Wednesday, April 19, 2006

My Love/Hate Relationship With England

Now that I am fresh--well, maybe not fresh given the time span between my last shower and the present time--off of the plane from Manchester, I was thinking about the good and the bad in England. It's funny how perspectives differ. I was sitting in an aisle seat (thank you, Dad) on one of those airbuses. Across the asile from me was this girl, probably about eighteen or so. Once we landed in Manchester, I am thinking "here we go again," and she says, "I am soooo glad to be back in England." Go figure.

So as to get the insulting part of this out of the way first, I present:

The Bad

Hot and Cold Taps: Why these can't be combined into one tap whereupon you can regulate the amalgamation of the hot and the cold water before it hits the sink basin, I will never know.

Weather: Now, New England is world renouned for being unpredictable. It could be seventy degrees in January and then you get a blizzard in April. But, here, albeit consistent, the weather is usually "rain expectant" no matter how nice it may be when you wake up in the morning. The dampness stays everywhere here. I remember mentioning the state of the ground--the wet, muddy mess that is anything with grass growing on it--to an English student, who said, "I didn't know the ground was suppposed to be dry in winter."

Vegetables: Sometimes, you just don't want tubors as a side dish to, say, everything.

Breakfast Food: To continue the food trend, I was recently reminded of British morning food options, including "pancakes," which are really crepes (but the British don't want us to think they have anything in common with the French), "golden syrup," which is essentially butter and sugar melted together (where is the maple, my friend?), and "bacon"--thankfully, my previous pilgrim practice of soaking bacon that has been salted has come in handy. Also, there is what they refer to here as a "full breakfast," which includes tomatos, mushrooms, and the ridiculous British version of baked beans.

Coffee: Alas, I must bid a temporary fare-well to my beloved iced coffees, given even the folks at Starbucks don't know what I am talking about when I order one here.

No Driving: Not to say that I would ever attempt to drive here, given I would probably turn out looking like Clark Griswold in his European Vacation movie (sans Eric Idle), but there is something to be said for being your own means of transportation. You can get where you want when you want to taking your own personal routes, etc. If I want to be my own means of transportation here, I have to don the comfy shoes and start walking--never forgetting an umbrella.

Money: Congrats, my English friends, your money is worth far more than my own. I put an exchange in and then, whoa, I have half as much. I also noticed that in the US, products I can get both here and there are priced the same given the scaling. For example, I can get an item for 200 dollars in the US, and here because people make more money, it costs 200 pounds, which is about 350-375 dollars.

The Internet: This only really applies to my living in campus housing, but the internet here is crap. I can't get on and depend upon it, and the proxies I have for features like AOL never seem to work for long. I also can't upload anything from here. I'm sure this is true of most Universities, but still, it is a pain in my ass.

Pharmacy System: In the US, if I need something, I can generally get it. However, if I want anything on the "adult" level of strength here, I have to have a discussion with a pharmacist. Let's just say I would prefer not to talk about menstrual problems with a complete stranger, albeit professional, in front of about seven other customers in line in the only Boots in the whole city.

My Hair: In the US, I have ever so many more options. Here, I couldn't figure out why so many people sport multi-colored dye jobs that were cut perfectly straight. The problem here goes back to the weather, I think. No matter what you do, no amount of ultra hold gel will keep curl in your hair. You hit the air outside and it is gone in thirty minutes, rain shower or perfectly clear day. At home, I can curl it once and it lasts until I wash it, giving me so many more stylining options--which is essential.

Job: Because I do not have a working Visa, I cannot work in the UK. I was thinking of doing some volunteering around since classes are over, but I really can't pick up any cash. I would like to do something other than sit and read in solitary confinement, but I can certainly rule out making some money on that deal.

The Good

Now that all of the British folks are groaning, growling, and scrolling down angrily to the "comments" section, I will present the other side of the line.

Sunlight Hours: New England was nice, and I thought it was light rather late, but when I got here I was completely surprised. The sun rises before six and sets at eight already--the longest day of the year in NE isn't even that long, and it's only April. I am really excited to see how long it stays light out when we do near June. The idea of a lot of daylight hours is very motivating to me, so, I can't wait.

Proximity to other Countries: Most people will say that the USA is like one huge country that incorporates other cultures in the same way that Europe incorporates other countries. However, everyone still speaks (some form of) English and there are a lot of cultural similaries throughout. England is really close to a lot of different places and it would cost me as much to get to them from here as it would to go from New England to Washington DC, which isn't far away. I hope to take advantage of it this time.

Bus/Train System: Although nothing beats being able to hop in your car, turn on your radio, buy a coffee, and drive yourself, the English transportation system is actually really, really good. I can get where I need to go by bus or train fairly easily as long as I plan ahead and am on time. It's much better than HAVING to drive, which is really what it is like in the US everywhere except for right in the middle of most major cities.

Hair: As much as I hate the fact that curl is a moot point, I can say that the dampness keeps my hair down when it is straight--no fly-aways, nothing.

No Snow: I may not be the biggest fan of this rainy country, but at least the concept of a Nor'easter is a foreign one.

Mail: I send away for something, and I have it within two days--a day in some cases. It pays to have a small country. In the US, I could send away and not get it for weeks. Then UPS will inevitably lose or damage it anyway.

Some Pharmacy Items: In some very rare cases, I can get things here without a prescription that I can't in the US. I remember having an infection once, and I ended up buying a pill for it that I couldn't get without a doctor's check at home. I took it and four hours later, I was fine. I would have had to wait to see the doctor, wait for the prescription, pay a ton for it, then take it and wait in the US. By then, the infection would have probably healed itself.

Bakeries: I can get quick food from someplace other than a McDonald's or a Burger King. Different may not equate to healthier, but at least it is something.

Nice People Give Directions: All bets are off in the US. You could ask an old lady for directions who will hit you with her purse or a cab driver who doesn't know the answer even if he has driven the same city for twenty years. In any case, you get an attitude. Here, they not only tell you where to go, they direct you, sometimes walk with you, and call you "luv."

Well, there you have it. I am back in the UK. At least I get a room away from cultural immersion, unless you count the Chinese students on the hallway--but that is a different culture all together. Ah, well, back to Monty-Pythonland.


Anonymous said...

Great article; I found this particularly interesting as I have never traveled outside the U.S. I am jealous of the English public transportation system!!!!!

SoulSlave said...

I really laughed reading your post. You write so well. I happen to LOVE England. But I'm biased.

Ancient Clown said...

Very well done. thank you for visiting. I like your words here. You say you found the poet's words but have you made and taught a tree?
your humble servant,
Ancient Clown

Encarna said...

Nothing good or bad on the eternal queen & her sexed out grandsons??? Dah-ling... U definately need to stay there longer!

"Angeldust" said...

We are much influenced by all English around here... love the high tea little habit myself, if I may say so.
Having grown up in Argentina had also given me a huge dosage of (snobbery) as at one time you were literally nobody in your own land -if you did not speak "the" language.
That said, having not visited I am looking forward to the opportunity because I absolutely love most of what know.
Hooked on Yorkshire pudding, picklelilly, (can't recall at this moment the name of) the pie I pick up at Marks and Spencer's... Melton Molberry? It's been a while

Thanks for dropping by. Yes, there are my pics. Was testing, my first digital camera.
Yours are dropped-dead too!
Warm regards

"Angeldust" said...

You are welcome!

Are you aware of the email - link blog feature - on template ?
Come back when you have a minute and test it by clicking on the envelope next to comments... it's really cool

ian g. said...

I'm assuming you couldn't get an education in your own country...

"Angeldust" said...

you make like this

sparkyc said...

I was so stunned (and, unexpectedly, pleased) that you put the public transport system as one of the best things about this country that all my rage about your cons dissipated.

I'm going to have to re-read them. I never feel quite so strongly about how great this country is as when you complain about it. It's quite nice really -- before I met you I thought I had no national pride at all.

sparkyc said...

Since my bathroom's occupied, I thought I'd pop back to point out that the above is *not* sarcasm.

slskenyon said...

Thank you, Sparky, always glad to ignite nationalistic fire in people.

Sorry about the bathroom--I hope that problem clears up quickly ;-).

Jules said...

thankyou for your comment!!

Im not in any sort of program, I'm living over here in the uk with my boyfriend who's english.
No idea how long i'll be here for, depends how long he wants me here, forever he says.
If we win the lottery we'll move to australia he said to me though! haha!! Wonder if he could cope with the hot summer though!
Thanks again for your comment
Take care :)

sarah said...

Hi, I saw your comment on the too saucy blog out of NYC, which is where I live, and clicked over. I'm thinking of doing a semester abroad in London in September - and now you've got me worried when I read your post! lol

I know London would likely be very different than York, but you've made me a little nervous...

booda baby said...

First, I'm very very glad that Harriet's had a miracle recovery.

Second, this was just a charming run-down.

I've sprinkled my complaints about England throughout a few years of blogging, but never thought to compile a list.

I will say that almost all of my complaints had nothing to do with conveniences or contraptions and almost ALL to do with ... well, cultural habits, deep values. They serve the English well - good for them, but were grating to me. I'd moved to England, though, NOT from the States, but from a number of years in Eastern Europe, in a difficult emerging economy.

England ended up being a very nice warm-up to returning to the States, because we are ... breathtakingly insulted and damned proud of it.

I'm thinking YOU'RE thinking "oh yeah? What about you complaining about the cosmetic counters in England?"

yes, well that's all part of a curious preference for conformity and a tendency not to demand too much ...

uh-oh. To work. I have to go to work. (No. It didn't get better saying it twice. lol)

"Angeldust" said...

About "the middle man"...
I must comment (due to experience/age)
I generally dispense which such nonsense in many all areas but... However, for a truly inspired, delicious, lust filled time there is nothing like an unabashed, daring, passionate as well as tender/yummy lover.
Highly recommend spending time exploring "personality and character" in order to assess possibilities and avoid disappointment. Yeap.

Now, what kind of camera do you use? Your shots are so much "crisper" than mine...

Anonymous said...

what made you choose to continue your education in the UK? just curious... it sounds so glamorous to me!

Ravenbajan said...

That was an interesting pro/con list! I've never been to the UK, but that blog had a lot of humourous insight. What are you studying over there?

(Great pics on flicker by the way!)

slskenyon said...

I'm a Medieval Historian at the University of York. The UK is nice--don't get me wrong, and I am glad that I came over here, but there are certain things that you just need to re-indulge in when you get home, like driving and iced coffee, and real hot dogs....

Anonymous said...

Hmm, I see Sparky has already jumped into the fray so I won't add much to what he said, although I must admit I am surprised that the transport service gets praise - it's usually first on most English people's list of worst things. It does vary from city to city, my friend in Colchester is always complaining about how awful their service is.

I've got to say that I don't really understand some of the criticisms levelled at Britain by Americans. I haven't been to America, unfortunately, so can pass no comment about relative advantages/disadvantages, but I'm not sure many English people would be particularly quick to voice any criticisms in front of Americans in any case, as we tend to avoid making disparaging comments about other countries in public...

I think it's important to remember that just because a country may be different, it's not necessarily worse. I suppose I'm biased, but, much as we love to welcome tourists, the place is a home for us and we have certain specific things that we do like any other place in the world. I can understand that it must be annoying and a bit isolating sometimes to find so many things different, particularly as you may have expected more similarities given the shared language and cultural background, but surely the point of time spent abroad is to sample new cultural traditions? It's a shame when things aren't available, but (thankfully) we're not yet a big homogeneous bloc. Frankly, I'd be disappointed if I went to the States and found it was just like home.

I'm never quite sure what people from abroad expect the British to be like. I suppose I should say 'English' really, as it seems to be taken as synonymous by many people (a cynic might say that all the bad things are considered 'English' and the bits people like 'British'...). The inaccurate depictions of us in many American films range from the laughable to the deeply insulting - suffice to say, Mel Gibson's popularity is not high here these days. I also find that the many and varied cultural differences between different parts of the country tend to be ignored - as a former Cambridge student, I can vouch for the fact that the stereotype of high tea and Pimms is alive and well, but there's a lot more to us than that. I have to advise anyone thinking of coming here not to stick to London - it is representative of nowhere other than itself, and the picture of England you are left with will be highly distorted. That said, it's important to remember that it isn't a Third World country, and if you can't find a particular facility that you consider essential, chances are that it's just well-concealed. Another piece of advice would be to be a bit circumspect about criticising too loudly in public - you are very unlikely to get drawn into an argument, unlike in Europe (and to be honest, if you were, you'd be highly likely to find some English people weighing in on your side, as we don't like to see people picked on) but it does create bad feeling, and adds to the impression, however erroneous it may be, that some Americans can be arrogant and culturally insensitive abroad.

On a lighter note, to answer Angeldust's question, the pie is called Melton Mowbray, and is indeed very nice :D.

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