oh-youre-an-expat

10 things that still annoy me about England after living here for 8 years

Posted on November 6, 2012 by yankeebean

I dearly love the UK and I feel more and more English with every passing year.  But there are a few things about living in England that still rub me the wrong way.


1 – Parking

I walk and ride my bike as much as I possibly can, but sometimes you have to go grocery shopping, or pick up something bulky from Argos, or go to the Bristol Cider Shop ( I just got back from there and parking was a bit of an adventure – and so this post is born).

Every time I get in my car, before I even start the engine, I’m worried about parking.  Will there be any?  If there IS, will it be full?  If it ISN’T, will the spaces actually be big enough for me to fit my car in?  If they ARE, will I have to pay to park?  If I DO, do I have any change to pay with?  If I DON’T, will I be able to pay with my phone/debit card?  If I CAN’T, them I’m scuppered and I should just bloody stay home.

By this point in my thought process, I’m always tempted to either check bus schedules, or order whatever I was going to pick up online.

Part of me longs for the days when I could just get in the car and drive to Target.  A) They have EVERYTHING there and B) you could land a plane in the average Target parking lot – and they wouldn’t even charge you for it.

2 – Customer Service (or lack of)

Sometimes I need help when I’m in a shop.  Sometimes I’d like to ask about a product or service.  Sometimes I need help finding something.  Sometimes I’d just like a second opinion.

But I NEVER-TIMES want a shop assistant to act like I’m asking them to climb Everest in their undies when all I’m asking them to do is THEIR JOB.  I don’t want to be ignored.  I don’t want to wait while they finish writing a text message.  I don’t want them to cop an attitude if I ask a simple question.

Iota, a fellow Expat blogger that I’ve followed for a long-arse time, puts it perfectly in her post called Further Woes of a Returning Brit.  Check it out and know that you’re not alone when you despair about English customer service.

3 – Negativity (or as the Brits call it ‘Realism’)

To give you an example, let’s pretend a team of Americans and a team of English people were both asked to build a really tall tower out of straws and scotch tape / sello tape.

The Americans would approach the project with excitement.  They would intrinsically believe that they are super-capable, that they’re ready for this challenge, and probably (absolutely) that they’re going to win.

The Brits would start off by discussing why it’s impossible to build a really tall tower out of only straws and sello tape.  There aren’t enough straws, the straws are the wrong size, the sello tape is old and fragile, there’s not enough time, they also need toothpicks and Blu-tak but they haven’t got any, etc.  But after the we-can’t-possibly-and-this-is-pointless-let’s-just-go-to-pub barrage of negativity / realism – they would knuckle down and do it.  And they’d do it well.

The thing that REALLY bugs me about the instant negative / realist English reaction is that NOW I DO IT, TOO.  DESPAIR!  I want my built-in, sometimes foolish optimism back!

4 – No free refills

I can’t think of a single time in England when I’ve bought a drink that comes with free refills.  I always get my Hope on if I go to an American-diner-style café in the UK.  In the back of mind I’m thinking, “Maybe they’ve done more than embrace 1950′s greasy spoon interior decor.  Maybe they’ve embraced the beverage ethos of my nation.

I’ve yet to see it happen, but I remain hopeful.  It seems like more Americans are showing up in the UK every day – here’s hoping we’re wearing ‘em down. :)

5 – Roundabouts with traffic lights in them

I love roundabouts and I think they work like a freakin’ charm.  Once I figured out how to not-die while using one, I was instantly on board.

But some roundabouts are so huge, that there are traffic lights IN THEM – embedded in as you’re driving AROUND them.  I rarely end up in the right lane on these massive road-swines.  I shake my fist!

6 – ‘Proper coffee’ means ‘instant coffee’

Just as many Americans can’t make a good cuppa tea, many many (dear God, TOO MANY) English people refer to instant coffee as ‘proper coffee’.  I’ve also heard it said, “I’d like a strong coffee – 3 scoops”.  *shudder*

Every time someone says it out loud, I inwardly vom a little and somewhere, in a land far far away, a fair trade, single-estate, organic coffee farmer dies.

7 – ‘OH!  The Windy City…’

My accent hasn’t deserted me – YAY!  I don’t sound completely English (although I don’t always sound American either) so I always get asked that famous question, “Where abouts are you from, then?”.  I say, “Chicago” to which, 98% of the time they reply, “OH!  The Windy City!”

I know I know, they’re being nice – they mean well.  It’s just something that I’ve heard so many times it’s like the spoken equivalent of a scratchy bra that’s rubbing your side-boob raw.

8 – Talking about football

I don’t want to talk about it.

9 – The cost of going out to dinner

I freaking love going out to dinner and it doesn’t have to be fancy.  Give me my local pizza place and a pint of my favourite beer any day.    But it seems like going out to dinner in the States can be done for a LOT less and a LOT more easily.  There are plenty of cheap, one-off, local restaurants in the States that serve awesome food for teeny tiny (or at least reasonable) prices.

There are some outstanding restaurants here, but it always feels expensive compared to my Native Land.

10 – ‘Mexican food’

I put ‘Mexican’ in quotes because what most Brits call Mexican food would cause Mex-enthusiasts to weep uncontrollably into their guacamole.  I have been to many a UK Mexican restaurant in hopes of finding a tasty burrito, but I’m always met with tasteless beans, from-a-tin-and-processed avocado and lack-lustre salsa.  I PINE for good Mexican food – but I have to make it myself.

Having said that – anyone that lives in or near York should check out Fiesta Mehicana because it’s the only place I’ve been that even comes close.


In summary, I love love love living in the UK and there are many things about this cracking country that I wouldn’t trade for a fist-full of Benjamins.  But I guess there’s always going to be things about it that rub me the wrong way and get me itching for my American days.

Come on, expats – have I forgotten anything?

Especially the parking.  MY GOD, THE PARKING.

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What Others Are Saying

  1. cinatit April 3, 2013 at 5:18 pm

    I’m British and our shop assistants drive me crazy. On my latest encounter I asked a girl for a bag to put my goods in at a check out. ‘They’re over there,’ she said. ‘Over there’ was three feet from her left hand.

    • yankeebean April 6, 2013 at 1:24 pm

      ARGH! I hate this kind of thing. And I always hold back the snarky comments on the tip of tongue because I don’t want to be mean… But one of these days, I’m gonna snap.

  2. Zestos December 17, 2012 at 6:41 am

    Hey. I’ve just stumbled across your blog. It’s always interesting to read about English-quirks from an outsider’s perspective. Although it seems that you are very much one of us now, you’re still able to view us as outsiders do.

    A couple of interesting contrasts here. I personally find instinctive optimism to be irritatingly naive and tend towards cautious pessimism. Unless you know better, you should assume the worst. That seems to be a pretty standard English attitude. As far as shop assistants go, I find it annoying when they try too hard to help or if they’re too friendly. If they approach me and ask if I need any help, I feel vaguely insulted. Do I look like I need someone to hold my hand while I do a little bit of shopping? Maybe they think I’m going to steal something if they don’t keep an eye on me? I just want to be left alone while I’m shopping. I don’t need someone who would rather be anywhere else pretending that they’re happy to be talking to me.

    Damn… We really are a negative bunch of sods. Or maybe that’s just me. Anyway, I’ll end on a positive note – Great blog! It’s nice to see that you’re happy here.

    • Zestos December 17, 2012 at 6:50 am

      Oh yeah, and they do free refills in Nandos and Harvester. It’s self-serve though. You pay about £3 for the empty glass and you can get up and refill as many times as you want. It’s not so bad having to get up a couple of times during your meal though… I like the exercise.

    • yankeebean December 20, 2012 at 6:36 pm

      :D This made me smile! Thanks for reading and keeping adding your two cents – it’s good sense. (See what I did there?)

  3. englandia November 27, 2012 at 11:18 am

    I JUST moved here from the US and I can already agree with the roundabout with traffic lights. The hell…..confusion central. Customer service, gaahhhh…so true. :)

    They do have good cake here though:)

    • yankeebean December 5, 2012 at 6:16 pm

      Cake of the highest quality! The evidence is the crumbs I’m constantly cleaning out of my keyboard.

  4. Anna-Marie November 24, 2012 at 3:16 pm

    Great list I have been lived here 5 years and would add
    1. Paying for ketchup packets….WTH
    2. Lack of napkins given when purchasing food….
    3. Where I live band with for my computer in from the Stone Age…BT has been promising upgrades for 4 years
    4. Paying to use public toilets
    I too love it here but really really sometimes miss the states ESP when craving Mexican food;)

  5. Carolyn Nicander MohrCarolyn November 24, 2012 at 1:52 pm

    As a former UK ex-pat, I agree with (almost) every one of your pet peeves. But I want to sprinkle some American optimism in there too.

    Parking, well said. You hit upon exactly what bothers me about parking in the UK. I would add that their methods of paying for parking are annoying too. When you have to pre-pay and leave the paper on your dash, you can run into difficulty when you leave the paper upside down on your dash and don’t get credit for your payment (though a reply to the town council usually sorts things out). Also, you have to keep an eye on the time. Do stores really want you to be checking your watch as you shop?

    The parking spaces can give anyone claustrophobia. But the benefit is that I learned to back into a space like a pro. The comes in handy here in the US more than you might think.

    Customer service drove me nuts. I agree with you about shopkeepers who act as if you barged into their home,sat down at the dinner table and demanded a Big Mac. What also annoyed me was the customer service over the phone. Basic customer service calls, such as letting utilities know that you had no electricity, cost money per minute, you could be calling to ask about a bill and run up more charges than the bill was in the first place!

    The good news is that being back here in the US, I don’t get as upset about being put on hold. So long as I’m not being charged per minute for the call, I’m good.

    Negativity, yes, that got to me, but their wicked.y brilliant sense of humor had me giggling just as I thought I would scream.

    Free refills – I still get free refills back here in the US just because I can. “I’m in America so I’m getting my free refill!”

    You can get free refills at the UK in Costco, but there is no ice so why bother?

    Proper coffee – yes, but Starbucks or Costa Coffee will take good care of you. I miss having a Starbucks at my local Sainsbury’s.

    Roundabouts with lights – this is where we part ways. Being back here in the US, I crave roundabouts. They are very rare and when I do encounter them, others have no clue about how to drive through them. Every time I wait five minutes each through three cycles of a left turn light that only lets three cars through at a time, I will wish I were at a roundabout, with or without lights.

    You last point, Mexican food, was one of my major annoyances as well. Right after I moved back to the US, a Chipotle’s opened in London. I hope they were successful.

    Enjoy your time there for if you ever move back to the US, you will probably write a similar post about the US. But Target won’t be in your list of annoyances.

  6. Laura November 24, 2012 at 11:05 am

    I’ve enjoyed your post as well. There is so much in it I agree with.

    I have been living in SE England now for over 10 years.

    Regarding free drink refills, I’m glad they’re not offered, simply because of congestion/space. If free refills were offered, people would linger, and the little cafes wouldn’t be able to bring enough paying bodies in for them to survive.

  7. Karen Loethen November 24, 2012 at 5:28 am

    Add me to the list of people who LOVE this post! In fact, I hope you don’t mind, I’m going to copy your idea…including your clip art!
    I’ll post back when I do so you can read my piece.
    Again, GREAT post!
    I am literally LOL.

  8. Dolores November 24, 2012 at 1:59 am

    I love this country, too, but please! There is one ‘l’ in chili, Americans don’t make their chili recipes using corn or carrots, or eat corn with tuna. That is all :-)

    • yankeebean November 24, 2012 at 3:23 pm

      Haha! There IS a lot of sweetcorn flying around over here. You’d figure it would be worse in Chicago since we’re surrounded by corn fields on all sides, but not even close.

  9. Bev November 24, 2012 at 1:38 am

    Hi, I’ve been reading with interest for some time now as a Yorkshire woman who has been in a relationship with an American man for almost 6 years now. It’s been great to read your posts and how you find life in the UK. I just hope the positive firmly outweighs the negatives and continues to do so!

    I just loved this post so felt compelled to reply, hope nobody minds?

    1 – Parking: I usually ‘create’ my own parking space if I can’t find one, just stay off the yellow lines and residential/business parking only ;)

    2 – Customer Service (or lack of): In the 80′s and 90′s you couldn’t walk into a shop without having a ‘Customer Service Rep’ practically jumping on your back asking if they could help you, then 2 minutes later, “have you seen anything you want to buy yet” and so on. Commission was a new thing and we ended up with salesmen/women literally jumping down your throats upon entering a shop. Alot got the brush off and many customers used to walk out feeling too targeted by sales staff to make a realistic purchase. So now, you have to go find someone to help these days as they learnt to stay away from the customer to get the sale.

    3 – Negativity (or as the Brits call it ‘Realism’): Guilty! I do this alot, my fiance sometimes just sighs to which I reply “what?!”. It’s an inborn trait I’m afraid, just think of it as ‘thinking aloud’ ;)

    4 – No free refills: Sainsbury’s used to do this but when they realised people were going back to take refill number 3 and 4 they stopped it lol.

    5 – Roundabouts with traffic lights in them: They are ok if there isn’t alot of traffic, if there is then it is usually met with light jumpers or drivers moving into the middle of the road. thus obstructing traffic, so the next set change means nobody else can move until the light jumper’s lights turn green again. A pet hate of mine.

    6 – ‘Proper coffee’ means ‘instant coffee’: Oh my! Some of our instant coffee is like drinking chewable grit! I do use it personally but use the smooth blends, but you can’t beat a fresh coffee!

    7 – ‘OH! The Windy City…’ This had me laughing so much “a scratchy bra that’s rubbing your side-boob raw”.

    8 – Talking about football: I am a footie supporter so each to their own (fiance is too, same team thankfully lol).

    9 – The cost of going out to dinner: Steak houses are not too bad, they have before 7pm prices that are quite reasonable.

    10 – ‘Mexican food’: This was the one that ultimately made me comment. I LOVE Mexican food! The UK has enough Chinese, Italian, Cantonese, Indian, etc, takeaways/restraunts, what we absolutley lack is Mexican outlets! I hope it’s something that takes off in the near future!

    All the best,
    Bev

  10. debra47 November 9, 2012 at 2:36 pm

    I really enjoyed your post! I have been here in England 10 years also and concur with most of the observations you have made. My husband, although English, has experienced enough of the U.S. to agree with you similarly. In addition to your list I would add obstacles and anti-motoring measures on the road. We also love Mexican and we can’t get decent Mexican in Lancashire or anywhere else; we make our own at home.

    • yankeebean November 9, 2012 at 2:40 pm

      I know what you mean about the obstacles. There’s one particular speed bump in Bristol that I swear takes a year off my car’s life every time I go over it. They’re giant heinous beasts!

  11. Cameron November 7, 2012 at 4:34 pm

    Okay, this is way off topic, but:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eX8tL3PMj7o

  12. london p November 7, 2012 at 1:57 pm

    So glad you won’t be coming back to America.

    • yankeebean November 7, 2012 at 2:04 pm

      OH, you’re one of THOSE. I was confused.

      Ok, have a nice day and please do come back if you’d like to keep reading posts that will piss you off :)

      • Cameron November 7, 2012 at 4:48 pm

        london p, doesn’t make any sense.

        Did she mean that as a sarcastic statement, if so shouldn’t it be, “So glad you won’t be GOING back to America.”

        because I didn’t see anything negative in the article towards the states?

        Also, the things about the UK is not really negatives it’s just differences. I mean no country is perfect, unless of course we are talking about Norway! :D

      • yankeebean November 7, 2012 at 7:21 pm

        Well said, Cam :)

  13. starle November 6, 2012 at 6:28 pm

    SO glad you guys are back! Love the new look. Yes, you have forgotten something. I thought you were getting there with the soda rant.
    ICE CUBES! I want more than three euro-cubes!
    have you seen this perfect three-cubes rant? check it out:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bs00-kPIoM8

    • yankeebean November 7, 2012 at 1:12 pm

      Hahaaa!! Classic! I forgot about this one because I’m a ‘no-ice’ girl like my Dad. But I’ve heard many visiting Americans lament about this one.

      Thanks for the video link – it’s brilliant!

  14. Cameron November 6, 2012 at 4:16 pm

    I 100000000% percent agree with your position on the negativity! I think that optimism is the best quality America has over the UK. It sounds so bad when I call or visit home and people are so negative. In my opinion it’s what makes America great and the number one economy in the world!

    As for the other things on the list:
    (I think things might be different in other parts of the states, so this is just my experience)

    Parking: Yes, parking sucks in the UK. But, I miss the ability to park somewhere in town and walk and buy all the things I want in one area. In the states you have to drive EVERYWHERE! I don’t even have a local store near me :( (((((( (hey, why do people in the states insist on getting the parking place right near the front door??)

    Customer Service: It’s better in the states period. I don’t know if it’s because I have lived here in the states for a long time but do all the UK women on the phone sound cheesed off all the time? I didn’t notice it when I lived there.

    Free refills: I noticed that when I came home. I was watching carefully how much I was drinking to make sure I had enough to last the whole meal. LOL (i’m cheap, I know) But, let’s face it the stuff they put in those refills are pretty bad.

    Roundabouts: I long for roundabouts! Stop signs are the WORSE and I mean the WORSE thing in the WHOLE WORLD! No one pays enough attention who came first and it takes SOOOOOOOOO LONG!!

    Windy City: Nothing I can say can trump this comment, “scratchy bra that’s rubbing your side-boob raw”.

    Football: I hated football in the UK and hated it even more when people used to question if you were a interested in the opposite sex if you didn’t like football.

    Eating out: Yes, great food for a great price! Ooooo nachos!

    Mexican Food: I miss curry :~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    Health Care: I miss the security of the NHS.

    • yankeebean November 7, 2012 at 1:10 pm

      Love this, Cam :D Totes agree about the curry, too. After I get back from a States-side visit, it’s one of the first things I have! I’ve yet to have an American curry that stands up…

  15. Taylor November 6, 2012 at 9:51 am

    I think that’s what’s stopping me from learning how to drive…. parking lots… “car parks”…. Display and pay…. whatever you call them, they’re evil.
    I did a post like this recently, and Target was like my #1 frustration! I still look online at the Target Sunday Ads…. Please come to the UK, Target!!! We miss you!

  16. J November 6, 2012 at 8:59 am

    Yes! The shop assistants talking to each other (or in another case, a shoe repair man in an independent family owned shop talking on his cell! I could’ve stepped inside the chain shoe repair shop I walked by to get to your place, ya know!) while you’re waiting is my FAVORITE! Ugh, seriously?

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