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-- England England
Impressions of my new home.

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Have a look at the pages of some people I know.

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England? What about England?

To begin with, you should know that I never planned to move to England. There are people who dream about living here, people who will do anything to get here. I am not one of them. I thought it would be nice to visit some time, but in the first 37.5 years of life, I had not managed it. I knew that there were people who could move to foreign countries, but I couldn't quite imagine how I could turn my life into one like that. To tell the truth, I didn't try that hard. It was on my list of things impossible. There would have been no point, anyway; I lived in San Francisco, which is a near-perfect place for me. I would never have left, I think, except I got an offer I couldn't refuse.

Of course with all the UK ancestors in my family tree, there were always stories, customs, and romanticized notions about the place floating around. It hadn't occurred to me until I got here, but those stories originated primarily from people who left what they knew and forged a new life from nothing in a hostile new environment. Memories of comfort and ease would certainly be held dear. Okay. Now, I might be getting a little over-dramatic here, but at some level that sounds a bit like what I am doing, but in the other direction. With this obvious bias in mind, please enjoy my impressions of my new home. Keep in mind, I DO NOT LIVE IN LONDON.*

I'll be adding to this when ever I can, so check back now and then, okay? New bits will be at the bottom of each section.

Psst....Want to make this just a bit more fun? Load this: The Dialectizer, then load this or any other page. It'll be slightly different every time.

Wait, wait.... now try it with The Pornolizer!

It's small things that are the hardest to get used to. Every time I tried to do anything during my first many months here, I failed miserably. Everything here looks like something I know, but operates a different way. Light switches are flipped down for on. Cars drive on the wrong side. Familiar foods have different names. It's not all bad though. I promise.


--In the US, you make cakes with granulated sugar. In the UK, granulated sugar is a very coarse thing. You make cakes with caster sugar. There are a lot of other kinds of sugar, none of which have the same names as in the US either. Buyer beware.
--Dessert, regardless of type, is called "a pudding."
--Yes, the English really do have bad food. The reputation is deserved. I'll give them credit though, because they seem to be realizing that it's bad, and trying to do something about it. Slow progress, but progress none the less.
--Do not, under any circumstances, eat any food with a Mexican name when you are in the UK, unless you are at my house. I mean it. Almost all salsa is sweet (read the label -- CORN SYRUP! *shudder*). The beans might be sweet. I can't go on, it's too upsetting to talk about.
--You are probably not going to find ice cubes anywhere.
--Shopping carts are called trolleys, and have all four wheels pivot, not just the front two.
--Food in grocery stores and in most restaurants is clearly marked if it is suitable for vegetarians. The UK is way ahead of the US in this.
--They have no Triscuits. No Goldfish Crackers.
--They do have chocolate digestives and lemon squash.
--Dark chocolate is called plain chocolate. Milk chocolate is called milk chocolate.
--If there is some food around, and the Brits think it tastes really good, they will tell you "it's nice." If they don't like it, they say "I could do without it."
--They go on about how good their beer is, and some of it is really quite good. More of it is wretched. They say they serve it warm, but actually it's cold. When you hear a Brit bashing US beer, rest assured that they are comparing it to Ice-Cold Budweiser, not anything I would actually drink. I don't know about you. (For a few hints on some of the good stuff over here, check out the Cambridge CAMRA site.)
--The grocery stores sell chocolate chips in 100 gram bags. If you suggest that bigger bag might be good, they ask you why you would ever need more than 100 grams anyway. I think this is a holdover from WWII rationing. I did find one health food store that had kilo bags, but they cost 11. I'm used to getting 10 pounds for $11 at Costco or Smart'n'Final. Yes, I carry many pounds of them home from each trip to the US.
--You can only buy brown eggs. I know they seemed different to work with when I first got here, a different water content or texture or something from US eggs, but now I am used to them and can't really remember what the problem was.
--In the US, Diet Pepsi is better. In the UK, Diet Coke is better.
--Grocery stores used to always be closed on Sundays. In the past few years, laws have changed to allow them to be open for a few hours. Since I have been here, a few 24-hour grocery stores have turned up, but even those close at midnight on Saturday, do their few Sunday hours, then go back to 24-hours on Monday morning. Be sure you don't get a cold on Sunday, or you'll have to wait a day to get orange juice and tissues.
--They don't know what apple sauce is. They do have a product in the stores (on the condiments for meats aisle) which has apples in it and is called apple sauce, but it's chunks of apple in a corn starch sauce. I've started going to the fruit farms, buying apples and making my own. Susan of the Wild Frontier!
--Vanilla extract costs more than perfume. Of the two, I would rather have vanilla, but I don't see paying these prices.
--Tea is not just a beverage, tea is the name of the evening meal. It's taken some time for me to get used to hearing people say things like "Have you eaten your tea yet?" and "We had stuffed peppers for tea." There is also the "high tea" that we know about in the US, but I am not aware of anyone who does it formally.
--Nutrition information is always given for 100 grams, not an arbitrary serving. I approve.
--Marmite. No further comment.
--They don't usually have salad dressing on their lettuce. They seem to just eat plain, naked iceberg lettuce. If there is any dressing offered, it's Salad Cream, which is mayonnaise with sugar in it. Okay, I've been to a few places that actually offered vinaigrette, but it's certainly less than four in a year.
--If you want breakfast, you either make it yourself or stay at a B&B and get it in the morning. There might be places that will sell you breakfast, but I don't know where they are. I wonder if IHOP or Denny's could find a market over here.
--They eat a lot of parsnips. In the US, I think of parsnips as being a food old people eat because it was all they could get during the depression, and while not good, it reminds them of a certain time in their life. In the UK parsnips seem to be a part of traditional Sunday dinner, so each new generation gets the habit.
--If you're having a party and you've got food out for people to nibble on, you have to tell them that. They don't graze without instructions to do so.
--I thought that one good thing about getting out of the US would be getting away from "American Cheese." Wrong. They have the stuff here too, but it's just called "singles."
--Not many people will identify with this one, but I am pleased to report that there is very little swiss cheese here. The chances of it appearing on or in your food without your having specifically requested it are slim to none.
--England is a difficult place if, like me, you do not appreciate raisins.
--Lasagne is made with white sauce instead of tomato sauce. That's just sick and wrong.
--As in Australia, butternut squash is called "pumpkin" by many people.
--The government says that food must be sold in kilograms. The people want to buy food in pounds and ounces. The stores try to make everyone happy by displaying the prices in pounds, then charging in kilos. Happiness does not follow.
--Crust. They're batty for crust. Put just about anything in a crust, and a Brit will eat it.
--I've only gone out for Thai food a few times, but it always has way more salt than any Thai food I ever had in the US.
--Eggplants are aubergines. Zucchinis are courgettes.
--There are a number of people who refuse to buy the products of France. The French blockade the channel ports over any small dispute. France still refuses British beef, even though French beef is "dodgier." British lorry drivers are said to be penalized for going through France. Oh yeah, and "our empire is better than theirs."
--Leeks. They're a vegetable over here, not an ingredient.
--If you like sharp cheddar in the US, buy medium cheddar in the UK. In most foods the UK version has a lot less flavor, but cheese is the exception.
--More things are pickled, but it's difficult to find a good dill pickle.
--The few Limeys who have tasted root beer seem to think it tastes like medicine.
--Coca-Cola markets Lilt over here, but not in the US. It's a sort of grapefruit-pineapple concoction. Much better than it sounds.
--NEWS FLASH! Pepperidge Farm cookies were observed at Bar Hill Tesco in March 2002. Can Goldfish crackers be far behind? Of course they'll probably be Marmite flavored.
--More than once I have been asked what I use in place of gelatin in my cheesecakes. My answer: There is no gelatin in cheesecake. Be warned, people over here think that instant cheesecake stuff is an acceptable form of the dessert (pudding). Ask what you're getting before you buy. It must be noted, however, that they really really like the real baked stuff when they get it.
--Have I mentioned the bagels yet? I found some pretty darned good bagels. I've changed my main shopping grocery store over it. They don't have every choice we might want, but they do have a passably good "everything" bagel. I imagine we'll be able to eat other foods when we go to the US now. In the past, we've had to eat quite a few when we visit to meet the annual good bagel quota every healthy adult must achieve. In case you're English and wondering what all the fuss is about, go to Sainsbury's and get yourself an everything bagel. Cut it in half horizontally, toast it, apply cream cheese (oh wait, you call it "soft cheese" over here. Just look for something with "Philadelphia" on the package) and eat it. You'll understand.
--I've been here for nearly four years now, and I am finally ready to talk about Marmite. Marmite is a yeast extract that smells exactly like the inside of a bottle of B vitamins, and tastes salty. I'm told the best way to enjoy it is in a VERY thin layer on warm buttered toast. The most memorable advertisement for it showed a blonde bombshell entering a room where a man sat on the sofa. She started kissing him passionately. The man's eyes suddenly bug out, he pulls away from her, and runs from the room wiping his tongue off with his hands. The camera pulls back to reveal the room the woman has just come from, which is a dining room with a piece of toast with marmite on the table, one bite missing. The caption appears, "Marmite, you either love it or hate it." That seems to be generally the truth. I do know someone who won't kiss her boyfriend if he's had some. That said, I neither love nor hate it. It's okay, but I don't go out of my way for it.
--There is no such thing as warm toast. Toast is placed in a toast rack so it can get cold and nasty before it's served. Ideally it is served with ice-cold butter (there is no ice) which cannot be spread on it without turning the whole venture into a pile of greasy crumbs.
--You already know it's difficult to find a good dill pickle, but maybe you need to know why. Read those labels. Most brands have not only sugar in them, but saccharine as well. It's not just a bit of sweetness to round out the flavors either, they taste overwhelmingly sweet. To those of us who have had a big crunchy kosher dill, this is a very disturbing sort of pickle to find yourself eating. *shudder*
--The kind of pickle you get if your sandwich promises pickle is a sweet mix of pickled vegetables in a brown goopy substance. It's actually very good, assuming you know that's what you're getting. Give it a chance. Do not think about dill pickles while eating it.
--I can't be quite sure, but I think there might be a law requiring everyone to eat baked beans. I know there are a few people who do not comply, but not many.
--You are expected to bag your own groceries at the supermarket. Or the corner store. You buy food, you bag food. There are a few stores that will find someone to pack for you if you ask, but it generally takes them 20 minutes to turn up to do the work. Oh, and while you're bagging your groceries, they'll glare at you for being too slow.


--When I was getting ready to leave the US, I went shoe shopping. The shops were full of the most atrocious footwear with huge, thick soles. I declined those offerings in the hope that things would be better in the UK. Alas, I got here to find all the shoes had square toes. I've been waiting for that to end, but they get more and more square by the month. By now, they look just like someone took an axe and chopped off the rounded toes, then sewed them closed again. AND the soles are getting thicker. They look like shoes the Frankenstein Monster would wear. I just can't win.
--Pants are called trousers. Underpants are called pants. Don't get it wrong.
--Spaghetti straps are "wild."
--The 70s are "in" for the younger generation, much more here than in the US. Spot a child in a track suit or bell-bottom trousers, and you've almost certainly spotted an English child. It's weird to see photos of Dave in a track suit when he was 15, and then to see his 10 year old nephew in nearly identical garb.
--Pull-over sweaters are called jumpers. I had no idea. I used to tell Dave that I was only wearing a jumper (meaning a dress) and a shirt. Is it any wonder I got his attention?
--I was walking through a shopping area of London (where I do not live*) a while back, looking at how people dress themselves. I have never seen so much beige in my life, even on young people.
--They don't have bangs, they have fringe. It sounds silly to me, but I have to confess that bangs sound silly to me too. At least I can tell why they call that hair fringe. I have no idea why we call it bangs.
--I haven't seen anyone else wearing Birkies. This is probably good because that means they don't know how incredibly uncool I am to be wearing them. Hey, they feel good on my feet. Leeme 'lone.
--Uniforms. Not only do kids wear them to school, but many, many adults wear them to work. Go into a bank or travel agency, and you will see that everyone has on the same color skirt or trousers, and their blouses and neckties are all made of the same vile corporate print material. I am beginning to understand why so many people lash out and express their individuality by wearing beige.
--This just in from a reader: good chance 'bangs' are named in relation to practise of cutting off horse's tail (English grooming) flat on bottom, called 'banging' the tail. No mention of this in the Oxford dictionary though.


--In order to get a driving license, you must first get a driving license, which allows you to take the theory test. Passing that allows you to take your practical test. If you pass that, you get a driving license. I know, I know....
--Driving licenses don't expire until your 70th birthday.
--"Give Way" is a good thing. It happens at most intersections instead of stop signs. If you get to the line and can see that it's safe to go on, you can proceed without stopping. It's nice to have my judgment trusted on something.
--Roundabouts can be fun, but there are too many of them.
--No one can imagine getting a driving license without taking lessons first. A lot of lessons. From what I hear, most people fail their tests several times, and take even more lessons. When I called to make my practical test appointment, I was asked for my driving instructor's number. When I said I didn't have one, I could hear the guy's chin hit the floor, and it took him a while to recover and calm down again.
--All freight seems to be moved on the motorways by lorries. Zillions of them. They're everywhere, and they don't seem especially concerned with driving safely.
--A few lorries have metal sides, but most of them have soft sides. It looks like canvas that is buckled down.
--At traffic stops, you're supposed to take the car out of gear and use the hand brake. The official reason for this, as far as I can tell, is that your brake lights might "dazzle" the drivers behind you. I wonder how they live with oncoming headlights.
--The front number plate of the car is white. The back number plate is yellow. This reminds me of an old joke: Q: Why is semen white and urine yellow? A: So you can tell if you're coming or going.
--If you are learning to drive, you are supposed to have a big L on the front and back your car so everyone else knows you are clueless. I didn't have to have one of those because I had a California license to use until I got my UK one.
--People here think that there are ONLY automatic cars in the US. They don't think anyone in the US knows how to change gears.
--If you take your practical (road) test in an automatic, that is all you will be allowed to drive.
--The country roads are really narrow. It seems odd to me that for all the talk about safe driving and caution, they have actually set up a system which requires you to go on 60 MPH roads with oncoming traffic approaching at 60, about four inches to your right. It requires nerves of steel and loads of trust in the (questionable) driving skills of others. These are the same people who get dazzled by 21 watt red light bulbs (see above).
--The lines down the middle of the road are white whether they divide lanes going the same direction or oncoming traffic. These lines are considered suggestions. You are not obligated to stay on your own side. You are obligated not to cause an accident.
--Don't ask for directions unless you really need them and there is only one person present who might give them to you. Which road to take at what time of day and why is the subject of endless and heated debate. There are times I think it'll come to blows as people disagree about how to best get from A to B.
--There are no cup holders built into the cars. It is considered dangerous to have a beverage while driving. One woman was even ticketed for taking a sip of water from a bottle when her car was stopped at a traffic light. She was cited for not being in control of her vehicle. She did contest it, and I hope she won.
--If you're taking a bus to travel a short distance, it's a bus. If you're taking it further and it has comfy seats, it's a coach.
--Trains are still a good way to move around the country, but not nearly as good as they used to be. Fifty or sixty years ago some guy with no knowledge of how train systems work was put in charge of the train system. He decided the best way to make it cost effective was to cut out all service to the small towns and just keep the main lines. Bad move. All the small towners suddenly needed cars to get to the train, and once you've got the car, why not just do the whole journey that way?
--Freight is rarely moved by trains any more, but by lorry. This means that all the nation's goods are on the roads, making the roads congested and rutted. It's a tiny little place, and there are only so many roads will fit in "this country." When I'm in charge, freight is going to move by rail again.
--There is no Right on Red, although it would have to be left anyway.
--In the US you can pretty much look at a place on a map, note that it is 60 miles away, and assume you'll be there in about an hour if you travel by car. No such time estimates are possible here. Either the roads are twisty and windy and bumpy and narrow, or they are wide smooth and so full of other cars that no one can move. Or not. That 60 mile journey could take 45 minutes, or it could take three hours. If a Limey tells you that you have to leave really early to get somewhere, you probably ought to believe them.
--If you fly out of Gatwick, you'll note that they are much tougher on the weight of your carry-on bags than the same airlines are at Heathrow.
--There are two extremes in type of driver. One is called "Flat Hat," which refers to the large group of elderly gentlemen who at one time all wore flat hats and who used to all drive Austin Maxis. Now that Austin Maxis are no longer commonly found on the road, and flat hats are sparse, these people can only be identified by their driving style. They are no longer all old men, but anyone who subscribes to this state of mind. The Flat Hat style demands that they drive at 40 MPH at all times. Village with a 30 limit? Go 40! Motorway with a 70 limit? Go 40! Whenever possible, drive in or near the middle of the road so no one can overtake. The other extreme is "White Van Man." White Van Men is always in a hurry and has no regard for who they cut off, annoy, inconvenience, or bump into. They're in a hurry, so screw you. The white vans are quite often battered, and it seems to me that they often have a ladder on them somewhere, but I am told this is not a requirement. The vans are usually not owned by the person driving them.


--Down is on for wall light switches.
--Electric plugs are as big as a can of Spam. You have to turn each outlet on with a switch (down!) to let current flow.
--There are no outlets in the bathroom because they think you'll kill yourself. They won't even let you have a switch in there -- lights need to be turned on with a pull-cord from the ceiling.
--Skeleton keys are still in common use.
--Wallpaper is on most walls. Paint is for ceilings and to cover natural wood. Preferably a color not found in nature.
--Yards are called gardens, even if they are paved. Or solid weeds.
--There is a charge for every phone call, even local ones. I'm appalled.
--Most of the houses are duplexes, except they call them "semi-detached." You buy one half of the building, and have no say over who buys the other half. It's common to see the halves painted different colors, have different window styles, and have roofs of different colors. This seems odd but understandable in congested areas, but you'll see it out in the middle of nowhere. A house at the end of a country road, surrounded by fields, and they have to share walls. I've even seen big, posh houses, clearly owned by people rolling in dough, yet they are semi-detached. In some places you get "terraced houses," which is the same thing with more than two units sharing walls. They can be painted different colors too.
--Okay, you're not eating, are you? Good. When it comes to washing dishes, they wash them in soapy, sudsy water, then put them right on the dish rack without rinsing them at all. They will get a tea towel and wipe them off before putting them away. Does anyone else find that gaggy? I try not to think about it too much.
--Real wood is a rare thing in home furnishing and home construction. They're big on particle board, which they call "MDF." If you go to the store to buy a dresser, you'll have the choice of many wood effects. Don't think it's wood they use to give the effect though. From what I can tell, it's generally wood colored stickers on MDF, not even veneer. I'm told the reason is that they have long since cut down all their trees, and it costs too much to haul it over from other countries, so they plant fast growing trees, cut them, chip them, and glue them together in what ever shape they want. Even so, I just don't understand the willingness to invest in furniture that is water soluble.
--The toilets are operated by siphon, which is a hold-over from the days when they didn't have the technology to make a leak-proof seal around a tube at the bottom of the tank. The result is that you have to push the handle really hard and really deliberately in order to get the thing to flush, hard enough to move all that water by hand. I'm not sure how children and people with poor muscle tone are meant to flush. I'm sure it's all part of some huge conspiracy to keep certain people in their place.
--The hot and cold water taps are separate. When I was a kid, I thought those were neat and wished we could have them. My mother assured me that they are not neat, even if they look that way. Turns out she was right. To wash my face, I have the option of "scalding" or "freezing." The few taps that actually have both temperatures coming out of one spigot at the same time don't mix them at all. Freezing and scalding come out side by side.
--If there is a real fireplace, it probably burns coal. They have turned the whole country into gardens and roads, and so there is not really a place for firewood to come from.
--They do not have screen doors. I had Dave build me one (good Dave) so we could have the airflow in the summer without so many of the bugs. Alas, visitors are completely confused by this contraption and either get stuck on one side unable to open it, or just leave it open to defeat the purpose. I don't know what they do in other households. Just accept the flies and moths? Keep the door shut and swelter?
--Appliances are small. Think beer fridge and EZ-Bake oven. You think I'm joking?


--Prime time TV tends to have a lot of gardening shows.
--There are a lot more documentary type things on, and a good many of them are worth watching.
--They have talk shows every bit as trashy as US ones. Don't let them tell you any different.
--They love "Friends."
--Each year is a different series. In the US, "Friends" (or whatever) would be a series with different seasons.
--You need a license (but they call it a licence) to operate a television. If you don't pay your 101 per year, they'll come to your house and scan it for TV reception and fine you big-time if you're watching. For years, Dave didn't have a TV in his house, and he got many amusing threatening letters about his lack of license. He never responded to them in the hopes he could see them try to carry out one of their threats, but they never did.
--Many of the TV shows are about fairly mild topics, so in an attempt to create dramatic tension, they introduce a competitive element of time, budget, or both. They'll renovate a garden, do an archeological dig, or paint someone's kitchen with only two days or some small amount of money allocated, and some terrible thing happens if they fail, which they never do, but they run around screaming a lot in fear that they will. There is even a competitive watercolor painting show.
--They show "bits." Yes, full frontal nudity of both men and women, right there on the telly. It's usually after 9pm, and no one is aroused (at least not the men) on the screen. No comment about the people at home watching.


--Gardening is quite a common pastime. I saw a TV show once that explained to me that Queen Victoria was very concerned about the sexual desires of the people of England, and did what she could to encourage them to get into gardening. Yes, it is meant to be an anti-aphrodisiac. Can you look at those fancy gardens the same way ever again?
--Music is important to people here, but the current trend is favoring non-musical people. The top bands don't play instruments, don't write their own stuff, and often don't even sing things unless other people have already turned them into hits before. I'm not sure they realize they're listening to commercial fluff. I hope they snap out of it soon.
--(Remember, I am not in London.*) Where I live, the club scene is not about music at all. Music is played and people dance to it, but records seem to be favored over live performances. The real show is the people who go out to dance to the records. Spaghetti straps galore! People here go to clubs to be seen, and only to be seen. I'm sure (I hope) there are real music places somewhere around here, but I have not found them yet.
--Pubs close at 11 p.m. Last call is 10:45 p.m. I am told this is because during the first world war, munitions workers needed to get up really early, and it was difficult for them to wake up on time if they had been drinking the night before. The solution was to make the whole country stop drinking early. For some reason, this has never been changed. I understand there are different laws for nightclubs, but I am not sure what they are.
--You are prohibited by law from buying Methylated Spirits on a Sunday. If you plan to do a fondue or fuel your camping stove on Sunday, be sure to buy it before 10pm Saturday, or you're SOL until Monday morning at 8. I guess they think we are going to drink it. I'm not sure why it's considered okay to drink denatured methanol at times other than Sunday though.
--Their movies are better. Not to say that they have different movies, they have a lot of the same titles. They get different version though. I have seen several movies here AND in the US, and the UK versions have a lot of extra scenes. Good scenes that the US would benefit from seeing! I'm miffed! I feel cheated that I spent money on some videos in the US and didn't get all the scenes I was entitled to. Grrrr....
--If you go to a local village church fundraising event, such as a flower show or seasonal fete, people will all have brought along their teddy bears. For a small fee, the bears will be treated to a parachute ride off the top of the church. I know of at least one church that awards the paratrooper teddies with a certificate and a medal for bravery. I can't imagine how this came to be a common practice among Church of England congregations.


--Nurses are called "Sisters," and I finally found out why. It's because a long, long time ago, the only nurses were nuns. At first they all just worked out of their convents, but eventually some went out into the community to train the people there to do the work. Those trainees were just plain old nurses, and the ones with the top skills were sisters. Even now, there is a hierarchy of nurses, with sisters at the top. I asked my source (a sister) what they call male sisters, and she said they're staff nurses. Personally, I think they should do away with the whole sister thing because it will keep the occupation female in people's minds, which only makes the wages stay low.
--If you want to get certain medications, or more than a few doses of just about any medication, you have to see a "chemist." You don't actually need a prescription for the larger quantities of over the counter stuff, but you do have to argue to get them. You'll be asked if you've had it before, what else you take, does your doctor know about this, on and on. I often try to get a few bottles of antacid at the same time so I don't have to go to the shop all the time, and I generally have to explain to them that I have had an endoscopy, it's gastroesophogeal reflux disease, my doctor DOES know I am taking this and wants me to continue, no I am NOT exporting it, no I cannot take that other medication.... I swear, getting this legal OTC medication is almost harder than getting an American HMO to do an endoscopy. You have to go through a similar ordeal for ibuprofin. Oh yeah, and you can't buy Neosporin here. You can get codeine OTC, but it's a fairly low dose. Just don't ask for anything that you are not prepared to argue for in front of a whole shop full of customers.
--In the US if you are female, you have to go in for a yearly exam of your female parts. During this exam, they check your breasts and armpits for lumps, check the contents of your pelvis by putting one hand in and one hand out and mooshing them together until all internal organs are identified and approved. They do a pap smear, and discuss birth control and reproductive health in general, and they check to see if you have any questions or concerns. In the UK if you are female, you have to go in once every two or three years for an exam which consists of a pap smear. Hike your skirt, let them take a few cells, drop your skirt and leave. That's it. Given the tremendously high breast cancer death rate in the UK, I would have to say the US system wins here even though it's not very pleasant to go through those exams.
--I've never had a baby in the US, but when I hear about midwives over there I always think of them as being respectful of the woman, sensitive, a good alternative for women who have educated themselves and take a lot of responsibility for their own health. If you ever come here to have a baby, do yourself a favor and leave that notion at the border. The midwives here are just another part of the government health establishment.
--The official government position is that babies should be breastfed. This is encouraged, supported, and valued. This is a good thing.
--I was weighed exactly once during my pregnancy, at the very first visit. The NHS has adopted as policy the notion that weight gain has very little to do with anything in pregnancy, and to weigh pregnant women just makes them think it might matter. Any time I brought up the topic, I was told not to worry about it. Given that those nine months were probably the only time in my life the doctors have not mentioned my weight, this was a refreshing and welcome experience.
--It seems all the people employed by the NHS have this very strange (to me) "polite speak." They'll say something you don't like that you MUST do, then say "Are you happy with that?" They get really distressed if you actually answer the question they have asked. What they really want to know is "Do you understand, and are you going to do it?" It could be that everyone talks that way but i don't notice it because there are so few things people in other situations can require me to do.
--Unlike the US, it's hard to get prescription drugs for purposes other than that for which they were originally approved. This is mostly a good idea, but it gets annoying when every other country on earth has done the research to prove a drug has another valid use, but the Brits won't agree until they do their own tests. Reasonable on the face, but it takes them an extra ten years to get there because they are small and under-funded on things like that. I think if they're not willing to put in the time and money to replicate the research already done to death by everyone else, they really ought to break down and take some of the other countries findings as true.
--If you go the GP and the doctor needs to examine you, you just hop up on the table and the exam is done. If you need some clothes off for the exam to be done, you just take them off. There is none of this business like in the US where you have to have a nurse tell you what to take off, no putting on of paper garments and sitting around waiting ages for the doctor while pretending you're really dressed in something other than tissues, no having the doctor knock on the door to see if you are ready. I'm picking the UK way on this one.
--They don't actually say the names of some of the body parts. I'm not sure if this is shyness, an attempt at politeness, or just what. When the pediatrician needed a urine sample from Christopher, she referred to his "naughty bits." I told her he hadn't been naughty with them yet. They won't talk about your rectum or anus, but your back passage. There is a front passage too, but I'm not really sure which of the two things in front of the back passage they mean is the front passage. I wish they would just say what they mean. At least with foreigners like me.


--"This Country." No one over here will actually say "England" or "Great Britain" or "Britain" or even "The UK." They always say "In This Country, ..." The reason? Each name has a slightly different meaning, and each meaning is offensive to someone. Since you don't know the sensibilities of all the people potentially in earshot, you don't ever say an actual geographical name.
--"At the end of the day." If you listen to more than 10 minutes of conversation and do not hear anyone say "at the end of the day...," consider yourself very fortunate.
--Don't get them talking about the war unless you want to hear minute details of specific battles. Want to know what Montgomery had for breakfast? Want to know how many shots were fired (and by what weapons) at Tobruk? Mention the war. Go ahead. I dare you.
--Everything takes much longer to happen than it does in the US. There is a lot of waiting built into UK life, and they don't seem to notice.
--Place names have extra letters in them that are not pronounced. They have fun not telling you which ones not to say. Examples: Leicestershire is pronounced Lesta-sha. Keswick is Kez'ick. Featherstonehaugh is Fan-shaw. Kirkcudbright is Cu-koo'-bree. If they can add a silent U or W to a word, they will, but don't think for a minute that those are the only ones to look out for.
--The police don't routinely have firearms, except at the airport. I consider this to be a good thing.
--Animal welfare seems to be a much higher priority over here in general.
--I get asked if I am Canadian a lot. I think this is because people can tell I am either American or Canadian. If I turn out to be Canadian and they've asked me if I am American, I will be deeply offended. It doesn't happen the other way.
--They are nuts for greeting cards. Birthdays, holidays, whatever. Everyone (except me and Dave) sends them at the drop of a hat. They have the printed message and a signature, never any personal note.
--They don't like "Ms." They like "Mrs." If you really insist, you might get called "Miss," but Mrs. seems to be the default for any female over 16. Even when it's a phone call or a letter and they can't see my ring, they always call me Mrs v2 (or Mrs. H). I've had the veterinarian's office record me as Ms., but they all still call me Mrs. anyway. Neither Dave nor I changed our names when we married, so we end up being Mrs. v2 and Mr. H, which makes it sound like Dave is having an affair with a married woman.
--Weights of people and animals are in kilos or stone. If you try to give a weight in pounds, everyone gets confused and pulls out a calculator to convert the numbers. If I say the dog weighs 95 pounds, nothing will get done until someone can say either "43 kilos" or "6 stone 11 pounds." A stone is 14 pounds. What I want to know is why they can think so easily in base-14. Ten fingers, ten toes... what else?
--If something is going other than as planned, or life begins to suck in general, you are likely to hear someone say "it's gone pear-shaped." It seems the ultimate, ideal shape of life is spherical. Oh, the things you have to move to England to learn!
--Dates are said in the Day-Month-Year order. If I say "January 12th" they will say "Do you mean 12th of January?"
--In the US, we have separation of church and state (supposedly). The English do not. It's strange to see footage on the news with little children in school singing about god, and I am told they all get "Religious Education," which is mostly about the Church of England. That makes it all the stranger to experience the views of the Register Office when we went to arrange for our wedding. We were told that it is a civil ceremony, so there could be no poems, readings, or mentions of anything to do with god in any way shape or form. The ceremony had to be at an Approved Premises site, which cannot have ever held religious significance to anyone ever. Dave was trying to wind them up about the music we could choose to have played, and asked them if we could have organ music. They said no because most of it is recorded in churches. He asked if he could get some recorded in the Royal Albert Hall. He just got a menacing and impatient glare in response. Here's the thing. They say if you want anything with god in your ceremony, you can go to a church. The state is not prepared to enter into any agreements or imply any endorsements on behalf of any deity. There is something reassuring about how seriously they take it all.
--I have been advised that images of erect penises are illegal in the UK. This includes drawings. Be advised that if you buy British porn, what you get is not what you see. You will, however, be able to see topless women in the newspaper, and there is full frontal nudity of both men and women on television if the context calls for it. I was about to say not aroused men or women, but I've actually seen several medical shows with up-close or internal footage of women having orgasms. (Note: That phrase, "women having orgasms" is the number one reason for hits to this page. I thought you might like to know that. If that's how you got here, sorry!)
UPDATE! I have recently learned that real porn can be legally acquired from "Registered Sex Shops" as of October 2001. Now we all know.
--The street that runs all the way through each town or village is nearly always called "High Street." Since there are generally businesses on High Street, retail buying is often referred to as "on the High Street."
--Most streets change their names many times, which can make it either really easy or really difficult to find an address you are looking for. From the places I have been and the maps I have looked at, most streets will have a new name every block or two. I figure this is because the country is so old, they have a lot of people and things to name streets after.
--A lot of people name their houses, even if they are not all that special. I've seen 3-room semi-detached houses with names, even fairly modern construction. People actually use these house names on their mailing addresses.
--The cost of living is high, so people don't seem to have as much stuff as Americans do. Something that costs $100 in the US will cost 100 here, but 100 is about $145.
--Things are "lovely" here. What a lovely dog. Isn't he lovely? You won't catch any Yanks saying that. We're just not a lovely nation.
--Things are rarely "cool" or "good" here, they're "BRILLIANT!" Can you go to the store for me? Brilliant! I wonder if this has anything to do with their being easily dazzled....
--Many people include their title in their signature. Credit cards bear the signature "Mrs Jane Smith" or whatever her name is. Can't forget that Mrs.
--About half the signatures I've seen are either underlined or have a period at the end.
--First names are out. Credit cards, cheques, and correspondence all use initials rather than first names.
--Despite the fact that everyone automatically affixes a "Mrs" to the front of my name, including people I only talk to on the phone (implying that it's insulting not to assume I'm married), no one will refer to my husband. He's nearly always my "partner." I was talking to another married woman at a baby event a while back, and she even started calling her own husband her partner. I get the distinct feeling from the people who say partner that they are desperately trying not to offend unmarried people. I have not quite worked out the logic of this place, where it's insulting to refer to marriage, or to assume anything but marriage.
--I heard somewhere years ago that a study had been done about and attitudes toward premarital and casual sex in the UK and the US. The result was that people in the UK believed in it more and did it less while people in the US did it more and believed in it less. I'm not sure what to do with that information, but it's terribly interesting, don't you think?
--It's the end of the world as we know it. I heard a BBC radio presenter say the word "billion." I used to listen to the world service in my car in the US, and they ALWAYS said "a thousand million." I just can't begin to imagine what's caused this change, but I think it might be one of the signs of the apocalypse.
--I've heard this one several times: Americans think that all power plants in the UK are nuclear. I really can't think of how many Brits I've heard complain about this, or maybe I just can't count that high. You should know that Brits use that kind of cooling tower on all their power plants regardless of fuel source. They just do. In the US, that particular cooling tower cone shape is used always and only for nukes. Can we all just get over it now?

* The reason I have to tell you I am not in London is this. For some reason, people in the US generally fail to register that there is any place in the UK other than London. True conversation had more than a few times:
Me: I'm moving to Cambridge, England.
Other Person: How exciting. And what are you going to do in London?

No, really.

Maybe if we could get them to say the name of their own country....

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© 2000-2003 Susan Van Valkenburg
Last modified Tue, 17 Oct 2006 20:07:05 UTC
since 1 January 2002