Travel Route around Britain

I didn’t have time to make a conclusion posting for my trip to Great Britain because I’ve been busy the past few days moving into my new apartment in Madison. I’m subletting in this apartment, but I selected it because I’m also on the lease for the 2007-2008 year as well, starting August 16th.

But now that I have some free time this beautiful Sunday afternoon, I’ll summarize (as best as I can) my thoughts on some of the important and inane differences that I noticed between the UK and the USA, as well as some statistics pertaining to my 16-day trip.

Differences between America and Britain

  1. Shower heads: a silly thing, really, but one of the first things I noticed while at Nathalie’s house and throughout the rest of my trip. Shower heads tended to be of the detachable variety instead of fixed like the norm in the states. Of course in each country there’s variation, but I’m pretty sure that every hostel, home, and hotel I stayed in during my trip had mostly detachables, but the Generator and some of the hostels in Scotland had a couple “fixed” as well.
  2. Electricity in water closets: I was caught by surprise my first night in England as well because I couldn’t find any place to plug my electric shaver in. I put it off as an eccentricity, but when the same thing happened the next night, I questioned the hostel I was staying at and found that there’s actually legislation opposed to having open outlets in the toilets. For that matter, many light switches were outside of the WC’s as well, making a sealed light fixture the only electrical appliance possible in the bathroom. I found this ironic because the vast majority of British homes are made out of non-burning stone, and they’re the ones worrying about things starting on fire? To continue this trend of cautiousness, all of the double outlets that I saw had switches for each individual outlet to control them, or turn them both off if need be. I wonder if this was done for any energy-conservation purpose, or just for safety?
  3. High-flow toilets: Once again, I speak as one who didn’t spend a lot of time in Britain, but just as one who went from coast to coast, and I didn’t see a single low-flow style toilet. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, a low flow toilet uses much less water than the old standard “high flow” toilet, about 6.8 litres in a low-flow compared to 16.1 litres in a “standard” toilet. I’m not sure whether this is because Britain, obviously being an older country than America, has different plumbing systems, but while staying at Christine’s beautiful new home, I noticed that the toilets were high flow as well. Perhaps this comes down to an issue of personal preference (as several Americans, most notably Dave Barry, have expressed outrage at the USA mandate for low-flow toilets) but in closing – it IS an island, after all. It’s not like the British are lacking on water!
  4. Street signs: this was probably one of the toughest and more annoying things to get used to. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m not always the biggest proponent of the USA in general, but after traveling abroad, by myself, and mostly by map, I really have to beat my head against my desk when I think of the time I spent figuring out just what street I was currently on, which way I was going, and what streets were going to be in front of me because of the street signs. In the UK, the norm was to have them attached to buildings, little posts near the ground, or fences. I don’t know if it’s mandated or just the norm in the USA, but being used to seeing them on green signposts at every intersection (the keyword being every intersection) I felt lost quite often in Britain.
  5. VAT versus sales tax: One thing that any American tourist will love while shopping in Britain (and with the current exchange rate, sadly one of the few things in an fiscal sense) is that tax on purchased items has been conveniently factored into the final price already. I can’t think of a single person (both here in the States and in Britain, where a couple people actually did ask me why we do this to which I could only shrug helplessly) who prefer America’s annoying need to put prices on items “before sales tax.” In Britain, if an item is 3 pound 50, that’s how much you’ll be charged, end of story. On receipts, you can see the VAT (value-added tax) does exist, the same way our sales tax does…but lo and behold! They’ve already done that for you. I’m no fiscal genius so I won’t continue to compare and contrast these two systems…but unless Alan Greenspan calls me and tells me what gives, I’m going to continue to be very much in favor of this method of taking payments.
    …(yes, I know he’s retired.)
  6. Restaurants and off-peak hours: I vividly remember my first day in England, where I was desperately cycling through Salisbury first to find Stonehenge, and then to find a toilet. I thought I’d be in luck at a little restaurant that I passed by, but was horrified to discover that it was closed. I thought to myself…”why would this restaurant/pub be closed at 3 in the afternoon?!” but as I learned later, this is a fairly common practice to close non-chain restaurants on off-peak hours and only have them open at breakfast, lunch, dinner, and then the drinking hours into the evening. Of course, my bladder wasn’t consoled by this information…
  7. Traffic conveniences for the disabled: I was at first confused as to why there was always a loud buzzing or beeping noise whenever a light turned green at a crosswalk, and as to why there was patterns of raised bumps all over the place in every city, town, and village but gradually I realized that this was a greatly-advanced version of the conveniences that are just now appearing in even major cities in the United States. Raised bumps in L-shapes in front of every crosswalk path so that a blind person can feel not only when they’re in front of a crosswalk, but also when they’re about to walk past one. And the more-common loud beeping when the walk signal appears. This might not seem like too much, but the sad thing is that it is quite a bit in comparison to what I’ve seen in Madison and, for example, Washington D.C. (naming the largest city in America I’ve been in recently). And the amazing thing is that this wasn’t just in London and Edinburgh I saw these helpful additions, but every single little village, from London down to Peel on the Isle of Man. On that note too, I’ll make another traffic-related comparison. In Great Britain, the traffic lights don’t just go green-red-yellow-green like in the States, they go green-yellow-red-yellow-green, which just makes sense in my opinion.
  8. Clothing differences: were difficult to quantify through different regions, even in a comparatively-small country like Britain. But a striking difference in the United Kingdom was that women seemed to be much more willing to wear comfortable clothes instead of what American women consider appealing clothing (treading carefully as I write this). Not to say that I was staring at a lot of women while traveling, but I saw that British ladies would wear loose khakis or baggy jeans, even with holes in them. It’s sad that I would notice such a gender-stereotyped issue like this, but that’s the state of female clothing in America – almost every woman that I know wears tight clothing, or at least tight pants. I might be causing some eyebrows to raise in offense here, but don’t kill the messenger.I found this trend to be remarkably refreshing while I was overseas. Don’t get me wrong; I enjoy attractive women as much as the next guy. But my feelings on the mass media here in America is that they present unrealistic images of women that far too many women feel that they have to strive to keep up with. Thankfully in recent years, this seems to have abated somewhat as people like Jean Kilbourne have called attention to it, but few will deny that our society has not yet been “cured” of this advertising disease. In London though, women seemed to be more comfortable with what they were wearing, literally. Obviously, I have no research to back up my thoughts, but if anyone has any commentary on this issue in either direction, I would love to hear from you.
  9. The Beer: the most important part of any trip, of course! I was a little bit worried when I was told that in England, the bitters/lagers/ales are often served at room temperature, but after the first few days as my taste buds got used to it, I found that it was the natural way to drink beer. As any travel guide will tell you, Brits find American beer “comical” at best and “not even classifiable as beer” at worst. Compared with our cold, carbonated beer, British beer is heavier, more filling, and has a taste to it. Since it was part of my mission to sample the “house beer” at every pub I went to (most of them, such as the Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem, had their own special brew made either by them or for them), I was pleased that beer didn’t all have to taste the same like it does in the States, but instead had a whole rainbow of varieties, from the sweeter ales, to the heavy thick lagers to the aptly-named bitters. My favourite was probably “Newcastle Brown” out of them all though; I’m going to have to find out if I can get that anywhere around here…

Trip Statistics

  • Pictures taken total: 2,689
  • Pictures deleted because they were of my thumb: 13
  • Videos taken: 41
  • Pictures of myself taken either by some kind soul assisting me or by holding my arm out and trying to photograph my face: 216
  • Money spent in pounds sterling overseas: 593.72
  • Money spent in US dollars before leaving: 1,351.66
  • Total money spent, translated to USD with current exchange rate: 2,598.47
  • Pints drank total: 17
  • Pints purchased for me by various friendly people: 7

And that’s that! Time to spend the rest of my summer taking classes in Perl scripting language, web design (so that someday I can write something as good as WordPress), and most importantly, working to replenish what’s left of my monetary reserves. But no matter what, I’ll never forget Britain, the sights that I saw, the smell of the mountains, the tastes of the ales and the rest of my tantalized senses. I’ll always remember the wonderful people I met like Neil, Christine, Chris, and Michael.

For the first time in my life, 4,861 miles doesn’t seem so far away!

edit: It looks like Google Maps took out the cute little prank they put on their maps, where they would tell you to “swim across the Atlantic Ocean” if you queried two destinations across the ocean. Sad, it was funny…and informative too!