I have recently returned from an incredible whirlwind trip to England to celebrate my nephew’s wedding and to sneak in a little research for my current work in progress. It was such a privilege to be able to go, and a delight to meet my nephew’s new family. It was also wonderful to catch up with a friend and his family.
I was surprised that England was not all that I thought it would be. Until this trip, I had never been over to England, or Europe, but I watch loads of BBC shows, my ancestors came from England, and I thought I knew this place. Turns out I did, and I didn’t.
1. Service workers seem to be mostly from a non-English speaking background
I had in my mind that the English were a little stuffy about who lives in England, and who does the work (think Brexit and what seemed to be a strong desire to keep Britain British), but it turns out that the workforce who keep things going seem to be mostly hailing from Eastern Europe. From the Russian receptionist in Bath, to the Polish Uber driver in Portsmouth, to the Czechoslovakian salesperson in London. Everywhere you ask for help, there are strong accents as they struggle to find the correct words to help you.
2. So much fried food and where are the veggies? Just straight, plain veggies. And fruit. Without sugar added.
Oh, my goodness. The fried-ness of the food. I was really surprised at how many things were fried. Then there was the sugar. Everything seemed to be overly sweet and oily and came with a side of fries. The veggies were missing. After three days in London I was gagging for veggies. I’m sure that if you had a kitchen and could cook, things would be different, but eating out all the time meant there was a distinct lack of fresh food. On the whole, I found the food disappointing. On the other hand, the French, Italian and Indian food in England is wonderful. If I see one more English breakfast, I’ll puke.
3. Everything is expensive, nearly double the price it is here in Australia
This is mostly because of the exchange rate, so it’s all okay for people living there, but for us Aussies, it’s pretty expensive—double the cost. On the other hand, if you’re coming from the UK to Aus, then you’ll be living like royalty.
4. Coffee is terrible, just about everywhere, but tea is wonderful (mostly)
I was warned. By many people in fact, but still, I was surprised. Coffee is terrible there. I really don’t know how they make it so that it is not good. I am not a coffee snob, but I do live in Melbourne, so perhaps my expectations are high even for an ‘okay’ one. The coffee was weak, insipid, bland. Even when I asked for a strong flat white (which was confusing to most as flat white generally didn’t feature on any coffee menu), it was still meh at best. In the end I went for a macchiato in the hope of a caffeine hit.
On the other hand, tea was generally pretty good. That is, when it was not a teabag chucked into a pot or a cup. These occasions were disappointing, but the leaf tea was pretty good.
5. People take more care in their dress and appearance
This is a generalisation, but it seemed to me that people had taken more care with their appearance, and dressed with a little more care than the average Australian. Londoners seemed to be mostly wearing shoes that were easy to walk in, which comes in handy with the endless flights of stairs everywhere. Even with these shoes, they looked good. It’s a slightly more crisp look that in Australia. More linen, and cotton. And more fine jumpers.
6. Everyone is very polite, even on the roads when all are doing things wrong
When I drove my gorgeous little Fiat from Bath to Cromer, I was a little petrified about driving the narrow and busy roads that I was so unfamiliar with; however, other drivers were so ridiculously polite when I ended up in the wrong lane and needed to change, or just plainly in the wrong spot. They waited until I fixed where I was going. At one stage I came to a t-intersection to turn right onto a main road, and was ready to wait my turn when a car paused to let me out. It was refreshing.
7. Well warned
There are notices all over the place reminding people what they need to do. At the top are the words Polite Notice in case the reader might have taken it to be a rude notice. There are constant announcements for people to take care (Mind the gap. Take all of your belongings with you. If you see something, say something; see it, say it, sorted.). The English are well informed, if nothing else.
8. Cyclists are looked after with paths, lock up spaces, covered bike storage—and no helmets
There are incredible bike storage facilities at all train stations apartment buildings. There were covered lockups and multiple storey lockups. There were bike superhighways through London, and protected bike paths. There were bike hire stations dotted around all over the place. There was not a single bike up a tree, or in a river (unlike the failed OBike program in Melbourne). There was also not a single helmet spotted on any of the many cyclists I saw.
9. The parks are aplenty and offer welcome relief
London is a very, very busy city compared to anything we have in Australia, but the saving grace is the pocket parks dotted everywhere. They are well-maintained, locked up at night, but a breath of fresh air in the mayhem. There seemed to many parks in every city we went to, and we made the most of each one by detouring through the parks on our many walks.
10. Everywhere you look, there is something old, very old, next to something new
Yep. Old and new hanging out together, everywhere. Think Sovereign Hill but older with modern stuff all through it. An eight-hundred-year-old castle next to a modern building. The rich history is so deeply entwined that every footstep is in the same place as Vikings, Normans, Romans, kings, queens, paupers and peasants. There is a sense of walking continually in the footsteps of the famous.
11. It is hot, baby.
All rooms, buildings and public transport are heated, or have residual heat. Wear layers to avoid sweating too much. I was constantly taking layers off to cool down, opening windows, trying to work out how to turn the heater off (note: you can’t). It was autumn, so maybe there was some residual heat left from their very hot summer. I’m not sure that I would like to be there in the middle of their summer.
12. What’s going on with the showers?
Hot and cold taps in showers are rare. Each shower is a new experience in decoding how to get water to come out of the showerhead, at the right temperature. And when the water does finally come out, it is a weak dribble. Note to self and to other contact lens wearers: don’t take contacts out before entering a new shower or you will have no idea which tap does what.
13. Don’t breathe in
Vape, tobacco and dope are everywhere. You cannot avoid breathing in the fumes. Sweet and fragranced from the vaping was mixed with cigarette smoke, and dope fumes outside every entrance to anything, along the streets, in the parks. There were vape shops on just about every block, and the waft of weed was never far away from where we walked around London.
Other things of note:
The markets are great. We couldn’t get enough of them.
Public transport may not be perfect there, but it seems to be much more effective than ours with trains and buses running so often that we never had to wait more than eight minutes.
You would expect people of England to be very fit with all those stairs. It seems that everything is on the third floor, or on the third floor below ground level.
There were loads of homeless people sleeping rough.
It was much more European than I expected it to be with loads of languages being spoken around us all the time, the variety of foods, and the people there. Sounds silly, because it is part of Europe (for the time being), but I guess I thought it would be more strongly British.
The green is brighter than Australian green.
It’s nice to be home.