North American Flashbacks

Tonight, at a party, I met a fellow North American, one who had just arrived on this little Island I’ve come to call home.

To put it mildly, he was in a state of shock and abject horror at what his new life in England would have, and not have.

The first out of his mouth was warm water. Americans (and Canadians, where this chap came from) take it for granted that if you have hot water, then you can have warm water. It seems reasonable, doesn’t it? Not in England, where this country is designed to produce hot and cold water out of separate taps (or faucets, as they call it), and never the twain shall meet.

Want to wash your face with warm water? Turn on both taps, put the stopper in over the drain, fill up your sink and then you can have warm water. Here is what some people still think is wonderful:

It’s perverse, but there’s nothing you can do about it – most houses have this pre-historic design, and even many brand new houses will have it.

What’s even more confusing is that the British clearly understand the concept of warm water – they do have showers, after all, and those showers produce warm water. That said, showers are a bit of a foreign concept to them. Baths are often preferred, and showers are hideously under-pressured. Water flow resembles eight mice peeing on you in unison. Our Canadian friend mentioned the shower pressure, too. Hell, if Seinfeld could have an episode about water pressure, we’re entitled to grump a bit, no? As Kramer said, “If I don’t have a good shower I am not myself. I feel weak and ineffectual. I’m not Kramer.”

After covering the lack of warm water and shower pressure, the UK’s love of radiators was next mentioned, to round off the trifecta of plumbing complaints Americans usually have.

This was followed by complaints about lack of customer service, awful tumble driers (if there are any), public transport, the bizarre quasi-requirement to carry a copy of a utility bill or bank statement with you everywhere, and the cleanliness of shops.

But what I took away from this exchange was not a reminder of the UK’s annoyances, but rather a compelling example of just how far I have come. He sounded like me when I first arrived, and listening to him made me suddenly realize that I am completely at home here and accept the bizarre ways English do things as completely normal. Given long enough and you’ll get used to anything – and I guess I have. England has become normal, home, even comfortable.

It’s something I’ve been grappling with for a while. Who knows where I’ll be in 10 or 20 years, but for the time being, this place is home and I’m staying indefinitely.

3 thoughts on “North American Flashbacks”

  1. Ahhh, the days of bringing a glass to the bathroom to be able to combine the too thermal extremes just so I could shove a wash cloth in the glass to be able to wash my face…I don’t miss it for an instant.

  2. I, like John, suffered the same bathroom plumbing atrocity. However, I suffered the fate from the age of 1 to 18. You see, my house did not have a mixing valve for the sink, nor did my house have a shower. We took baths and we also attempted to wash our face in the bathroom sink without scalding or freezing our skin. Ahhh, the days of living at home. You would think I lived in rural Kentucky or backwoods Maine. Nope, I grew up 15 miles (by way of the bird) outside of Manhattan. Hell, upon my roof I could spy the Twin Towers. I grew up with my polish grandfather who survived the Great Depression. Upgrade to normal plumbing fixtures? Oh HELL NO. Thanks Pop for 18 years of washing my face in the same water my ass sat in.

  3. Ah, very good, nicely observed. The sink thing still gets me after 16 years in the UK – in fact, I react with joy every time I find a sink here that has mixer taps. We have the technology, why do so few people install it?
    What’s the deal with radiators?
    Also, re: tumble driers: ergh. Drying clothes outside is nicest, tumble driers are weird and use too much electricity. Ha.

    I’m not 100% that RSS is working: my reader doesn’t display any of your posts. No idea where the problem lies, but thought you might like to know.

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