It’s been one month since we left the States and started this whole Selfish trip, and while we’ve only been in London for a little less than a month, it strikes me that “home” has changed meaning in the last few weeks. A few months ago, “home” was Orlando, but after packing everything into storage and renting out our house it’s safe to say that definition no longer applies. For now, home means our little studio in Highgate, but in a week, home will be a hotel in Scotland, and in a month, an apartment in Paris.
In the States (or maybe everywhere), we have a tendency to romanticize the European lifestyle. 35 hour work weeks! Amazing food and wine! Architecture! History!
Having spent a little time abroad now, I’ve definitely noticed a few differences between living in the States and Europe (or at least in England), which I will now present to you in rant form:
1. Doing Laundry is extremely time consuming. I used to think this was the case back home, but man was I wrong. In the States, a long time for laundry was 3 loads of laundry in 6 hours. Here, it takes a day for each load, which is due to the fact that England seems to have a massive shortage of dryers. So instead of throwing things in the dryer, you have to hang your clothes up to dry. After a few hours in the sun (if you’re lucky and it hasn’t rained), your clothes are ready to be brought in – only now they have a delightfully crunchy texture. This is due to either the water here, or perhaps because of the lack of dryer sheets – I’m not sure what to believe. To combat this apparently a lot of Europeans iron everything, including socks and underwear!
2. Semi-Wet Bathrooms. If you’ve never encountered one, you’re in for a treat! Instead of simply elevating the shower or adding a curtain, you have a delightfully open shower with a drain in the floor. Move ever so slightly the wrong way and water cascades off of your elbow and on to the floor (or worse, the toilet). To fix this problem, we use two different bath mats: one to sop up all of the water from the shower itself, and the other to wipe down the entire bathroom floor after we finishing showering.
3. No Target/Walmart/Kmart style stores. I used to think shopping in several stores was quaint, now it’s just really inconvenient. Need canned tomatoes? Canned olives? Fresh produce? Steak? Shampoo? You might find a store that carries some of these items, but finding all of them in one store is a challenge. Where I could once run all of our errands for the week in just a few hours, now I usually carry a bag with me whenever we leave the flat in case I see something we need.
4. Everything is closed on Sunday. Not unless they involve eating out, drinking, or hanging out in the park. When we went to Germany earlier this year, we noticed that basically everything is shut down by 4 or 5pm on Sunday. I expected that from museums and mom & pop operations, but not from grocery stores and shopping malls. If your child runs out of diapers at 8pm on a Sunday, you’re in for a very exciting evening! Fortunately, England isn’t quite as bad, but when planning anything in Europe make sure to take Sunday into account.
5. A Shortage of Trash Cans. England seems to have an odd shortage of trash cans – especially in train stations and airports. If I had to guess I’d say it was related to terrorism in some way or another, but it is quite strange. Especially since their parks seem to be brimming with large trash boxes – and not just on paths – on several occasions we’ve seen a beautiful grassy area marred by a large trash bin, right next to picnic goers.
6. Knife Violence. Fortunately, we haven’t experienced any first hand, but there does seem to be some sort of slashing epidemic in England. According to an anti-knife campaign sign I saw in the the Albert and Victoria Museum of Childhood, 45% of teens boys and 15% of teen girls carry a knife for protection. I guess it just goes to show that you don’t really need guns for teen on teen violence.
On the other hand, some of the bits they tell in travel guides are right – especially on the food side. Cider is great. Anything baked is ten times better than in the States – even the cheap bread you buy at your local chain supermarket. And yes, the curry is delightful.
But if someone tells you that life in Europe is slower because the European’s know how to live just remember that they probably spend most of that spare time drying their bathroom floors, ironing their underwear, and scrambling to finish all of their shopping before everything closes on Sunday.