Every time we travel to Britain we learn something new. We’ve been there a dozen times and there is always something new to learn and discover about our favorite place to visit. Discovery is the best part of travel.
During each trip, I keep a running notebook going of my random observations. They’re thoughts and observations that occurred to me during the trip that I thought were interesting and worth further exploration when I returned home. Some don’t warrant an entire article, some may in the future.
I watch less British TV when I’m actually in Britain
This is a strange one to admit. We watch a lot of British TV in the Anglotopia household. Probably more British TV than American TV (I’m not afraid to admit that). The wonders of technology (that we can’t talk about for legal reasons) allows us to do that these days. So, we’re always really excited when we get to Britain to be able to watch hours and hours of British TV.
Except we almost always never watch as much TV as we hope.
The biggest reason is that – we’re in Britain – we don’t want to waste our whole trip watching TV – we can do that at home! Also, we have our own British DVR of sorts back home, so we acquire the shows after they air and then watch them when our schedule suits. When we’re in the UK, it turns out our schedule doesn’t suit watching TV when it actually airs on TV. Between the kid’s bedtime and being out for the day, we just don’t watch much telly while we’re in the UK.
There are exceptions – like the Doctor Who and Downton Abbey Christmas specials but for the most part we found ourselves playing catchup when we got home with all the British TV we missed while we were IN Britain!
I get better cell phone reception than I do back home
Anglotopia’s offices are in the basement in our house and if I’m lucky, I will get 1 bar of cellular reception. Most of the time it flashed ‘no service.’ While we’re in the UK – there were few places our cell coverage was below full bars. Only in the remotest countryside was our reception not as good – but even then it was better than we usually get at home! So – way to go UK for a solid cellular network.
Brits Really Want to Make Clear the Distinctions as Town, Village, City…
We have to be very careful of the verbiage we use when we refer to places. Brits are very sensitive to the correct usages of Town, City, Village, Hamlet, etc. For example, our favorite place – Gold Hill in Shaftesbury, Dorset – looks like a typical English village scene. But don’t you dare call it a Village – it’s a Town. And also don’t dare call a city like Salisbury a Town – it’s a proper City. I think exploring the definition of these types of ‘conurbations’ will make for an interesting post in the future.
They Don’t Want You to say “The Holidays”
We told everybody back home that we were going to Britain for ‘The Holidays’ – to us that meant Christmas, Boxing Day, New Year’s etc. It’s a simple phrase and an easy way to say what we’re doing. But we found that several British people would prefer we not use the term ‘the holidays’ and instead refer to it as Christmas, Boxing Day, New Year’s and not lump them all together.
It’s exhausting making the most of every moment – I have the whole rest of the year to not be in England.
File this under ‘first world problems’ but when we’re in England I’m basically exhausted for the entire time. Because it costs so much and takes so much to get there for any amount of time, I always feel like I need to make the most of every minute. This means sleep is a minor goal for the trip so I can make the most of it. This leads to fatigue very quickly – especially when you’re there for a month. Also, after this trip it was very hard to get over the jet lag, normally a day or two I’m fine but it look almost a whole week this time. Rule for the next trip: relax more!
The water in Britain is so soft!
I love the water in Britain. Here in Valparaiso, Indiana the city gets its water from deep wells dug into the ground which gives us very hard water – despite their best efforts. All the places we stayed in Britain had the most luxuriously soft water. Taking a bath or shower was amazing. I already miss it!
I like that the BBC is channel 1, so easy to remember!
If you don’t have cable/satellite in Britain, the channels are pretty easy to remember. BBC1 is always channel 1. BBC2 is channel 2. ITV is Channel 3 and so one. Makes it very easy to remember!
Cbeebies is so much better than the cartoons at home
Anglotopia Jr loved the cartoons on offer in the UK. In fact many of the cartoons are the same ones that he enjoys at home, except we learned that the shows were originally British and flow much better with the original British accents. Why can’t Bob the Builder keep his British accent in the USA?
Channels Go Off the Air
Here in the land of 24 hour TV networks, channels almost always never go off the air. Even when they do, they usually show a repeat of the dreaded infomercials. But the screen always has something on. In Britain, they have several channels that don’t begin broadcasting until the evenings (like BBC3 or BBC4) and only broadcast for a few hours before they shut off again. The rest of the time the channel is a blank spout that says when the channel returns. How strange. If you have the bandwidth, why not run shows all day and night? The BBC puts out plenty of stuff for people to watch.
Having to Tell Every Cashier to Swipe is really annoying.
Most US travelers to the UK have run into this problem. Most of Europe now uses a Chip & Pin card system were you insert your card into a reader and then type in your PIN. The cashier never needs to touch your card – they even bring the card reader to your table in a restaurant. It’s so much more secure. For whatever reasons, US banks don’t generally offer a Chip & Pin Card (this is starting to change, but not all banks offer them yet) which means that when you go shopping in the UK you have to tell every cashier they need to swipe it.
What’s really annoying is that they swipe so few cards, some aren’t sure how to do it and almost always have to search for a pen for you to sign with. Also, British retailers are real sticklers for checking your signature. I can’t remember that last time anyone in the US examined my signature closely. Made me self-conscious to make sure I did it right every time.
Ice in the orange juice but not in the soda
This struck me as strange. Whenever I’d order orange juice at breakfast, it would come with ice cubes in it. Why? Strangely, it’s still common in most places to not get ice in your soft drink unless you ask for it. But it comes in the orange juice un-asked for.
Automatic extractor fans are annoying
We found these strange devices in most of the self-catering units we stayed in. Of course, we have bathroom extractor fans here in the USA. But the ones in the UK operate rather strangely. Some are delayed and only turn on after you need them. Other turn on when you turn on the light. But the really annoying ones are the one that continue to stay on long after you’ve left the bathroom. They’re usually LOUD and makes you feel rather embarrassed if you have company.
Empty Grocery Shelves
America likes abundance. So much so, that in grocery stores you will almost always never see empty shelves unless there is an impending disaster. It’s rather strange when you go into a grocery store – usually late in the day or on the weekends and find many of the shelves bare or barely stocked. Where is everything?!?!?!
The Toast Goes Sideways
This blew our minds. Every time we made toast in our toaster, the bread was so big that it the whole slice would not get toasted. It took a friend to turn the toast on its side for us to realize why…
And Another Thing – British Bread is Amazing
British Bread is simply amazing. No wonder toast is considered a meal here. The bread is dense and hearty and full of nutrition. Here in the USA – our breads are more light and airy and crammed with garbage. Hovis makes some of the best bread. My favorite snack became white toast, slathered in British butter with orange marmalade. My mouth is watering typing this.
Retail Hours Are Very Confusing
Retail hours here in the USA are generally straightforward, the 24 hour stores aside, most stores open early and close late. In the UK it’s not like this at all. While they do have 24 hour stores, they’re not 7 days a week – by law they can only be open for 6 hours on Sundays and Holidays. Many stores close at 5 or 6pm – making you wonder how people who work get their shopping done. So, as we traveled over the holiday period, the stores seemed like they were always closed when we needed something.
What was maddening was the inconsistency. Some stores would be open, others would be closed. Or the hours posted on the door would say a store should be open, but it wasn’t. Or it would be open early one day but not open until later the next. We learned that rather than relying on always being able to run to the store for something like we can back home, we just had to plan ahead and get what we needed when the store was open.
The Weather Was Great – Except When it Wasn’t…
When we told people we were going to Britain for a month during December and January – they laughed at us. “Britain has terrible weather – why wouldn’t you go somewhere warm?” Was the general refrain. Actually Britain has generally pleasant weather int he winter and for the first week or so of our trip – it was pleasant. Temperatures were around 50 degrees Fahrenheit – there was occasional rain but generally the sun was out. It was fantastic.
We felt particularly smug when we heard that back home in Chicago they got -30 degree temperatures and two feet of snow!
And then – the windstorms hit. While we were in Dorset – which is close to the southern coast – we experienced some of the craziest winds in our entire lives – combined with torrential rain – it kept us inside quite a bit and did a lot of damage to low-lying areas. The flooding was amazing to behold and scary for the people caught in it. But then after a day of driving rain and wind – the sun would come out and it’d be warm again.
What’s funny is that almost every British person we ran into apologized for the bad weather we were experiencing. No, it’s all right – it was much worse back home!
Do you have any fun observations from your last trip to the UK? Let us know in the comments!