Sunday, 27 March 2011

Guest Post: Better in Britain

Meg, like me, is an American married, raising a family, working and living in the UK. She is  also, like me, in the expat minority and isn't in or around London and lives in the north of Wales with her husband and adorable little boy Iwan.  She's currently expecting baby number two and I'm hoping that my all you UK Mummy bloggers will welcome her into the fold as you did me :)  Meg blogs over at The Rare Bit (click and show her some love!) and was inspired by my expat post and decided to put her own spin on it!

Whenever I get into a discussion with a stranger over here (and it happens a lot- friendly American that I am) there’s almost always a moment, about 45 seconds into the conversation, where they realize that I’m not a wayward tourist, but that I’m actually choosing to live in Britain. In Wales for that matter. Why? They’ll ask, why in the name of Tom Jones and all that is holy would we live here when we could live there? I get it, or at least I think I do, if all you know of a place is what you’ve seen on holiday or in the movies, it’s bound to look more fun/ glamorous/exciting. I mean, if someone I knew married Mickey Mouse I’d be shocked if they didn’t choose to live at Disney World. But, while there would certainly be some advantages to upping sticks for America, there are a few things that I think are much better in Britain and that I would definitely miss should we ever move. Here they are, in no particular order:

Public toilets- I didn’t realize how much better public bathrooms are in Britain until the first time I went back to America for a visit. Generally in Britain, each little toilet cubicle is its own little snug private world. Not so in the U.S. Stateside, even in rather nice restaurants, you’re bound to have a gap about an inch wide at the place where the door hinges onto the wall of the cubicle. Add that to the foot or so gap at the bottom of each stall and you’re in for a real treat.  Peeing in American toilets is often an adventure in contorting yourself so as not to be caught en dishabille by children crawling underneath the walls, vagrants trying to steal your purse, and nice old ladies checking whether or not the stall is occupied. That’s right- there’s no ingenious little window on the outside of the door telling you if the cubicle is vacant or occupied, so people are often reduced to stooping over to check for dangling feet, or, more rudely, peeking through the crack.

Snacking- Snacking in America is basically an all or nothing type thing. Either you’re guiltily indulging in a calorie ridden feast (umm, KFC “snack wrap” anyone?), or you’re snacking as part of diet, dutifully counting out the nine grapes you’re allowed to have. In my humble
opinion, they do it better in Britain. The whole concept of “Elevenses” is something I can definitely get on board with. When I was working in America I was never able to make it between breakfast and lunch, and so I usually had eaten half of my midday meal by 10:30. But a designated time when the entire working nation stops and has a couple of biscuits and an apple? Brilliant!

Radio - I love that I can switch on my radio and hear top 40 hits, show tunes, classic rock, and up-and-coming new bands. And that’s just on Radio 2! As much as I grumble about having to pay a TV licence fee every month, I must admit that I love the things it funds. There’s a bit of a stigma attached to public radio in America, and I think that’s too bad. Americans who listen
to NPR (National Public Radio) are often stereotyped as crunchy, middle class, yuppy, liberals. NPR doesn’t seem to do a heck of a lot to change their listener demographic, but you can’t really blame them. A great deal of the funding for NPR comes from listener donations, so they’re stuck having to keep their supporters happy. BBC Radio, on the other hand, is funded by any British resident owning a television, which not only gives them a larger budget, but the freedom to mix things up here and there. Of course, “mix things up” is a relative term here- compared to a lot of independent radio stations, the BBC can often seem quite stodgy, but when you’re used to having to slog through a cacophony of “zany” radio DJ’s, a commercial after every song, and the same pop hit overandoverandover again, BBC Radio is a breath of fresh air.

Jacket Potatoes- Oh the humble baked potato. When I first moved to Britain I was shocked (and a little horrified) by the concept of jacket potatoes. Why oh why, would you want to put baked beans on a baked potato? I turned up my nose. I would try coronation chicken, I would
even taste black pudding. But toppings on a potato other than butter or sour cream just seemed obscene. Seriously? Coleslaw, on a potato?! There just aren’t enough italics in the world to express my shock and dismay over the molestation of this noble tuber. Then one day in a Cardiff café, my husband ordered a jacket potato with beans and cheese. I wrinkled my nose. Our food was brought out. The cheese on the potato had gone quite melty, and it smelled kind of good.I tentatively asked to try a bite, and hoisted the fork to my mouth with the same hesitation of an eight-year-old eating a worm on a dare. I chewed it thoughtfully for a few seconds. The clouds parted. It wasn’t good. It was divine. I realized that I had been culturally blinded in my bias toward acceptable potato toppings. In retrospect, I don’t really know what I was thinking.

What’s not to like? Baked potato? Good. Beans? Good. Cheese? Good! This is now one of my favorite comfort foods, and it was actually the first thing I ate after giving birth to my son. If we were to ever move back to America I’d miss jacket potatoes the same way I now miss Kraft Macaroni and Cheese or Jello Instant Pudding.

Food products aside, there are lots of things I do miss about America, and lots of other things I’ve come to love about Britain, and, more specifically, Wales. It can be hard to have two places that feel like home, and I think we’ll always feel torn between the two no matter where we live. So, although it might shock those strangers I meet, I’m actually quite happy here. If I could just get an electrical socket in my bathroom, my world would be complete.


Lerner said...

Dude. Jacket potatoes no way. Public Bathrooms: totally. I would eat my little finger for an electrical outlet in my bathroom. And American customer service. I miss American customer service.

Stay at Home Babe said...

Damn't. I just wrote a comment and the internet ate it. Short story: public bathrooms, good... jacket potatoes, no way... electrical socket in bathroom, no kidding!... I miss American customer service damn't.

Jenn said...

I love me a jacket potato....but I can't do coleslaw. That's a SALAD. And if anyone could make chili properly over here? (Note to the chefs: adding pinto beans to Bolognese is NOT chili)

Totally with you on the public loos.

And...(SHHHH) I HAVE a socket in my bathroom.
Dont. Tell. A. Soul.

Brandy said...

Jacket potatoes sound pretty darn good! I love chili over a baked potato. I'll have to try it with slaw or baked beans and cheese. Thanks!

I'm So Fancy said...

Okay, as a fellow ex-pat, I must argue the toilet issue. Can't get a double pram into a British toilet. Must find a Starbucks. Thank God there's one on every least down here in London with the rest of us. :-) x

Anonymous said...

Great guest post!! It's so good to hear a different perspective on British life. I couldn't live anywhere else but where I do and when people say they wish they lived here, I remind them of how cold it often is, how remote we are, how far away the nearest shop is and we have no public transport. Then I say, "yes, I wanted to live here, too. So I did."

CJ xx

UKYankee said...

I agree, agree and agree. The best I could do for the socket in the bathroom was to have one installed right outside the's as close as I'll come. Sigh.

UKYankee said...

I agree totally! With everything. And here's to being a permanent (possibly) expat!