One thing that will hit the wayward American hard when they arrive in Britain for the first time is that it will be unlike any place they have been before. Despite the familiarity of shared heritage and language, Britain is, and always will be, a foreign place.
That said, on our many travels there, we’ve observed things that the Brits do that just make more sense – that we simply don’t do. So, we thought it would be fun to put together a list of things the Brits do better than us and generate some discussion from both sides of the pond.
1. Letting retail employees sit down at the till
When I first went to a British grocery store – the thing that shocked me the most wasn’t the variety of different foods – it was the fact that the people who work the check-out lanes get to sit down.
I have never seen this in a grocery store in the USA.
It just makes sense – why do they have to stand? It’s a job that could be perfectly well done sitting down, with the occasional standing up to scan an item that won’t fit on the conveyor belt. It just seems more humane than having someone stand on their feet for their whole shift. This would be especially nice for older employees and pregnant women who are forced to work.
Dear Britain: Your trains are awesome.
While the Brits might disagree with this statement, I’m writing from a land with few trains at all. We have a national train network, but it’s slow, expensive and not a very good way to get around the country. It can take up to a WEEK to get from one end of the country to the other by train.
That’s why we love to fly.
In Britain you can get to every corner of Britain by train. Not only that – the trains are FAST compared to their US counterparts (I’m not talking about High Speed Bullet Trains here).
While Britain’s rail network does have its problems (and we’ve experienced them) the mere fact they exist should be enough to be grateful.
One thing I admire most about Britain is its form of government. In America, we have three branches of government that divide power. In theory this is a great way to keep the government in check. In practice it’s simply become a recipe for permanent political deadlock.
In Britain, there is ONE branch of government. Parliament. All power, laws, legal force come from Parliament. It is Britain’s legislature, judiciary and executive branch all in one.
When a government wins an election (whatever party) it is guaranteed the ability to actually exert power and get things done. In America, when a President wins an election, he can do nothing without a cooperative congress and judiciary branch (which almost never happens anymore).
My favorite aspect of British government is Prime Minister’s Question Time. Every week, the head of government, the Prime Minister has to stand in front of Parliament and answer every question that is thrown at him (often in a hostile environment). Can you imagine how different our political system would be if our President had to do the same?
4. Public Television
We love the BBC. We love their shows, their stars and their way of doing things.
Most of all, we love what the BBC stands for – it’s a public service broadcaster.
While we have PBS here in the USA – PBS is a weak organization dependent on the largesse of donors wishing it to continue. In Britain, if you own a TV, every year you have to pay a tax that funds the BBC in its entirety. The perk of this is a public broadcaster that is unbiased in its news coverage and doesn’t air commercials.
Even PBS airs commercials these days.
The BBC model is definitely something to be admired.
Adding the extra U to a lot of words just adds an extra bit of flourish to spellings and seems all the more refined.
6. The House of Lords
While most consider the House of Lords to be an anachronism with no place in modern Britain, I would argue that it’s an institution that protects British democracy despite the fact it’s most certainly not a democratic institution.
I won’t get into the merits of a body with hereditary members, I would like to say that there’s something to be said about having an upper house that has members appointed for life so that they can be above day-to-day politics and focus on the bigger picture.
We thought we got it right with the US Senate (they have 6 year terms) but the realities of running elections mean that Senators only care about re-election, not serving their constituents.
I really like the idea of an impartial upper house that is a check on the power of the lower house (which should always have more power and the ability to overrule the upper house).
7. Budget Day
Budget Day is a yearly event that we marvel at. Every March, the Chancellor of the Exchequer announces his budget plans for the next year. He makes a big speech to Parliament and Brits like to take stock of how their taxes will change for the next year.
What’s amazing about this rather boring sounding event is that Parliament passes the budget the very same day.
Coming from a country where the government hasn’t had a functioning yearly budget in almost three years, this is astounding.
8. Holiday Time
Like the rest of Europe, Britain gets a lot of time off. Here in America, we usually get 2 weeks paid vacation and that’s if we get any time off at all (that’s 10 paid days, plus the weekends). Most people don’t even take that as they’re afraid of leaving their jobs for any amount of time.
By law, UK workers get 28 days of paid vacation time. BY LAW. There is no law in the USA mandating vacation.
This does not include the 9 Bank Holidays where most workers get the time off as well (though employers can count their in your 28 days, most don’t).
On top of that, it’s common practice for most businesses to shut down for the two weeks between Christmas and New Year’s (and not have it taken out of those days). Don’t even get me started on sick days or maternity leave (not part of the 28 days either).
British people work just as hard as Americans do, they just get more time to enjoy themselves or take care of themselves if they get sick.
9. Limited Sunday Retail Hours
On Sunday, retail stores are limited to being open only 6 hours. Though this might change soon, it’s a great way to encourage people to relax a little more on Sunday. There are places in the US which don’t allow business on Sundays but it’s very rare nowadays.
Britain has successfully gotten rid of the £1 paper note and replaced it with a £1 coin. This just makes complete sense especially in this day in age where the dollar isn’t worth as much as it’s used to.
They also have a £2 coin which is even better.
Not to mention the fact they put Charles Darwin on their money – can you imagine that happening in the USA?
11. Plugs have switches
It’s a minor thing – but it rather makes sense, all plugs in the wall have a switch. When you’re not using it, you turn it off. Such a simple way to save energy. It’s also much safer than having open live plugs everywhere.
Also, many hotels nowadays make you insert your key into a special switch when you’re in the room and when you leave, it shuts off the lights in the room. Another great way to save energy.
12. The Washer and Dryer is One Machine
I always wondered by a washer and dryer had to be separate machines and now I realize the reason: corporate America simply wants us to buy two machines instead of one so they can make more money.
Most households in Europe have one washer and dryer combo unit – they’re compact and are often located in the kitchen (this also makes more sense). It works for an entire continent!
Much less work when doing the wash!
What your favorite thing that Britain does better than America? Let us know in the comments! And try to be politically respectful!