7 Things I Never Knew About… Until I Moved To England

Here is my first entry in my new experiment called “Kate Writes More.”

Pat on the back for me: I actually took the time last night to troll through the interwebs and write down, in a new journal, a bunch of random ideas I found for blog posts. One the most common I’ve found on various expat/travel-related blogs out there is the “Things I Didn’t Know Before I Moved” post.

So, since I am not that creative yet, I’m running with it.

A post like this is maybe more expected from someone living in somewhere like Thailand, where the whole cultural differences thing is pretty much a smack in the face, and I thought maybe it would be hard for me to come up with a list of differences between England and the US that people haven’t already mentioned. I was pleasantly surprised that there are actually a lot of things people haven’t talked much about related to life in England, and I racked up this list in no time. (I mean really, yes chips are called crisps, and they have a queen, and people are more polite, but I’m going for weirder, more sneaky differences here.)

I will note that none of these are BAD things persay, just things that I find weird (and in some cases, slightly annoying).

So without further ado… here are 7 random things I never knew about until I moved to England.

There are no sockets in the bathrooms.

I only noticed this until the beginning of this year, my fourth year in this country, which is maybe a little sad. I think the reason is because I never had any need to get ready in the bathroom. I always had my own room in my previous flats, and only realized that maybe getting ready in the bedroom might be an annoyance when I suddenly found a husband in my bed who prefers sleep to the sound of my hair dryer.

Upon further research, sockets are not allowed unless they are for electric razors, OR if they are at least 3 meters from the bath or shower. Unfortunately, because this is not the United States, (a.k.a. McMansion Land), I’m pretty sure that this “3 meter” rule excludes at least half of the bathrooms in this country as being eligible for sockets. Including ours.

There is often a separate water heater for just the shower in your bathroom.

It is a small little box, and it hangs on your bathtub wall right under your shower head, and while it heats water nicely, the water pressure sucks. On the upside, it basically means that while your tap water is dependent on the boiler hanging in your kitchen, your shower has its own hot water source.

I’m not really sure what the official point of these water heaters is, and I’ve never seen one in the States. The logical reason is probably that they were designed for homes with more than one bathroom, because multiple bathrooms using the same water heater would just overwhelm it. That doesn’t do much to explain why our one bed, one bath flat has one though.

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Here’s our tiny baby water heater.

The other ridiculous reason that I can think of is that the water heaters, in my experience, break so often in this country that letting agents can put off fixing them for longer as long as the flat in question still has hot water for the shower. In the past this has definitely been true, and I’ve lived in enough flats with broken water heaters to know. (3 out of 5, not kidding.)

“Express” grocery stores are more common than full-sized ones.

I’ve definitely written about this before in this post here. I’ll be succinct and just pass you along to that post, and only add that this is not only a difference I notice on a regular basis, but an annoyance that hasn’t changed.

Sometimes post offices are run from inside really random stores.

Back when I lived in London, the closest post office to me was inside a stationary store. I always assumed that this was pretty regular; after all, when you’re writing cards to send, you need some stationary, right?

Little did I know that sticking post offices inside stores is actually much more random that picking the ones with stationary. I’ll give you an example.

When I moved here in October, I needed to pick up my residence permit from a predetermined location, which happened to be in Hulme. I assumed, because a residence permit is an important document, that I would be going to a bigger post office in its own space. Yet when I actually went to pick it up, I completely missed the location on my first pass. Why?

Because it was inside a Subway.

Yes, like a Subway sandwich shop. There I was, filling out the forms for my residence permit, while the people right behind me (in a separate line, of course) were ordering their sandwiches.

I thought maybe this was a fluke but Ivan recently mentioned seeing another post office inside a Greggs, so I don’t think this is an isolated case, although I’ve heard it IS much more common in the North. I understand the need to save space in a country where space is limited, but I’ll just never get over receiving my permission to live and work here amid the smell of a footlong chicken teriyaki being made.

Which grocery store you shop at lets people determine which social class you belong to.

Social class is a thing that exists in all societies, but the English must be some of the best at automatically “classing” you soon as a word pops out of your mouth. Do you know what else people can class you by, other than whether or not you’re from Surrey and speak the Queen’s English?

That’s right, they can tell by which grocery store you shop at.

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I shop at Sainsbury’s, but I’m not really sure what that says about me… other than that I like cute elephants on my shopping bags.

If this sounds ridiculous, it is, but it’s true enough that when visiting Manchester (traditionally an industrial working-class city) with a friend a couple years ago, she was shocked at the opening of a Waitrose (the UK version of Whole Foods) near the main train station. Let me be clear, this was not the opening of a Waitrose in a poor, depressed, crime-ridden, inner-city neighborhood, but near a train station in the central district of England’s second-largest city. Only in this country would that be shocking.

If you think I’m the only one who noticed this, I’m not, and here is an article from the Telegraph to prove my point: “How Supermarkets Prop Up Our Class System”

Instead of heating your home, you just wear more layers.

England is an old country full of old buildings. Old buildings in the winter tend to be really cold, drafty, and insanely expensive to heat. Do you know what is cheaper than paying for heat? Putting on an extra sweater.

“But Kate!” you say, “Why don’t they insulate all those houses?” To which I say, do you know what is cheaper than properly insulating homes? Putting on an extra sweater.

Every home has an electric kettle.

In a land of tea-drinkers, you gotta have a way to heat up your water really fast. Just sticking a tea pot on the stove ain’t gonna cut it in this country, so they’ve all latched on buying an electric kettle, a device that plugs into your wall and heats a large amount of water really, really quickly. If you are a student and your flat does not come with a kettle, it is not worth living in, and if you are an adult and you do not have one, you are a barbarian. America, get on the kettle bandwagon, they are awesome.

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That face says I’m thrilled about our kettle.

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9 comments

  1. All these things seem so normal to me! Great post x

    1. Thanks Rabia! They’re things that I honestly don’t think about too much anymore either, just small things I’ve remembered from over the years!

  2. It’s funny seeing your home viewed from the outside! Thanks for this!

  3. Are you telling me not every home in America has electric kettle? What insanity is this! I’m never visiting, I can tell you! 🙂

    1. It IS insanity! I have seen the light. If you like your pot of tea done in under 5 minutes, I would support your choice against visiting 😉

  4. I came over from msamba. Great post. The post office thing is a riot. They do it here in Canada too. But usually it is in a drugstore. No one uses the post office as much anymore so it makes sense. Canada has lots of land. LOVE electric kettles. My parents were from the old country and we always had one growing up. They had to search high and low to get one but they got one

    1. Sorry for such a late response! I’m glad you commented; I had no idea they do the post office thing in Canada as well! I have to say, I doubt kettles would be as easy to find in the States now without the help of Amazon…

  5. […] couple weeks ago, I wrote in my blog post “7 Things I Never Knew About Until I Moved to England” that we have this little electric water heater in our shower, separate from the main heating […]

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