Since I’m coming up on my six month anniversary in London, I thought it would be fun to share six things I have learned in my time here thus far, in no particular order...
1. Hot drinks are my new best friend: Arguably the UK is not the coldest place on earth, but after living in California the past nine years I’m finding the temperature less than agreeable. Although I’ve never been a coffee drinker, I would occasionally consume the odd cup of tea when I lived in the States. Now that I'm living in England, it has become an absolute necessity to have a ‘cuppa’ to warm me up after my commute into the office. Sometimes I find that I hold a mug of hot tea for no other reason than to thaw my frozen hands. I always knew that tea was a universal drink over here, but now I understand one of the reasons why.
2. Posted train times are merely a suggestion: It goes without saying that the public transport infrastructure in Britain is more advanced than in the US. However, there is still room for improvement as far as punctuality is concerned. My morning train to work is scheduled to depart at 8:16am. Many days the train leaves around 8:13am and I end up missing it, which leaves me standing in the cold until the 8:28am train decides to turn up. Although there are handy digital displays all over London, indicating how many minutes you have to wait until the next train/bus, I wouldn’t recommend placing any bets on these 'scheduled' times. (And yes, 'Cockfosters' still makes me chuckle).
3. Detective skills are necessary for navigating country selection drop-down menus: When booking an airline ticket or purchasing something online, I always end up thinking ‘Oh god, here we go again’. Do I look under ‘U’ for ‘United Kingdom’ or ‘UK’? Do I scroll to the ‘E’ section and look for ‘England’? Maybe I am supposed to search for ‘Great Britain’? Perhaps it’s simply ‘Britain’? One time I even saw ‘Kingdom, United’ as an option. It’s probably easier to just move.
4. There are lots of pets…in pubs: Not only do most English pubs have an animal in the name on the outside of the building (Fox and Hounds, Square Pig, White Horse, Red Lion, etc.), more often than not you’ll also find furry creatures inside the venues as well. The local pub across the street from where I live has a resident cat that walks along the bar top and struts around like he owns the joint. There are no laws preventing pets from being in establishments where food is served; it’s up to the discretion of the owner to decide. Clearly the health codes here are not as stringent as they are in the US (as evidenced here).
5. Paint could dry in the time it takes to do a load of laundry: The ‘normal’ cycle on my washing machine takes anywhere from 1:40 to 2:30, depending on the temperature and setting. This ridiculous amount of time to complete a single wash cycle is normal over here. There is an ‘express’ setting, but even that takes nearly an hour to complete. And quicker times often result in less clean laundry. I’ve looked this up on the web and everyone seem to be in agreement that the slower washing machines are more environmentally friendly. I'm no expert, but it seems to me that running your washing machine for over two hours is counter-intuitive as far as the environment is concerned, with increased water and electricity usage.
6. A payments revolution is underway in Britain: London is well on its way to being a cashless society with many non-cash methods of payment already in place. You’d be hard-pressed to find a restaurant, pub, shop, grocery store or café that doesn’t accept a chip and pin card. Many have even implemented contactless forms of payment now (where you simply wave your card over a sensor for a secure payment that requires no additional verification). If you’re looking to jump on a bus, tube, tram or train in London, with a pocket full of pence, you’re in for a disappointment as cash is no longer a valid form of payment. TFL (Transport for London) is also pushing to make card acceptance mandatory in London’s black cabs within the next few years. Could this be the end of cash in the UK? I personally hope so. I despise carrying around all the one and two pound coins. When I become queen, they will be the first thing to go!