State of the United Kingdom

I’m closing in on two weeks of holiday on the rainy little island that is my birthplace.  I’ve been living in the U.S. long enough that England now seems like a strangely familiar foreign country.  The first few days were like being in a French & Saunders skit or an Ealing comedy.  People talk with theatrical accents, use Monopoly money, and have dysfunctional bathrooms.  (Why haven’t mixer taps reached Britain?  And what is the point of having a shower installed in a bath with no shower curtain or door?)

As I traveled the country visiting family and friends, I caught up on the state of this smaller union:

  • Big brother is watching you.  The country is lousy with CCTV cameras…at railway stations, in shops and hotels, on the street.  The fear of crime and terrorism (both of which are valid) has overridden any concerns about personal freedom.  The news is like a long reel of criminals and terrorists holding up shopkeepers and traveling down escalators before they commit atrocities.
  • Burkas.  The veil is the cultural battleground between Islam and the West.  I was quite shocked to find that my friends (liberal lefties, socialists) had intense feelings about Muslim women covering their faces.  I heard my peers talking about immigration in the same way that our parents and grandparents talked about it, including the importance of cultural assimilation and fears that the traditional British way of life is being lost.  One alarmed friend feels this is coming from the government; a minister recently proclaimed that local government shouldn’t provide translations of documents as people wouldn’t be motivated to learn English.
  • Switzerland is the hot destination.  Not for a holiday, mind you, but to die.  Apparently Switzerland is the legal home of euthanasia and many people spontaneously brought up this Alpine paradise as the answer in the face of any horrible illness.  Judging by the frequency of mentions, 50% of Britons are planning to die there.
  • People are really serious about climate change.  They don’t just want politicians to act, they are taking personal responsibility. Carbon footprint is mentioned as often as Switzerland and two different friends traveled to Spain and Italy for vacation by train to avoid flight pollution.  People cycle and take public transport even when it’s not convenient and one person had a wormery to break down her organic waste.  A friend who renovated her kitchen chose an eco-bin, with recycling compartments, over a dishwasher.  I kid you not.
  • Do you have milk?  Britons consume more dairy products than people I’ve met from Wisconsin.  In the first week I ate so much butter, cream, and cheese that I started to feel ill.  It didn’t help that every veggie meal on offer veggie lasagna, mushroom risotto, or pasta with creamy cheese sauce.  I may have to become vegan.  (Where are the salads?)
  • Chivalry is dead.  I found people to be loud and rude and aggressive.  They have stopped queuing.  This was most disquieting.
  • The weather continues to be the most important topic of conversation.  And no wonder, it is liable to change every three minutes, from rain to no rain and back again.
  • You will never be short of a pub or a tea shop.  It’s hard to walk more than 300 yards without stumbling into a vat of beer or tea.

And on a personal note, people I met for the first time thought I was American.  Really.



7 responses to “State of the United Kingdom”

  1. Mike N. says:

    Stella, how long have you been in the US? My partner has been living here for nearly 20 years and she sounds British to me, but when we go to the UK (at least once a year), her friends back there definitely make fun of her accent.

    There was a New Yorker article last year interviewing the director of a Swiss euthanasia operation where he spoke of the large number of British clients. Very interesting read, especially in describing the approval process. It helped confirm to me that the practice is moral and humane.

    We are always shocked at how HARD it is to get fresh vegetables and such in Britain that are not pre-packaged in styrofoam and cling wrap. Other then that, I’ll agree that environmentalism is definitely big with everyone we know there. But maybe that’s a case of lilke-minded people being friends with each other?

    Thanks for the update!

  2. PB says:

    “They have stopped queuing. This was most disquieting.”

    All my romantic notions of English life are dashed.

    PS – I had a friend once tell me that she would only have children if they could be British. Since she is from the Midwest, reproduction does not seem imminent. I love reading your posts about being between two cultures, belonging to and yet being the sharp third eye for both.

  3. Dave says:

    I’m also disquieted by the cessation of queuing. But heartened by the word “wormery.”

  4. Marleyfan says:

    Got Milk? I loved your “do you have milk?”…

    Queuing? What did you mean by that (I’m a little slow)?

  5. ssw says:

    I think it refers to forming lines, right? I’ve still had a hard time adjusting to that little New York norm of saying online for being ‘in line.’ Whenever people say it, I still have to shake off that they don’t mean going on the web. Ah well. Life is a constant adjustment culturally. I get back in Boston, for example, and immediately want to say Pahk the cah in the Hahvad YahD or some such thing.
    Stella, you’re unfortunately just part of the culture of us (I identify as one of these people) who is between cultures. You have your past, and where you live now, but you’re somewhere in between somehow. I find myself most connected to other transplants really. I go home, and I’m a New Yorker, or at least East-Coaster. And, in New York, I’m so not from there. Where is home? Hasn’t someone written about this?

  6. my favorite part of this post is the use of the word “lousy.”

  7. Scotty says:

    “…Switzerland is the legal home of euthanasia…Judging by the frequency of mentions, 50% of Britons are planning to die there.” Well is anyone ready to invest in the Last Resort?