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The British Are Coming

Brits call them self-drive holidays or multicentre holidays. We simply call them road trips.

By Novella Carpenter

They drive on the wrong side of the road. They use words like "silencer" or "petrol" when they mean muffler or gas. They brought us the Beatles and the Sex Pistols. They're the British, and they're coming to the United States this summer, mostly for the wide-open roads and cheap gas.

Graham Cooper, Driving Adviser

I had the chance to interview Graham Cooper, the brain behind an advice website UK-2-USA.com, devoted to British "fly/drive" travelers. A fly/drive vacation involves flying to the United States, renting a car, driving around and then flying home. Brits call them self-drive holidays or multicentre holidays. We simply call them road trips.

Graham's been organizing vacations of this type since 1990, and has lots of advice about renting cars, the difference between a motel and a hotel and negotiating American slang.

What car is the most requested rental?

"The dream car is a convertible. It is part of the 'dream road trip.' The vision of driving around, say California, in an open-topped car is so attractive from comparatively cold and wet England. When the cost of the car hire is looked at, many will step away from the dream. Also, many families hire a minivan."

What are the favorite vacation spots in the United States for Brits?

"San Francisco is the western city that everybody who wants to go to the states wants to see (New York is the same in the east). The Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, the streetcars, the hills, etc., are well-known icons from films and TV. No. 2 is Disney World Orlando."

Why not just go to Disney France?

"Disney is American and just does not work properly in France (the problem being the French and not Disney). The weather in Florida is also a much bigger draw than northern France. Four Corners is also very popular."

Really, why? The time I went there, I just found a bunch of empty hot dog stands and a cluster of flags.

"From over this side of the water, when you are planning a route around the Southwest, the four corners marked on the map as the only place where four states meet is a strongly attractive proposition; more as a 'trophy' destination than a wonderful place to see. Other popular destinations include Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon, Yosemite and Yellowstone."

We've been experiencing high gas prices in the last few months. What's the British take on gas prices here?

"They are ridiculously cheap even when you think they are expensive."

Words like petrol, boot, rubber, and fag have different meanings in the United States. Does anyone report problems with language barriers during a road trip?

"On my Yahoo group we've had a lot of fun exploring the differences in the language. Here are a few car-related British terms translated into American.

Boot: Trunk
Bonnet: Hood
Mileometer: Odometer
Motorway: Freeway
Lorry: Truck
Petrol: Gas
Pavement: Sidewalk"

What are some British fears about traveling in the United States?

"Your immigration/visa squeeze. Our media periodically runs stories about tourists being chained up, long queues at immigration, etc."

Cheers to Graham! There are many amusing posts on his website about American culture. For instance, a poster wondered at our love of ice machines and ice, "What do they do, take a bath in it?" Check them out at Uk-2-USA.com.


Graham listens to country music when driving through the United States. Tell me what you listen to on a road trip at novellacarpenter@yahoo.com.

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From the June 16-23, 2004 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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