June 5, 2020

12 Surprising Things I Learned in the United Kingdom

Charming lane, or major thoroughfare?

And here, we thought we knew all there was of US vs UK culture. Sure, we knew a truck is a lorry, a boot was a trunk, and the whole fries-are-chips, chips-are-crisps thing. We’d accidentally avoided long stays in the UK in our 20+ plus years in the U.S. Air Force, as the Britain was usually a 24 hour stop off en route to Africa or the Middle East. Anyhow, as we near our final 72 hours in the United Kingdom, here are 12 differences large and small that we noticed in our two months in the British Isles:

12. UK has an electrical plug system all its own: OK, I’m probably the last one to realize this, as I figured most of the world was either wired for dual US flat pin or EU dual round pin. Hey, I’d always wondered what the mysterious chunky three rectangular pin plug was for every time I bought a new worldwide multi-adapter kit…

11. Pubs are filled with books: Sure, it looks normal in your typical English-countryside pub: shelves of books, flanking the bar. One can imagine pub-goers in a spirited discussion, reaching for a a cricket almanac or debating the highest peak in South Africa… but think about it: when is the last time you’ve seen a book in a bar in the U.S., beyond the men’s room?

10. Kids can play piano: I don’t doubt we have piano-playing kids in America; but the skill seems standard issue with British kids. Every mall in the UK has a piano in the common area, and what I first thought were professional piano players were, in fact, idle schoolchildren of considerable skill.

9. You can do laundry in the kitchen: Yes, it’s a shock to most Americans, but soon, the idea of having the washer and dryer in the kitchen (most houses do not have basements or garages in the UK) becomes logical.

8. Driving: Yes, Brits drive on the left (the world knows that). But probably the biggest surprise driving was the fact that many urban side streets and most rural ones are one way — with two way traffic. Also, we learned in the UK that you can embed traffic circles within traffic circles.

7. UKers love pets: Yes, we love our cats and dogs in the US too, but Brits do unheard of things, like actually bothering to train their dogs. Also, cat declawing (a horrid practice) is rare in the UK.

6. Data is expensive: Well, mobile data at least. We learned our lesson when we blew through 3 Gb of data at 15 quid on the first weekend in the UK, after which we resolved to seek out pub wifi (see #11). And speaking of which, we also discovered 1 quid = 1 pound (they don’t ever explain that in British TV shows)…

5. Eggs don’t need refrigeration: Like venturing into an alternate universe, You’ll often find things in strange places in foreign grocery stores. Like cheese, we’ve learned that eggs are just fine at room temp for a day or two.

4. Beware the traffic cameras: Yeah, we knew they’re everywhere, and minded our speeds when we saw the signs… but we were caught unaware by Lidl’s Byzantine ‘validate your parking at the checkout’ system. Reading in to the subject a bit, this has ticked of many British customers as well.

3. Coffee is common: Don’t believe the horror stories you hear… you don’t need to pack enough coffee for your stay in tea-drinking England. Good coffee is quite common… and hey, thanks to climate change, they now produce wine in southern England as well.

2. Flat beer is good: Yes, I know its not actually flat, and true Guinness has a smooth carbonation… it just takes a bit of getting used to. And we were able to drink lots of UK beer, just to make sure.

1. Ukers get on with life: I’ve noticed this in most of the rest of the world, though I probably heard it expressed more in the UK because I understand the language. The outlook here seems to be that yes, terrorism is a concern, but folks aren’t staying shut in at home as a result. We also didn’t hear as much talk on the street about Brexit as we’d thought, though folks are curious (and a bit concerned) about Donald Trump.

Well, that about wraps up the UK leg of our adventures… now its back to Spain!


  1. [...] also realize what a precious and expensive commodity personal space is on return to the U.S. Here, secondary roads are wider than main highways abroad, and garages are [...]

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