Tuesday, 6 February 2007

Top ten American/British differences

I thought around this time it might be interesting to make a list of all the differences I’ve observed between the US and the UK so far. So without further ado, here are the top ten differences I’ve seen so far:

1) Laundry

Everyone in this city has a washing machine in their flat, but pretty much nobody has a drier. Weird right? You take your clothes right out of the wash and hang them up on these drying racks and wait two days for them to dry. This is strange to me because, in New York, it’s considered a luxury to have washing machines in your building, let alone in your apartment! And if you do have a washing machine, you will always have a drier to go along with it. I’ve never seen a washing machine all on its own before I came here. But everyone has them, and they’re always in the kitchen.

2) Heat

And speaking of appliances, also in everyones’ kitchens are these big gas heat contraptions which turn on and off to eat the unit (they look very scary, there’s fire inside!). Everyone has gas heat here, which I’ve never had before. Many people have their thermostats on timers, so that they turn off overnight and during the day while they’re at work. That’s right, turn off, not even a lower temperature or anything. “Why heat an empty house?” they ask me. “But…then it’s all cold when you get home!” My addled American brain tried to wrap itself around the concept. I suppose turning it off during the day makes sense, but overnight? It’s freezing!

3) Public Drinking

It’s allowed, and quite common. It’s so strange to me to be sitting on the tube and see the person across from me sipping a beer. Not that I’m complaining! I’ve fully taken advantage of this wonderful custom.

4) Corner Shops

And speaking of corner shops, they leave much to be desired. They’re kind of the equivalent of “delis” in New York, except that there’s no actual deli so you can’t really call it that. While in New York there’s basically three on every block, here they’re not nearly as common and you can end up walking for 30 minutes trying to find one. For that reason, I can’t really pull my legendary beer trick here. Not only because it would take too long to go from the club to the deli, but also because the delis/corner shops cant’ sell beer after 11 because of...

5) Blue Laws

Probably most of you are familiar with the fact that London has these ridiculous licensing laws, what we would call “blue laws” in the Northeast. Basically there are three different licenses. One allows you to serve alcohol till 11, another till 2, and another till 4. All of the pubs close their doors at 11. Some bars (a “bar” here is basically a fancier “pub” where you can’t wear sneakers) continue to serve after that but don’t let anyone else in, and legally they have to pretend you’re just a “guest” in their “private establishment” so they can’t “charge” you. But they do. If you want to go anywhere after 11 it’s going to involve a long wait in line and a cover charge. So fun right?

6) Language

They use funny words here! A few notable examples that have tended to confuse me: “brilliant” is used here as an exclamation of approval, like “awesome” in the states (but if you say “awesome” here people laugh at you). I was quite confused when I handed someone at work a stapler and they said “brilliant!!” as if I had just discovered the cure for cancer or something. Trucks are “lories”. You don’t go to the bathroom, you “go to the toilet” (something that sounds a bit too specific to me!). Instead of saying “how are you?” you say “Are you alright?” which tends to unnerve me because in the states you would only say that to someone if they looked unwell or upset. And finally, British people have this tendency to add “isn’t it?” at the end of their sentences for no reason at all. As in, “It’s right cold outside isn’t it.” It’s not as a question, it’s a statement of fact.

7) Politeness

Everyone here is very very polite to each other, almost eerily polite (at least coming from New York!). There’s greater civility in daily life. But at the same time, people are much more blunt here than they are in the states. I like this combination of politeness and directness, it seems to me to be the ideal way to interact.

8) Customer Service

Customer service here is a constant gripe, and its high quality in the US is continually praised by Brits. After living here a month I can see why! It’s truly abysmal, at least from an American perspective. Most everything closes at 6pm, phone numbers for troubleshooting things are hard to find, and everything is done by appointment. All in all though it’s really not a big deal.

9) Voicemail

Europeans have some kind of distrust or dislike for voicemail which I cannot understand. Most people don’t even have it set up on their mobiles, and many people don’t have it set up on their work phones either, which really frustrates me at work. They all send texts rather than leave voicemails. In fact, people call me and if I don’t answer, rather than leave me a voicemail (which I do have set up) they hang up and then send a text message with whatever they wanted. Weird right? I think I’ve been left one voicemail the whole time I’ve been here, and that was from my grandma! I even got a text from my liason at the bank to tell me my account had been opened successfully. And at work, people answer my phone if it rings and I’m not here, and then leave me a note. Why?? I can’t understand it. It’s so much easier for me to get the voicemail because then they can leave exactly what they wanted. A written message only has their name and number. And, having someone else take a message for me is needlessly involving someone else in the process who shouldn’t be bothered.

10) Commercials

This cracks me up. International companies will take American commercials and run them here, but they’ll dub them over with a British accent. If it’s something that requires a good deal of on-screen actors, they’ll actually remake the exact same commercials except recasting with British actors. So right now Mac is running British versions of the “I’m a Mac” ads they’ve been running in the states. Now the ones in the states, starring John Hodgman and Justin Long, are hysterical. The British ones have one key difference: they’re stoooopid! They’re so not funny. Maybe it’s just because they’re using the same dialogue from the US versions, but these two actors are just not as funny. Here, watch one and judge for yourself.

Ok I could probably go on all day with this but I’ll leave it there.

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