Tuesday, 25 November 2014

My New Car

Here it is!  My frosty new car.

I finally have a car!  Hallelujah!  It took 44 days, but my shiny used Ford Focus is now sitting in the backyard (or back garden as they call it here).  This car-buying thing has been a true test of patience.  It started back on Oct. 12 when we went to the supermarket of used car lots (yes, it really is called a car supermarket here) – the Hilton Garage.  They had hundreds of used cars of all types and in all price ranges on their lot.  Upon arriving at the car supermarket, you see a group of blue jacket clad gentlemen standing by the door in a cluster and just assume that, as in the US, you will barely get your foot out your car door before someone is standing there offering to show you around.  Not in England.  No one came our way as we approached this huddled group by the door.  We walked right up to them before anyone acknowledged us and the conversation went something like this:
How can we help you?
Well, we want to buy a car. 
Ok – here is a 10-page list of all the cars on the lot.  Go have a look and let me know if you have any questions. 

Whaaaaat?  We get to show ourselves around?  And no one will be breathing down our neck the entire time?  In all actuality, it was a good and a bad thing.  Good because we felt very little pressure as we perused the car lot looking for the perfect little used car that will get me through our two-year stint here in England.  Bad because the car lot was huge!  After stumbling around for a while trying to figure out how everything was arranged, we gave up and, starting at one end of the lot, we literally walked up and down every row and looked at every car.  Luckily for us, the price of each car is displayed from a large sign hanging from the rearview mirror, so even though we had to walk the entire lot and look at each and every car, we could quickly discount most of them based on their price.  Apparently Eric wasn’t going to buy a Mercedes for me while here in England. 

We finally picked out a nice little Ford Focus that didn’t smell too bad inside (I am not sure what some people were hauling around inside their cars, but some of them here smeeeeeeeely).  We couldn’t drive it home that day because we didn’t have insurance, so we put a small deposit down on it with the credit card so they would hold it for us at the car lot, confirmed with the salesman that we could buy the car on our credit card which we could turn around and pay right off from our bank account in the US, and set up an appointment to come back on Thursday with proof of insurance and buy the car.  Everything went downhill from there. 

I will save you all the gory details, but needless to say, I did not pick the car up on that Thursday, but instead had to wait 44 days.  The main issue was with our US issued swipe and sign credit cards.  While we have had no issues using them at the grocery store or gas stations, it seems not all places are so willing to let us use them - namely car dealerships, insurance companies and cell phone companies.  You see, the credit cards are different here.  They have a chip in them so you insert the card into a machine, it reads the chip and then you have to enter a four digit pin number, just like a debit card.  It's more secure than a sign and swipe, because let's face it, no one ever checks your signature anymore.  During this whole car buying ordeal, despite what we were originally told at the car dealership, no one wanted to take our US issued credit card. 

Obviously, since it took us so long to get it, there are some differences in how you can buy cars and get insurance here in the UK.  There are some other differences with cars here as well.  First and foremost, the steering wheel is on the right side of the car and you drive on the other side of the road.  That’s actually not as hard as you may think.  It feels weird, but isn’t really that difficult.  Secondly, many cars don’t have gas caps.  The gas tanks have different size openings based on whether the car runs on regular gas or diesel and the nozzles at the gas stations are different as well.  Quite brilliant actually because you simply can’t fit the diesel nozzle into a car that takes regular gas so you never have to worry about putting the wrong type in. 

The third difference I just noticed this morning.  The temperatures over night dipped below freezing (yes, I can hear the “Big deal” coming from all of you over there in the winter locked Midwest) so everything is covered in a beautiful layer of frost this morning, including my new car.  Well, it’s more like ice really because everything is perpetually wet here.  The humidity hasn’t dipped below 90% in the past few weeks.  The driveway and even our roof are covered in bright green moss.  The sun is setting at 3:58 pm and it never gets above the treetops to the south of our house because it is so low in the sky.  We are receiving an hour less of daylight compared to Minneapolis right now.  Even a sunny day doesn’t dry anything out.  That means, when it freezes outside here, it’s kind of like you had an ice storm without anything actually falling from the sky.  Eric has looked around for an ice scraper for his car because he’s had frosty windows a couple of times, but all he could find was more of a squeegee type thing which does help when the inside of your car is covered in moisture, but I’m not sure it’s very effective on an icy windshield.  And that brings us to the third difference with cars here in the UK.  On our walk to school this morning, I saw, not one, not two, but three people using credit cards to scrape the ice off their cars.  Is that the English version of an ice scraper?  Good thing it seldom snows here because I’m not sure that would work well on 6-8 inches.  And, they may not want me buy anything with my US issued credit card here, but at least I can still use it to scrap my windows.  
I wasn't kidding.  Moss growing on the roof and in the gutters.
So now I need to decide where to take myself today in my new car.  Or should I just stay home because I don’t really need to go anywhere?  A few short months ago, I never would have stayed at home all day.  It was a rare day that I didn’t have something going on that required me to get in the car and drive somewhere.  And even if I didn’t have anyplace to be on any particular day, I’d usually find some excuse to run out for a bit.  But here, since I didn’t have a car for so long and this is a very small village, I couldn’t go anywhere during the week and I’ve gotten use to the solitude at home and come to enjoy it.  I get a bit antsy by the end of the week, but I also know then that the weekend is coming and we’ll be out and about for most of it.  So maybe I’ll just stay home and enjoy the frost out my window. 

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