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

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.

What America and England do best, courtesy of Virginia A Smith

I came across a blog post today and the first line had me laughing out loud.  I have to repost it because it’s such a concise, brutally honest take on what America and England do best.

A few of my personal favourites are:

  • America does best -> Innovate  ::  England does best -> Muddle through
  • America does best -> Loose lips  ::  England does best -> Stiff upper lip
  • America does best -> Mega churches  ::  England does best -> Empty churches

Check out the full post here - https://theyearoflivingenglishly.wordpress.com/2012/05/10/us-vs-uk-what-each-does-best/

It’s not to be missed – I’m still chortling.  :D

English candy bars – a quick translation

With Halloween upon us, there’s fancy-dress, ghosts and candy everywhere.  Maybe it’s just me, but I find myself having familiar conversations about what candy is like in the US verse the UK.  Questions like, “Do you have _________ in America?”, “Is __________ the same in America?”, “What’s your favo(u)rite American candy?  And your favo(u)rite English candy?”

So let’s take some time to look at English candy because ALL HELL can break loose if you’re an American living in England and you don’t know what you’re doing.  Some candies look similar, but underneath that layer of familiarity lurks a world of confusion.  Some candy bars have the same name, but don’t have the same sweet shenanigans inside.

So here’s a list of some of the candy that drops into my expat conversations the most often:

Smarties

Closest US equivalent:

M&M’s (although they have M&M’s in the UK, too)

How are they different?:

They’re brighter colours, each colour is a different flavour (they’re different flavours for realsies, though – I know some of you M&M enthusiasts insist that all M&M’s don’t  taste the same, but I refuse to believe it) .  Also, they’re colouring is all-natural and doesn’t contain any of those frisky E-numbers – and they come in a cardboard tube (which I think is awesome).

The verdict:

I come down hard in favour of M&M’s because I don’t actually like the flavours that Smarties use. It’s a shame though, cos I love that they don’t use E-nums.


Milky Way (UK)

Closest US Equivalent:

Three Musketeers

How are they different?

The UK Milky Way is teeny tiny (about a third of the size of an American 3 Musketeers) and it has a thinner layer of milk chocolate than the 3 Musketeers does.

Everybody stay calm – there’s a candy bar called Milky Way in the States and it has nougat, CARAMEL and milk chocolate. So don’t lose your rag if you buy a Milky Way over here and it seems suspicious.  They’re not discriminating against you because you’re American by shrinking your choccy bar and witholding your caramel.

The verdict:

My Lord, I LOVE the UK Milky Way. It’s the right size, the right amount of sweetness, and it’s a bit lower calorie than your average candy bar which can never hurt. My loyalties lie with the UK version.


Mars (UK)

Closest US Equivalent:

Milky Way  (I know, I know – I’m confused, too)

How are they different?

These are super super similar – I crave them interchangeably.

The verdict:

The US version of the Milky Way was a major fave when I was a kid, so I’d vote for it just for ol’ times sake.

Horrifying yet amazing fact:

They deep fry Mars bars in Scottish chip shops.


Bounty

Closest US Equivalent:

Mounds

How are they different?

Bounty has coconut in the middle and MILK CHOCOLATE on the outside.  Mounds has the same type of coconut, but DARK CHOCOLATE on the outside.

The verdict:

Since coconut was invented by God to be paired with dark chocolate – I’ve gotta go Mounds on this one.


This post is starting to make me feel like all I do is eat chocolate.  Or maybe it’s making me WISH that all I do is eat chocolate.

Actually, as I’m typing this there’s a Halloween candy bowl in front of me filled with mini UK Milky Ways and Mars bars.

YES!

English people want to buy their first house when they’re foetuses

I was 18 and so was my English man.

We’re sitting in the 6th-Form Common Room talking about the future in a casual ‘we’re going to be famous rockstars’ kind of way.

All of a sudden, he drops the H-bomb.

HOUSE.

When you’re 18 and your man starts talking about buying a house, it’s easy to see it as a ‘planning for our forever together’ type of situation.  But keep in mind that it could also be an ‘I’ve wanted to buy a house since I was in the womb’ type of situation.

Once you’ve started your own expat adventure, it will take you 1.6 seconds to see that it’s true.  The English want – no MUST – own a house as soon as humanly possible.  They emerge from adolescence yearning not for fame or fortune, but a MORTGAGE.  They watch prime-time property porn like Location Location Location, House Doctor, and Grand Designs.

My frothing-at-the-house man and I did go on to get married (and, yes, buy a house) – but I don’t think he was imagining walking me down the aisle when he casually talking about mortgaging-up all those years ago.  He was just being the lovely Brit that he is.

But expats BEWARE!  Fear not the house-owning-desires of your English man!  Fear the DIY that follows.

Take your UK planning permission and shove it up your arse

Back up, expats – I’ve got mah BITCH on.

I just finished watching Grand Designs (The one about the couple that built a super modern boat-house type thing right on the Thames).  The finished product was a real stunner – modern, but sensitive to its surroundings.  It was beige-y, river-y and awesome-y.  In short, I lurved it.

What is planning permission?  Wikipedia says that “Planning permission or planning consent is the permission required in the United Kingdom in order to be allowed to build on land, or change the use of land or buildings.

The people in this episode didn’t actually have any trouble with getting planning permission – but their heinous neighbours couldn’t seem to believe that such a MONSTROSITY could POSSIBLY be built among their chocolate-box houses.  There were petitions and council-led meetings and the build was fought at every turn by their neighbours (who now hate the completed house AND the new residents, too, just for extra arse-points).  They used words like ‘monstrosity’, ‘blight’, ‘disaster’, ‘ruination’, ‘It’s DESTROYED the space/street/block/area/county/country/planet/universe’.

You get the idea.

Even though the council backed the new build in the end, watching this episode reminded me how OUTRAGEOUS I find the idea of planning permission in the UK.

Rationally, I get it (SORT of):

  • England wouldn’t look like England without planning permission – it keeps it all lookin’ England-style
  • It helps to protect valuable conservation (countryside and farm land)
  • It helps to protect residential areas from fusty industrial development

But deep down, the American Revolutionary in me can’t believe that I could buy some land, 100% own that land, but some Suit with an official stamp and an architectural attitude could proceed to tell me what I am and am not allowed to do with it.

I’m going to have my own mini Boston Tea Party in protest!  I’m going to go get all the tea bags I have in my kitchen and THROW THEM IN A PUDDLE.  (Please note: No tea bags were harmed in the writing of this blog post and I don’t advocate littering so please do clean up after yourselves if you have your own mini Boston Tea Parties).

As far as I’m aware there are building CODES in America, but there’s no Big Brother telling you that your window frames have MUST be white and your extension HAS to made of Bath stone.

Can we weigh in on this one, peeps?  Am I the only one that breaks out in hives every time someone mentions planning permission?

I can’t sound THAT American anymore because English people freely tell me how much they hate the American accent

When I first moved to the UK, I met a lot of people that loved American accents, American culture and all things stars-and-stripes.  But after being here for 8 years, it’s more common to hear Brits talk about how awful they think the American accent is.

It’s never malicious.  No intentional insult.  They just casually chat about how harsh and unappealing it sounds.  They talk about how loud it is.  They talk about how distracting they find it.

And they talk about it, right to my face, like I don’t have one.

I can honestly say that I’m not insulted because I can tell that they don’t mean any harm.  After finding out that I’ve lived in the UK for so many years, I wonder if people put me into the ‘Other’ category rather than the ‘American’ one.  They chat freely to me about my mamma-land because they feel like I’m on their team now (I hope?).  Either that or their being arseholes and I’m too nice to notice.

But I don’t think that’s it.  I’m a nice woman, not a nice eejit.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not the case that every English person hates the Yankee twang, but it’s become a 60/40 split in terms of Brits telling me they hate/love it.  And I’m sure all you lovely expats will agree that when the words ‘hate’ and ‘America(n)’ drop-it-like-it’s-hot into a conversation, your ears perk up a bit so I can’t help but notice the shift.

I have no plans to try and stop this trend since no one directly involved seems to find it upsetting.  If the convo DOES turn to accent-hating, I toss around my own opinions about types of British accents that I’m not super-fond-of and I don’t think I’ve annoyed anyone.  But I maintain the right to become She-Ra, Outraged Princess of Power, if anyone attacks my precious home land with malicious intent!

What do you guys think?  Am I being too lax in the defence of my people?

How to have the best day in Bath, England – EVER.

I spent the most awesome day ever in Bath with my brother, Leonard and his wife Ella who were visiting from Chicago.  We had such a good time, that I though I should write about our itinerary in case anyone else is going to a pilgrimage to the beautiful Bath sometime soon.

Step 1 – Cream Tea at the Pump Rooms

You won’t regret hanging out in this gigantic, gorgeous, chandelier-y spot.  The cream tea is delish (two scones – one fruit and one plain – strawberry jam and clotted cream) and I can also happily recommend the Welsh Rarebit if you’re looking for something savoury.  It’s worth it for the atmosphere alone – there was a piano player tickling the ivories when we were there.  He did what we came to call The Moon Mash-up – he played Moon River, Fly Me to the Moon and Paper Moon in a single glorious medley.  Excellent.

(check out the Pump Rooms website for directions, menus, or just to oggle)

Step 2 – The Roman Baths

Ok.  I’m being serious.  Go here.  Shut down your computer, iPad, or smart phone.  Get your coat.  Finish reading this later.

The level of history is something that me and my American family-peeps were completely unprepared for.  I’ve never said the word ‘awesome’ so many times in 90 minutes.

It’s beautiful, fascinating, and comes with a top-notch free audio tour.  Legendary expat, Bill Bryson, has even done a set of audio segments that are priceless – not to be missed.

(check out the Roman Baths website – that is, if you haven’t stopped reading already as per my instructions)

Step 3 – Mr. B’s Emporium of Reading Delights

Leonard, Ella and I are all carnivorous readers and so we couldn’t resist a trip to this gem in Bath’s crown.  The shop itself is lovely and has an outstanding selection of books (with all purtiest book covers, too) – but what makes it stand apart is the staff.  No question is too small and they make glorious recommendations.  They are SO FREAKING LOVELY there.

It’s worth mentioning that their gift wrap is also completely adorbs.

(check out Mr. B’s lovely website – it’s cute-patoot)

Step 4 – The Royal Crescent

We found our way to the Royal Crescent by asking a passing stranger where it was.  The exchange went something like this:

Me:  ”Excuse me.  I’ve heard there a big pretty row of houses somewhere that we should go and look at – do you know what that is?”

Friendly man: “You must mean the Royal Crescent… [insert directions and laughter here]

You’ll be shocked to know that ‘big pretty row of houses’ doesn’t quite do it justice.  It’s definitely worth a look!

(learn more about the Royal Crescent on your best-interweb-friend and mine, Wikipedia)

Step 5 – Thermae Bath Spa

Ok.  You have to go here, too.  Don’t go to Bath without coming here, just don’t.  It’s thermal.  It’s a bath.  It’s a spa.  For the love of God, what else do you want?

We opted to get in for ‘last orders’ at 7pm and spend two hours watching the sun set from the thermal roof-top pool.  We also frequented the scented steam rooms a couple of times (Sandalwood was our fave).  But most of our time was spent floating in perfectly heated mineral pools and looking at gorgeous views across Bath.

NICE.

(Fancy a warm floaty sunset-y Bath extravaganza?  What a dumb question, of course you do – here’s the Thermae Bath Spa website)

Step 6 – Eat food and drink wine

This last step is optional, but I highly recommend it.  We ended up in Carluccio’s where the happiest waiter on earth served us the tastiest garlic bread I’ve ever laid taste-buds on.

But there are far too many awesome restaurants in Bath to count – if anyone has any suggestions, bring it on!


And that’s the end of the recommended ‘Best day in Bath – EVER’ guide.  I’m sure that I’m missing things, but this list made for an awesome, but not too busy day out.

It’s going to be one of those days that ages in my head like a warm tasty whiskey – it’s going to get better and better the more I remember it.  And THAT is the sign of a good day.  A very good day, indeed.

The WORST fake English accents: Why don’t they just hire British actors to play British characters??

I’m at the stage at my stay here in the UK that I don’t really hear the British accent anymore.  Unless it’s a strong local-y sounding one (Yorkshire, Bristol, Scouse, Geordie), it washes right over me.

But when they hire an American, an Irish person or an Australian to play a Brit – OH! – Mine ears, they do tremble.  Why don’t they just hire Brits??  Especially since they’re cheap labour

I’ve been doing some Googling to find some evidence, and I’ve come up with the following 3 heinous examples:

Anne Hathaway in One Day

Bless her heart, I love Anne Hathaway in almost everything she ever touches (yes, this includes the Princess Diaries 2).  But how can I keep track of what’s going on in a film with this strange Ameri-cockney-yorkshire accent beast staring me down?

Natalie Portman in V for Vendetta

I’m also a huge lover of Natalie Portman – she’s a freaking genius and most things she touches turn to golden box office successes.  But her ACCENT!  Ohmygee, her accent.  That’ll be ten Pledge of Allegiances and a whole cheese pizza as penance, Nat-Port.

Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins

No list of crappest-Brit-accents would be complete without Dickie-boo!

I love this movie.  MY GOD, I love this movie.   I live in eternal hope that one day I’ll find a handbag big enough to keep a floor lamp in.  But Dick Van Dyke really set the bar in terms of heinous accents.  It doesn’t ruin the over all movie for me, though – probably because it’s all so cartoony and his accent is, too.


Part of me gets it.  Directors have a specific actor in mind and they bring them in regardless of their stubborn American twang.  It’s distracting, though – there’s nowt to be done about it!

I know it isn’t a one-way train.  There are plenty of Brits doing heinous American accents out there (except for Hugh Laurie, of course.  He sounds more American than I do), but for some reason I don’t tend to find bad American accents as distracting.  Now that I mention it, I should give a shout out Gweneth Paltrow who throws a seriously excellent English accent in my opinion.

What about you guys?  Can you stand it?  Have I missed any obvious ‘worst English accent ever’ candidates?  Or what about bad American accents?  I can’t think of any off the top of my head…

 

Do we tip bartenders here?

SO!  My brother (Leonard) and his wife (Ella) flew into London from Chicago (they get in to Bristol this afternoon!) and this means one thing.  Seeing the UK a-fresh through Yankee eyes!

I can already tell that hanging out with them in England is going to:

a)  Be amazing

b)  Give me major flashbacks about what life was like when I first moved to the UK

For example, I got a text from Len last night – all is said was:

Do we tip bartenders here?

I texted back a quick ‘Nope!’.  But that one text opened the flood gates and I remembered my days of uk-mystery-tipping.  I had no idea who to tip, so I tipped everyone – an extra quid every time I bought a drink, 2 or 3 quid for taxi drivers, a tenner for my hair dresser (TEN QUID!  I can’t believe I did that – no wonder she cried when I moved away!).  Oh, the memories!

Does this happen to you guys?  Someone comes to visit and every time they marvel at a Zebra Crossing, you’re hurtled though a quantum wormhole back to your early days in the UK?

Makes me smile. :)

DIY? DI-Because.

I’ve always had a pretty straight forward attitude to DIY, and that’s D. I. DON’T.  But the tables have turned – and I’m tempted to sand-down those turning tables and paint them heritage Farrow & Ball Pavilion Blue.

When I first moved to the UK, I was adamantly anti-DIY.  Why fix it, when you can buy a new one and grab a Starbucks on the way back home?  (Mmmm… Starbucks…)  It’s bizarre because I come from a creative family of fixers and menders – but somehow the 21st century consumption (20th century back then) had a firm hold on me.

But let me take you back to the beginning of my DIY-downfall.  Little did I know what my future held when I first started dating Mr. Nice Guy at the tender but fearless age of 17.  He was already dreaming of owning his first house – but not just any house – a FIXER-UPPER.  When he first said these words aloud, they struck horror in my very core.  ”Surely,” I thought, “By ‘fixer-upper’ he means brand new house, freshly and professionally painted complete with landscaped garden!”

No.  No he did not.

In fact, what he meant was a Victorian house built in the late 1800′s with knackered wiring, leaky plumbing, damp crumbling plaster and asbestos in the loft.  *shudder*

Don’t get me wrong, I get it.  I see why it’s sensible to buy an old fusty bargain, rip it apart and put it back together again.  It’s a good investment (at least it was before the housing market crash), you can create your ideal home, you get the exact kitchen and bathroom that you want AND you get the satisfaction of the ‘I did that’ moment when it’s all finished in utterly glorious splendour.

Fast forward to a year ago (2011) when we started looking for a house in earnest.  The thought of all that work always niggled at my mind (sometimes it’s stomped all over my mind like the T-rex in Jurassic Park when the electric fences failed.)  How long would it take?  How much would it cost?  How could I cope with the upheaval?  How much would it COST?  Could we both keep our businesses running and redo a house at the same time?  HOW MUCH WOULD IT COST?

The thought of it conjured up images of Mr. Nice Guy and I banding together and petitioning the UK government for an official day-time extension.  It would read something like this:

“We, Yankeebean and Mr. Nice Guy, formerly request that the 24-hour length of the UK day be extended to 32-hours, therefore increasing the amount of time the aforementioned applicants may then spend re-plastering the second bedroom.”

But I reasoned with myself that all the positives would out-weigh the negatives and I remained open to the idea of taking on a DIY dinosaur.

To be fair, Mr. Nice Guy was entirely open to the idea of getting a house that was already done-up – something that we could move right in to.  We came at from the same angle – If we find a house that we love, we’ll put an offer in regardless of the state it’s in.

So we looked.

And we looked and we looked.

And lo and behold, a house that was recently re-done came along!  It lit Mr. Nice Guy’s fire because it’s Victorian from the late 1800′s.  And my fire was blazing because it had just been completely redone, freshly painted, re-wired and had a brand new boiler.  Plus it was gorgeous – totes adorbs – and we both knew that it was worth going for it.

Fast-forward lots of paperwork, red-tape, terrifying amounts of money and celebratory champagne aaaaaaaand — WE’RE IN!

And though I don’t have to worry about fusty plaster laced with asbestos, I find there’s still lots of little jobs to do.  AND I LOVE IT.

I never DREAMED I’d be so excited about sanding and painting a cabinet for the living room.  The official term is ‘up-cycling’, but I call it ‘I-can’t-afford-to-buy-it-from-John-Lewis-so-I’m-going-to-buy-it-off-Ebay-for-ten-quid-and-do-it-myself-ing’.

Mr. NG asks if I want to help put up some shelves and what do I say?  ”YES!” I almost shout – like he’s just gotten down on one knee to propose and I’m accepting.

SO, when did it happen?  When did I become Aunty-DIY instead of anti-DIY?  I suspect somewhere around the time that I signed that scary mortgage contract and sent it, sweaty-palmed, back to the bank.

But one thing I know for certain, along with learning to love Marmite-spreading, wellie-wearing, and weather-discussing – learning to love DIY has made me even a little more English.  How about you lot?  Any DIY converts out there?