The weeks are flying past (or crawling… depending on the day) and we are rapidly approaching the third anniversary of our expat status.
As I reflect on this I’ve started thinking about all the new experiences I’ve had while living in England. Of course there are plenty of exciting things to share like traveling, driving on the other side of the road, the West End, etc. But what I was really thinking about are the small things that people don’t really talk about because they are just everyday things that are a part of society.
So I thought I’d share with you five things I didn’t experience until I moved to England. As a caveat, I’d like to say some of these might exist in the states but I never personally experienced them.
Now I know you’ve probably heard of milkmen. Because I had too. It’s that quintessential man in a white uniform bringing milk to the 1950s housewife. But I didn’t know until I moved here, that they are STILL a thing in England. You can still get weekly milk delivered to your house along with a nice array of baked goods and fresh veg courtesy of a company called Milk and More. And while the delivery man doesn’t deliver in a white vintage uniform, they milk does still come in glass bottles!
Speaking of dairy products. My next entry is all about that heavy lifter in the kitchen, the egg. In America, we primarily keep our eggs in the refrigerator as they have been washed after collection from the chicken. When washing occurs they need to be refrigerated as it makes it easier for bacteria to get in. But here in the UK (and also several other European countries), eggs go straight from chicken to store (or local farm box) meaning there is no need for refrigeration. It took me a really long time to wrap my mind around this concept fearing my eggs were going to go bad just sitting on my counter. But I have really begun to appreciate this especially with the teeny tiny refrigerators we have here. Every bit that doesn’t need to be in there helps. I also really like the side of the road honesty boxes for eggs. We have several neighbors and friends who do this and I love supporting them and their animals. (I know some farmers do this in the states too but they still have to be refrigerated to be sold legally.)
When you hear the word pub as an American, you’re most likely going to think of a bar, probably an Irish one. Before I came over here my idea of a pub was that it is the equivalent of an American bar. But in fact, it’s really not anything like a bar other than the fact that they both sell alcohol.
I have heard it been said that a pub is like the extension of one’s living room. And I think that is the most accurate way I could describe it to you. This is especially true of good local pubs in small villages like ours. People don’t go to the pub to get wasted, pick up a significant other (or one night stand) and shoot pool. They go to have a pint, maybe some food and a good chat with the neighbors. People meet at the pub after a long day. They bring their kids and their dogs and everyone just catches up on life. Many pubs have play areas for kids to run around in while mom and dad enjoy a pint in the beer garden. You might even see people come to the pub and bring cards or dominoes. There are often quiz nights or events hosted by the staff. It’s really a central meeting place and a hub for the community. I love pub culture and I will be very sad when I have to leave it behind.
My American friends I know are first asking “what the heck is a lay-by?” Well, (here in England) it’s simply a pull out area where drivers (usually lorry’s aka semis) can pull off the highway that has no permanent services. This is convenient if you need to stop on the freeway for some reason and don’t want to get off on an exit or like many of the large freeways here, there isn’t an exit for a long while.
In some of these lay-bys there are food trailers. I’d say they are similar to food trucks in America in the sense that people serve food our of non-brick and mortar locations. But unlike our well-known food truck, the food stations in the lay-bys don’t usually have their own source of power and are fairly sedentary once they are placed there. They usually sell baps (sandwiches) and drinks but to be honest I’ve never actually stopped at one as they seem mostly fort he trucking community. Nonetheless I find this concept absolutely fascinating.
The British LOVE their high visibility fabric. And I know we have the occasional high vis vest for road construction crews or glow belt for PT if you’re a Marine, but in general, neon colors for safety aren’t a huge thing in the states.
The same can’t be said for England. You can hardly leave your house without seeing a something in high vis. Road crews not only wear a vest but and entire neon orange or yellow outfit. Regular citizens sometimes wear it when they are biking or walking and even police cars are neon blue and yellow. In fact any car that might possibly stop on the side of the road (work vehicles, delivery vehicles, etc), has high vis on the back of it.
When they repaved our road and we needed to cross through a closed road gate, I chatted with one of the construction guys about his high vis. I said well, at least you know drivers see you and he said honestly I think it makes you more of a target. But I also did find that while I drove the freeway under construction early one dark morning on the way to the airport (pre VWSNBN days) I was able to see the workers quite clearly. This was helpful, though at the same time a bit eerie. So I guess there are pros and cons to the high visibility safety gear.
The high street is a street where many of the town or city’s shops and restaurants all congregate. Often it’s more walkable than drivable and is located at the heart of the town. On the high street you’ll find charity shops (more on those later), restaurants, coffee shops, fast food, some sort of grocery store, pharmacy, eye doctors, and various retail outlets. The high street has great visibility for small businesses as people often congregate (again pre VWSNBN) here and stroll through the town.
In America , or at least in California, most of our shops like this are located more in what we call strip malls. This is a row of shops all connected to each other with a large parking lot in the center. This makes it easy to park once and walk to all the various stores/fast food you might need. Sometimes we have walking streets where several stores are located but we usually call this “old town” and it’s often more of a day out location than a daily visit. Though that might just be because I’ve not lived in a town with an “old town” to visit.
Sadly, we might be seeing the end of the high street. Due to the VWSNBN and the three lockdowns we’ve had, two of them being quite lengthy, several businesses have had to close their doors permanently. How can one pay rent when they can’t sell nearly as much online as they would when there is foot traffic AND online sales? I truly hope this isn’t the end of the high street as I find it something really quaint and wonderful. I think a lot of this is up to us as consumers too. Get out there and support your small businesses people. Shopping is open now. Head to the high street if you can vs the large chain retails and shop small!
So this isn’t entirely true as we do have some charity shops in the states, like the Salvation Army, Goodwill and various church charities but these aren’t usually called charity shops but thrift stores. It’s interesting to me the different impression that either of these names gives off. To me charity shop just sounds a little more posh. But maybe that’s because I’m American.
But charity shops here are unlike anything you’ve seen in the states. Some stores specialize in just one thing, for example there’s one that just sells books and records on our high street. Most things in these shops are gently used but sometimes you can find some brand new things too. There is also a good chance you can find true antiques there for really cheap. I once found some gorgeous Art Deco plates and an Art Deco jug at a charity shop in Kettering.
These stores are usually run entirely by volunteers and a majority of their profits go to their respective charities like Cancer Research UK, British Heart Foundation and OxFam, just to name a few.
As with before, these charity shops struggled during the lockdowns as you can’t possibly catalog and sell all the items in a charity shop online. Even after stores were initially reopened, charity shops struggled as many of those who volunteer their time to work at charity shops are people more vulnerable to the VWSNBN. With most or all of our vulnerable citizens vaccinated now, and a return to nonessential shopping, I hope the charity shops can thrive again. Not only can you get a great deal on something you want or need there, but you’re supporting an organization that is doing some sort of good in the country.
And there you have is. Seven things I hadn’t really encountered until I moved here. Like I said before. This doesn’t mean we don’t have them in the states, but they are definitely not things I encountered or saw frequently while living there but have encountered and seen very often living here.
Did these surprise you? If so, which ones?
All images stock images.