In many ways living in England is very much like living in the US, but there are small differences. The longer I stay in a new place, the more I get used to things and forget the differences, so I am making a few notes here while I still see them.
I have been working on this post for two weeks and am giving up and publishing when I still have a lot more to say on the subject.
The thing that you think will be the biggest difference, driving on the left, turns out to be nothing. In a few weeks we were both adjusted (but both of us have driven here before). The main difference driving is the width of things – the narrow lanes through ancient villages, the country lanes wide enough for one car and bordered by tall hedgerows, the two lane road that turns to a one lane road without any warning (when they stop painting the middle line, the road has become too narrow for two cars, but we all keep driving). Driving in England is easy-peasy – it just takes a bit of time to get used to it.
Gas (Petrol): Shockingly expensive, but the cars get many more miles per gallon, so we still only fill up every two weeks. We are driving a VW Golf and it gets 40 – 50 mpg using diesel. Gas is £1.20 per liter – approx. $7.30 per US gallon. Wow! We are not doing many long day trips, just short drives around our area.
No Billboards!: Are billboards an American thing? We don’t have many in Boulder (they have banned them), but in England there are none. The roads are lined with gorgeous countryside. All the commercial signage is toned down, so much that it is sometimes hard to find a shop you are looking for.
Mail: The mail service is great, six days a week like in the US, but don’t hand your mail to the mailman, he won’t take it. Instead look for a red post box – there is one in every neighborhood. I miss putting my mail in my mailbox for the postman to pick up. Our postman knows us now and stops to chat if we are out in the garden.
When you order something online, it arrives in a couple of days with standard shipping – no need for express shipping – mail delivery is fast here.
Newspapers: Instead of local daily papers like we have in the US, in England there are several national daily papers. The paper that you read in many ways shows your class and political leanings (The Times – conservative, well off; Daily Mail – left-wing, working class). In the US we read our town’s daily paper – the Boulder Camera. In England we read the Guardian, a national newspaper (left-wing, well-offish).
The local paper for Stroud comes out once a week and is fun to read. I love knowing all the local tidbits.
Each town has a “newsagent”, a shop selling magazines, newspapers and some office supplies. This is where you go to arrange for newspaper delivery. You pay the price of the paper plus a delivery charge per day – they leave a bill for you once a month (we pay £1.00 for the paper plus £0.40 for delivery). In the US you contact the local newspaper company and it is cheaper to have it delivered than to purchase each day.
We get up in the morning to find our paper sitting on a table in our entrance way (I always leave out outer door unlocked, the inner door is locked). No longer do we have to go out and search the driveway and nearby bushes. Or, in the winter, dig into the snow looking for the paper.
Netflix: No Netflix in England – but LoveFilm.com! Almost the same, a bit more expensive. So our DVD movies still arrive in the mail. The envelops arrive with a lot of advertising and are not that nice distinctive red that Netflix uses.
Garbage: I had heard horror stories about garbage pickup in England – that you were only allowed a small amount of garbage, that it was very expensive to get rid of cardboard, etc. But garbage pickup here is the same as in the US with one very funny difference – they leave a new garbage bag for you! Friday morning they pickup the garbage bag I leave out and in its place is a rolled up new garbage bag. When Cameron (the new Prime Minister) is yammering on about budget cuts and suggestions from the public for ways to cut, I scream out “duh – get rid of the free garbage bags!” The savings would probably pay for a new Stonehenge Visitors Centre (a project they just canceled).
The garbage people have a great technique of tying the garbage bag into a tight ball, so there are these balls of garbage bags on everyones’ driveways. I laugh about this, but in Santa Fe for years we went to the city offices once a year to get a box of free garbage bags, but they finally canceled that program. There is something special about free garbage bags.
Recycling: Just like at home, pickup every two weeks and a list of things you can recycle. Some things like cardboard and what they call “card” (thin cardboard like cereal boxes) and phone books they don’t collect from the curb, but you can take to your local recycling center. Ours is about 15 minutes away in Horsley (great town name!).
Light Bulbs: 60w is the highest! and soon we won’t be able to get them either. Our landlady has energy efficient bulbs everywhere and I can barely see in the kitchen so I went to get some regular, brighter bulbs, but could not find anything higher than 60w. Turns out they are no longer allowing 100w bulbs (a “green” initiative), but a local electrician told me where I can find them (it’s a secret). Traditional 100 watt light bulbs to be phased out in favour of low-energy alternative (Telegraph, Jan 2009) It is a good thing that it stays light until 10pm in the summer, but winter is going to be dark.
Laundry: I miss my dryer! Not my dryer in Boulder, which I hated, but my wonderful Asko washer and dryer that I had in Santa Fe. Our washing machine here has a long cycle, like the Asko, but things come out with stains. And there is no dryer. The poor, evil dryer and all the energy it wastes. Instead I am always lugging wet clothes around, spending hours hanging things on racks, checking to see if they are dry, then wearing very wrinkly things because I have promised myself I will not start ironing our t-shirts.
I ask everyone if they have a dryer and the typical answer is “yes, but I never use it”. People do send out sheets and towels to a laundry. We have not tried that yet. I wait for a sunny day (lots lately), wash the sheets first thing, then hang them outside. They dry in minutes.
Ironing: I love ironing in Europe. The irons get hotter, which sounds strange but it is true – probably because of that 220 – 240 voltage. Things iron beautifully – tablecloths, kitchen towels, napkins, handkerchiefs, clothes – the list of what I iron (no t-shirts).
Baking Bread: Whole Wheat flour is called “wholemeal” and I think it is lighter than our whole wheat because the bread that I make here (1/3 white, 2/3 wholemeal) is much lighter than what I make in the US.
Every time I speak, the person I am speaking to knows that I am not from here. I think they can detect this if I just clear my throat. It has a downside – you stand out in the crowd – but has an upside too – people love to talk to us. They want to know where we live in the US, they apologize for assuming we are American because maybe we are Canadian? and Canadians don’t like to be mistaken for Americans in their experience, they tell us where they have traveled in the US, they want to know where we are staying and for how long. We get to meet a lot of people who we might not have met if we sounded like them.
(Almost) Everything is closed on Sunday – Restaurants, Fish & Chip shops, shops, bakeries. The supermarkets (called “superstore”) will be open, but usually close early, around 4pm. Even the 24 hour Tesco in Stroud is not 24 hours on Sunday.
Most shopping is pretty much the same as in the US, but there seem to be fewer chain stores here. The supermarkets are chains, but most of the other shops in a town are locally owned. Nailsworth has a Morrisons supermarket (part of a national chain) but also has a very good green grocer (fruit and vegetables – many of them local), a deli-type shop, small pet shop, great hardware shop – all independent shops.
Some shopping things are surprisingly similar. We went to Ikea to purchase two desks and chairs for our office and it was exactly the same the as last time I was in an Ikea – in Vancouver, Canada about 20 years ago. Cribbs Causeway is a big mall on the outskirts of Bristol and it was just like being in a mall in the US (fun at first and then not fun and then we left).
John Lewis is my favorite department store in the world, but I have not been able to spend enough time there. We did buy a bunch of kitchen things, including a Nespresso so now we have to order those coffee pods online but the coffee is great.
Haircuts: I have had two haircuts, neither of which I like (but I am going through a rough phase with my hair), and they cost about the same as in the US – £35. Steve found a barber in Cirencester and pays only £11.50 – cheaper than what he paid in Boulder. He is getting great haircuts.
Sandwiches: There are large sections of packaged sandwiches in most supermarkets, with a variety of sandwiches and snacky things. We frequently stop at Waitrose to pick up sandwiches to take on a walk/hike. My current favorite is the Ploughman’s (cheese, tomato, lettuce, some interesting pickle thing) and Steve’s is a Wild Alaskan something.
My favorite lunch, and one we have been having several times a week, is a packaged sandwich and an apple sitting out in the forest on one of our hikes.
With Europe at our doorstep it is amazing that we have not gone anywhere yet, but in a few days we will be in France. The idea of going to France for just nine nights is a new one for us – we always do these epic one to two month trips since getting ourselves to Europe is so much effort (and money). For this trip we drive an hour to Bristol airport, fly to Paris (one and a half hours), then drive a few hours to the Loire Valley. Not so much effort.
Once we get tired of these perfect English countryside days, we will do more travel to the continent.
My Daily Life
Our days here are different from our life in Santa Fe or Boulder but only because we are still at that over-excited stage of being in a new place and are either out walking/hiking all day or driving around and exploring our new place. Plus lots of conversations about “should we stay longer”, “can we stay longer”. The answer is yes, we are staying longer – probably for another year. We really love it here.