Daily Mail Decides To “Ask The Americans”

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The Mail has been out researching Americans’ opinions about their lives here in Britain. Get ready. Let’s have some Friday fun:

Screen capture of the Daily Mail.
Screen capture of the Daily Mail.

I’ll address my fellow Americans’ points in order. Here we go. To start:

‘In London, the following factors usually determine your ability to connect with others – your accent, your secondary school, and your uni,’…

That’s in London. First, life in London as “life in Britain” is like saying life in New York City’s five boroughs epitomizes “life in the U.S.” London is not always representative. Indeed, it may warp an impression badly.

But most Americans in Britain by last count do live in London. I had read some years ago about 100,000 do out of the 250,000 total in the country. So Americans’ views of the UK tend to be heavily “London weighted.”

‘As many others have said, this is a culture of “functional drunks” – capable of carrying on until 3am in the morning, stumbling home and then waking up for work on Friday, with a slight reduction in performance.’

“As many others have said.” I have heard that “many” have also said Elvis Presley is still alive. That doesn’t mean they’re right.

Yes, drinking does go on after work, of course. The “young” especially often go out after work to have one (or more), particularly if they are using public transport in London or elsewhere. If single, or even if not single sometimes, after a tough day perhaps they also see if they can maybe also “pull” someone. Some “oldsters” do, too.

But they never drink so much work nights to be “functional drunks.” I don’t even know what that expression really means.

Dorset street scene, not far from where we once lived, about an hour and a half from London. [Photo by me, 2007.]
Dorset street scene, not far from where we once lived, about an hour and a half from London. [Photo by me, 2007.]

What many British (and other Europeans generally) know how to do is socially drink like adults. In comparison lots of Americans, reared having been banned from the “demon alcohol” until age 21 (heh, heh; yeh, right), but who often binge drank their ways through college illegally, may still behave as perpetual teenagers over booze even well into their thirties. That can lead them to draw the conclusion that if one drinks socially after work (even until late occasionally) and then goes into the office the next day, that somehow makes you something called a “functional drunk.”

But there’s a huge difference between going out for an after-work drink or two, versus going “on the razz” (meaning partying/drinking LOTS, which is reserved for when you aren’t working the next day). If you start to show up at work unable to do your job satisfactorily because you got sloshed the night before, you won’t have that job for very long.

[London is a city] ‘culture centered around pints and pubs’.

As opposed to U.S. cities? Which are “cultures centered” around what exactly? They don’t have after-work bars and nightclubs in New York? Or D.C.? Or Atlanta? Or Chicago? Or Seattle? Or Boston? Or Dallas?

‘London has a great transportation system, it can take you anywhere you want in the UK and to major connections in continental Europe.’

Again, that’s London. It has its underground and extensive buses. Most other urban areas have buses, and perhaps some rail or even trams, too.

But if the buses and other links don’t mesh for your commute, good luck trying to park your car in London and in cities such as Bristol (see below) or Bath. And that’s to say nothing about the jammed roads in about every urban area. When we lived in London it regularly took me an hour to drive ten miles vs. two trains and a bus and a total of an hour and a half by public transport.

‘The NHS. Is fabulous. Once you’ve got a home address, find your nearest GP and register.’

Okay, we finally got to the National Health Service. Like the roads, trains and buses, and much else, the NHS is jammed in London. But even there, yes, you can register for a GP (general practitioner doctor) as a new resident whether you are British or otherwise.

That’s if you can also find one near your new address that is accepting new patients. Once you do, at some point you may also need actually to see a doctor. After you’ve been kept on hold for 15 minutes, assuming you manage next to get through the “gatekeeper” receptionist/nurse who attempts to triage you over the phone and you succeed in booking an appointment – “We can see you Thursday week, at 11 am.” – that may give you something of a different impression of the “fabulous” health service. And you may be even more thrilled if you had to drive there (just too far to walk and the buses were diverted for gas works that day) and return to find a ticket under your windscreen wiper because it took you 2 hours and 3 minutes in the office and you had only paid for 2 hours street parking. Assuming you were lucky enough to find street parking at all, that is.

An English friend who lives just outside of Bristol, trying to take her mother to the Bristol Royal Infirmary for an operation the other day, spent about THREE HOURS in traffic trying just to drive her parents about a dozen miles. That was after her parents had spent ยฃ40 (about $55) on a taxi to get to the hospital the day before (where there is virtually no parking that you do not need to take out a second mortgage for, assuming you can even find a space), only to be greeted by indifferent shrugs and told to return that next day because no beds were available.

They paid (heavy) tax all of their working lives so that “service” would NOW be available to them – and whenever they need it. Amidst the psychological stress of facing surgery, she was, uh, “treated” that way. As are so many others all too often.

Yes, the NHS can be wonderful. I’ve experienced that too – caring staff, great nurses, and not having to fill out g-damn insurance forms. Yet also get your (American) head out of the clouds (or remove it from somewhere lower within your own anatomy). If you live here long enough to need it, you will probably discover the NHS is not always “fabulous.”

‘You won’t be seen as a “bum” because you didn’t work 60 or even 40 hours this week.’

I’m not sure what la-la industry that person works in (probably in London). Many British I know work very long days. Day after day.

My wife, now at an airline, regularly clocks up about 40-50 hour weeks. (Fortunately she has only a 15 minute commute and no trouble parking.) Often at places where there is limited staff parking, people turn up at work at 8am or earlier just to find a place to park the car. I have done that. (It’s not uncommon to see people sleeping in their cars after getting a spot. That, I never did.)

Vehicles of all sorts are streaming by our house here in Hertfordshire heading for the A1(M) (which is a north-south motorway that leads into London) starting before 6am. I presume their drivers aren’t all going home at about 2pm.

‘I tried to go to the Asda down the road, which had a giant, blazing green sign out front which read “Open 24 Hours”.’

‘Sunday evening at seven I tried to shop and the Asda was closed.

‘I mentioned this to a friend and he said that 24 hours just meant weekdays.’

If one also reads the entire sign, they do also say “except Sundays.” Perhaps in “small print,” yes. But it is in English, too.

Understand as well, that person cites Asda. Americans newly here may not know this. Asda is owned by Walmart.

‘Everything closes by five pm on Sundays.’

That’s not true. But in the event something actually does … oh, dear, what a terrible hardship? How do the British cope in this barbarous, backwards land?

‘I would give my right arm for an American washer and dryer, and you won’t understand this unless you’ve seen the laundry situation here.’

You don’t “need” a (tumble) dryer. They do exist here, but most people don’t bother with them; they take up space (and most British flats and even houses lack extra space because about 70 million people live here in an area about the size of the state of Colorado, which has 5 and a half million people). They simply put damp clothes outside on the washing line, or (in winters) perhaps on the internal radiators.

I’ve learned that electric dryers tend to wear out clothes faster and are an ENORMOUS and unnecessary electrical expense. In the Catskills, where we have a dryer in the house, we still routinely put clothes outside on the wash line in good weather (or in winters on fold away frames inside the house). I’ll never forget the first time my (now late and very “New York”) mother who’d never been here to Britain saw my English wife hanging clothes outside on the washing line there years ago: I thought Mother was going to faint.

‘McDonald’s locations tend to be mobbed most of the time. For a reason.’

Because they aren’t actually nearly as common here as they are in the U.S., that’s the reason they are. It’s not because of an overall poor quality of pub foods and in restaurants and in the supermarkets. (U.S. supermarkets are often pathetic compared to the incredible choices you see on offer in a British one.)

My fellow Americans, you know which country is the second biggest McDonald’s market in the world after the U.S.? It’s not Britain. It’s not China.

It’s our friends just over in France.

Happy weekend, wherever you are in the world! ๐Ÿ™‚

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