As today marks my two-year anniversary in London Town and it’s been a year and a half since I shared the 6 things I learned in my first 6 months in London, I thought I’d post a few more discoveries to round out my list at a total of 24.
Without further ado, and in no particular order, below are my random thoughts and ramblings:
Food & Drink
1. For the love of condiments: Malt vinegar or mayonnaise with your chips (french fries)? Brown sauce versus tomato ketchup. Does anyone actually like Marmite? What is salad cream? The list of sauce options in the UK is endless and the condiments sections of grocery stores are vast: horseradish, mustard, chili sauce, mint sauce, tartar sauce, gravy, curry, relish, etc. I can’t tell if Brits prefer their actual meals or if the dishes are just used as a vehicle for consuming condiments. Not being a condiment lover myself, I don’t claim to understand the British fondness for such things, but seriously, what IS salad cream?
2. Iced wine: In UK pubs, drinks are typically served cool, not cold. Simply put, ice is less essential here. My intent is not to moan about it, but to confess that since my wine is often not served at its optimal temperature, I am now a habitual vino icer. And I’m not upset about it. **GASP**
3. Flavored crisps (potato chips, for all you ‘Mericans): Are you brave enough to try 'Roast Chicken', 'Roast Beef and Peppercorn Sauce' or 'Pork Sausage and English Mustard' crisps? Would you pair a pack of 'Smoked Ham & Pickle' or 'Firecracker Lobster' chips with your sandwich? These flavors make me question whether crisps here are meant to be a snack or a meal replacement.
4. You can drink…everywhere: Anyone over 18 in the UK can drink alcohol. Location is of no consequence: in the street, in theaters, at parks. Even where outlawed, you’ll see people enjoying adult beverages (on buses, trains, tubes, trams, the London Eye, etc.). Public intoxication, although not always technically legal is socially acceptable just about everwhere and I love it!
5. A&E: In the UK, A&E is not a place you’d want to spend a great deal of your time. Accident & Emergency is the hospital department dealing with life-threatening emergencies. In the US, A&E is a television network that airs programs like Intervention. I’d much prefer to watch an intervention on TV, from the comfort of my couch, then live through it in an emergency room. Just sayin’.
6. National Health Service (NHS): I think it’s fair to say that most Britons believe the NHS to be a symbol of one of the things that makes Britain great. A tribute to the NHS even featured in the opening ceremonies of the 2012 London Olympics. While I agree that national healthcare has its advantages, let me make one thing perfectly clear: it is not free. The second largest chunk of an average UK earner’s tax bill goes to the NHS. There are pros and cons to both the US and the UK healthcare systems that I won’t delve into here, but there’s one example in particular that I’d like to share which will help you understand why I don’t necessarily celebrate the NHS establishment as much as my neighbors. The first time I utilized NHS services, I was asked to provide a urine sample. Seems reasonable so far, right? There was nowhere to leave my cup o' pee in the bathroom, so I was left sitting in the waiting area, holding it, which felt slightly uncivilized. When the general practitioner called me into the exam room, I handed the cup over to him, at which point he took the lid off and…wait for it…smelled it. Yep, and then he diagnosed me as dehydrated. It’s worth noting that my sample was the color of lemon-lime Gatorade and probably didn’t require a sniff test for that level of professional analysis.
7. Urban foxes and flying ants: In no other city in the world (at least that I am aware of) are foxes part of the urban landscape. The first time I saw one I had no idea what it was, but it scared the crap out of me. I quickly learned that they are quite common in London. Apart from their hideous, screeching mating cries (heard for a few weeks each January), they are generally harmless and spend most of their time patrolling the streets at night, eating rubbish and keeping the rodent count down. In addition to these weird city-dwelling creatures, the UK also has flying ants. One day each year, when the weather finally gets a little balmy and warm (usually July or August), millions of winged ants come out, in swarms, in an attack on the UK. They even have their own holiday (cleverly enough) called ‘Flying Ant Day’. I high recommend staying indoors on this day.
Government & Law
8. United Kingdom (UK) vs Great Britain (GB): The United Kingdom (officially The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland) is comprised of four separate nations: England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Great Britain, on the other hand, refers to only England, Scotland and Wales. All people in the UK are technically British despite having different nationalities (although I wouldn’t recommend calling a Scotsman British to his face). Still following? Good! Let’s complicate things further for you then. In the Olympics, all four countries compete together as Team Great Britain (even though Northern Ireland is included). In Rugby, England, Wales and Scotland each compete as their own separate nations, but Northern Ireland and Ireland contend together and are collectively called Ireland. In the European Championships (football/soccer), each country competes individually. Clear as mud now, right?
9. Thievery: Starting in October of 2015, the law required all retailers in England who have 250+ employees to charge 5 pence per single-use plastic carrier bag. With this cost being applied, fewer and fewer people are opting for bags when only buying only a few small things. Combine this with the increase of contactless payments (tap and go technology for totals under £30, much like Apple Pay). When using contactless, you are given the option of receiving a receipt or not. I’d wager that most people don’t take the receipt. I know I never do. So, now it's becoming more and more common to see people walking out of shops, holding unbagged items, with no receipts, looking like thieves.
10. CCTV (video surveillance): London is considered the most watched city in the world. There is said to be approximately one CCTV camera per every 11-14 people. In theory, all the surveillance should reduce crime, but, in reality, only ~3% of crimes are solved as a result of CCTV. Privacy activists view this as being spied on by Big Brother, but I personally don’t really mind. It’s the closest to celebrity status that I’ll probably ever get.
11. English sport: Sport plays a prominent role in the English society. Many of the sports that the world competes in today were invented over here. That said, England is known to consistently under-perform on world sporting stages. The last World Cup win for England was in 1966; England last won a Rugby World Cup 13 years ago, in 2003; and it took nearly 80 years before one of Britain’s own won a men's singles Wimbledon Championship in 2013. Despite the constant sporting disappointments here, the fans maintain an incredible hopefulness. You can count on the English fanatical sport enthusiasts to tune in to each event with the confidence that this will be their year…Equally, you can almost always, just as reliably, count on failure and disappointment.
12. The brilliance that is British humor: Combine a heavy-handed portion of sarcasm and a heaping serving of self-deprecation with a touch of wit. Add in a measured dose of spot-on timing, a dash of deadpan delivery and you’ve been served a dish of perfectly crafted British humor. The best part is that the Brits don’t leave the comedy to the professionals. I honestly don’t think I could make it through a full day of work if it wasn’t for the group of comedian colleagues who surround me.
13. Time off: Before I moved to the UK, I was under the impression that the British rarely ever worked. If they weren’t off for a bank holiday, they were sat at the pub all day. The bit about the pub isn’t entirely false, but the former is completely untrue. It turns out (much to my dismay) that in the UK there are in fact fewer annual public/bank holidays (8) than in the US (~11). That said, workers in the UK are entitled to considerably more paid vacation time (a minimum of 28 days inclusive of the bank holidays) than those in the US (no statutory minimum). However, compared to other countries in Europe, the time off in the UK is dismal. Once my UK visa is up, I might have to give serious consideration to moving to Austria or Portugal!
14. Flight length: When I lived in California, it was not uncommon to fly 6 hours cross-country for a weekend or even to more far off lands, such as Germany or Tel Aviv. Now that I live in Europe and everything is so close, I find myself reconsidering weekend trips if the flight duration is anything over 2 hours. I know, I know, spoiled, jet-setter problems.
15. Metric system fails: In the US, I grew up learning/using imperial units (feet, miles, gallons, inches, pounds) as a system of measurement. I’ve had to try to learn to adopt the metric system since my relocation...And I have not done so particularly well. A few months after my arrival in the UK, I ordered an engraved cutting board as a wedding present. On the site it was indicated to be 20x15x2cm. That pretty much meant nothing to me, so I went ahead and entered the engraving specifics, shipping and payment details. When it arrived, it was so tiny that you could barely cut and apple on it. Since it was personalized, I had no option but to wrap it up, gift it and sincerely apologize. (Sorry again, Morgan and Kevin).
16. Who are these people?: I’ve seen some odd things on trains in this country. Perhaps it’s down to the sheer volume of hours spent in transit, but, either way, I’d like to share some photos that have my commutes more interesting.
17. Outlets: Or should I say lack thereof? Do THAT many people really die from electrocution in their lavatory? Is legislation banning electrical sockets in all UK bathrooms entirely necessary? Charging my electric toothbrush and blow-drying my hair in my bedroom is rather bothersome.
18. Warm water impossibilities: Why oh why are the hot and cold faucets separate in sinks over here? My options are boiling or freezing. It’s impossible to create lukewarm water without a mixer tap.
So there you have it...All my very wise and clever learnings from two years spent in London. Stay tuned for more quips as my time here continues.