Twenty Things I Learned In England

I mentioned last week that I was away from home again.  As it happens, I was in England!  There’s a first time for everything.  Anyway, here’s a few things I learned while I was there:

  1. There doesn’t appear to be any sort of logical flow-of-traffic rules.  This isn’t just American confusion about driving on the “wrong” side of the road.  In America, you always go on the right.  It doesn’t matter if you are driving, walking, going upstairs, walking through a pair of double doors, whatever.  You always go to the right.  In England, if you are in a car, you go to the left.  If you are on an escalator for the London Underground, the signs tell you to stay to the right.  I was walking in a crowd once with a speaker telling us to stay “to the right”.  Yet other times, the crowd migrated to the left.
  2. Speaking of the London Underground, no one eats or drinks while riding on it.  No one does in Washington, D.C. either but there’s signs all over the place telling you not to.  There were no such signs on the tube.  Yet the only people I saw eating were the members of a tourist German family and… me.
  3. Speaking of Americans and food, our obesity problem is not global.  We may be slowly exporting it to the rest of the world but we haven’t been completely successful yet.  The vast majority of the people I saw were either not overweight or barely overweight.  I only saw one or two tremendously obese people and they were at the airport, waiting to board an American Airlines flight.  I don’t comment on this to denigrate obese people but to say that perhaps we as a society should quit blaming the individuals and start looking at what aspects of our culture create such a rich environment for people to have so much trouble with weight.
  4. Speaking a bit more about food, I had no idea they ate so much Indian food.  I mean, I guess it makes sense seeing as how India was part of the British Empire and all, but it still felt weird to be ordering curry at the pub instead of fish and chips.
  5. The women in England still wear pantyhose.  Ok, I don’t know what they call them and I can’t say for sure that they go all the way up to their waist.  Perhaps they are stockings.  But nearly every woman I saw in a dress was wearing hosiery.  Most often, it was black.  Women of all ages.  I stopped sometime shortly after Jane was born when I started noticing that young women were wearing dresses bare-legged.  I hated hose so much that I joined them.  I now see very few women under 70 with pantyhose on in Texas.  I think I saw two women wearing dresses in London without hose.  They were probably tourists.
  6. We judge (probably wrongly) based on accent and idioms.  If I heard a British child speak, they seemed so educated and refined – simply because of their accent and the odd word choice that kids here wouldn’t use.  Yet if we hear someone in our country speak with a Southern, redneck, or African American accent, we tend to assume they are less educated.  Based purely on something they have little control over.  Something to consider the next time we catch ourselves reacting to an accent.
  7. Speaking of accents, someone once told me that we and the British are “separated by a common language.”  I didn’t have too much trouble, but the combination of accent and slightly different vocabulary made it sometimes difficult to parse what someone was trying to say.
  8. The roundabouts were just as difficult to understand as everyone said they would be.  I guess there’s order to the madness but it just looked like barely controlled chaos to me.  I’m glad someone else was driving.
  9. Speaking of driving and right-of-way, every crosswalk in London included a “Look Right ->” or “<- Look Left” painted on the crosswalk near the curb, warning you which direction traffic would be coming.  I don’t know if this is a nod to all the foreign tourists or if the British get confused too.  Either way, it seemed like a good idea.
  10. They have switches on each outlet.  I’m not sure why.  I never could decide if this was better or worse than us or just different.
  11. Those switches and all others go down to turn on and up to turn off.  How did an ocean between us allow us to develop such different standards?!
  12. They apparently still take baths more than we do.  The adults, I mean.  I stayed at two different hotels.  Both of them had absurdly tall tubs with handles on each side.  I found them very awkward to get in and out of to take my shower but I think I could have easily immersed myself in a bath – something I couldn’t do in our tub at home.
  13. And while we are on the topic of bathrooms, the latches on the stall doors of every public bathroom I visited were such that when you latch the door, an indicator on the outside of the door lets people know that the stall is occupied.  It either turns from green to red or says “occupied.”  This is brilliant.
  14. Speaking of public bathrooms, they have problems with proper toilet paper dispenser operation too.  *sigh*  The problem is universal, I suppose.
  15. And one more comment about bathrooms:  Almost all chain hotels have signs in the bathrooms telling you they are environmentally conscious and that you can decide whether you want a fresh towel by throwing it on the floor if you do or hanging it up if you don’t.  The problem is that no one bothered to train the housekeeping staff.  They take my towel every d*mn time!  I now know it’s not just a problem with American maids.
  16. Speaking of signs in the bathroom, my Holiday Inn in London had nearly a dozen signs in the bathroom.  Telling me about the sham towel conservation program, what to do if I forgot my toothpaste, warning me that the tub might be slippery when wet and instructing me in the use of a bath mat, some statement about water conservation, and two different (and conflicting) instructions on how to operate the odd faucet in the shower.  What they didn’t have was a sign telling me how to turn the lights on.  I finally decided to see what would happen if I inserted my room key in the slot near the front door – which is what you have to do to get any lights or switches to work.  A sign over that might have been more useful than half the signs in the bathroom.
  17. The English are exceptionally proud of their history.  I suppose there’s room for that.  It is pretty impressive.
  18. I mean, the White Tower inside the Tower of London is over 900 years old.  Over 900 years old!  Our country is still in diapers by comparison.
  19. While they are proud of their history, they still recognize the contributions of others.  Over a prominent entrance to Westminster Abby were a series of statues commemorating “twentieth century martyrs.”  One of them was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  I had to put my sunglasses on so no one would see my teary eyes.  Of course he’s a big deal and a significant historical figure.  But sometimes it takes seeing something like a statue on an ancient, historical, and significant building in a foreign country to truly understand how important someone was to people all around the globe.
  20. And finally, the people there use charming terms of endearment in casual conversation with strangers.  I was called “Darling” and similar terms when people were helping me.  I get annoyed when the cafeteria lady back home calls me “honey” or “baby” but a British grandma calling me Darling made my heart melt.

So there you go.  A very long-winded list of twenty things I learned in England.  Next up, I plan to write some vignettes of a few cool people I met and also take a look at how lonely it is to sight-see all by yourself.


10 thoughts on “Twenty Things I Learned In England

    • Interesting to know. I’m guessing the environmentally conscious thing is universal. At least, I’ve encountered signs about what to do with my towels at every hotel for the last 5-10 years. And I’d say that probably only 25% (or less) of them actually do what they say they will.

      • That’s funny because I’ve seen the ‘leave your towels on the floor thing before in America. When I was in England, I didn’t stay at any hotels. Also, I think they did take the ones on the floor away.

        • Yeah, I’ve never had a problem with them *not* taking towels on the floor. My problem is that they don’t *leave* the towels that I’ve hung up like the instructions said to. They always take them anyway. I don’t think it’d matter if I left them on the floor, hung them up, or tried to hide them in my suitcase. I think they are just hellbent on taking those towels to wash them!

  1. #19: Yay!!! I’m glad to see other cultures are embracing him, even if not everyone in America has done so after all this time.

    Oh, and the signs in the hotel bathroom? That’s definitely not a British thing. That’s a “this particular management group of this particular hotel chain” thing. I’ve experienced similar in random hotels across the US in recent years, often in places where the large chains are the outlier in an area dominated by very old and run-down motor courts. Maybe they get a lot of guests who are confounded by travel amenities? I’ve seen this regularly in places such as Central South Dakota or deep interior Missouri, for example. They might even have a special small towel or face cloth which has a sign identifying it as “use THIS one to remove makeup or polish shoes.” Do people even polish shoes anymore? And why would I want to use the same thing on my face that’s possibly had shoe polish on it prior to its last run through the wash?

    • lol… yeah, I wouldn’t want to use a shoe polish rag on my face either! 😉

      My remark about the signs wasn’t so much about the abundance of signs themselves but that the one thing I *needed* a sign on didn’t have one!

      • True! I rarely watch television when I’m traveling for my presentations, but sometimes a few weeks on the road puts me in a mood for something familiar. I’m finding that many hotels really ought to have a tutorial for their TVs…especially if they have digital satellite and other components built into the set. Most of the time I can’t seem to figure out what I need to so to get both sound and picture! I have old-school tv with cable at home, and use a DVD player occasionally but have never used a DVR system or the like. When you aren’t familiar, the simplest task becomes complicated quickly. 🙂

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