeling a bit like I’m throwing my child into an unknown abyss. The school system over here is completely different. Not having a clue what’s ahead for my child is causing me some anxiety. I’ll be learning to ropes right along with him. 

Most children start school over here at four years old even though you are not legally obliged to send them until they are five. The later seems a more reasonable age but in the end I decided against that road. Sending him into a classroom full of peers who have already been in school a year felt an unfair thing to do. So here we are. School. And it’s not all bad. In fact it’s quite nice. It’s a lovely community school where I either know or recognize many of the parents. The classrooms are lively, colourful rooms filled with loads of toys. The teacher is a serious but caring individual who doesn’t play favorites and who Joseph already highly respects. He’s obsessed with tidying everything up because at ‘big school’, as he calls it, Mrs. Brown says he must. Thank you Mrs. Brown. 

Among the best of the differences between The UK and US school systems is that no matter what school you go to, private or state, everyone wears a uniform. No fights in the morning about what he’s going to wear. It’s decided. 

My immediate worries are easing but I know that there will be more in store for all of us down the road. The testing the children go through over here is intense. The names of the tests alone is enough to send my dyslexic brain into a frenzy. GCSE, A levels, G levels (Not sure, but the last one may be made up). I only vaguely know what they mean and when they occur. These tests are a long way off but apparently there are other tests, with other confusing initials no doubt, along the way to prepare for the big ones. It’s like the SAT’s that never end. This is my idea of hell. Makes me shudder.
This seems to be where the debate between Private and Public or Sate schools gets underway. This is a regular topic of conversation among parents with school age children. I suppose it is in the States as well, although as someone who went to both I can’t really remember. The small class size in the private school was nice but I felt the world it showed us was small. However, the American state school I attended was far too big, making it too easy to get lost in the crowd. 

Many people feel that sending their children to a Private school ensures a University education will follow. You see, there is no University over here that takes anyone who wants to go like there is in the US. You have to make the grades, hence all the heavy testing. There are some average to pretty good students out there not being awarded places at University depending on the number of students applying that year and how stiff the competition is. It’s high stakes stuff. It’s miles off and at the moment Joseph seems more predisposed to be a farmer rather than a doctor but you never know and the system over here forces you to think about these things early. Too early if you ask me. Sixteen year olds are asked to ‘specialize’ in their chosen field so they can choose the degree they will go after. In effect you are expected to know what you want to be when you grow up at sixteen. Madness. 

For now, I’m following my gut. The schools in our area are very good and at this point sending him anywhere else seems silly. What we love about where we live is the community and sending our children to the private school in the neighboring town effectively takes them, and us, out of that community. And then there’s the money. Expensive stuff private school and I’m not yet at all convinced it’s better. 

So, for the moment I’m happy, or as happy as a mother who’s first born has started school can be. I feel like I’m embarking on a journey that I’ve been on before but this time in a foreign land where anything is possible and where it’s not about me. It’s nerve wracking but for now picking up my son and seeing his smiling face and his wore hard, bunched up school uniform is enough to calm me. He loves it. So far so good…

posted by Megan Wadsworth on Aug 12

For all intents and purposes, I’m a liberal. Many of my life experiences and travels have made me that way just as the experiences of many I know and love have made them more conservative. I do not see either as a character defect although I know some might disagree. I wasn’t always so rational but politics in the UK is not the blood sport it is in America so I’ve relaxed a bit over the last ten years. The British have made room in their heads to change your mind every once in while. It took me a while to allow myself that freedom but now that I have I will never go back.

Politics does come up in the UK. A boozy dinner at friends or an evening in the pub can bring about quite a spirited debate. Yet, as heated as it can all get, a debate would never get in the way of a liberal buying a conservative a drink when next round falls to him and the conversation would easily transition when something more interesting came up. When politics comes up I’m happy to discuss it but I try to censor my diatribe in fear or being labeled the biggest bore in the room. But I don’t have to censor myself too much as it honestly rarely comes up. I have no idea what many of my UK friend’s political tendencies even are and could care less. This is rare in the US these days. It’s hard not to know how someone votes. There is this strange undercurrent of people feeling they have a right to know how you lean so they know how to relate to you or indeed if they want to relate to you at all. Both sides of the political shit storm are equally at fault in this. American Politics is not pretty people. I am happy to be well clear of that mess come election time. The bitterness is palpable. Everyone blames the media but if you ask me, (which you haven’t but am going to tell you anyway) it’s time to look in the mirror.

I long for the days when voting was a private affair. Much better. In London’s Hyde Park there is a very old, yet still active, tradition of the Speakers Corner. (I’ve added a link with a brief history of this tradition ) It is a place you can go on a Sunday, stand on a box, and speak out against all the injustices of the world. Basically, it’s special designated place to piss and moan. If you don’t want to hear it just stay away from Hype Park on a Sunday morning. I think it’s a fab plan. Every town needs one of those.

This radical idea of free political thinking combined my dislike of American politics has turned me into a Liberal Lite. I reserve the right to change my mind. In everything. I feel completely comfortable liking some forms of socialist reforms whilst also knowing I would last about two seconds in a non capitalist state. I think many liberals feel this way. Conservatives who are vehemently opposed to all forms of socialism often send their children to private schools with a mandatory uniform and live in subdivisions with homeowners associations which prevent their crazy neighbor from painting their garage door hot pink. Hypocritical? I’m not so sure. This is the problem with extreme partisan politics. It’s makes hypocrites out of everyone. It’s virtually impossible to be all one thing.

I attended a London University in my early thirties where I studied English Lit. The young were constantly banging on and on about capitalism and how it’s the route of all evils. There was one girl in particular who loved to run her mouth about her hatred of American capitalism yet she failed to see the irony in the fact that she always had either a Diet Coke or Starbucks in her hand. I finally had to point this out to her in a discussion one afternoon and found out later that I had made her cry. I didn’t feel bad. She was young and a little stupid. This was not her fault but she needed to be told. She’s probably married to a banker by now.

English politics is just as crazy but it doesn’t take over the nation the way it does in the US. A lot of that is probably due to the length of the campaign (weeks versus months). It is also helped that there are three main parties in the race instead of two. The two party politics in America draws a straight line firmly in the sand,  forcing people to pick a side. Adding another party makes that line a bit harder to follow which I feel is a good thing. In the UK’s last election a few short weeks brought to fruition a crazy combo government that I barely understand but appears to be working. Imagine that – opposing sides working together. As an American it’s not surprising I can’t wrap my head around it.

Some over here feel that under the Labour Government (Tony Blair) there has been too many hand holding laws implemented and shhhh don’t tell anyone, but I sort of agree. For example, my son starts school in September and I have learned that he is not to bring nuts anywhere on the school premises. Lunch boxes will be inspected.  On one hand I understand that a nut allergy is serious and can understand the rule but I cannot ignore the other hand (the American hand) which is screaming ‘Why don’t you tell your kid not to eat my kids peanut butter sandwich?!’ What’s wrong with that plan?  A friend of mine has just told me that at her daughter’s school they have banned all junk food. No crisps, no chocolate, no cookies. No fun. This is all in an effort to combat obesity. So as my friend packs her daughters lunch I imagine her thinking ‘Ok, what’s a healthy alternative to crisps? Oh, I know! Nuts!’ Think again sister.

Then there are the building laws. We are in the middle of an extension and renovation and partly due to the government’s slow involvement in this process we are starting two years later than we planned. They have to approve all plans and they have no clue what they are doing. The Housing Authorities are getting it oh so terribly wrong. Strict planning laws are resulting in safe and often soulless developments. It’s not like this everywhere but for the most part there is a formula by which all plans are passed or refused with no consideration of individual plots or people.  We were not allowed to extend one room by two more feet out the back incase the cars coming down the hill in the front could see into our living room. We pointed out that even if that were physically possible, the forest of trees between the road and the house would prevent this from happening. The planning officer’s response… ‘The trees could die’.  My response… ‘You have got to be f*****g kidding me’, is what I was going to say but was interrupted mid ‘f’ by husband kicking me under the table giving me that ‘Your not in Kansas anymore’ look. No, indeed I am not. 

Some of these things are mildly annoying and some make me see red but at the end of the day I have to ask how many of these maddening things really directly affect me. Not many. The nuts thing isn’t actually an issue as my son won’t touch them, alone or in peanut butter, and while the bit of extra space in our extension would have made a nice design feature, we don’t really need it. I could argue the principle of everything until I’m blue in the face but most days, I chose not to. Don’t get me wrong, I feel strongly about many issues but I also seem to have developed the ability to (eventually) see that thinking something doesn’t automatically make it so. The divide the difference of opinions in America is causing is worrying. It seems that people have lost the plot in regards to what a democracy is all about. We are allowed to have opposing opinions. That is the point. The English are a little better at accepting differences. Perhaps this comes with age.  I sure hope so.

posted by Megan Wadsworth on Jul 5

 There is a smidgen of mania attached to the shopping I do when I return to the States. I prepare by buying very little at home for months prior so I can carry on guilt free once I arrive. This sometimes means my children are still wearing corduroy trousers in June or shorts in November but it’s always worth it. Once it’s time to go, I pack light. I allow my husband to pack very little so he can fit an empty travel bag in his case. This is when the fact that he is not that bothered about clothes and fashion really works to my advantage.  Once there, I am ready. My mother often accompanies me and she takes it quite seriously. She is always telling me that Atlanta (the city they live in and where I grew up) is a shopping town and if you see something you like you need to get it because it will be gone tomorrow. It gives that trip to TJ Max that extra bit of intrigue and excitement. And of course I buy more. The choice is bottomless. And the deals – oh Lord the deals!  Shops like TK Max (the UK version of TJ Max) are a dime a dozen stateside. There are Marshals, Kohles, Burlington and Stein Mart to name a few and they are everywhere. No need to travel far (unless you live in England that is). The competition is fierce which keeps the price right and the value high. Even the big department stores run sales on designer items that the UK market can’t compete with. This is why shipping to the UK from the US is so expensive. If it weren’t the UK would have very little retail business. However, by the time you pay to have it sent and pay the tax, the deal has disappeared. You may as well go to John Lewis and buy that similar looking sofa at more than double the US cost. And that is exactly what people do. There is no other choice.

A couple of Christmas’s back when the pound was two to the dollar some people cottoned on that it was actually cheaper to fly to New York, do all their Christmas shopping, and fly back again, than it was to shop in the UK. Customs announced on the 10 o’clock news that they knew what people were up to but were not searching bags. Here in lies the mania. How could you not get excited about a completely justified shopping trip to NYC? On my most recent trip home I received a text from a UK friend. There was a sale on at Bloomingdales for a Juicy Couture sweater she desperately wanted. Would I please, please get it for her?! Would I please bring it back to her in poor deprived England with no Bloomies? Yes. Of course I would. Because I understand.  I also brought home a cable for another friend of ours.  It was something simple, something that seemed you should be able to get anywhere but evidently you cannot. Things aren’t always that simple over here. Finding specific, needed items can be challenging. My husband marvels at Home Depot where you could literally buy everything you need to build a house from scratch under one roof. B&Q, the UK version doesn’t even come close.

As caught up in all the shopping as I get when I visit I can’t help but notice there seems to be little else around anymore except stores to buy stuff in. There are big malls, fancy malls, strip malls and stand alone super stores like Target (one of my personal favorites). The tiny four way stop down the road from my parents house that used to hold a little shack and a vegetable stall is now a six lane major intersection that holds every amenity you could ever possibly need. Convenient, but also a little soulless.  Many of the newer developments are certainly nicer than the seventies inspired ones I remember driving by as a kid but no matter how much you spruce it up I don’t think I could describe any of them as beautiful.  Shopping areas in the UK can be just as soulless, and in many cases much worse, but there are less of them and they mainly exist in city centres or especially designated areas, which makes a huge difference to the overall scenery.

It’s no surprise that with all these shops about in the States that people shop. A lot. The stores are packed, bad economy and all. It’s not always just about the shopping as a US shopping mall often becomes a community center of the American suburb. The local mall houses not only shops but food courts, proper restaurants, movie theaters, and children’s play areas.  This is a somewhat new concept to the UK and it’s seems to be spreading but I’m not sure it’s such a grand plan. You may only go to the mall to meet a girlfriend for lunch or get kids together for a play date but chances are you aren’t getting out of there without a quick nip into a certain shop. The shopping culture is born and passed on.

I love American Consumerism, conspicuous as it is. I’d be a big fat hypocrite if claimed otherwise. However, there are times when all that choice makes my head spin and I have to ask, ‘Is all of this really necessary?’ On a trip to Publix, my parent’s grocery store of choice, I found myself stuck in the famed American cereal aisle. I walked up and down the additive/preservative mile for what seemed ages, hunting for Cheerios to no avail. Time was passing and I was wasting it – shopping. I do shop at home just not nearly as much. It’s rare I come home having bought something I didn’t plan on getting. I do my grocery shopping online, I stick to a strict list at Costco and when I go clothes shopping I usually know what I’m after. There are a couple of beautiful new clothes boutiques in Ampthill which have sucked me in a few times but for the most part, the opportunity to ‘binge shop’ doesn’t seem to come up. Me thinks this might be a very good thing.

posted by Megan Wadsworth on May 26

The seed of my naturalistic interests was planted while living in New York of all places. The realities of living there were harsh. The city pushes you so far out of your comfort zone that you have no choice but to seek comfort and quiet if you want to keep sane.  I found myself craving green. I had to see it once a day or I felt I might drown in concrete or be swallowed by a skyscraper. I ended up moving into an apartment one and half blocks from Central Park. It was the northern end where everyone got raped but I didn’t care. It was green. That park became the grounding force of my entire time in the New York. My most vivid memories of living there are in that amazing park. I could do an entire blog just on that park but I won’t bore you with that (now).   

My need for green has not disappeared since I left New York. The parks in London are amazing but they never felt mine. Too crowded and too immaculate. The English don’t really mess around when it comes to gardening. The perfection of it all is somewhat intimidating. Then we found our house. I was ecstatic. It is forty miles north of London and has a big garden (yard) full of not so perfect green things and it backs up to farmers fields. Right now the fields are brilliant yellow from the rape seed the farmer is growing this year. It’s quite a sight. The best views are from the annex room above the garage. My “room of one’s own”, where I write, nap, read, do yoga (I’ve started again) and drink tea. My husband, the English one, is the gardener. He makes sure everything looks pretty and he grows our vegetables. This time of year we never have to buy vegetables from the shop. My favorite this season is the Red Russian Kale. As much as I love growing our own food, I have to admit, my favorite type of food is the kind someone else prepares for me. I’m always intensely grateful, even if it doesn’t taste great.

My husband has often encouraged me to get involved with the garden and I do but it’s obvious my heart isn’t really in. This might seem strange coming from someone who professes to love nature so much but my interest in the garden, up until recently anyway, did not go far beyond sitting in it with a glass of wine.

 Just when I was about to force myself to knuckle down and get more involved, I was given a gift. A book that seems to be shaping a new chapter of my life: James Wong ‘Grow Your Own Drugs’. It’s not what you think but the title is quite catchy. All of a sudden the garden opened up to me in a whole new way. All of these plants have uses! Some ease heartburn, some are antiseptic, some moisturize and some sooth. The list goes on and on and on. This appeals to my hypochondriac nature and also my intense distrust at cosmetic companies. Over the years I’ve become more and more resentful of expensive products. Why is it so pricey? The answer: no reason. They are taking the piss because they can. How’s that for hippy? A few of the things I’ve made so far have included, an amazing hand oil, green tea mouthwash, ear drops with mullein, a body lotion for eczema made with viola flowers (the colour was amazing) , nettle hair rinse, a eucalyptus vapor rub and an oatmeal lotion. And I’m only just getting started. I have made a list of things for my husband to grow and most of them are doing really well. As a result, I’m more involved with the vegetables because I’m starting to see it as all the same thing. A fact that I’m sure pleases my husband but he dare not say anything in case he jinxes it.

My new hobby makes me think back to my youth, growing up in Atlanta, Ga. There was an area close to downtown called Little Five Points. Many of you know it well. It’s undergone some commercialization and other changes since I was a young club-goer but the history remains. It was hippy central and a perfect spot for those with similar herbalist interests.  There are some big differences though. Among them being, I do not, nor will I ever, have dread locks, on purpose anyway. I will always shave my legs and armpits and I do not consider patchouli oil to be a good perfume choice.

 I wonder if my new hobby might feel a bit fringe if I still lived in the states or if I would have ever stumbled upon it in the first place. I see things are changing but America has some catching up with Europe as far as the environment is concerned. Normal life in the UK made it almost inevitable I would cotton on to something like this. Everyday life in the UK is greener. Everyone recycles, many people compost there waste, and our neighbors keep chickens. There is a huge movement of people growing their own vegetables. If people don’t have room in their own gardens there are community allotments of which there are now waiting lists to get into. We trade off our extra plants and excess crops with friends. It’s all very hippy dippy commune sort of stuff. But I love it. It creates community.  And there isn’t one bell bottom in sight.

posted by Megan Wadsworth on Mar 26

I don’t have one. Mine quivers at the first sign of trouble. It’s not that I don’t want one. I do. If I could nip down to Tesco and pick one up I would but it would seem that it’s a genetic thing. I can only hope my children have inherited their fathers.

I was quite skeptical of the stiff upper lip when I moved here but I’ve slowly become a fan. I wasn’t comfortable sensing I didn’t know someone’s true feelings on a subject. I like to be able to read people and this quality makes reading the English quite difficult. I also believed the stiff upper lip to be an emotionally unhealthy way of avoiding difficult feelings.  I’ve since come to the revelation that A) these ‘true feelings’, belonging to others, are none of my business. And B) When used correctly it is far from denial. It is the ultimate acceptance. Life goes on whether you’re sulking or not so you might as well ‘get on with it’, as they say over here.

 My ingrained drive for the pursuit of happiness always seems to take me back to times of self reflection. Problem is, I’m now starting to find all of that a bit boring. I used to love sitting in a coffee shops for hours on end  with friends (it was the 90’s), analyzing every possible choice for every possible event. I don’t think I’d change a thing about those years but I am now old enough to know there is often no ‘right’ decision. It’s more important to just make one and shut up about it. I still believe that life is a spiritual journey but I now revel in the lighter moments much more than the heavy ones. The English are good at this. When it all hits the fan they prefer to deal with things in a dignified silence. I still believe the psychotherapy hype because there have been times when it’s served me very well. Handling life’s more difficult periods in this manner is in my genes and I am certainly more vocal about it than most of my English friends but it’s all to a lesser degree now. It’s starting to spill over into the rest of my life as well. My exercise of choice has always been yoga. While I still love it I’m finding I need to balance it out with something a little less serious. So, I’ve taken up the hula hoop. Much better. Still a challenge, but also a bit ridiculous.  Just like life.

A few weeks back I had one of days when the world catches up with you and sits it’s fat, Sumo wrestling ass on your shoulders. It was a bad day. A very bad day. In my effort to be more like my peers I decided I would suck it up and ‘get on with it’ anyway. I went about my business, put the kids in car, headed to shop and then off to the toddler gym. It was Tuesday. This is what I do on Tuesdays. I thought the routine would sooth me. If I was English it might have – but I’m not. I then proceeded to loose my marbles in the parking lot as soon as my friends starting turning up (we all do the same thing on Tuesdays).  It was very public and oh so embarrassingly American of me (either that or Italian but I really don’t look like the latter) but this sort of display kind of works for me. I have to admit I felt better afterwards. The beauty of this moment lay not in my failure to achieve the holy grail of stiff lips but that those around me had it covered so I was free to fall apart. No one reacted. They just acted. My children were calmly guided away from the scene by the mothers of their friends before they ever had a chance to notice anything was wrong. My shopping list was taken off my hands so I wouldn’t have to multi task picking up milk AND losing my mind. Another friend sat with me until I was OK to go inside. Everyone else kept a respectful distance until I was ready to socialize and not once did I feel any pressure to ‘explain myself’.  No one asked me what was wrong. They only asked if I was alright. And not just that day but for weeks after.

That day cleared some things up for me about the stiff upper lip. Aside from being well aware of the amazing friends I have, which I already knew, I also know stoicism isn’t about not talking about things. It’s just about waiting for the right time and then doing so quietly, perhaps with a cup of tea and just one or two people, so you can hear yourself think. Maybe the biggest thing to change is the tea instead of coffee. In the end the result is the same.

posted by Megan Wadsworth on Feb 11

My biggest fear about moving to the UK was not, as you might think, selling my things and moving to a foreign country with a man I had met six months prior. I wouldn’t say that I was without fear, but I was sure. Pretty sure anyway. However, the idea of driving on the wrong side of the road sent shivers down my spine. My fears were compounded when I actually saw the way people drove in London. There are painted lines indicating three lanes where in the US that same amount of space would only be deemed big enough for one car. Insane. ‘I am not doing that’, I resolved. Luckily, we lived in central London where it wasn’t too much of an issue. I was used to doing without a car as I had lived in New York for five years before moving across the pond. Walking and public transport was what I was used to. Cars were for families and people who thought certain makes were cool. This was not me. I’ve never been one that loved driving or gave a toss what car so and so had. If offered a ride I take it but will rarely properly notice what kind of car I’m in beyond the colour and size.

As things progressed with my English gent I slowly realized that we sort of needed a car. Not having one made visiting people outside of London a bit of an ordeal. We once rented a ‘small’ car to drive to Scotland where we were staying at an inn by a loch with some friends. When the Volvo Estate showed up we took it in our stride. ‘It’s the only automatic we had,’ said our delivery boy. That’s fine. ‘I can do this’ I told my now husband. ‘Just get me out of London’. I did great on the motorways. Easy peasy. I even felt cocky when I looked at the speedometer – 75mph. Noooo problem. This driving thing is a piece of cake.

Then we got there. The roads were not roads at all. They were ‘lanes’: winding, skinny little paths big enough for a wheelbarrow with overgrown shrubbery on either side, which made visibility a bit of a problem. I was doing OK and taking it slow when a truck came tearing around the bend. He saw me but didn’t slow down. My heart was pounding through the front window but somehow I did not crash. I don’t know how, as my eyes were closed, but it was quite a feat I can tell you that. I later saw this exact scene re-enacted in the film ‘The Holiday’ with Cameron Diaz driving a Mini Copper. Try it in a Volvo sister. Nothing ‘mini’ about it. I was no longer scared of driving in London. Nothing could be as bad as the country.

When some American friends who were moving back to the states offered us their car in exchange for a ride to the airport, we said ‘yes.’  A free car. Can’t really beat it. The car was a clunker, a perfect London car that didn’t matter if I crashed it. It was a red Volkswagen, with a dent in the passenger door, no air conditioner, a very loud engine and the driver’s side blew out hot air from under the dash. You always had the sensation that your legs were burning.  I didn’t care. I thought the car was great. It sometimes stalled out but it always eventually got you to where you needed to be. We learned never to speak disparaging words about the car whilst in it or it would stall on us in spite. It purposely made my husband miss a football game when he inadvertently called it a ‘piece of shit’ on a journey home from IKEA. He never did that again. Quite sensitive, our first car.

After months of being quite happy letting my husband drive it everywhere, he finally asked if I was ever going to properly learn. We set off for lessons exactly twice before we both realized that he teaching me to drive was going to be the end of us. So I asked my friend Rachel. She was much better. She never lost her patience, even when I pulled out into a busy intersection to make my first right turn and the whole of London stopped to honk, yell or give me two fingers (the equivalent of the bird). She even stayed calm when I tried to park the car on a busy street in Covent Garden and ended up on the sidewalk, sending a pedestrian running and having it all crescendo with me hitting a street post. She’s a trooper that Rachel. I never saw her sweat and she was so sweet when she lied and told me I wasn’t that bad over quite a few well earned drinks one night after we had parked the car away for the night.

I got better. I still don’t love driving but I feel confident now and passing my UK driving test last year was a real accomplishment. They don’t give drivers licences to just anyone. That test was not a joke. I’m a proper soccer mom now. I live in the burbs and drive, get this, a Volvo. I’ve even graduated to an SUV. Narrow roads, not a problem. London, bring it on. Roundabouts, genius. Now if I could only learn to park the monster.

posted by Megan Wadsworth on Jan 12

I love Christmas. It’s the aftermath that exhausts me. My husband has just thrown the tangled Christmas lights at my feet in some hope that I might untangle them before we pack them away for next year but as you may have deduced, I’ve decided to take this rare moment of quiet on a Saturday morning to write instead. The lights are staring at me, as are the pine needles all over the floor, and the gazillion toys I need to sort through and find space for. I understand why bears hibernate for the winter.  All of the snow we’ve had over the last month that was beautiful in the days leading up to Christmas is now becoming a bit of a nuisance.  I suppose I’m a bit of a New Year scrooge. I hate the mess and I really hate resolutions. Christmas, on the other hand, is a different story. Christmas in England is magic. It’s as if Christmas is England. It’s so… well, traditional I guess. I feel like I’m in the middle of where it all started, sans Bethlehem, donkeys, wise men, ect.

Being American, Christmas for me starts the day after Thanksgiving. This applies even when I’m in the UK. I do a good job of ignoring all Christmas decorations and piped Christmas music in shops and elevators (lifts) until that third Friday in November. I don’t do this consciously. It’s natural, I suppose because I love Thanksgiving in America just as much as I love Christmas in England. We were in the States for Thanksgiving this year and our arrival home landed us smack dab in the middle of the holiday season. Parties were planned for the kids and adults alike. Lights were going up in the village. Carolers sang outside the local Waitrose (grocery store). The Ampthill brass band played under the lit Christmas tree located in the shadow of the clock tower in the square while everyone sipped mulled wine and hot chocolate. The scene is so quintessentially English that I half expect someone to jump out and shout ‘God bless us everyone!’  Or maybe it’s just that I feel like shouting it. The people in town who know me would probably not look twice at my overtly American display of emotion and excitement but I do try to keep a low(ish) profile.

My husband and I do as much shopping online as possible because the crowded stores are not my favourite part of it all. Unless it’s for food. That we take quite seriously as does the rest of the UK as discussed in my last blog ‘The Food Over Here…‘ (By the way husband saved the day on New Year’s Eve with a starter of French onion soup from a Raymond Blanc cook book – the whole dinner start to finish was one of the most memorable meals of my life). We look forward to going to The Cooks Collection in town to order our Christmas cheeses every year. Sampling, discussing and eventually choosing our cheese is our adult version of going to see Santa. Catherine, the owner is full of Christmas cheer and never seems to tire of our indecisiveness which is much appreciated and makes it all that much more fun. We even try to get a babysitter for the event and squeeze in a drink at the cozy Prince of Wales a couple of yards up the road.  Not very rock and roll I know but it makes us happy.

What I love about Christmas here is that it’s so accessible. You tend to get the feeling you are in the middle of it without having to set foot in a mall. The pubs and restaurants are full of large parties eating and drinking until they can’t fit any more in. I love looking in the windows at all the grown men and women wearing paper crowns they pulled out of Christmas crackers. I generally refuse to wear the crown myself but do enjoy seeing them on others. My sister in law taught me to wear it for 5 minutes and slip in off quietly before everyone starts taking photos. Top tip.

The houses here tend to be closer to the street so when you’re out walking you get a lovely view of everyone’s Christmas trees in the front window. Every village generally does their own ‘turning on of the lights’ and while the lights might not be the most spectacular you’ve ever seen, it always seems personal. Even London’s Regents Street lights seem understated compared to some American displays. Not that I don’t love that too. I do, and if I’m in the States at Christmas we always do a Christmas Eve drive to see lights. It’s just different here and I enjoy that about it. 

My three year old has just come in from playing in the snow and offered his help with the untangling of our lights. While I’m tempted to let him have at it, better judgment tells me it’s a bad idea. It’s time to clean away the last of the Christmas crumbs. Until next year…

posted by Megan Wadsworth on Nov 9


does not suck. Well, most of it, that is. There are now more Michelin Star-rated restaurants in London than in Paris. French chefs are moving to England to work because London is fast becoming the centre of culinary excellence – much to the French chagrin. Because Britain has something to prove on the food front, it often ends up well beyond average.  The trend over here is to use fresh, local and, most importantly, seasonal produce. The menus are simple and the dishes lovely. Not necessarily ground breaking in originality, but proper food that you can feel good about eating. Sometimes it’s really posh and other times, it’s all about comfort – food you eat in a pub in front of a roaring fire after a brisk walk on an October afternoon. Muddy welly boots allowed. Heaven.  

Where the food fails in Britain is in café or fast food.  There are exceptions to this but for the most part it tends to be bad to average.  Pre-packed dry sandwiches, salads with no dressing, burnt toasties (Britain’s version of grilled cheese) and flavourless chilli served on top of baked potato.  Difficult to get excited about lunch. The average tourist doesn’t necessarily want to sit down for a long leisurely lunch, so they will seek out a moderately priced café or pub for a quick bite while museum hopping. Unfortunately, chances are they won’t wander into one of Britain’s little gems.  It’s much easier to find a hell-hole serving crap food by a waitress who wouldn’t bother to spit on you if you were on fire.

Roadtrip food is the worst. Truly terrible. A few service facilities (rest stops) have now opened Marks and Spencer’s Food Halls which is a Godsend, but there are too few. I have made mental notes of all of them on the M1 between London and Leeds. It’s the only way I’ll eat on the motorway.  Some may say I’m a spoilt brat and perhaps that’s true, but come on people… Little Chef? I rest my case.

In theory the idea of Little Chef is a good one, it being the only option for a sit down meal on UK motorways.  If the food wasn’t so terrifying, I suppose you could compare it to Cracker Barrel. Oh how I miss Cracker Barrel-corporate, conveyer-belt food, churned out for the masses, that actually tastes good. It’s not good for you but that’s not the point. Neither is Little Chef.  Both will make you fat and give you a heart attack but only one will be worth it.

This little issue of bad fast-ish food is somewhat surprising when almost everyone in this country knows how to cook. There are countless amazing restaurants over here but no matter how good the restaurant might be, this is not where you get your best  meal in the UK. For this you need friends, something that most visitors won’t have. This makes me sad because you can’t possibly experience the best of British food without being invited to someone’s house for dinner. This is where British cuisine comes to life.

Hospitality comes first with the English.  If you do not live an easy cab ride away, you will often be invited to spend the night. This ensures you are able to drink and enjoy all the lovely wine they have picked to go with the meal without censorship. Upon your arrival, you will be greeted with the smells of homemade deliciousness and a drink. Dinner is rarely late. The meal will begin with a starter, followed by an often-complicated main course, dessert, then cheese with port (cheese always comes at the end of the meal, not the beginning).  The courses come at a relaxed pace. Everyone slowly fills up as the wine flows. All of this is pulled off with zero pretense. The format may seem stiff to some Americans but when this is the way you are accustom to entertaining and being entertained, it flows with ease. It’s their culture. It’s not a buttoned up dinner with people talking about stocks but if it is, it will be a lively debate- not at all boring. To top it all off, breakfast (usually a bacon sandwich) will be served the next morning. 

I try to live up to this kind of entertaining but I find it a challenge to be so organized. I’ve almost found my balance after almost 9 years now. I tend to skip the starter because if the truth be known, I don’t know how to make any. I put out chips and dip and call it day. I tell people that it isn’t traditional to serve a formal starter in America (something I’m not sure is entirely true), that we do ‘appetizers, not ‘starters’. I’m let off the hook once I put some guacamole or American shrimp cocktail under their nose. I just get away with my inadequacies by being foreign. 

We are headed to Cornwall with two other couples for New Year’s this year.  We’ve rented a house where the size and comfort of the dining table was a big deciding factor in picking out the right place. For New Year’s Eve dinner, one couple will be responsible for the starter, one for main course and one for dessert, and we’ll all bring one or two cheeses. This year I have the starter and am already stressing. Haven’t a clue what to make. I’m sure the other two courses will come from a Gordon Ramsey- or the like- cook book, so I can’t be messing about with guacamole. This is serious. I should probably get practicing.

I felt it was necessary to defend my new homeland’s reputation regarding food. By and large the negative press is undeserved. But If England could just get this tiny little issue of fast (I don’t mean McDonalds – I just mean faster) food worked out, then their reputation would change overnight. England doesn’t need any more five star restaurants. It just needs a little salt and some salad dressing.  In the mean time, if an English person invites you to their house for dinner, say yes.

posted by Megan Wadsworth on Sep 28

It’s difficult to imagine a topless sunbather in the middle of London’s Hyde Park. Yet, chances are that the woman of a certain age in the striped deck chair, enjoying a cup of tea and Penguin Classic, had them out on her last holiday to the Med. No matter what you look like, bikinis with easily removable tops are the suit of choice to most. Breasts are everywhere – big ones, small ones, saggy ones fake ones, young ones and old ones. It is relativity easy to spot the British travellers this way, as it’s been a year since their last holiday and so a year since their breasts have seen the light of day. It can be quite blinding. 

I suppose it’s easy to get sucked into the whole idea when everyone is doing it. Americans would first have to rid themselves of an ingrained prudishness, which is often looked at as a character asset.  In contrast, the British are also a bit prudish but see it as a negative trait, thus compensate by getting their breasts out on holiday. Seems reasonable. 

As an American, who’s nearest (warm) beaches happen to be in the Mediterranean, this leaves me in a tricky place. I always seem to forget the nudity norm and show up with a new suit that leaves me feeling like I’d be less conspicuous in a prom dress. I must admit I have done it once. I found a beautiful, quiet little spot on a walk one morning.  It wasn’t a beach so no crowds. It was a rocky cove with a step ladder that dropped me into the deep crystal blue Mediterranean. After a glorious swim in the warm salty waters I climbed out onto my rock and basked in the sun feeling perfectly alone and a bit smug. How European was I?

Moments later I was startled awake by a horn. I looked up to see a boat, of ferry like proportions, full of tourists with cameras and binoculars. I lay there frozen listening to the commentary from the tour guide being told over a loudspeaker.  Brilliant. Apparently, it wasn’t such a private cove after all. It was quite famous. I thought that scurrying for my top and running off would attract more attention so I sat  there and pretended I knew the boat was coming all along. I often still wonder if my breasts are in some stranger’s holiday’s photos.  It’s entirely possible.

I’m not sure what makes the British so willing to step so far out their comfort zone for two weeks out of the year. Maybe it’s just down to the excitement over seeing the sun and feeling warm enough to not need clothes. Or maybe they are just more cosmopolitan than us. Some like to think so but I’m not so sure. There are plenty of Brits that head abroad each year on a package holiday where they may never leave the hotel. It’s not about the place as much as it’s about the sun. Americans are often given are hard time for not owning passports. Only 20% have them, allegedly. But the truth is that we don’t need them for a once a year trip to the beach like the British do. There is Cornwall and Devon, true, but you aren’t guaranteed the warm weather and water there. You have to have a passport for that.  British beach holidays consist of families huddled together behind wind breakers emerging for lunch and ice-cream. For those brave enough to actually get in the water most are wearing wetsuits. Nudity is rare. We went to Cornwall and Wales last year and I didn’t get in the water once. 

 I love having my passport but our holidays are hardly out to the ordinary. We go to the beach with the kids just like we’d do if we lived in the US. The sea of choice is usually the Mediterranean or the ‘Med’, which sounds insanely glamorous , and certainly can be, but more often than not it’s full of pretty normal, albeit topless, people . No George Clooney sightings. A trip to Spain, a popular holiday destination, would take the average English person about as long as a trip to Florida from Georgia. It’s not far. It is however, worlds apart.

Maybe one year I’ll get the balance right – but I doubt it. I’m the American in the tankini, wearing SPF 35 and a big hat. We are thinking of going to Florida next year where I’ll fit right in. I can only be grateful that I don’t have a continental husband who wears a speedo. Thank God for that or I don’t think I’d ever be able to set foot on an American beach again.

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