I’ve lived in the UK now for about three years and it’s been such a great experience to get the learn the ins and outs of another culture. I recognize it’s not realistic but wouldn’t it be interesting if everyone had to live a portion of their life in another country? It gives you such a different perspective on this great big world we live in and share.
But, as much as I love living in England, there are times when I miss America. I miss my friends and family every day but some days I encounter something and think jeez, they sure do that better in America. Take customer service and what I would call general convenience. The UK has a reputation for bad customer service and the television is full of shows like Watchdog, Rogue Traders, and Secret Shopper that exploit this. From my own personal experience, I find service is hit or miss. Sometimes it’s good but then sometimes you get a waitress like I had at dinner the other night. She was so abrupt and rude that my friends and I were actually afraid of her by the end of the meal. And, we left her a tip that reflected this and then ran for our lives. Certainly the tipping culture in the US vs the UK is one of the fundamental differences in wait staff’s motivation to be cheery and helpful.
Now that I have a child, there also are certain American conveniences that I miss more than ever. Everything seems just a bit harder when you have a toddler in tow and it frustrates me when I reflect on things from American life that I took for granted. Such as:
- Grocery baggers – How I long for the days when some lovely retired gentleman or teenager working after school would pack my groceries in bags almost as fast as the checkout clerk would scan them. This is a seemingly foreign concept here so I bag my own groceries. And, trying to get out of the grocery store with a toddler is not made more enjoyable when the checkout clerk just stares at you struggle to open the bags. Mate, if you would just stop staring at me and help we could all get this over with a lot faster!
- Pay at the pump – Pay at the pump has been ubiquitous in the US for so many years, I can’t even recall the last time I paid for fuel by interacting with a human. But here in the UK most fuel stations still make you to go inside and wait in line to pay a real human being. Why? There is proven technology that could get more customers in and out faster. I see more stations implementing pay at the pump but it seems to be merely an after thought. In a petrol station of 10 pumps only 2 will have pay at the pump. Why even bother? I feel the need to plan my trips to the fuel station around times when I don’t have the Little Monkey with me. Call me crazy, but I’m not going to leave him in the car by himself while I walk into the shop and pay. And, it’s just a plain hassle to get him out of the car only to put him right back in.
- Drive through ATM/Cashpoint – Maybe this is a side effect of the compactness of the UK and the fact that most ATMs you come across will be on the high street in a city or town center and not in a suburb. For me this is just another excuse not to carry cash around.
- Shopping late on Sunday – In a country generally less religious than my southern American roots, I struggle to understand the rationale behind major grocery stores closing at 4:00 on Sundays. Apparently opening on Sunday at all has only even been allowed since 1994. I realize we can plan around this but frankly we’re just not very good at that. More often than not we find ourselves at 3:30 on Sunday afternoon saying “crap, what’s for dinner” and rushing off to the store. What irks me the most however is the fact that some large chains have big brightly lit signs announcing “Open 24 hrs.” Clearly their understanding of the number of hours required to make up 24 in a day is different from mine.
- Drive through Starbucks – enough said. The ultimate convenience.