Like many Brits in America, I wax lyrical about the Mother Country, but there’s a growing list of things I don’t miss from Blighty.
Stinging nettles (Urtica dioica)
Although they’re apparently also native to the U.S., in my two plus decades here I’ve never come across one. British nettles are like stealth missiles; one minute you’re frolicking on a country lane (or picking your way through muddy puddles) and the next you’re wondering what that tingly feeling on your left leg is. The tingly feeling swiftly morphs into angry red bumps that itch beyond description and have been known to drive grown men to tears. Having children who are unfamiliar with them, walks in the English countryside usually result in me shouting like a fishwife, swiftly followed by a desperate hunt for dock leaves, which are supposed to be found next to nettles and are rumored to relieve the agony. It would probably help if I knew what a dock leaf looked like.
Last year the two-week English summer occurred in mid-March. Unfortunately I was there in June and, apart from two days at the very end, it was rainy and about 60 Fahrenheit for the entire duration. I’m sorry, I should be used to it, but it’s very disappointing to shell out for flights for the family and then have to spend the entire month rearranging plans, staying indoors and shivering on “long country walks.” I feel even sorrier for everyone who is stuck in the U.K. in the years with no discernible summer.
Gas (petrol) prices
Everyone’s complaining about gas prices in the U.S. but they’re not quite as steep as in the U.K. (The U.S. average is currently $3.50 per gallon, compared to $5.50 in the UK.) Like many expats, when I go back to Blighty, I spend most of my time racing around the country visiting friends and family. Unless I can get some sort of internet deal, trains are prohibitively expensive for a family of five. It used to be far more cost effective to rent a car and get around like that, but I now find myself pricing out the mileage and fuel prices for comparison with flying and railing. And when I do fill the car up, I literally stand with my jaw on my chest watching the price on the pump.
I live in Chicago where there are many bars and much drinking; indeed I complain loudly about the “rebel-rousers” who think nothing of shouting and singing at high decibels right outside my bedroom window at two in the morning. However, although binge-drinking is rumored to be alive and well on college campuses here, there just isn’t the weekly scene of young adults puking their guts up on street corners, getting into fights, ending up in emergency rooms and generally placing a huge strain on police and hospital resources. Yup, I don’t miss that drink-till-you-can’t-stand-up mentality.
I won’t miss having to take out a second mortgage to use public loos. OK, this one only registers when I’m at places like Waterloo Station in London. As a child, I can remember the penny slots in the doors of the local park loos, and paying 20p these days isn’t too bad, but when it’s 50p or more, you have three kids and you have to go through a turnstile and thus pay per person, it gets a tad expensive. (Even if you’re a parent with only one child who needs to go, you often have to take them all in, the alternative being to leave them on their own while you accompany the desperate child to the loo.)
BTW, if you’re looking for free public facilities in and around London, here’s the official government web site, complete with prices.
OK, liar liar, pants on fire, I love sausage rolls but am very glad they’re not readily available in the U.S. or I’d be the size of a house. Ditto pork pies, Scotch eggs and most varieties of Walkers crisps.
What don’t you miss?