1. No "radio-fell-into-bathtub-electrocution-accidents" here
You arrive in England, thrilled to be in this "quaint" country! You're unpacking your suitcase in your "quaint" hotel room and you wonder "Where do I plug in my hair-dryer, I have this awesome plug converter I bought at Walmart?!" You look in the bathroom, naturally, and become perplexed. "Well, there's this one odd outlet for 'electric shavers', is that what hair dryers are called in England?" Sorry honey, you can stop looking. There are NO standard electrical plugs available in British bathrooms. None (at least that I've ever seen). You can't plug in a hairdryer, a curling iron, nothing except an electric shaver. I'm not 100% sure why. Perhaps it's because the electricity voltage is higher here (220 volts, instead of 140 in America)? Whatever the case, I blow dry my hair in the dining room. What can I say, I rarely eat there so chances of my blond locks finding their way onto my dinner plate are very low.
2. Um, where do I put all my stuff?
I don't mind admitting that the stereotype of Americans being materialist has definite truth to it. We Americans are many other things including friendly, helpful, loud and demanding. We also tend to have a lot of stuff. And the thing is, we do because yes we can (Obama had it right)! Most of us live in homes with tons of space, storage, walk in closets (only a minority live in places like NYC where space is at a premium). Britain is a small island and as such, there isn't the same availability of space to liberally store stuff here, there and everywhere. I find the absence of storage areas the most challenging in British bathrooms. It seems a typical bathroom here has a pedestal sink and not so much as a medicine cabinet to stick things in. You rarely meet an unclean or unkept Brit, so I ask myself, "Where do they put all their all their toiletries?" I simply can't work it out. It's as big a mystery to me as Stonehenge.
Typical British bathroom, are there secret storage compartments no one has told me about?
3. Dog-lovin' a la Britannia.
The Brits are dog-lovers, that's true. And Americans are too. This is not the difference I'm referring to. But the British take this responsibility so seriously, they don't get dogs on a whim. I have often heard Brits say, "I'd love a dog, but I'm too busy. I work all day and poor thing would be alone for 8 hours at a time". How lovely that they are so concerned for the dog's welfare. But unless they're talking about puppies (which do require extra time and consideration), I have a somewhat different perspective. Dogs sleep most of the day and seem to easily hold their pee for hours. I would encourage more British to adopt rescued dogs who need good homes, even if they work during the day. Obviously you have to take care of the dogs' needs, but being home all day is to me, an unnecessary prerequisite. I adopted Abby when she was about a year old. And I worked a full time job. She was fine. She slept (and held her pee) all day and when I got home, she'd get a walk, or a trip to the dog park. She was and is a contented dog. It might not work for all breeds and all families but considering how many dogs need homes and how caring the British are with animals, I think there could be more happily-homed hounds here than there are.
Well-traveled Abby loves living in the UK, though it rains more than in her hometown of Phoenix.
4. I'm sorry for living!
Forget everything you think you know about the rules of politeness. Just like driving on the other side of the road, you have to use the opposite logic here in certain social settings. I never thought I'd master this one, but I think I've come a long way. And if I can do it, so can you. Essentially you learn that one must apologize numerous times a day. It becomes second nature, much as breathing does. If you've ever seen National Lampoon's European Vacation, you'll recall the Griswolds are driving in England and run over Eric Idle. Hilarity ensues as Eric repeatedly downplays the severity of the accident (as blood spurts from his arm, "it's only a flesh wound!"), and apologizes for finding his way under their car. To watch the LOL clip, click HERE. For a real-life type example, read the next paragraph. If you get the gist, you can now just skip to number 5.
Here's the situation: let's say someone bumps into you at the grocery store. You, grumpy and cross at the injury, turn and say, "Oh, so sorry!". Yes that's right my dear, sweet, unknowing American friends. You apologize...even when it's not your fault. That's how it works here. It's a weird type of diffuser of angst or aggression. Most likely the person who ran into you with their shopping trolley will apologize in response (which we can all agree is appropriate) but then the two of you will do an awkward but essential social dance as you each apologize more and more profusely to the other. Then you go your separate, peaceful ways.*
*There is one notable exception to this rule. And I warn you now so as not to be shocked by it. The exception occurs when Brits are driving. Behind the wheel of the car, they are transformed into ball-breakers of a new level; one that would make most of us Americans look weak and timid.
One of my favorite things about the British is their sense of humor. I didn't always get it, I think it took me a good couple years for it to really develop. Part of their sense of humor is to tease each other. And they usually make fun of people they're fond of. "Taking the mickey" or "Taking the piss" are two colloquialisms that mean to make fun of. In the States, we do sarcasm, but we often do it as a weapon, a sly dig, even passive-aggressive at times. But not so much here. Sarcasm is most often simply their way of making jokes. Do you know why I don't mind? You will rarely meet a sarcastic Brit who doesn't "take the mickey" out of themselves at least as much as they do others. And this is the great equalizer that helps you know they're not having a go at you, they're just expressing humor. It is so freeing to make fun of yourself, to laugh at even the things that initially make you wince. And the Brits are great at not taking themselves, or others, too seriously.
6. What does a person have to do to get a tumble?
By "tumble" I am referring to...a tumble dryer. If I think of 10 of my English friends, maybe 2 of them have tumble dryers. All 10 will have washing machines by the way, but most don't consider a tumble dryer a must-have (or there is simply no room in the kitchen to have one - most washing machines are in the kitchens here). This I simply refuse to get on board with. Like my insistence that showers are indeed an essential element to a house, so do I consider clothes dryers. Apparently (and I have it on good authority), laundry typically looks like this: after washing their clothes, British folks either put their washing out on the washing line (unless living in a flat) and then (depending on what season it is or how much rain we're having), they finish their clothes by putting them on or near the radiators for final drying. After this, their clothes require ironing! Doing a load of laundry from start to wearability therefore, takes days!! So uncommon is it to have a dryer, the grocery store in town doesn't stock Bounce or any kind of dryer sheet! I have to go to the next city over to get some. Oh no, I cannot abide this. I won't, I WON'T, I tell you!
My little dryer (which isn't even big enough to dry sheets in) is, next to my dog, my most prized possession!
(By the way, I'm in no way saying my obstinacy is healthy nor that the British way of a laundry isn't more eco-friendly and in some ways better. I'm just saying when it comes to this issue, I'm simply immovable!)
7. Non-smokers' cough.
More people smoke here. Like a lot more. A ton more. Taking the clothes dryer example and reusing it, for every 10 friends I have here, I reckon only 2 of them are non-smokers. Only recently was it made illegal to smoke in restaurants and pubs etc. In fact, I have a friend who's 35. She remembers a time when you could smoke in the movie theaters here. I find that shocking that she's younger than me but in her lifetime, smoking was allowed in the cinema. There's no real adjustments one can make over here. More people do it, so you get used to it. But when carpooling, I'll often volunteer to drive because not only am I naturally a control freak, I also like a car that doesn't smell of cigarettes (though wet dog smell I am obviously okay with. Go figure!)
8. Service Schervice
Customer service has come on leaps and bounds since my "first life" in the UK during the 1990's. Back then it was appalling. So much has improved. Kudos Britain! However, compared to the States, it still has a long way to go. I had one of the worst meals ever at my local pub. I told the waiter, who shrugged. I told the bargirl when it was time to pay and she charged me for it. And yet I still paid the money. And I've been resentful ever since. I mean sore, p'ed off to the extreme. And so I've realized there's something worse than bad customer service: having an American (and unrealistic) expectation of excellent service but the British disposition to not complain or make a scene. Welcome to my life.
9. Sorry, I must have wax in my ears. How much vacation time did you say I get?
When I moved here two years ago, I had a job with the UK branch of the same company I worked for in the states. In my UK employment contract, along with 8 bank holidays (which, by the way, included Boxing Day - which is the day after Christmas), were a whopping 25 days' vacation (called "holiday" here). 25! Yes, that's like 5 weeks. I wasn't a CEO; I was nobody special. I was an average professional and right out the gate, I had 5 weeks' vacation time, plus 8 bank holidays. Are you kidding me? AMAZING. When I tell Brits the average US worker gets 2 weeks off a year (until they've been somewhere for like 10 years when they may get 3), their jaws drop. To the floor. Yes, that's right. The taxes may be higher, but for my money, a country with nationalized health AND that kind of vacation allowance makes for a pretty nice standard of living!
10. Let me just call an ambulance...right after I put the kettle on.
What isn't made better by a nice cup of tea, I ask? Nothing. Pick any situation, any occasion, any day of the year (even a heat wave) and whether good, bad or indifferent, a good cup of tea simply improves it. Enough said.
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