Monday, April 4, 2011

A Few Observations

They may speak English here, but there are plenty of reminders that we are in a foreign country.  Not the least of which are linguistic differences between American English and British English.  For example:
  • Car Park: parking lot
  • Mobile (MO-bile): cell phone
  • Hire Car: rental car
  • Toilet Roll: toilet paper
  • Loo/Toilet/Ladies': restroom, bathroom
  • Lift: elevator
  • Hob/Cooker: stove
  • Fridge/Freezer: refrigerator
  • Pop: to put, or to go -- as in, "Let's pop that bag into the overhead bin," or "Could you pop over to the chemists and pick up some toilet roll?"
  • Top Up: add money to a pay-as-you-go plan, such as a transit pass or mobile phone plan
  • Fanny: female genitalia (Don't tell someone you're wearing a fanny pack!)
  • ISA (Individual Savings Account): IRA (Individual Retirement Account), which I learned about from the World's Most Annoying TV Commercial

There are plenty of other differences just around our apartment.  Most of the light switches are OUTSIDE the room -- especially for the bathrooms -- which has resulted in a lot of backtracking to turn lights on and off and confusion as to which switches are for which lights.  Not only are the electrical outlets configured differently (220V/50 Hz vs 110V/60Hz in the US), but they have switches that power each one on and off.  Of course, the on and off positions are the opposite of those in the US.
Particularly around London, where space is at a premium (think Manhattan, but even smaller and more expensive!) kitchen appliances are all much smaller than we are used to.  When we were looking at rental properties a few weeks ago, I had to play "Find the Fridge" in nearly every place we looked at.  Most of them aren't much bigger than something you'd find in a college dorm room or a man cave, and are covered with panels to match the cabinetry.  The freezer is often a separate unit which can be installed above, below, or next to the fridge, depending on the space available, and just has a bunch of drawers.  No ice maker, or even a place for ice cube trays.  (I miss ice!!!)  The fridge in our apartment is a pretty standard size.
Standard UK fridge, with freezer below
Because they are so small, the only place to put tall items is in the door, which means milk jugs have to be very skinny!
Ovens are much smaller here as well -- most are no more than 16 inches wide and 12 inches high.  Fortunately, I discovered that on our previous visit, so I put my big roasting pan and most of my cookie sheets in storage.  We'll definitely have to come up with a plan for Thanksgiving, since there's no way we'll be able to cook a turkey here!

While houses out in the country tend to have separate utility rooms for laundry, around London you'll typically find the washing machine in the kitchen.  Most people hang their laundry to dry, so it's rare to see a separate dryer (or "tumble dry" as they call it here), but some washing machines double as a dryer.  The one in our apartment is a combo washer-dryer, but we haven't dared to try it out yet.
The hotel suite we stayed in during our last visit had a similar machine, but no users manual -- just some basic (and ultimately incorrect) instructions on a typed sheet inside the cabinet door.  It had about 1/3 the capacity of our washer at home, and took THREE HOURS to wash one load of laundry!  After several failed attempts to get the dryer function to work, I took everything out and hung it up to dry, only to discover that all my whites had turned a pale grayish-blue.  Hence my reluctance to use this machine -- but at least we have the manual for it.

A typical bathroom here has a tub with a handheld shower and a sort of door/wall at one end.  If you're lucky, there's a brace for the shower up high so you can take a proper shower.  If not, you have to hose yourself off by hand.  Fortunately, our other bathroom has a stall shower, so we've been using that one, despite the lackluster water pressure.
The one thing that you see all over the place here that I simply cannot comprehend are separate taps for hot and cold water.  That means you can either have hot water or cold water, but no warm water unless you plug up the sink and fill the basin with just the right mix of hot and cold.  Here's an example from one of the houses we looked at -- in both the sink and the tub.

That seems kind of gross to me.  If you use the same sink to shave and brush your teeth, I'd want to give it a thorough cleaning before filling the basin with warm water to wash my hands or face, which seems like a lot of extra work for no good reason.  I'd sort of understand finding separate taps in a historic home or building, but why someone would keep them in a private home after doing a complete renovation is a mystery to me!

I could go on and on, but I don't want to bore everyone, and I should save some for later when I run out of anything interesting to write about. (If I haven't already.)

It's a relatively nice day out (party cloudy, 50 degrees), so I think I'll go for a walk this afternoon and explore Wimbledon Village.  Josh rode his bike through there yesterday and proclaimed it very charming and much swankier than the town center where we are staying.  My camera battery is charged up, so I'll try to take some photos.


  1. the heaters are perfect to drape your laundry over! We visited our cousin at Christmas a few years back when both kids where small, 5 of us visiting, every heater in the house had laundry draped over it all the time!

  2. 3 hours to do 1 load of laundry. wow I had no idea. I hear ya with the whole sink issue, it was that way in our old house and I never quite understood it either...

  3. Ugh! I feel for you with those hot/cold taps. I guess that was all the rage in the US in the olden days too... You know--right after people stopped using pitchers and "wash basins." I can't stand those taps--I end up burning my palms trying to catch some hot water and then cold water in my cupped hands. Sometimes I just opt for washing my face leaned over the tub. :P - Jess


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