The kids and I started a list last week of things we love about London, and especially, British English. So far we've got yoghurt pots, chips, crisps, jacket potatoes, trolleys, and lifts. And in the column of "loves" I have to add some places, like the Pirate Ship Playground and Foyle's Bookstore (heaven!). But I was also inspired to start a list of things that drive me crazy here. I expect this is only the beginning.
Shopping habits. For example ... in some countries (USA), clerks will bag all your groceries for you in a jiffy, using excessive amounts of plastic. In other countries (Canada, the Netherlands) you're expected to bring your own bags, and usually do the bagging yourself. They set up dividers, so that you have time to pack your bags, while they handle the next customer.
England has a twisted in-between method... they will not help you with your bagging. But, they also don't have dividers set up to give you time to do it. Instead, the cashiers will ring up all your purchases and then just stare at you as you pack your bags. It's so awkward-feeling, as everyone behind you in line watches and waits too!
I have figured out, by watching other people, that the key seems to be to bag-as-you-go... to be super-quick and on top of the bagging so you pack everything away in your canvas bags as the cashier rings up the items. Cashiers will sometimes even slow down their ringing-up to allow you to do this. I have not mastered it yet, though, and so inevitably I am the idiot holding up the line.
Another place I find exasperating -
Argos is something like a superstore. Something like it. Except for the fact that it's tiny. It's a tiny little storefront filled with catalogs. To shop here, you have to go in, flip through the catalogs and find what you want, write it on a piece of paper and bring it up to pay at the desk. Then they call down to the warehouse? for you and bring up the item, anywhere from 2 minutes to 20 minutes later.
...Who wants to shop like this?! Where you can't touch the items, compare different ones, feel their weight and texture before buying? It's like ordering online, in a way, but I'm just not used to purchasing small things like this. At Argos you can buy anything... from an eyebrow pencil (2 pounds) to a riding lawnmower (1500 pounds). (both examples of items I would never buy online). It's Sears, it's Target, it's Amazon.com ... it's weird.
The washer / dryer systems they have here - at least in this apartment, and our last one in London - are becoming the bane of my existence. It's a combination machine. In our old apartment, it worked fine, just slow - 4 to 5 hours per load, and they had to be small loads. But here, at our new place, the dryer just doesn't function at all. It doesn't have any kind of outlet for the hot air / steam, so it just rolls the damp clothes around for hours and hours. In the end (and we're talking at least 8 hours later) you have warm, wet clothes.
This picture shows the levels of desperation I've reached this week, as I discovered that the clothes will dry if spread out on the radiant-floor tiles in our bathroom. This could be our saving solution. ...as I think about this, I recall living in a number of places in England over the years, and everyone always used drying racks and draped clothes over radiators. Why is this? Why has the UK not figured out the clothes dryer? OK, it's an electricity-sucker - but any more so than radiant-floor-heat? Or blasting heat at wet clothes in a machine for hours on end without giving the moisture anywhere to go??
I'll let that rest, enough griping for one day. I'll close, instead, with a charming bit of technology the kids and I discovered this week - the libraries here have the RFID system, which we've seen cropping up at libraries around the world. The Chelsea Library system is particularly user-friendly and space-agey, with laser-lights that allow you to pile up a bunch of books at once, with quick and accurate readings. The kids and I love it! This is the first city that the kids are all getting their own library cards, as well.