Friday, November 12, 2010

Random Musings 3 (UK Edition)

The picture you see here is what I emptied out of my wallet and pocket tonight. Lots of coins! Does anyone really like them? Some women have change purses, but others just throw them in their bags. Men have to lug them around in their front pocket, putting them off-balance and making them sound a walking sleigh bell music box. I’ve seen some men with wallets that have little change purses, but of course that just creates a giant lump in their back pocket. I know who likes coins: coffee and sandwich shops, where you can leave your spare change at the register as a tip. And people do because they don’t want to carry the change around with them. Here in the UK, if you do that, you must be careful or you may accidentally give them more than you wanted to. In the US we use paper currency for $1 and the ever-rare-but-still-valid $2. We don’t mind carrying that around and rarely would we ever dump that in a tip jar. But in the UK, they use £1 and £2 coins. The US government tries to get us to use $1 coins, but no one likes them, even when they’re pretty and distinctive like the heavier gold-colored £1 coins you see in the picture above. In case you’re wondering, there was £9.97 in my pocket: a £5 note (with the lovely Liz smiling at you) and four £1, three 20p(ence), one 10p, two 2p, and three 1p coins. Based on today’s exchange rate, that’s $16.10 on the table. The point to all this is that while one has to get adjusted to foreign currency units, one of things I discovered being here is that rounding things with coins so as to leave with fewer coins than when you came in, which I do in the US, just doesn't work the same way here. For instance, if my grocery bill comes to $12.67, I might give the cashier $15 in bills and $.67 in spare change, so that I get three crisp $1 bills back, and thus leave feeling less weighed down. Here, though, if my grocery bill were the same in pounds and I gave the cashier £15 in notes and 67p in change, I would still leave with coins—three £1 coins, or a £2 and a £1 coin—which sometimes weighs more than the spare change I might have carried normally. It's funny, the things you learn in other countries.

For instance, another thing I’ve learned is that it is absolutely critical to learn your right from your left, especially when crossing the street. Now, we all know that the Brits drive on the “wrong” side of the road (and I can say that because almost everyone else in the world drives the same way Americans do...something to do with Napoleon, I think, but I’ll let my friend CF, a Napoleon devotee, chime in on that one). What we don’t realize is that they also love one way streets, and they don’t necessarily like to tell you in plain language when it is a one way street. Needless to say, the lesson here is that once you think you’ve got it down, that you should look RIGHT before looking LEFT when crossing, don’t get cocky, because you may suddenly turn out to have stumbled upon a one way street, and you may almost get run over by a bus, which is exactly what happened to me this morning. Fortunately, Brits are too polite to laugh aloud at my stupidity.

Remember my commentary about public drunkenness not too long ago? Well, I’ve had some feedback from my British friends about that. Of course one of them was taken aback that I had made it seem so pandemic, but then the more we spoke about it the truth came out: it is a nationwide problem. The truth is that the drinking age here is 18, not 21, most pubs close earlier than bars do in the US, and few young adults have cars that they drive everywhere like in the US. As a result, there is a greater visibility of drunk young adults stumbling through the streets at night. The good news is that I haven’t been accosted by said partiers since that blog post, so maybe the word got out to avoid me. By sheer coincidence, too, this morning on the BBC there was a report about pub owners and clients having huge issues with families who bring their children into pubs and allow them to treat the place as if it were a family-oriented zone, when in fact it is, truly, a bar. I was actually stunned to hear that children were even allowed in pubs. Who knew? I admit though that a part of me was grinning about it too, having commented once about strollers and screaming babies disturbing my peace in a once-quiet coffee shop in NYC (for which I got seriously reprimanded by my cousins who are young mothers!).

Finally, I thought it was worth mentioning that the TV in my flat has a number of channels to choose from. The problem is that only 4 of them work. Of course the UK has cable and satellite TV, but the flat only has basic programming. It took me the first 2 weeks to figure out what channels they actually were: BBC1, BBC2, ITV1, and Channel 4. Gratefully, there are guides online for the channels, so I’ve been able to avoid all the American shows like Friends and Frasier and stick with British soap operas like Hollyoaks and raunchy comedy like The Graham Norton Show (unedited! hurrah!). But for anyone who loves historic reality programs, wait until The High Street arrives in the US. It’s brilliant! The premise is that different families are put in charge of shops reliving periods from the past. Situated in an English village whose historic center has died out, their job is to bring people back to the city center, while living as if they were in the past. The first episode, for instance, had them living in the 1870s. The butcher had to deal with no refrigeration for his meat, and the baker had to prepare loaves of bread using lard and a brick oven. The second episode took place in the 1910s, and dealt with social issues like women’s rights and the impact of World War I on shopkeepers when men had to leave women in charge of businesses. I have to confess: that is one kind of reality show I would love to be on.

And, of course, the big news out of London is that Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows premiered there last night with all the stars on the red carpet. Am I the only one surprised by how chic Emma Watson looks these days? You go, girl! I can't wait to see the movie, probably when I'm in London, which will be soon. Yes, believe it or not, my time in Leeds is almost done, but then I’m on to Liverpool and London, so there is more to come. Before I depart from Leeds though, I’ll have to stop by the German Christmas Village which just opened. Maybe tomorrow...

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