Eight silly British things

We are often tormented here at Polandian with calls of “Why don’t don’t you just go home!” or “England is rubbish anyway!”, so, prompted by Island’s Polish six and aware that we’ve never done a reverse double-flip with pike (posted something negative about the UK) I bring you eight silly things from across the channel so you can all get it off your chest!

Notwithstanding the fact that the majority of Polandians these days are not actually British.

1. Hot and Cold taps

No doubt the worldwide #1 top grossing reason for people to have a laugh at the UK is the tap situation. I recall being given an explanation once that had something to do with bacteria and not wishing to transfer the little blighters from one water system to another insofar as one system (hot) was completely self contained within your house and the other (cold) had links with the outside world via the main supply pipe.

Personally, I think this bacterophobia is a hangover from either the C14th Black Death or the C17th Great Plague. Most likely the latter as before then nobody was really thinking about domestic sanitary systems except for the Romans, who had all gone home 1,200 years earlier to concentrate on runny cheese and unreliable cars.

I grew up with these taps and although you do get used to them the whole idea does remain rather stupid. There are times it is useful though. Imagine if you had just burnt your right hand and wanted to run cool water over it but at the same time urgently needed to defrost a chicken held in your left hand. How would you do that with a mixer tap, eh? 

Hot & Cold

2. Three-pin electrical plugs/sockets

Probably seemed like a good idea at the time – safe, durable – but this really is a case of taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut. I can only imagine that in the early days of electricity people like Brunel were connecting massive 600 Megawatt riveting machines to the grid using these plugs so they had to be up to the task. Nobody bothered to take a fresh look at the design for domestic use.

Fact is that British electricity is very lazy so it needs a whole square metre of metal prong surface area to tempt it to jump across. It is also very insecure, so without a connection to earth it gets nervous and hides in the corner of the socket.

It’s all made worse by an underlying British psychosis that if you leave things plugged in they will kill you, especially if you leave the house for more than 2 hours. This increases the frequency of plug use quite considerably compared to the far more playful attitude displayed toward electricity on the continent.

Take a look at that screw holding the socket to the wall though, now that’s a good idea! 

Giant plugs

3. Carpets

Carpets have been mentioned by quite a few of our readers as a cause of some concern in British living spaces. I grew up in homes where everything was carpeted, even the garden. There’s no doubt that carpet is softer and warmer than wood or ceramic tiles so it does lend a warm and cuddly feeling to the whole domestic scene but I’ll be honest and say that having now lived without it for so long I find the thought of whatever disgustingness might be found if you took a microscope to it quite off-putting.

Never shy to take advantage of people’s phobias, the marketing boys of 1980 came up with “Shake ‘n’ Vac“, which has been selling well ever since. This is a sort of powdered deodorant for carpets that one imagines might also have the properties of a toilet cleaner in killing 99% of all known germs (although it almost certainly does not). You shake this powder all over your carpet, let it sink in for a while and then vaccuum (hoover). Mmmmmmm, tasty!

Fitted carpet has a place in bedrooms but that’s where I would draw the line. Top marks to Skanska then because that’s exactly how they used it in their apartments on Zajączka. We should be honest enough to say there’s little difference between fitted carpet and extensive use of rugs over a wooden or tiled floor aside from the fact that you can take rugs outside, hang them over the metal “rug rail” and beat the living shit out of them!

...and this is where I threw up yesterday!

4. Tattoos, piercing and general chav / bling behaviour.

This is a generational thing. In my England the number of people with tattoos was certainly less than 5% and they were all sailors or skinheads. Piercing (other than earrings) was pretty much nonexistent (even the original punks tended to pierce their clothes more than their bodies) and the words chav and bling had not found any reason to exist. Nowadays, well, you can see for yourself.

 I won’t go on about this too much for fear of proving that I’m just a grumpy old man but I am shocked each time I visit the homeland these days, especially by the popularity of tattoos.

Cambridge University Debating Society

5. Roundabouts

A charming way of regulating traffic but a little overused. The Brits use so many of the things that they had to start inventing different types of roundabout to prevent the road planners slipping into a catatonic state during work hours. You now have normal ones, mini ones and the best of all, magic ones! Hemel Hempstead was the proud recipient of the first magic roundabout, AKA the “Plough Roundabout“, named after a demolished pub, natch. Here you have five roads converging on one spot and the way to solve the problem is to have five mini roundabouts that work in the normal clockwise direction housed within an enormous roundabout that you can travel around in either direction. Even the Brits had difficulty with this at first. I’m told there is another one in Swindon.

On average, for every 5 miles of British road there are 26 roundabouts and 17 speed cameras!

Just for a laugh I’d like to transport a bunch of Polish drivers from the amazingly simple Rondo Babka, site of an accident a day, to Hemel Hempstead. As a gesture of goodwill I’d give the emergency services a head start.

Magic Roundabout

6. “Detached” houses (and tiny rooms)

The UK housing market consists of 6 types of dwelling shown here in order of poshness & value:

  1. A flat
  2. Terraced house
  3. Semi-detached house
  4. Detached house
  5. Anything in or close to London
  6. Buckingham Palace

So, for anyone earning less than €500,000 per annum a detached house is likely to be the zenith of your home ownership. You will always pay more for a “detached’ house in the UK, roughly 15% more than a semi-detached according to something I read, even assuming the space and rooms inside are exactly the same. That means in a very averagely priced area you might pay 250,000 quid for a semi and a premium of 37,500 for being “detached”. That’s getting on for 200,000 zlots in our money.

If you imagine this extra dosh will provide you with ranging views across the countryside, room to gallop a horse and shoot a few deer, you’d be very wrong.  What it gives you, most of the time, is an alleyway just about wide enough to walk down that separates you from the adjacent homes. There will be other “detached” homes immediately behind yours, at the end of your back garden, and there will be other homes on the opposite side of your street. All these homes will be full of nosey neighbours who will all have great views of your home and garden. Truth be told, I felt I had more privacy when living in a Polish block than I ever did in an English house.

The British love of small rooms is well documented and it’s another thing I didn’t really notice until I’d been away a while and then re-visited the UK with fresh eyes. Hotel rooms in London are the worst case, but the average house anywhere in the country is not far behind. If you do visit anyone and they have a good sized room this is only because they have knocked 2-3 normal rooms together to make a bigger one, for example the lounge, dining room & kitchen. Look for tell-tale signs of structural beams, columns or arches to verify this fact.

Detached - but not very

7. The hot water bottle

Imagine a large industrial strength condom filled with boiling hot water and with a cap to stop the water coming out. What possible use could that be? Precisely!

The most fun is filling them because the steam shooting out of the neck always blows the boiling hot water all over your arm. If that doesn’t get you then you’ll just pour boiling water over your hand anyway. So then you try to hold them in a funky way to avoid all these issues and invariably drop the thing so the water spills out and scalds your leg/foot. No pain, no gain!

Surely a hangover from the days when the servant would fill a metal box with red hot coals and use it to warm the bed up. Just a way of rolling this luxury down to the proles.

Large water-carrying condom

8. Talcum Powder

I must have missed the part in the history books that mentioned the UK being invaded by tribes of Sumo wrestlers and weightlifters because that’s the only reason I can think of for the British obsession with this white powder. I’m not entirely sure what you are supposed to do with it but I think one of the popular uses is to soak up any left-over water after having had a bath or shower and not dried yourself properly.

There’s a distinct possibility that the use has shifted since I was a lad and that today the largest demand for talc is for cutting cocaine. Either way, I’ve not noticed it being especially popular in Poland or elsewhere. I did buy some and bring it over to Poland but it went past it’s expiry date unused (and this stuff has a LONG shelf life).

English Lavendar Talc

 

Advertisements

37 thoughts on “Eight silly British things

  1. That’s a good point mixing the hot and cold systems actually. This is also the reason why Brits are psychologically incapable of filling a kettle with hot water from the tap or using it to cook with.

    Ironically Poles will only consume tap water that has been boiled ‘because of all the chemicals,’ which are totally unaffected by boiling.

  2. Good article.

    US ver:

    CDMA phones that only work in the US and a few other countries nowhere nearby.

    Electrical plugs and sockets that will quite happily shock the daylights out of you and then some if you handle them in the wrong way or, sometimes, even look at them the wrong way.

    Trucks. Not lorries, trucks. Pick-up trucks. SUV’s, as well. They’re huge, crap for driving and everywhere.

    Mixing various systems of measurement. Ounces, pounds, gallons… litres, metric tons, meters… depends on where you are but you’ll encounter a healthy mix of them and it’s maddening. I love the metric system and would go to war to protect it.

    Everyone suing everyone else for everything all the time. Lawsuits can be a good thing but there are too many of them and they are one of those weapons that are immediately pulled out whenever someone gets a bit pissy about something… and has generally ruined a bunch of good things.

    The way people wear their religion on their cuff. Poland may be 97% Catholic and there may be crosses everywhere but people are almost never vocal or assertive about it all.

    Elevators’ close-door buttons that purposefully do not work. Why is this?

    ATM/cash points that give you your money before they give you your card. I once was in a HUGE rush (late for a train (a rarely-used phrase in the US)) and grabbed my cash and ran off and later wondered where my card went to. Annoying.

  3. Oh and BTW: yes, England has too many roundabouts. It wouldn’t be annoying but “intersection” and “traffic lights” are both well-known things to British people and yet they seem to think it’s just not for them. I can only assume this is why they still DRIVE ON THE WRONG SIDE OF THE ROAD.

    :)

  4. 1. Water taps and 3. Carpets: How is it possible that the nation that gave the world the steam engine, the flush toilet and modern surgery can still furnish its homes with such monumentally stupid things? Whoever willingly puts up with an unusable washing device and an unwashable walking surface in their home needs help, badly.

    4. Chavs, white trash, bogans, beaufs, Prolos, blokersi: whatever you call them, just about every nation on Earth has this type of underclass. Nothing specifically British about them.

    6. Houses: yeah, they’re small, but still superior in every way to the typical Polish blok flat, IMO. Plus, much of Britain is very densely populated and housing is expensive – I suppose the size of homes has more to do with those two facts than with some innate love of cramped quarters.

    5. Roundabouts – love them.

    7. Hot water bottles: you’d have to take mine from my warm, dead hands.

    8. Talcum powder: what the…?

  5. Boiling water actually removes quite a lot of light fraction chemicals, but that’s not my point…
    On the subject on drinking tap water, here’s a little gem from my last visit in Krakow.
    Bunkier Cafe, mid-afternoon, 35deg hot day.
    “Could I please have a glass of tap water please”
    “NOOOoooo!!!! Tap water in Krakow will kill you! We will not serve you tap water. We do however have hugely overpriced “Beskidzianka” (or something) made by CocaCola. Would you like one?”
    “Yes!!!!”
    “Lemon and ice?” – “Yes!!!!!”
    A frosty glass filled with ice arrives on my table, followed by 10ml of clean, drinkable water.
    “Ummm, just one question miss. What is the ice made of?”
    “Water” – said in a way which implied that I was sick the day day they taught us about water etc.
    “TAP WATER????”
    “… emmmm… yes…”

  6. The taps and heating water in a bucket in the roof space are a XIX century hangover from before proper running water. Hot was heated and delivered through a gravity-fed piping, cold was delivered in a bucket and mixed in the washbowl. Why would anyone stick to this “tradition” beats me. Incidentally, the sink under a window comes from the same time and was a regulation, so that the servants could see if the dishes are clean enough.

    Carpets came from the fact that most of the houses had no insulation in the floors and for intents and purposes were planks-on-ground type of construction. Carpets became the insulation, again, this is very cultural. Only the rich could afford the carpets, once the middle class emerged, they all wanted houses like the rich and got themselves carpets and brick fronts and alcove windows and many other architectural features.

    Houses, leaving social and aesthetic issues out of the equation, any “blok” would technologically and environmentally beat a British (American, Canadian or Australian) house. There’s something to be said for hydronic heating, double glazing and insulation. Must admit here that a lot have changed (slowly) since the 80’s in British construction methods, but they are still lagging behind the continent by about 15 years.

    Roundabouts – nothing wrong with them. They do slow the traffic down, but make driving safer. You want roundabouts? Come visit Canberra… designed by an English architect of course.

    Enough…

  7. Grze$ko, good point about the wooden plank floor construction (floor boards), I meant to add that but forgot. It is one of the main reasons for fitted carpet although it is possible to lay any other floor if you put a thin layer of plywood down over the boards, for example.

  8. Some of the points have been made already, but:

    Hot and Cold taps – agree, but this derives from the standard system of attic cold water tank, gravity feeding the hot water tank, which is always full of warm water except when a couple of people have had baths. It would provide good conditions for commercial continuous production of bacteria. It is also possible that the (normally only kitchen) high mains pressure cold water will flow up the low pressure warm water pipes. These led to UK law requiring separate outlets, a condition which is fulfilled when the single tap has the two separated up to the tap nozzle. It all derives from the days when there weren’t any water heating systems that could provide immediate hot water and, I guess, from the times when mains water pressure was unreliable. Its all vary antiquated now, so why hasn’t everyone changed? Another common Polish complaint: why are English people always worried about money? Err, because, despite Polish assumptions, many English people don’t have any and the idea of re-piping the house, buying new water systems and then redecorating much of the house just because Polish people do things differently is not thought to be a priority. Poland simply has more modern housing and that brilliant urban hot water supply from the local water heating factory is unknown in Britain – London anyway. Another related Polish complaint – British showers don’t have any pressure. NB if you are in England and hire a plumber to deal with your water system, make sure that they know how the British system works. They can connect the mains to the hot water tank, which can make it explode and flood your house. Our Polish friend in line of course realised this was the stupidity of the British system and that the Polish workers were perfect.

    Three-pin electrical plugs/sockets – this is just a ‘they are different, therefore they’re wrong’ complaint to me. I mean, anyone with less than half a brain can see the complete stupidity of plugs having individual fuses in plugs, so that if something goes wrong only the appliance stops working rather than having much of / the whole flat/house without electricity until you grope through the darkness to try and find the fuse box. Of course, I must feel very sorry for those Polish people who have to buy adaptors for their plugs in the UK, but I’m sure it will come as a great surprise, but I had to do the same when I came to Poland and I never thought it was stupid here. It never occurred to me that everyone should be the same. I have also heard ‘why do British plugs have on/off switches?’. Maybe to turn things off and on. I am guilty here, as I always wonder why I have to pull plugs in and out in Poland, rather than having an on/off switch. I must admit that Polish plugs are more likely to break than British ones, but that may be for reasons other than design.

    Carpets – agree again, especially as bare floors are easier to vacuum and carpets, especially if you have a dog, smell. Part of the reason for this in Britain is the design of houses, with wooden floorboards over an empty space on the ground floor through which cold air flows, making anything other than a carpet cold to walk on and cooling the room generally. Although I personally hate it, preferring a liquid cleaner, we sometimes get the powder carpet cleaner for our rugs here in Poland.

    Tattoos, piercing and general chav / bling behaviour – never heard this and, funnily enough, I was amazed at how much more popular tattoos were in Poland than England. Those beautiful Polish girls with their …. Sorry, must pull myself together.

    “Detached” houses (and tiny rooms) – we come from different circles. London – posh? My Polish family are flat dwellers, so British homes are big. However, I am told about the stupidity of the British obsession about the difference between council housing and private homes and good areas and bad is a reflection of British class society. I would reverse this and say one of the brilliant things about Poland is that there is no justification in thinking that the Warsaw equivalent of a London council estate full of blocks of flats, is anything other than a pleasant place to live.

    The hot water bottle – I’ve seen these on sale in Poland quite a few times, but I’ve still heard the comment made. I think it’s a Polish class thing. ‘Our houses are warm and only poor people need these things, so why do the British act as if they’re poor’ – see comment earlier.

    Great post, thanks.

  9. I am very attached to our British plugs (not literally) they say the following words to me every time I clunkily plug them in: solidity, Nelson, the Pound, oak. Nothing silly about that!

  10. Nowadays many houses are build on slab, which provides some insulation. Some even on insulated slabs and yet the love of wall-to-wall carpets persist.
    By bow it’s purely cultural.
    Investigation of cultural (non rational) solutions in architecture is fascinating.
    As I cannot contain myself (being a self diagnosed nerd), I’ll give you an example of steep roofs in southern Poland. To disperse snow I hear you say… try again!

  11. On the electricity bit – one thing that I’m yet to investiage in detail is how the electricity is handled in the toilets. To date I haven’t seen any privately owned toilet that would handle the light switchin by anything else than a cord dangling from the ceiling. Another safety measure?

  12. Yes, it’s a safety feature—to prevent wet hands coming into contact with electrical switches. Electric showers are often turned on by a dangling cord too, for the same reason.

  13. I love this post!

    I can’t say how many times I have come across the mentality that ‘it’s not Polish, so it would never work here.’

    I’ve even heard this argument when discussing the pros and cons of ‘customer service.’

    This probably explains why the Poles will never adopt a modern tax system, or a way to access government departments over the internet, or even the ability to pay bills over the phone.

    One thing I do complain about here is mixer taps in the shower, especially when the hot water is powered by gas. Finding the right temperature and pressure is an art that has taken me almost two years to get the hang of.

  14. 1. i don`t think anyone can get used to constant burning or freezing hands, no? I haven`t after many years.
    2. i happen to like British plugs and guess they are good in houses with toddlers (the on/off switch)
    3. i too have a carpeted garden with the house i`m renting
    4.every country has its chavs. only sometimes in the UK you start to think there is no one else (scary to go out on Friday night…)
    5. roundabouts are much better solution than standard junctions but such simple and effective things might not be welcome in Poland where everything has to be twice as complicated (from what I heard, they can`t even use bus lanes properly in Warsaw). and yes, i can`t see a typical Polish driver on any of those Magic roundabouts.
    6.one of my rooms here is indeed as big as a matchbox. and my bathroom with toilet is only good for storing brooms… plus i have the nosiest neighbours around the world has seen. still, this house wouldn`t be considerably more expensive than a good sized (bigger than 50m2) flat somewhere in the centre of Kraków.
    7.got several of them as presents though never used them… they always remind me of adventures of Paddington Bear somehow.
    8.have seen it mentioned in several places here however never saw anyone use it… it can be easily found in Poland in mother&baby section in supermarkets as it`s as good as Sudocream.

    Point 9, if not 2nd, should be tea with milk! :-)

  15. I’m English and living in Poland, and to be honest… I can’t imagine having grown-up without any of those things (except the detached house, as I grew up in a semi)…

    1. You have a sink with which to mix the water… its a sign of our declining society that we want everything done for us straight away. Patience is a virtue!

    2. Good solid English engineering! Probably would withstand a bit of WW2 blitz bombing, “a plug is for life, not just for christmas”… The only drawback is that when un-plugged they always lie on their back, sharp bits up, and there is nothing more painful in life than standing on an upturned plug.

    3. Why would people ever complain about walking around on something soft?! I would rather be comfortably unhygenic than the other way around… Bacterias good for growing children anyway, they need exposure to get a good immune system. Illustrated by the fact that I haven’t been ill since moving here, yet my Polish work colleagues are taking days off ill every other week with the sniffles!

    4. Have you ever visited Praga in Warsaw? I rest my case.

    5. A sensible way of joining multiple roads, though if you’ve had enough of them just drive straight over the middle.

    6. Everyone wants to own something that is solely theirs don’t they? And a house is, for most people, probably the most expensive thing they’ll ever buy… I was the opposite when I moved to Poland, wondering why everybody lived in flats and didn’t want they’re own two-up two-down detached house.

    7. My Polish girlfriend insists that this is the best present I’ve ever bought her (obviously i’m not doing very well on the presents side…). There is a knack to filling them sometimes, but on a winter’s eve’ theres nothing to beat them for a good nights sleep.

    8. Talcum powder is for babies… literally, its for powdering babies bottoms so they don’t get wet and rub or something like that.

  16. “Everyone suing everyone else for everything all the time.”

    Sounds like Poland three centuries ago.

    “I love the metric system and would go to war to protect it.”

    LOL

  17. “Chavs, white trash, bogans, beaufs, Prolos, blokersi: whatever you call them, just about every nation on Earth has this type of underclass. Nothing specifically British about them.”

    What’s British about them is that they’re a class there. ;)

  18. I lol’d.
    There are a few transnational things up there (the faucets and the hot water bottles, and of course the tats and piercings.)

  19. Disclaimer: I’m American, and we do most everything wrong, so take this with all the necessary blocks of salt.

    I love the British fondness for Lavender Everything. I might even take up powdering in lieu of toweling off entirely, if the powder was lavender scented.

    Carpets are fine in moderation (like you said, in the bedroom); Poles are oddly super-sensitive to the bacteria-hosting abilities of all floor surfaces. My Polish boyfriend’s family is appalled that we have wooden floors in our bathroom and kitchen, which, like tile, is sealed and watertight (and regularly cleaned, for Pete’s sake). Area rugs go in the wash, the carpet in our tiny cozy bedroom is steam-cleaned on the occasion I can borrow the massive cleaner from my colleague. Not often, but it’s comfort over sterility in the room where you spend about 1/3 of your life.

    I spent a year in Glasgow as a university student, and I loved the plug-switches; I engineered an elaborate fire-hazard/sculpture of lamps and lights, and needed only to groggily find the switch convenient to my bed in the morning — far simpler than fiddling with lamps or wall switches. And nothing, I mean NOTHING, would ever accidentally yank a plug out of a wall…

    Now slogging to a convenience store to put a few quid on a heating card to run back to your flat, sticking it in a meter hidden in the cupboard, so that your frozen groceries don’t all spoil? Utterly maddening. I know how to conserve energy; send me a bill at the end of the month, please.

  20. I’d say carpets are OK everywhere except BATHROOMS, especially cheap hotel bathrooms that you share with others. I’ve encountered such a thing once and that literally made me feel sick.
    It was a bit hard to find a place to live without some weird bathroom or kitchen floor idea. Carpets, randomly fitted lino flooring making “blobb” “plopp” sounds when you walk into the bathroom and gaping spaces between lino and walls/bath tubs.
    Another unusual thing – textured ceilings (Artex), everywhere. We got a hole in a ceiling once in a rented flat… it took the “Artex artist” some time to restore the pattern. It was just painful to watch, the result was pathetic and the room smelled of wet, dirty kitchen towel for more than a week :)
    There’s one thing I just envy the British – immunity to cold. Every day I see people wearing less that they probably should. Week ago I’ve seen a post delivery lady wearing a winter hat, Dr Martens boots and tiny black shorts over bare legs. It was 4 degrees C and terribly windy! I’m not even mentioning girls on Saturday nights…

  21. My parents’ house has a proper light switch in the downstairs loo. But the upstairs bathroom only has a cord. And no plug sockets: so you have to plug the heater in outside and leave the door slightly open for the cable. It’s a choice between warmth but with the serious likelihood that the puppy may push the door open and jump in the bath with you, or hypothermia, but with your naked dignity intact…

    They do have one of those funny useless sockets for two-pronged razors and electric toothbrushes: what’s that all about?!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s