Random Observations from Last Trip to Britain or Why British Toilets Are Better

The water is green because it's filthy. Don't touch it.

The water is green because it’s filthy. Don’t touch it.

Editor’s Note: While going through old notes I took on our last trip to England in May 2012, I found a bunch of observations that got lost in the shuffle and buried at the bottom of my note program. I thought it would be fun to put them together into one post. So, while the topic is a little dated, the information is timeless.

We’re a little late in getting this out as our trip was several months ago. But while we were on the road, I noted down many observations that I planned to gather into one long post.

So, where are some random observations I made while we traveled in England last May and June.

Rubbish everywhere

One thing that struck is that we saw litter everywhere. In the city centers, in the countryside, it was everywhere. It was rather unpleasant. It was particularly bad in the city of Bath. But we found out later there was a garbage strike while we were there – so that didn’t help matters!

Women like see through clothing or not much at all

Mrs. Anglotopia will hate me for saying this but there was a surprisingly number of women wearing clothing that was either see through or left nothing to the imagination. It was rather shocking to see what was in fashion. Mrs. Anglotopia was equally as shocked.

The British love yet complain about the heat at the same time

While we were in Britain, they had beautiful weather. It was sunny and warm every day. Yet, people still managed to complain about it. So, our conclusion is that while on the one hand the Brits we met lauded their beautiful weather they would almost inevitably complain about it in the same conversation.

Service is better outside London

We got far better service outside of London than we did while we were there. There’s a major cultural difference between Londoners and those not in London. Most service staff outside London are actually English whereas in London most are Eastern European where communication is an issue.

Not afraid to put pseudoephedrine in their drugs

This is a strange point to make but as I got sick halfway through the trip, I had a need for good cold medicine and Mrs. Anglotopia went down to the local pharmacy to get something. The helpful staff gave her an over the counter cold medicine called Sinutab. It pretty much knocked my cold completely away. I had no symptoms (until the medicine wore off). The key ingredient? Psuedoephredine – a drug that’s been removed from most cold medicine in the States (it can be cooked into meth so it’s hard to get now).

Superior Toilets

Britain’s toilets are better than American toilets.

There I said it.

They’re better for several reasons.

First, toilets have two buttons for flushing. They usually have the option to have a light flush for lighter things and a heavy flush for… heavier things. This is a major water saver and so simple.

Second, they’re shaped better and more comfortable. They’re usually more square shaped than round, which means they fit one’s posterior better.

Also, public bathroom stalls (British slang: cubicle) are better as well, the walls usually go all the way to the ground and sometimes each toilet has its own cupboard sized room. Much more private for something that’s rather private.

Bath has a pigeon droppings problem

Bath is a stunningly picturesque and beautiful city, but they sure have a problem with pigeon droppings. It’s everywhere. It’s so bad that you can’t even put your hands in the famous hot spring waters at the Roman Baths because they’re contaminated. The copious droppings also ruin the statues and architecture. The pigeons also stalk you when you’re eating. London successfully kicked out the pigeons from Trafalgar Square, Bath needs to do the same.

No such thing as free refills

About halfway through the trip, I realized something. At no point on our trip had we ever had the opportunity for a free refill in our drinks. Not only does this make drinking anything more expensive as you have to keep paying for more, but it made me realize that this may also contribute to Americans being so overweight. When we returned from our trip we were about 10lbs lighter due to all the walking and exploring. As an experiment we decided to no longer opt for free refills (and drink far less soft drinks) – and we kept the weight off until the Christmas holidays rolled around.

Paying for Water

In most restaurants, when you ask for water, you’re going to end up paying for it. They generally don’t bring you tap water – they bring you bottled water, which is not cheap. So, be sure to specify tap water, which should be free.

Be Prepared to Talk about the Weather

Always have something to say about the weather. It’s really true that it’s the first thing most Brits talk about it. It’s an important social interaction with British people. It’s how they break the ice, it’s how they begin conversations into other matters.

However, under no circumstances should you complain about the weather (but by all means let them do so).

Hosting for Tea is So Important

When you have friends over for Tea, it’s important to put out a full spread. That includes not only the tea, but cake, biscuits, etc. Tea is like the weather – it’s an important social interaction that will help you make long-lasting British friends and also show them that you respect them. It’s also much easier to have a conversation with your nursing a cuppa. And where you got your spread is a good conversation starter.

Air conditioning is not the default

While Britain is a first world nation, they do not have first world standard of cooling. While most newer buildings will have it, most older ones won’t. And Britain is full of old buildings.

It doesn’t even get that hot in Britain – 85 degrees to them is sweltering – but because you don’t have much air conditioning, you never have a chance to cool down. So, you’re always sweating in the summer.

Be sure to pack lots of deodorant.

Watch out in Supermarket Parking Lots (Car Parks)

It’s well known that Britain has a problem with illegal immigrants. One discovery we made on our last trip is that many of them end up working on supermarket car parks running mobile car washing operations. They offer to wash your car while you’re shopping and they do it cheaply. We found this rather distasteful and the workers were rather pushy (we had a rental car so didn’t need it washed). It’s also a good excuse to make sure you lock your doors and take any valuables with you.

What interesting lessons did you learn on your last trip to Britain? Let us know in the comments!

Read More at Anglotopia


  1. avatarBrad says

    I agree, they do have better toilets! I noticed that from the very first time I went to the UK.

    My notes:

    Always be polite. Say your please and thank yous often. It’s considered very rude to just order a meal by saying “I’ll have the fish and chips.” without adding a “please” on the end. Even in London, it will get you better service.

    If you’re lost, ask politely for directions from a passer-by. They are generally very helpful if you ask nicely, with a “sorry to disturb! Can you tell me where the nearest tube station is?” However, don’t expect them to be overly friendly beyond the directions offered. They think that’s overly familiar and will cool toward you quickly.

    Everything in a restaurant or chippy costs money. They will charge you for every ketchup (sauce) packet!

    British food is actually often quite good! Love English comfort food like bangers and mash, cottage pie etc.

    Pubs outside of tourist areas are usually good for a fairly decent meal at good prices. Most things outside of tourist areas are better and cheaper.

    There aren’t a lot of public toilets around, so take advantage of them when you can! It’s okay to ask where the” toilets” are. They don’t often know what you mean by “restroom”. After many trips to the UK I’m still squeamish about that so I ask where the loo is, which the Brits think is very posh.

    I’m sorry to offer this observation, but British women often wear wayyyy too much makeup. It seems to begin in teen and pre-teen all the way up to the octogenarian set.

    On the other hand British men sometimes have the most unusual hair cuts.

    It’s easy to stay in London a lot, but get out into the countryside when you can. The people are friendlier, the service does get better and

    The British tend to overheat everything in winter. When i’m there in the colder seasons, I swear they heat every building to at least to 80 or 85F (27 or 29C). I often have to open a window in my hotel room to cool things down a bit.

    Just a few of my observations. It makes me homesick for the UK all over again!

  2. avatarMary says

    I think the amount of trash blowing around depends on where in the US you are comparing it to. I’m from, and have been to, fairly clean US towns. And I’ve lived in and visited towns in the US where I just can’t get over the amount of trash blowing around.

    I love the double flush toilets and better stalls and I can’t believe we haven’t adopted them (except for a few) here in the US, and when they do act like it’s a new innovation.

  3. avatarSara says

    You must have visited different places than my husband and I have, because we have found the opposite to be true regarding restrooms. The toilets we encountered all seemed small and old. Many required us to pump the handle several times to get enough water to flush. The super-powerful industrial toilets we have in the US were nowhere to be seen. The hand dryer always seemed to be broken, there were never paper towels, and most were dirtier than we are used to. Bathrooms in the UK became a bit of a joke between us (the best being the “trough” my husband described in Oxford). The two exceptions were the immaculate bathrooms at Harrods and the public use facilities in the basement of the Rembrandt Hotel in London.

    We also noticed the trash, but that was mainly in London. There were typically bags piled on the sidewalk for collection. On our first trip in 2011, we could never find public trash cans so carried our trash in our bags until returning to our hotel. In 2012, there were suddenly trash cans everywhere. Our guess is that this was due to the Olympics (we were in London during the Paralympics).

    London was fantastic during the Paralympics. There were volunteers everywhere helping tourists: at Heathrow, in the Tube stations, and all over the city at information kiosks. We didn’t even have to ask for assistance. Volunteers approached us and asked if we needed directions or any other assistance.

    • avatar says

      A lot of trash cans – especially in railway stations and airports – were removed back during the IRA bombing campaigns to prevent bombs being left in them. A lot of places haven’t got around to putting them back yet!

      • avatarHazelintheUK says

        Indeed, in the very town I lived in at the time the IRA planted a bomb in one of the bins (trash cans) – they are beginning to make a re-appearance though.

  4. avatarSally says

    Cold medicine tip: stuff made with psuedoephredine is still available in the US but its kept behind the pharmacy counter. No prescription needed – just ask he pharmacist for it and show ID (they have to track how much you buy). The new formulations available on the shelf (made with with phenylepherine) definitely don’t work as well.

  5. avatar says

    Speaking as a Briton:

    You’re right about the litter – there are too many people who think it is OK to eat their food then chuck the wrapper on the floor, or out of the car window.

    It’s only in recent years that air conditioning has been a standard feature in cars. Very few houses have it. I suppose because there are so few days when you really need it, it’s not worth the expense.

    Although Britons may be more polite with their pleases and thank-yous (when travelling by train,the ticket inspector thanked every passenger as he checks their tickets) I think you Americans are more respectful of age and rank. For example, you will refer to the guy who does Hell’s Kitchen and Masterchef as “Chef Ramsey”; to me he’s just “Gordon Ramsey”. Similarly, it’s “David Cameron” to me, but “Prime Minister Cameron” to you. When I first visited the US at the age of 19 or 20, I noticed how my US peers would call their friends’ parents and parents’ friends (i.e, people a generation above them) as Mr and Mrs, whereas I would use first names for my similar acquaintances.

    • avatarMinerva says

      ‘When I first visited the US at the age of 19 or 20, I noticed how my US peers would call their friends’ parents and parents’ friends (i.e, people a generation above them) as Mr and Mrs, whereas I would use first names for my similar acquaintances.’

      Certainly until 25 years ago or so in Britain most acquaintances & ‘non family’ would have been ‘Mr’ or ‘Mrs’, close family friends were always honorary ‘Aunty’ or ‘Uncle’….now it seems perfectly acceptable for a small child to refer to me (a lady of mature years) by my christian name….something I personally don’t like at all. Younger people have stopped teaching our children to be respectful to people who have lived longer & endured more, they also don’t have the sense of security those respects & bonds gave my generation.

    • avatarEllen says

      I was born and brought up in England left after the age of 40 and still called people by Mr or Mrs.as a sign of respect and only use there First names if I know them well enough to do so.

  6. avatarSue says

    Hi Jonathan
    Are you going to finish off these diaries? I was enjoying them and then they just stopped. I would love to hear about the rest of the trip.

  7. avatarDar says

    I love the “all in one” bathroom hand washing stations – put hands in – get a squirt of soap – then a stream of water – then a blast of hot air – all in one spot! no fuss!

  8. avatarKarlin Howard says

    I found flushing the toilets a pain while in England. Here in the States, you press the handle and it flushes. I was flushing 2,3 times and still problems. Another woman, a Londoner, told me to flush the toilet fast many times quickly, and one of those flushes will kick in properly. It was like that with toilets all over England.

  9. avatarBenevola says

    Gourmet Burger Kitchen has a line of 3 soft drinks called, “Fresh N Fizzy” where they will give you free refills. It was a very pleasant discovery to make on our vacation last month.

    • avatar says

      Usually, but not this year! It has been Hot, Hot, Hot this year. Fans are running everywhere and windows and doors are left wide open. Some days it was hotter than the US (We live in the Mid Atlantic)

      • avatar says

        But it’s not been for more than a few days or so. As I type this, it is raining cats and dogs and 19c outside, about 35 miles out of central London. In an average summer, it’s still only needed for a month or so, maybe a bit longer.

  10. avatar says

    One thing that did surprise me. My wife is disabled and we parked in a place that said “Disabled Only” we put the Placard up that is clearly for a disabled person. But we got a ticket anyway. When I wrote and complained they said that it is for British disabled people only! But it just said Disabled Only – not British Disabled! I said that my wife is disabled and British fairness should see that. I also said that any disabled person in the US can park in a disabled spot whatever country they are from. Their reply was to send me a thing from Florida that clearly states that disabled spots in Florida are for Florida residents only. I gave up and paid the 50 pound fine.