Some time ago, I wrote a post on the things I missed about America since moving to the UK. Mostly, these were things I missed that made daily life a little more convenient. Getting through the day with the least amount of hassle is something I’m pretty keen on these days as doing anything with a toddler around is a little more challenging.
I said then that I’d eventually need to write about the things I like about the UK, just to be fair and balanced. I’ve been in the UK now for over three years and I’ve mostly, but not completely, gotten over the culture shock. All this time has certainly given me a chance to soak it all in I’ve been asked by a few friends what I like about living over here.
There’s no particular theme here other than I think these are all things that the English take for granted, that they don’t think twice about. But they are things that I can’t help but compare and contrast to my daily life in America.
Organic / Natural / Local Food Choices
Even before I moved to England, I was making an effort to eat more organic and natural foods. Michael Pollan’s wonderful book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, opened my eyes to what we eat and where it comes from and inspired me to put more thought into my choices. I think anyone who eats food should read this book. And, it’s not nearly as difficult to eat this way in England as it was in America. I can go to any of the large national supermarket chains and find a wide selection of organic and natural foods. I don’t have to go to a specialist natural food store. Heck, I can even find store branded frozen fish fingers that contain only ingredients I can pronounce. In America I couldn’t find a single brand that wasn’t laden with chemical preservatives. I love how they label produce here with details about where it came from, sometimes down to the farmer’s name. So I can choose oranges from Spain instead of Florida and feel like I’m doing my bit for the environment. And within a 15 minute radius of my house there are any number of farmer’s markets and places to get REALLY local produce and meat.
Outside of the large metropolitan areas like London, you don’t find the suburban sprawl so typical of America. England’s towns and villages are separated by large areas of countryside. And the closeness of the country to the city always strikes me. If I drive two miles in one direction I’m in the middle of Oxford City. If I drive two miles in the opposite direction, I’m in the middle of the country. In the spring and summer, the countryside comes alive as rapeseed and poppy fields turn it into a quilt of bright colors. It amuses me that I’ve sometimes had to negotiate sheep and horses on the roads. I’ve gone for a walk, picked wild blackberries, AND THEN MADE FOOD from them! And for a country that has notoriously bad weather, the English sure do their best to make the most of all the great walks the countryside has to offer. They’ll go out for walks in weather I’d normally never dream of stepping foot outside in. But here if you waited for only the good weather to get outside, well, then you sure wouldn’t get much fresh air for a large chunk of the year.
After I got over the fear of driving on the “wrong” side of the road and the blood streamed back into my cold white knuckles, driving here has become second nature. And, one of the things that initially scared the life out me but that now makes complete sense to me is roundabouts. You’re at an intersection and instead of sitting at a red light you just kind of pause and then keep going. They keep the traffic moving, most of the time. I think about all those times I’ve been stuck at a stop light with no one else in sight. I’m wishing I could have whizzed around a roundabout. I also appreciate the relative orderliness on the motorways. People understand and generally abide by the rule that says “thou shalt not be in the outside lane unless overtaking.” In America it’s generally anarchy (and dangerous) as people mostly ignore this and drive in whatever lane they feel like.
Proximity of Great Stuff
The beauty of living in a small country is that all its treasures and great sights are within easy reach. Within a 1-2 hour drive of my house I can visit not just some of the most iconic and historic places in England but also the world. This year I’ve now got a National Trust membership to take in more of these sights. It’s not that there aren’t amazing things to see and do in America, there certainly are. But America is so big and vast. Seeing the great sights involves planning. I’m not a good planner. But here I can wake up one morning and spontaneously say “let’s go visit Stonehenge.” (Disclosure: Toddler makes this spontaneity much more difficult.)
How good are electric kettles? They are amazing. Why do most American’s not have these? After the war, did the English make a secret pact to keep all the best stuff for themselves? Or is it just me that never knew about them? Even though I’m not a big tea drinker, I can fully appreciate the speed with which these things boil water. No more waiting for ages to boil a pot of water to make pasta. Just fill up the kettle and then BAM, it’s like magic. Now I realize that this is a silly little thing to consider as one of my top things about England. But sometimes it’s just the silly little things that can make a difference.
There are other more thoughtful things that I enjoy, like living in a country where political debate isn’t heavily influenced by religious dogma. But you’re not supposed to talk about religion and politics, right? The Brits at least have a sense of humor about that kind of stuff and don’t seem to take it all so personally. And reality TV? How good are they at that? I think just about every top reality TV show you’ve seen in America is a knock-off of something from the UK.
I’m sure I could come up with even more examples of things I like about living in the UK. Generally though, I’m just so thankful that I’ve had the opportunity to immerse myself in another culture. I think that every American should seek out opportunities to do this, to explore the world, to broaden their understanding of other cultures. There are more Americans on Facebook than have a passport and I find that sad. Go out and get your passports people and go somewhere. Anywhere!