Dispatches from England: My Great British Pet Peeves (Or Pet Hates as the British Say)

good old british weather

I heard on the radio this week that January is the most unhappy month. I assume that’s true just about everywhere… the fun of the holiday celebrations are over, the bills from all those gifts are rolling in, the weather is typically not very nice and spring is still quite some time away. In that spirit, I thought I’d channel my inner curmudgeon and share a few of the things that really annoy me since moving here.

Before I get a flood of comments from defenders of the British way of life, please know that I love it here. I adore so much about this experience, this culture, the people, everything. I almost feel guilty complaining about a few things. But naturally, anytime you undergo such a big life change, there are things that drive you a little nuts. And the most important reason I write this column each week is to share some of what I’ve observed that others might not have a chance to themselves.

Complaining about the weather.

I get it. Talking about the weather is part of the culture. And I know it rains a lot. But based on the comments you’ll hear from many people here, you’d be convinced Great Britain has the world’s worst weather. And I just don’t agree with that. I first noticed it this summer when there were complaints about the heat. The weather forecaster on television would say, “it’s going to be another uncomfortable night.” Mind you, it was barely hitting 70 degrees Fahrenheit. I know people say the heat is more significant because air conditioning is uncommon, but I assure you that I was never once tempted to turn on the AC in my house if we had it. And now that it’s winter, I stand outside each afternoon waiting to pick my son up from school, listening to comment after comment about how cold it is. Real cold is being frozen in your house with wind chills far below zero, like they’ve experienced this winter where I’m from. I typically wear a rain jacket and maybe a scarf. I hardly ever need gloves and I’ve only warn my heavy winter jacket twice since moving here. The weather here can at times be a drag. But that’s true just about anywhere other than some tropical beach location. I actually find the weather here far more tolerable than other places I’ve lived.

Cold toilets.

This will show what a hypocrite I can be based on what I just wrote about complaining about the weather. But many bathrooms here have no heat. Places like fancy restaurants, public restrooms at the mall, even my own house. I’ve started to get used to it, but I have to say my 2-year-old still hates undergoing a diaper change in the cold.

The time it takes to get things done.

Some of the most basic things just take longer to complete here, plain and simple. Everything from dry cleaning some trousers to scheduling a doctor’s appointment. When we needed our internet turned on, it was a 3-week wait. It took 2 1/2 weeks for our car dealership to get a new wheel put on my car. We’ve been waiting well over a month for a new filter for our furnace because the company will only communicate via mail. I just had to schedule a simple house inspection for our lease, and the soonest they could get us in was mid-February. I’ve gotten used to these delays, but they infuriated me our first few months here.

Late opening times.

I’m sure this one drives me crazy mostly because I have young kids, but many attractions don’t open until 11 a.m., and some not until the afternoon. Because my youngest son naps for a couple of hours each afternoon, we like to do touristy things in the morning. We’ve never had a problem doing that in the U.S., where the latest opening time is usually 10 a.m. In the winter, the sun begins to set by 3:30 here, meaning if you don’t arrive somewhere until noon, daylight hours for your visit will be limited. In a land where caffeinated tea and coffee flows like water, I can’t understand why we can’t open the doors by 9 or 10.

Inaccessibility.

This is particularly a jab at the London Underground. I find it incredibly difficult to get around the tube stations with a stroller. But beyond what’s just an inconvenience to me, I’m sad to think about what those with a physical handicap must face in trying to navigate the city. According to Transport of London, only 66 out of 270 stations on the Underground are step-free. I know it can be hard to modernize some stations given their age and historical significance. But many other European cities have found a way to do so, and I hope London will make it a bigger priority in the years to come.

Ok, complaining over. (And really, if the worst I can say about a place is that their loos are a little chilly, things could be much, much worse, right?) Back to enjoying this beautiful country and its way of life. I promise a more uplifting post next week!

 

Comments

  1. avatarMary says

    I understand. After I moved to a rainy area and people didn’t understand why it cheered me up I explained growing up in a drought area where it was illegal to wash your car and water your lawn, where crops died and cattle didn’t have enough to graze on and fireworks were not allowed because of the fire hazard. When would it rain again was an everyday concern. Rain equals life, and I too am annoyed when people complain about it.

    No heat in the bathrooms! Isn’t that cold after a shower?!

    • avatar says

      Really great point about the drought conditions, Mary! And yes, a bit cold after a shower, but the towel heaters certainly help (now everyone has lost all respect for me complaining about cold bathrooms… afterall… TOWEL HEATERS.) :)

      • avatarRoxanne Stickler says

        Towel heaters are very nice, but they don’t make up for cold bathrooms and they don’t generally put out enough heat to even take the chill off.

        It does seem amazing in the age of e-mail & online ordering that you could only communicate about the furnace filter via ‘snail mail’. No matter where you live, you’d expect a company to be motivated to keep your goodwill.

        When we lived in NM, on a corner of the Navajo reservation, our telephone installation was scheduled for “We’ll get to it…” Seriously… until I complained to a supervisor who was appalled at the notion.

        As for the weather – it’s about perspective. In a NM summer, 30% humidity was ‘humid’; in Ala., La., Ok., it’s ‘dry’.

  2. avatar says

    Complaining about the weather drove us crazy on our recent trip as well. Every British person and I mean every, apologized for their terrible weather (which was unseasonably bad with the windstorms, I must say). But I had to explain that this weather was actually pretty good compared to home. Where we were coming from was having a cold spell of 30 below zero and a blizzard (there was two feet of snow in front of our house when we got home). The British always think they have the worst weather in the world, they most certainly do not.

    • avatarMinerva says

      No, they don’t…………….we apologise not because we feel personally responsible, but as an expression of sympathy that you might be disappointed that the weather was less than bright & fair for your holiday. Our habit of apology is one of the most misunderstood things about us it seems as far as visitors from other shores goes.

      We are neither so ill-informed or so stupid as a race to imagine that our weather is in any way ‘the worst weather in the world’, but we are generally kind-hearted enough to wish the best for our visitors, & to share in their potential disappointment.Windstorms & rough seas when you have small children is often a cause of plans being forced to change, & sometimes trips/events anticipated being called off. We are a pragmatic & practical race, used to doing quite a lot ‘under our own steam’ (ie not expecting ‘entertainment’ to be just laid on, everywhere & all the time), so to us the vagaries of the weather can be important.

      • avatar says

        Perfect reply! Living in a country where apologizing for anything is rare (U.S.) I understand how we Brits could be misunderstood. We know we don’t have the worst weather in the world, but on the other hand, US comics/commentators seem always to comment on how bad it is!

    • avatarMichelle says

      We most certainly do not think we have the worst weather in the world.
      Gosh, is there not enough words written on our relationship with the weather….or more to the point how we speak about the weather…..to give some insight into British psyche? I would have thought so.
      Ditto our need to say sorry.
      Hope you enjoyed the trip. Though sorry about the weather. It was pretty pants ; )

    • avatarSusan says

      I think the rain makes England SO GREEN :) better than our dry spells with grass burning out. Love flying over England, it looks like a beautiful patch work tapestry :)

  3. avatarMinerva says

    Just see a cold bathroom as ‘character building’….’it’ll put hairs on yer chest’, as my Aunty used to say (& that’s just the girlfolk!).

    The thing I notice about ‘incomers’ is that they just don’t understand about the British & their moaning.
    They don’t seem to get that it isn’t the same as moaning anywhere else in the world…….here, it is a ‘sport’, a ‘national pastime’, not ‘whinging’ or ‘complaining’ (as it would be in any other country in the world).
    It seems that our foreign cousins are incapable of understanding that it is ‘GOOD’ for you to moan, as we in Britain understand it……..to be able to do it with an offhand, careless, yet passionate ease is the embodiment of a phlegmatic & stoic character, it is what built a vast Empire in days of yore……the fact that we lost it could be down to the influence of those that understand it not, curbing our capacity to ‘give it large’ unchecked.
    Shame on you, foreign fiends………………as an Englishwoman, I claim my right to let rip in the moan department, without let or hinder! If you don’t like or understand it, may you abide here unto the 7th generation (or until you also learn the value of a bloody good moan!), by which time it will also be in your DNA!

  4. avatar says

    not crazy about the frequent rain or dodging people as I walk down the streets in London, but I love everything else about Britain. (Oh I do wish the attractions stayed open longer during the fall & winter months too)

  5. avatar says

    Thanks for this! My pet peeve isn’t the late opening times, it’s the early closing times. Whenever I’m in the UK, I’m constantly amazed at how full-time-working people actually manage to get their shopping done when everything closes at or even before 6pm. Years and years ago it used to be the same where I live (Germany) but I was a kid back then and nowadays I just couldn’t manage it like that. Mind you, over here everything is closed on Sundays as well and I know many shops are open on Sundays in the UK, but still… Who wants to do all their shopping on the weekends?

    http://allbritaingreatandsmall.com

    • avatarJanet says

      Julia, I’m not sure how long ago it is you were here, but most of (no all of) our large supermarkets are open from early morning until late at night. These have many different departments so you can buy clothes, homeware, electrical goods at all hours of the day and night. Many of them are open 24 hours. Small ‘express’ supermarkets in large cities are open very long hours too. I think you are probably talking about high street shops. It’s not such an imposition to ‘have’ to visit these at the weekends if you need to, is it?

      • avatar says

        Honestly, while we were there for a month recently we were continually frustrated by the strange open/closing hours for the local stores. The issue isn’t so much that things close it’s that they’re inconsistent. One store will be open all hours while another will close early.

        • avatarDave says

          that is the right of the store owner!! Why should they stay open just to make your life easier? they have a life and families too ya knows! :) anyway Tescos is normally open until quite late…I mean any time after 9pm is shocking!! Should be wrapped up in bed having drunk your cocoa!!! (ps I live in the US and am pulling ya leg!! :)

          • avatar says

            Well, that’s not necessarily the case. It’s one thing to want to shop for shopping sake – that’s not what the author is arguing for. It’s completely another thing to need a medicine for a sick child while traveling and finding that no where in a 40 mile radius has a 24hour pharmacy.

      • avatar says

        Last time I was in England was in 2012 and yes, I’m only talking about high street shops – sorry, should have made that clearer, probably. It’s just so weird for someone from Germany to see shops closing this early. Everything (even the small high street shops in bigger cities) here is open until 8pm at least, supermarkets and such are mostly open until 10pm or midnight. It’s different in rural areas, there they close around 6-7pm but I haven’t lived in a rural area in 15 years, so I’m just not used to that. When I was walking through a bustling town such as Oxford on my last visit, I found it quite weird to find everything except the pubs around us closing by 5:30pm. Guess that must be the “reckless German efficiency” gene in me. ;-)

    • avatar says

      Cold bathrooms? I am British (now living in Spain) and I’ve lived in five houses in the UK, all of which had radiators in the bathroom. Are you sure it’s a house you live in, and not a barn??

  6. avatarLydia says

    A couple of comments.

    First, yes the Underground needs to improve its handicap access (which not only helps the handicapped, but tourists with luggage and parents with strollers); but sadly they’re not alone. I was in Paris this fall and the Metro is no more accessible and, of course, the venerable NYC Subway system has relatively few stations that are totally accessible by elevator or escalator. BTW, its easier to take a young child with stroller on one of the London buses and now that they have more dedicated bus lanes, the buses are moving faster around London than they used to.

    Delays in scheduling. Where I live here in the mid-Atlantic, it can take weeks to schedule a non emergency doctors appointment and dentists are even worse. And when I moved 3 years ago, Verizon couldn’t get its act together to move my phone and DSL line. I was only moving 3 miles, but I kept getting the customer service version of the dog ate my homework. Finally, after 2 weeks of lame excuses and being left on hold, I kicked them to the curb and went with Comcast.

    I do agree about the shorter opening hours and the cold loos, though.

  7. avatar says

    Minerva you made me laugh!
    I read the other day that couples who don’t argue aren’t close enough – I guess the same applies to our moaning….it gets it off our chest and keeps us happy!
    Btw we never wait long for anything……we just know who to speak to ;)

    • avatarMinerva says

      …& you always know when it’s a British call centre……when you start to moan about how long it’s taking to get what you ordered, they join in & agree with you!
      It’s solidarity, people.
      Get a grip!
      Don’t try to homogenise us…….get into the groove, & join in…
      …you will feel a heap better, I promise you & you will make friends with us while you are about it!

  8. avatarPhilip says

    Nice list. Not too bad.

    The cold toilets took about 5 years to get used to, and I’m pleased it’s not as pervasive in London today as it was 10 years ago.

    TfL used to be much more adamant about not bringing prams or pushchairs onto the tube at any time. Doing it in a busy period is near impossible. And, you’re not supposed to use them on the escalators. Indeed, few lines are really that accommodating – with District, Jubilee and Northern line trains having multi-purpose areas suitable for wheelchairs, luggage and pushchairs. Otherwise, you should really use a bus, the DLR, the Overground or a train in London when you have little ones. When they outgrow the pram or pushchair, the tube is your Oyster (so to speak).

  9. avatarDoug says

    I think you have to bare in mind that you’ll find it all over the world, in winter in Australia it gets to 14 degrees and they complain that’s too cold, in England that’s jeans and t shirt weather.

    In regards to having to wait for things in this country my only advise would be to shop around.

  10. avatarValarie says

    I agree with Julia – the early closing times drive me mad (in London! A major metropolis!). I also agree with the accessibility issues. I have an odd problem – vertigo – that keeps me off the tube. I can’t deal with escalators at all – stairs are okay, up to a point. In the US, this isn’t a problem – elevators have to be available by law. But in England, I just have to take a bus or a cab everywhere, really. It makes getting around much more difficult (and expensive).

    Understand that these are minor complaints. All that aside, there’s no place on earth I adore more than England.

  11. avatarTreva Roberts says

    When I first moved to England in 1987 everyone advised me to carry my brolly at all times, which I did and lost 2 of them before we had any real rain. If your not in need of a brolly and you lay them down in shop for instance, chances are your going to walk off without it. The rain is so gentle, more like a mist, not parallel to the ground with gale winds which I was accustomed to here in the States. I liked everything about the U.K., the people, the laid back pace of life, the history and the country side.

  12. avatarCharlie says

    We hate waiting for things too! You’ve just got to keep pestering, shop around and failing all, take to Twitter! ;)

    • avatarMinerva says

      All this not being able to bear waiting for things…….come on folks, slow down, sniff the breeze!
      As my Gran used to say, ‘They folks that are running everywhere, are simply getting to their own Doom a little quicker!’………make the Grim Reaper wait his hurry, slow down!

  13. avatar says

    We have just gotten over a week of 45 degree + heat,in Adelaide South Australia.I was born and raised in Oxford and moved to Australia in 1981,with my wife and two Kids.Some of our winter days can be a bit like England’s summer days,however when you go from temperatures in the 10 degree mark during our winter,then up to the mid to high 30′s and above in the summer,and can become quite draining….thank God for the Aircon.

  14. avatar says

    If you read a great book written by a sociologist called ” Watching the English”, you will learn as I did ( and I am British) that “weatherspeak is a cultural icebreaking way of starting conversations with a safe topic, the weather. I miss Britain so much and it’s lovely temperate weather.

  15. avatarEilene says

    All I can say about the cold toilets is ….. There is such a thing called central heating, where an actual radiator that radiates heat can be fitted to a bathroom wall :)

  16. avatarRobin says

    If I was fortunate to be able to live in the UK I wouldn’t complain about one thing. I love everything about the UK. When you travel to a new country or move to one you need to learn to a accept it as it is. You have to remember the most of the undergrounds was build in the late 1880′s and in the 1890′s.

    • avatar says

      She’s not simply complaining. She’s making observations about what life is like there for anyone else considering moving to the UK. The UK is not perfect and if you read her other columns, you’ll see that she has adapted to life quite well in the UK and in fact loves it there.

    • avatar says

      I’m from Wisconsin and moved to Scotland 10 years ago. No place is perfect. No place. With the best intentions in the world there is no way that I could find everything over here perfect or love everything. Adapting to a new country doesn’t mean you can’t find some things annoying or that you will like absolutely everything.

  17. avatar says

    Sorry Jonathan – medicine for a sick child is very important. I wonder what we did before 24 hr. pharmacies (even here in the US). I remember that you could always call your GP (doctor) if it was an emergency, and that hospitals would help too.

  18. avatargaynormanby@gmail.com says

    I was born and raised in northern England and now live in Arizona and I can say the main topic of conversation here is the weather. I go home every year and the cultural differences are more apparent every time. Neither place is better or worse just different and I love both places. As for cold bathrooms my Aunt who lives in Nothern England has her toilet outside yes in this day and age

  19. avatar says

    Ah, it’s nice to have a good whinge once in a while. If they didn’t have something to complain about, they would be very unhappy indeed! But they’re remarkable good at putting up with the waiting, because they get to roll their eyes and say “typical.” I can’t remember who it was that said that the British would have fared well under Communism, not that it’s a great political system, but it wouldn’t have broken them for all the waiting for things to come through.

  20. avatarAdrian Baggott says

    I’m glad to see you have picked up the Great British pass time of moaning lol. As already mentioned talking/moaning about the weather is an ice breaker, if im waiting for somwthing with a strainger talking about the weather is sure to get a reply. We also say sorry for everything its an automatic thing instilled from birth. Im not sure what you mean about toilets been cold? Every house i know has a radiator in the bathroom, if its on due to the expense of fuel here is a different matter! Many public loo’s are cold but thats a good thing in the gents! ;-) to be honest it never been on my radar, maybe its just not expected to have heated public loo’s here? Your only in there a short while and people are in and out all the time so its a waste of heat which is another British trate! Probably dating back to the days before central heating and again how expensive fuel is here. I know lifts on the tube are a problem but try asking because many old stations might have a service lift.

  21. avatarAdrian Baggott says

    It does take longer to get things done here but your car wheel experience sounds terrible! I’d complain! I’ve never had that problem, most times they sort me out there and then especially if you go when its quieter. Lots of supermarkets are open 24 hours Tesco and Asda and convenience shops are open 6-11. High street shops normally close 5.30pm. I. Know many tourist places close during the winter or close early. I used to work at Alton Towers theme park, they tried winter opening but it was never busy. I hear What you say about summer opening times, theme parks open 10-6 which is rediculous!

  22. avatarSharen says

    I lived in England for 45 years and have never been to a cold toilet.The English don’t complain about the weather we comment on it. We love our temperate weather apart from a few sun-loving individuals. Mostly when it rains, it rains late afternoon or at night. July and August are our wettest months, making Autumn our favourite time of year. If you live in the North of England you hear less complaining. There is a reason that northereners say ‘soft southerners’.
    I can’t wait to get back to the politeness of a Queue! Here, in Germany, they push in far too much and are always in a hurry to nowhere. Saying that German people are, mostly, larger versions of the English people with a slightly different language and a LOT more rules. But it doesn’t annoy me, it amuses me. Differences are funny and should be celebrated.
    The English know how to laugh at themselves. I can only speak for the English people because the other two British countries have a distinct voice of their own and don’t like to be included in English stereotypes. Thank you for letting me have my say.

  23. avatar says

    Ah, British weather. I was in London & Southern England this past Summer from mid-June to mid-July and I packed, and wore, four seasons worth of clothes. I was well aware it would be comparatively cold for my old Florida bones in Spring, even so, still needed to buy a heavier coat for some days.
    By the end of June it was splendidly fresh & warm, followed by July weather in the 80′s that gripped the city in the panic of a ‘heat wave.’ Never did I think I’d see so many English folk with so little clothes! True, the third floor of the British Museum was hot enough to roast a chicken and the tube & bus travel could be stifling, but overall, just not that bad.
    And rain? It rained a bit a couple of mornings and was sunny by noon.
    I am a tiny bit biased though. As I have found this thread via Jonathan’s dedicated Anglophile site, you know there is not much that will put me off England!

  24. avatarHarry the Horse says

    The weather in Britain is far better than it was 50 years ago when I was a child. We had terrible fogs and smogs and zero temperatures to contend with and snow that fell in November and was still there in March, along with any more that added to it. Our winters are far less savage than they were – I keep buying thick anoraks to keep warm in the winter but find I hardly ever get to wear them. Short winter days are beyond our control unfortunately. As for the rain – nothing better than a good downpour to freshen the place up. Best watched from indoors with a pot of tea. Remember the standard BBC weather forecast: Today will be warm and dry, becoming wet and cold later on.

  25. avatarJohn Evans says

    Jonathan, here’s link to an NHS site about getting medicines out of hours. You might find it useful next time you visit the UK
    http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Pharmacy/Pages/Medicinesoutofhours.aspx
    As it says on this page, If you’re really stuck, ring the NHS non-emergency national help line on 111 (For life-threatening conditions ring 999 of course.)

    Hope you had a good Xmas in Dorset, despite the storms and floods (they really were exceptional this year – a few people did die as a result)

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