#1: The Plants Are Out to Get You
England is overrun with sadistic flora. It’s everywhere. Excepting the concrete expanse that is London, of course, it lines every sidewalk, footpath, rural road, and urban street, so don’t be tempted to absentmindedly brush your hand along the greenery as you stroll (as I did). You will get bitten. (As I did. Many times.)
#2: The British have a special talent for inventing place names
This came to my attention on a visit many years ago. Gazing out the car window while hurtling down the road, I noticed signs for the towns of Cocking, Dorking, and Lickfold. After wiping tears of mirth from my eyes, I knew I had to keep an eye out for more amusing place names. On our most recent trip I didn’t happen upon any with quite so much, uh, sexual innuendo, but there were still plenty of delightfully quirky British place names to be found, including Pulverbatch, Twitchen, Newton Unthank, Peckleton, Kirby Muxlowe, Picklescott, and Lickey End. (Wait. There might be some sexual innuendo in that last one.)
#3: The British have a penchant for inventing unappetizing food names
The Brits have a knack for taking something appealing, like food, and giving it a very unappealing name. Regardless of how delicious these foodstuffs might be, their inventive appellations may create a psychological barrier for the less adventurous eaters among us. To my mind, four of the biggest offenders are clotted cream, toad-in-the-hole, Digestives™, and spotted dick (!) Just hearing those names is enough to put me off my mushy peas.
#4: And the winner is…
As both a lifelong resident of the United States and a frequent traveler to England, I’ve naturally developed certain opinions about things that one country does better than the other. I’m not talking about castles or royalty or majestic mountain peaks or other obvious things in which one country has no hope of besting the other. I’m talking about the small stuff.
USA beats UK
- Faucets: In England, these are known as taps, but the nomenclature is not what gives them their losing status. What makes them inferior is that often there are two nozzles coming out of the sink – one for hot water and one for cold water. The nozzles are far enough apart that you can’t cup your hand and receive water from both taps at the same time, which, if you could, would result in room temperature water touching your skin. Instead, one hand gets frozen while the other gets scalded. Really folks, there’s a much more pleasant way to wash your hands: merged taps!
- Window screens: Never once have I seen a window screen in England. I don’t know why this basic convenience hasn’t made its way across the pond. Most of my visits have been in summer, so I can say with certainty that despite what you may have heard (and what I may have said) about cold summers in England, it can get warm enough to warrant opening windows. And it’s not like they don’t have insects. They do. So how do the English cope? They just open their windows and whatever happens to fly or crawl in, well, so be it. It boggles my mind.
UK beats USA
- Bacon: If you’re a bacon-lover, you’re probably going to disagree with me on this one. I am not a bacon lover. I’ll eat it, but I never order it in a restaurant and I only cook with it if a recipe calls for it. English bacon, though, is a (awkward metaphor alert!) whole different kettle of fish. It’s more like Canadian bacon. Translation: it’s not all greasy and fatty. Bacon that resembles what Americans eat does exist, though they call it streaky bacon, and it appears to me to be much less common, which, for me, gives them the win!
- Charitable giving: I’ve never been to a more charity-forward country. Though perhaps not as obvious in London, my time in smaller English communities has shown me that England is very focused on helping the needy. Charity shops – whose proceeds are usually dedicated to a specific cause, such as cancer research or abandoned animals – are ubiquitous, and it seems that nearly every race of every kind is done to raise money for the less fortunate. Good on ya’, England.
- Shopping carts: They resemble ones you see in American supermarkets, but with a distinct advantage: all-wheel drive. Smooth and maneuverable, you can practically steer what they call shopping trolleys with your pinky finger. Who knew grocery-getting could be such a blissful experience?
- Escalator culture/etiquette: It’s not even an unwritten rule. In most tube stations it’s written as plain as day: Stand on the right. Because Britons adhere to this sensible escalator edict, two things become obvious. First, you can often tell who the foreigners are. They are the ones standing on the left, forcing all the Brits to say, “Excuse me. Pardon me. Stand on the right, please.” Second, it’s much easier to race to the top (or bottom) if you’re in a hurry. Especially right after a visit to the UK, riding an escalator in the US can be a maddening experience. If someday you hear a news report about the world’s first case of “escalator rage,” you can be pretty sure I was the perpetrator. 😉
So there you have it folks – random findings gleaned from two decades of visits around the husband’s homeland. But surely there are more. What quirky English traits, habits, cultural norms, or other features did I miss?