Since I’ve started my blog, I have been asked several times whether there are any things here in the UK that I do not want to write rants about. And why I still live here, seeing how much I hate it.
Well, I’ll let you in on a secret. I don’t hate living among Brits. I don’t hate Brits either. They just make such lovely tirade targets sometimes.
You see, you could compare me and the collective entity of ‘The Brits’ to an old couple. All year long they exchange little meannesses, bad-mouth each other behind their backs and mock the other one’s quirks and oddities. But come Valentine’s Day he gets her the chocolates she likes so much without simultaneously flinging a jab at her waistline, while she refrains from nagging about his less endearing qualities like leaving smelly socks just about everywhere.
So in the spirit of Valentine’s Day, I have decided to abandon the nagging for a moment and focus on the positive aspects of living among island monkeys. Because there are quite some as I have pointed out in my first post when I started this blog (if you are interested or just want to refresh your memory, go check out the Why island monkeys? page).
I have since given this a bit more thought and came up with a little list of likeables of British life. And here they are, in no particular order:
Yes, the old stereotype is true. In my experience, Brits are more polite than the average Kraut.
In Germany, it’s been known to happen that a mother with a pram had to wait for several minutes at the bottom of a flight of stairs before some merciful soul stopped to offer help. I never had that problem in the UK. Most of the time I had two or more very friendly gentlemen almost break into a fight over who’d get the honour to assist me. Maybe they felt bad because hardly any of the Central London underground stations are equipped with escalators or elevators?
Now, to set the record straight, I also met people here who were so rude I needed all my restraint not to punch them in the face! I write those encounters off to living in Essex. Look it up.
2. Supermarket opening hours
You woldn’t believe how often I run out of (or notice that I forgot to buy) this essential food item just after the shops closed. In Germany, that is, because here in the UK, opening hours are so much more forgiving. Being able to hop over to the supermarket after the little monster is in bed or browsing through furniture or DIY stores as a family on Sundays – no problem!
Of course, having this kind of opening hours at your disposal, entails two problems. First, I am always unprepared when I come across a smaller high street store or mom-and-pop’s that has opening hours like the shops at home. I deal with it by pretending I’d be at home. Takes care of the homesickness, if not the frustration. And second, apparently this kind of customer service is socially questionable. Well, I guess in this case you will just have to live with the fact that I am a selfish pig with no social conscience.
3. Traffic lights
A while ago, I have bemoaned the island monkeys’ unfortunate predilection for completely ignoring pedestrian traffic lights. There is, however, an aspect of British traffic lights that I find very agreeable and, indeed, much preferable over the German solution. I am talking about the positioning of additional lights on the opposite side of an intersection.
Only the other day I was driving in Germany and nearly popped a disc in my neck from totally contorting it to be able to see the damn traffic light there in the blind spot turn green. The other option, of course, would have been to drive by ear – simply wait for the car behind me to honk. They usually have a better vantage point.
4. The weather
The British all-pervasive habit of talking about the weather is universally acknowledged to be a particularly defining trait. Apparently, this has got nothing to do with how bad it is but with its volatility. In fact, it is not rare to encounter rain, sunshine, storm, hail and clear skies again within the relatively small window of one day.
However, one thing that is usually absent from the weather menu is cold. As in really cold. Granted, summers are generally less hot than in my more land-locked home country, but, in return, we also don’t get long and severe frost periods in winter like the ones my people back home have to suffer through on a regular basis. As a rule of thumb, here on the island, from October to March I usually have to wear one layer less than I would have to in Germany. Hooray for gulf-streamy balminess!
The fact that, when it gets cold, a lot of island monkeys fail to recognise the unpleasantness of the temperatures and dress accordingly, is a different story altogether.
5. Small talk
I know, it sounds counterintuitive, what with the proverbial British reservedness, but I find it much easier to strike up a conversation with a Brit than with strangers at home. Germans tend to keep to themselves in public, so if you happen to sit next to someone on a plane or park bench, you are highly unlikely to get involved in a conversation.
Island monkeys are pleasantly different. They will almost always start a chat about the weather (what else?). Or the little monster if he happens to be around. I like this. After all, as a housewife and mother, I sometimes crave a conversation with an adult more than rhubarb crumble with custard.
The British propensity for forming neat queues is the subject of much ridicule among mainland monkeys. Frankly, I find it only logical and fair.
Flying Ryanair is not a pleasant experience in anyone’s book, but if everyone behaved like the civilised creatures we are supposed to be, the irritation could be kept to a tolerable level. However, having some German chick brazenly push past you while you are already ON THE STEPS boarding the plane, just so she can secure a window seat for herself, that’s just beyond rude!
How I knew she was German, you ask? Well, we were flying from Berlin to London, and she sure wasn’t British. Otherwise she would have, without complaining or looking at her wrist watch, queued.
I’m sure, if I racked my brain a little more I would come up with maaaany more positives. But then, what would I write about next year?
So I’m just going to stop here and wish you all a happy celebration of the holy headless Valentine.