{14/02/2012}   Things you might miss about the UK as an ex pat

Marmite, cheese, proper tea, salt and vinegar crisps, fish and chips, how green the countryside is, night buses, old buildings, British news on TV and newspapers … those are some of the things I’ve missed about the UK when I’ve been abroad.

I put a few photos up on Facebook on Sunday, taken in Hastings Old Town in the snow.  A friend from the UK who has been living in the US for the past 11 years without visiting her home country re-posted one of my photos of a snowy lane with ye olde houses along it, largely Medieval and Georgian houses.  She said how much she missed the crooked house thing!  That got me thinking about all things British, things that are distinctive.  There are so many things.  Food, friends and family (all Fs!) aside, here are some things I love about the UK and which I know I’d miss if I moved elsewhere.

Boots, the shop.  It’s more than just a chemist.  In all countries I’ve lived in or visited I’ve never found a Boots equivalent.  Plus you get points and we all know what points mean – prizes!  Well, money off.

The seasons.  We do get four seasons and they are generally fairly distinct, though there are plenty of winter moments in spring and so on.  In Japan they celebrate cherry blossom season by picnicking under the blossom trees, generally celebrating the beauty of the blossom.  Likewise, the autumn leaves.  I embraced the culture of celebration at these times too and got myself thinking that Japan is the only country with so much blossom and autumn colours.  Wrong.  We have it too, lots of it, and it’s beautiful.  We just don’t appreciate or celebrate it enough.

Collective TV memories.  I love conversations about children’s TV shows we used to watch and other cultural things from childhood.  It’s a lovely kind of nostalgia and I’d always be pleased to make friends with fellow Brits and be able to talk about Mr Ben, Postman Pat’s cat’s name and whether Captain Pugwash really was a rude as we’ve been led to believe.  There’s something comforting about a shared memory, even if you’re talking to someone you don’t particularly know.

Villages and pubs.  Villages have greens.  The main shopping street is usually High Street.  Where there is a village there should be a pub, a church and a post office or at least a vibrant red letter box.  There is hope that the pub will be old, there might even be an open fire inside and it will serve not-quite-cold beer.  It will be a great place to sit and spend time, whether on your own or with other people.  There might even be pork scratchings or quavers for sale.  You can also have a giggle about Nobby’s Nuts.  The pub toilets will usually be very dated and cold, pretty much a given there will be an outside wall/window.  If you’re really lucky, you will get the familiar whiff of Imperial Leather soap – remember the label that was kind of stuck on the soap bar.

Countryside.  British countryside is largely green and rolling.  In different parts of the country the field divides are different, maybe hedges or dry stone walls; whatever they are, they seem distinctly British.  There are quite a few trees too and London, particularly noticed from the air, is full of parks and trees, so much more than most other cities I’ve ever been to.

Seaside.  Nothing makes me want mass-produced lollies or choc ices like a tacky seaside shop.  There will be buckets and spades for sale and incredibly dreadful souvenirs, all of which won’t be made in the UK, and maybe even bags of bright pink candy floss.  Deck chairs.  Hmmm, they are not as common now, but I still associate them with the British seaside.  The odds are it will be cold and the sea murky and chilly.  If you’re really lucky, there will be a pier and a selection of amusement arcades with those horrid repetitive, pingy, tinny noises.  There might also be rock pools, so buckets, spades and nets littered around the beach by people’s “patches” will be de rigeur.  And sand castles and holes/traps if it’s a sandy beach.

There are lots more things.  There are also so, so many incredibly infuriating things.  There are also things that we rose tint.  It’s also really flippin’ expensive here now.  But there really are a lot of things to miss if you don’t live here anymore.  D’you know what, I really, really fancy fish and chips now.  I don’t even particularly like fish and chips.  I know if I have them, with a few exceptions, the chips will be a bit soggy, the batter a bit greasy and the whole thing slightly unappetizing and disappointing.  But it will at least allow me to move on from wanting fish and chips!  I can almost smell the vinegar …


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