As I write this, I’m sitting within the walls of a typical English house in the southern county of Hampshire, with a faint breeze outside and the sun beaming down. The flowers are in full bloom, and the bumblebees are buzzing away. Yes, there’s much to like about England, but there’s also some bits that are baffling – and some that are just a downright offence to common sense. One of most famous individuals to be influenced by the sights and sounds of England was the great poet George Chapman, who many in this country consider the rival poet of Shakespeare. He said this of his fellow countrymen in 1636,
I know an Englishman. Being flattered, is a lamb; threatened, a lion.
Much the same can be said about contemporary English folk – they shy from praise, but will squirm and sulk at the first sign of critique or self-reflection. So this post today will combine a bit of both – the peculiar and bizarre of all things English I have observed, firmly from the perspective of an inquisitive Aussie. I find it eternally fascinating what aspects of culture, mannerisms, ideology and lifestyle have managed to make it all the way to Australia – and conversely, what hasn’t.
I’ve briefly been to England a few times in the past, and this time around I’m attempting to live and work here. However, my travels here have never been very exploratory, only ever in the winter, and never any further north than Luton. So to say my comprehension of this complex and multifaceted nation is limited would be an understatement. But nor is it an attempt to be so, and these are just my initial understandings of this country. So here they are – as an Aussie these are the things that really stand out for me, divided up into five key sections – Mannerisms, Society, Food, Alcohol & Gambling, and Transport.
1) MOWING THE LAWN – They get really excited about cutting grass. I’ve even witnessed people offering to mow other people’s lawn. I’m not quite sure why this is, I presume it may be because not many people have lawns, or because they don’t get to mow it for six months of the year due to the weather.
2) PLASTIC SINKS – They all have plastic sinks in their kitchens. What’s even weirder is that they have another separate container to do the dishes in.
3) WASHING MACHINES – Socially acceptable to be located in the kitchen. Also, it’s unlikely they’ll have a metallic basin either inside or outside like we do in Australia.
4) WASHERS – Some call them body scrubbers, the English call them loofahs… and don’t use them. No shower I have come across in England has one. So I guess the stereotype is true, they don’t know how to wash.
5) GREETINGS – “You right mate/Orrite?” is a standard greeting, and not an invitation to talk about the finer details of your mental state. It’s more of a rhetorical question, similar to our “how ya goin’?”, but I still haven’t figured out how to adequately respond to this type of greeting yet. Also, the British are famously reclusive when it comes to bodily contact, especially when it comes to their European neighbours. However, it seems that the upper-middle class of England has cottoned on to this fact, and attempt to carry out the European double cheek-kiss (I’m assuming in an attempt to show how worldly and cultured they are). This leaves most people in England even more awkward about greeting new people, as it becomes difficult to know what the etiquette is (as noted, it will change depending on who you are meeting).
6) VAPING & SMOKING – Although it’s construed as the equivalent of methadone for smokers in Australia (with a similar stigma), in England vaping is considered ‘cool’ and ‘hip’. Youngsters hang out near the shopping malls puffing away, businessmen suck deep on them as they waltz to their next business meeting – heck, vaping utensils are even sold in chemists as well as in specialised shops. Also, although it is frowned upon, smoking is still pretty accepted here and more accessible than in Australia.
7) ACCENTS – Unlike Australia, where the guy from Perth has the same accent as the guy from Parramatta, England has wildly diverging accents that are altered by factors such as class, geography and ethnicity. It’s quite possible to travel only 20 minutes on the train to the next big town, and witness a completely different way of speaking.
8) LANGUAGE – Thongs = flip-flops; Bread roll = bap; Zucchini = courgette; Eggplant = aubergine; Capsicum = peppers; Squash = pumpkin; Chips = crisps, Doona = duvet. It’s like they don’t actually speak English.
9) TANNING – Totally acceptable, even encouraged. They refer to tanning as “gettin’ a bit of culla”. They see the sun as their liberator, we see the sun as a literal symbol of death.
10) LIGHT SWITCHES – Generally located on the outside of the room you’re about to walk into, especially bathrooms. This usually involves me entering the bathroom, closing the door, realising I can’t find the switch and am standing in the dark, and then proceeding to open the door again.
11) INDICATING – Indicators (or blinkers, as we Aussies call them) are simply suggestive when one turns on to a freeway, highway or carriageway. They just don’t bother with them – ever. Which is dangerous, considering that nobody in this country sticks to the speed limit, or knows how to drive.
12) SHITHOLES – Everybody in England refers to other places as ‘shitholes’. Upon enquiring further, you find that they haven’t actually been to said place and have just heard it’s a ‘shithole’ from other people. Mention the town of Sunderland to anybody from London to confirm this, and vice-versa.
13) DRUGS – Cheaper and easier to get here. Both the legal and the illegal kind.
14) PLASTIC – If you have seen a recent trend in Australian supermarkets, it is this – nearly everything is wrapped in plastic. It seems they took inspiration from the UK, where every item on the shelf seems to be sealed in a thin lining of synthetic garbage. For example, a packet of crab sticks bought in Sainsbury’s is wrapped in plastic, plus every crab stick is individually wrapped also. However, they do charge for plastic bags, something that Australia really needs to start doing (bar South Australia, who already do).
15) SUPERMARKETS – This might come as a shock to Australians, but overseas there are more than two major supermarket chains – and no Coles or Woolies in sight! However, in the UK chain supermarkets are very much divided along class lines. Waitrose staff stack shelves in fitted suits and provide their customers with free coffee and tea upon arrival. Conversely, ALDI and IceLand can barely be bothered to wheel out the goods from the loading bay for their customers. Sainsbury’s and Tesco’s tend to fill in the spot in between.
16) PARKING – Everybody in England is a master at the three-point turn. You have to be, as there is literally nowhere to park most of the time. Also, you’re allowed to park against the flow of traffic – a big no-no in Australia. Also, you have to pre-pay for parking. This involves considerably overestimating how long it takes you to buy a new pair of socks, and then running around the car park when you’re leaving offering random people your valid parking permit.
17) ROYALTY – In Australia, most like the royal family solely because Will and Kate’s kids are cute, and we don’t have the balls to tell a little old lady she’s not wanted anymore. Not so in England – they fucking love them. Her 90th, and May Day just a week after that, was an incessant onslaught of all things royal. The children dress up as knights and dames, the adults dress up as friars and everybody yells at the top of their lungs ‘God Save the Queen’. Australian’s haven’t been that passionate about anything, ever.
18) FLY-SCREENS – As it comes into spring in England and the weather starts to gradually warm up, I feel the urge to open the window or leave the door open. But no, this will invite all sorts of nasties in – including bugs, stray squirrels, strangers and all the rest of it. Why don’t you have fly screens on your windows or doors? What are you trying to prove?
19) MOSS – Everything has a thin layer of moss on it, grown in dense green clumps or mats. Roofs, benches, sidewalks and paths, train platforms – it’s bloody everywhere, especially in the winter.
20) POWER POINTS – These are not located in the bathroom. You want to straighten your hair, blow-dry your hair or charge your razor/toothbrush? Go somewhere else. However, it is not uncommon for a sink to be located in a bedroom. You can also disconnect the shower head. Separate taps for hot and cold water. You dry your towels on scalding hot pipes. The list of crazy shit that goes on in an English bathroom is nearly endless.
21) MEDIA – There are more than two newspapers, and Rupert Murdoch actually has some competition here. Depending on where you are on the political spectrum, there is a daily newspaper in England just for you. You need a licence to watch TV too. Free-to-air has considerably less channels than available in Australia. Outside of the major cities in the UK, the BBC rules the airwaves. There is no equivalent of Triple J, BBC Radio1 plays as much cringeworthy shit as the commercial radio stations do. They also have a very popular TV show where they watch other people watch TV. Enough said.
22) CELEBRITIES – According to the English, Kylie Minogue is definitely British, whilst Rolf Harris is definitely Australian.
23) DOCTORS – You don’t need to be a British citizen, a member of the Commonwealth (so no need for a Medicare card) or European Union to see a doctor. You just need nothing on your calendar for the next week if you want to see one for an appointment.
24) BANKS – Your bank debit card has your ABN and account details on it already, so you don’t need to go rummaging through your old paperwork every time you need to make an online transaction. The bad part is if you’re an Aussie trying to get a bank account you need proof of address. To get proof of address you need to have a utility bill. To get a utility bill you need to have a residency where you are paying bills. To have a residency you need a bank account to pay for the fees for said residency. To call up and complain about this ridiculous Catch-22 you need a phone with credit, which you can only get if you have a bank account to sync with your phone provider. You see the conundrum here?
25) COFFEE – Absolutely terrible. One of most depressing things an Aussie will do in England is drink a coffee here. If you’re like me, you’ll just stop drinking it altogether – that’s how bad it is. One of the simple joys I used to get in life is now gone. In England, they also have a thriving cafe culture, but it is predominantly dominated by chain-stores like Nero’s, Costa’s and Starbucks. Your barista will most likely be a pimply 17 year old who learnt how to operate the instant coffee machine just last week. Furthermore, their coffee is scalding hot, with an emphasis on quantity over quality – there’s just way too much milk. 0 out of 10.
26) TEA – In contrast, tea is delightful, and always consumed. In fact, I met a couple of citizens of this country who aren’t big tea drinkers (i.e. they don’t touch the stuff unless they are forced), and thus believe it has damaged their relationships and job prospects. A ‘tea break’ (or ‘brew time’) isn’t some interlude in which anything can happen – it is strictly for tea and nothing else. I even went to a pretty wild buck’s party (they call them stag do’s here) over the weekend, and the morning after a big night on the piss was always followed up with the communal drinking of a pot of tea by the blokes.
27) WEETABIX – Sounds like Weetbix, so they must be similar, right? Well yes, but appearances are deceiving. An Aussie Weetbix is smaller in size, sweeter in taste, and finer in texture. Again, an issue with quantity over quality. But the most annoying characteristic is the packaging – every ‘stack’ of Weetabix is individually and tightly wrapped. Meaning that unwrapping these crumbling shithouse biscuits results in an unwelcome smorgasbord of wheaty crumbs all over your kitchen bench. They also soak up milk about 4 times faster than your average Weetbix, so be ready for a bowl of brown goop in approximately 14 seconds.
28) BREAD CLIPS – Those small, yet practical instruments of simplicity and handiness are neglected in England. Bakers would much prefer your bread go stale it seems. What’s even more annoying is that the large supermarkets make tight bags with the bread already sealed inside. So once you’ve opened the plastic bag, there’s no avenue to seal it back up again. I can’t think of any practical reason you would do this, other than to piss people off.
29) INDIAN CUISINE? – Chicken tikka misala is from Birmingham (or Scotland, depending on who you speak to), and the Balti gosht is also from Birmingham. Fish rissoles, ball curries, kedgeree and most spicy style chutneys are actually English creations. It turns out going to your local ‘curry house’ is just as quintessentially English as eating fish’n’chips or snacking on a pasty. Also, when you refer to Asia over here, they think you mean the subcontinent, not China, Sth Korea etc. This can get confusing quickly.
30) CHEESE – Perfectly socially acceptable to just eat cheese for a meal. They also have a passion for cheese that is unrivalled in every respect in comparison to Australia, despite the size of our dairy industry. The cheese selection in your humble local English supermarket would exceed most specialist cheese shops in Australia, hands down. They also just put a wheel of cheese in the oven so they can dip toast (another thing they love) into it. Why don’t we do this?
31) BREAD – Being so close to France, you would think the bread would be top-notch – but no. Turns out there’s a reason the like toast so much – it masks their shithouse bread.
32) SOUR CREAM – They don’t have it. ‘What?’ I hear you ask ‘How do they do have sour cream and wedges with sweet chilli sauce?!?’. They don’t – it’s fucked up, right?
LIQUOR & GAMBLING:
33) POKIES – They are few and far between here. In most pubs, they simply don’t have any avenue to gamble whatsoever. When they do, they’re not pokies – they’re fruit machines (or simply known as fruities). Although still swindling you for your money, they usually have a pretty low cap on how much money you can put through them, and they aren’t the slick, sit-down machines so ubiquitous throughout Australia.
34) BEER – A proper beer is pulled, not poured. Also, it is not carbonated and will be room temperature. To make it all the more unpleasant it will be nearly twice the size of a schooner, so once you’ve order one you’re committed for the next half hour. The bright side is the pubs that sell a local ale really take pride in their beers, and many of them are surprisingly nice. Who wants a bitter cold beer when it’s 4C outside anyway, eh?
35) CASES – Beer (and all other liquor) are sold in supermarkets and corner stores. This is awesome. The bit that sucks is, the English seem to have dedicated so much time and energy into their ales that they have neglected to produce a nice, cold, hoppy, carbonated, bitter beer of their own. So you have to settle on things like Stella, Coors and Fosters (note to the English: we don’t drink that shit). Also, you can’t get cases (i.e. 24 pack) of beer anywhere really.
36) GIN – A bit like tea; it is expected you will drink it and enjoy it. I can drink it, but I struggle with the ‘enjoy’ part. Nevertheless, all British pubs seem to have a menu solely dedicated to different ways of making gin taste less shit. I recommend you try some of them out.
37) BEER GARDENS – A reserved spot out the front of most pubs to have a drink in the sun. Usually grassy, with outdoor furniture and a few benches and play equipment for the kiddies, it really is the perfect way to experience a drink here in England. It also begs the question, why is this not a thing in Australia? Also, most drinking establishments don’t have security or bouncers. You can get proper sloshed and nobody really bats an eyelid. Also, if your mates want to leave and you haven’t finished your drink yet, just ask for a plastic cup and the they’ll send you on your merry way.
38) CARS – Some cars here only have three wheels, and yes they do look ridiculous. Also, you can get Mercedes and BMW taxis over here – and it ain’t no big deal. In fact, everybody drives a European ‘chic’ vehicle, and a Renault or Fiat is seen is pretty lowly (as opposed to Australia, where they are seen as the optimization of swanky European design).
39) CAR INSURANCE – Only applies to the individual. But also only applies to the car. So you need to insure yourself to drive a specific vehicle, but that vehicle isn’t covered if you’re not driving it. And you’re not covered if you’re driving another vehicle, even if you’re insured to drive your vehicle. So, yeah.
40) FUEL – Easily double the price compared to Australia. Also, they price in litres, but you are told fuel consumption to the mile, and roads signals indicate in miles too. Just to fuck with your head.
41) TRAINS – The English pretty much set the standard for the modern-day rail network back in the heydays of the Industrial Revolution, so you’d think train travel would be really cheap and reliable, right? Well, you’d be wrong. Ohh so very wrong. An approximately one hour return trip to London from the little town I’m currently in will cost you £22.90 (AU$45) return off-peak. Catch is you must book in advance to get this price, otherwise add another £5 ($AU10). Let’s say you want to travel from Warrington to Milton Keynes (237km), for example, an unrestricted return ticket suitable for a business traveller on a day trip will cost £205 (A$410). To put this into perspective, in Sydney the price for a train from Central to Newcastle (162km) is AU$8.30 one way (AU$5.81 off-peak) with a cap of AU$15 anywhere on the network.
42) BUSES – So the result is that most ordinary folk can’t afford trains. This means that either buses or even flying become a more cost-effective means of transport. As an example, I’m heading up to Sheffield for a football match next week. From London, the train fare is £19 (AU$38), but the return bus trip is only £1 (AU$2)! How does that make any sense?
43) ROUNDABOUTS – They are suggestive. Placed in the middle of an intersection, and barely raised above the surface of the rest of the road, most drivers simply pass over them without even shifting the steering wheel. It is truly a sight to behold.
44) COUNTRY ROADS – Dear God these are frightening. Upon leaving London and turning off the freeway, if you want to get anywhere it will be along these death traps. Blind corners, an obscene speed limit, all manner of irrational wildlife, tractors, tree roots and boulders and fences and houses and hedges all inches from the road. Add in snow, sleet, hail, darkness, strong winds, driving rain, Voldemort and an impatient Englishman and every country road seems like a recipe for death and disaster.
45) FREEWAY MERGING LANES – In Australia, when you want to merge on to a dual carriageway or a freeway, you’re usually given plenty of time to gather speed, check your blindspots and merge at a time that suits you – so as not to affect the drivers behind you and the overall flow of traffic. Not so in England – you’ve got about three car lengths to hit 80 miles an hour and about the same amount of distance to safely exit the freeway too. Again, recipe for death and disaster.
This is my initial comprehension and observation of England – warts and all. I write this now, because it will certainly happen that in six months time I will not bat an eyelid at any of the oddities I have listed here – they will become normal. I hope you’ve enjoyed, and if there’s anything that you think I’ve missed or that stood out for you, please feel free to comment below.