Your nose is a delicate, easily offended piece of equipment. Move out of the country and your British-born snout will mourn these familiar British scents.
The scent of freshly mowed British lawn—then later sweetly putrefying silage—is our most comforting outdoorsy smell. It cannot be satisfactorily replicated anywhere else in the world. Bonus points, anyone, if you can proffer a believable theory as to why this might be.
It’s the alluring blend of three smells: fish, vegetable oil and vinegar. Or, if you’re a purist, replace the oil with hot lard. To a fragile southerner like myself, however, the manure-like scent of heated beef dripping (more commonly used to cook F&Cs up north) isn’t pleasant so much as something I’m prepared to endure for the greater good. The greater good in this instance being the incontrovertibly superior taste of fish and chips frazzled in animal fat.
Pubs and stale ale
True, this intoxicating scent lost some of its allure after the smoking ban came into force in 2007, accidentally unmasking the smell of pub loos. Still, there’s something undeniably pleasant about the tang that smacks you in the shnoz upon entering any old man type boozer. It’s yeast, musty upholstery and concentrated time warp.
Kitchens in British homes smell of the food flecked suds we leave on the washing up, and tea at varying stages of freshness. There are the bags currently brewing; the half drunk cups that went cold that morning and the collection of spent teabags clogging the sink or heaped on a saucer. (Quite why Brits have an aversion to sticking used bags straight in the bin is unclear.) To the untrained nose, this will all seem pretty repulsive. What can I say? It’s the cultural equivalent of quite liking the smell of your own farts.
Piped bakery smell in supermarkets
The taste of anything procured in a British supermarket bakery is infinitely inferior to the drool-making scent they pump into the shop, presumably to make us hungry and spendy. It’s freshly baked bread and lightly burnt sugar. Doesn’t matter what supermarket you’re in or which demographic it serves: that Great British baking smell is ubiquitous and utterly lovely.
You forget just how much precipitation goes down in the U.K. until you head back for a fortnight and end up rained in and watching non-stop Come Dine With Me while grazing on boxes of Celebrations. Somehow British rain is wetter and smellier than American rain. The latter must be down to the mineral makeup of our H2O. British rain has a potent bouquet of metal, rotting flora and tangy earth.
Our version of a diner, traditionally serving variations on a full English breakfast, has a very specific smell: cheap sausages and Stork margarine. It’s probably revolting to anyone who didn’t grow up with it. Their loss, I say.
Of course, there’s nothing to stop you roasting up a feast in the U.S., then breathing in the aroma. But you’ll never find that glorious meat and potato, slow roasted stench in pubs over here, tickling your nostrils while you sup warm beer on a Sunday.
Fill up the car back home and you’re hit by a uniquely British, sickly creamy petrol smell. It makes some people want to vomit and others (myself included) want to suck it down into our lungs. I’m assuming that American car engines are fed the same diet as their U.K. counterpart, but I swear the smell is completely different.
Every high street in the U.K. has at least one curry house. The quality varies but the smell, wafting out onto the street and tempting you inside, is the same wherever you go: spices, ghee (clarified butter) and rich meaty goodness.
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