Sorry for the delay -- I worked 12-hours straight yesterday, so didn't have any time to catch up on ECN!
A multi-standard VCR may help, but as Sven mentioned, they're harder to come by in the U.S. as they're regarded as something of a "boffins" item.
Here in the U.K. many domestic VCRs sold in the last 10 years or so have NTSC playback capability. The output isn't true NTSC, but a hybrid signal designed to be watchable on a normal British PAL receiver. With VHS tapes being cheaper and often available earlier in the U.S. than here, it's a natural result of people wanting to buy tapes from America.
Without getting too
technical, the tape running fast is a result of the different frame rates. The U.S. system uses 525 lines at 30 frames per second; Britain uses 625 lines at 25 frames per second.
There is a control track recorded along one edge of the tape with pulses to allow proper synchronization of the frames (think of it as being similar to the sprocket holes on film).
An American VCR will try to adjust the tape speed to lock at 30 frames per second, so the British tape recorded at 25 frames per second will end up running too fast.
The universal acceptance of NTSC throughout the U.S., Canada, Mexico, and beyond certainly makes life easier. Go from tapes to regular TV receivers in Europe, and you'll find even more compatibility issues due to different channel allocations etc.
True multi-standard tape machines can be quite expensive. If you're planning on buying foreign tapes on a regular basis, it might be worth checking out good used machines on in the "Professional video" category on eBay.
Even so, you'd still need a monitor or receiver which will accept 625/50-PAL signals, or you'd need a digital standards converter to convert to 525/60-NTSC.
Any chance that the dealer tha tapes came from over here sells an NTSC version and would exchange them for you?
[This message has been edited by pauluk (edited 12-09-2003).]