This weekend my friends and family in England will be celebrating Bonfire Night. For any American readers not familiar with the occasion, Bonfire Night (also known as Guy Fawkes Night) commemorates the foiling of the Gunpowder Plot (a conspiracy to blow up the Houses of Parliament) in 1605.
It’s celebrated every year with fireworks and the burning of an effigy of Guy (the most famous of the conspirators) atop a large bonfire. It’s only when I explain this to anyone not from Britain that I realize how odd and quirky this must seem. However, it’s something that I just loved as a kid and miss when it comes around each year.
I’ve grown to love so many aspects of the American way of life, and I feel very fortunate to live here, but there are still times when I feel homesick.
Aside from missing my friends and family (which is a given, and you can read more about here) there a few other aspects of British life that I miss dearly.
So in no particular order…
#1 The quirky holidays and other celebrations
Don’t get me wrong – America sure knows how to put on a party. Go big or go home. But I do find myself missing the idiosyncrasies of certain holidays and other special days in Britain.
Bonfire Night is just one example. I love that Shrove Tuesday is more commonly known as Pancake Day in England (because that’s the most important part, right?!). I love that many people still dance around a maypole on May Day. I miss the spectacles of the Lord Mayor’s show and the Notting Hill Carnival. And that’s before we even get to the sillier sounding festivities such as Swan Upping, Bog Snorkeling or Cheese Rolling.
But the traditions that I probably miss most relate to Christmas, my favorite holiday of all. I’m so glad that Christmas crackers are becoming more commonly available here in the US. I’m still waiting for pantomimes to catch on. Oh, and Santa most definitely doesn’t find milk and cookies waiting for him when he arrives at ours (we were all out of sherry last year, so he got a nice glass of Bailey’s on ice with his mince pies instead).
#2 Country pubs
The closest thing we have to an authentic pub near us, is a Celtic themed restaurant featuring a life-size wax model of Mel Gibson dressed as William Wallace (“Braveheart”). It’s actually a very nice pub, and the food is great, but it’s almost too… perfect.
It’s hard to beat a real, old-fashioned country pub. I love the uneven floors, the mismatched furniture and the dusty trinkets you find scattered about. There’s something undeniably quaint and charming about the low-beamed ceilings, inglenooks and pretty beer gardens. You really can’t find it anywhere else.
#3 History at every turn
The abundance of history all around is something that most Brits probably take for granted, but is amazing when you stop to think about it.
You can walk down a cobbled street and know that it most likely dates back to medieval times. You’re never far away from a castle (there are approximately 600-700 castles dotted about the UK). Even my parents’ house in England is well over one hundred years old, which would be considered historic by US standards, but is the norm in Britain.
And then there’s some seriously old stuff like this:
#4 The food (particularly the chocolate and crisps)
While England isn’t necessarily known for its high-class cuisine, it does comfort food exceptionally well. Of course, there’s no lack of comfort food here in the South, but there are still some specific items that I miss.
Cadbury vs. Hershey’s??? No contest. And while Cadbury is becoming more commonplace on the supermarket shelves here in the US, it’s still not that easy for me to get a Twirl/Curly Wurly/Flake. Likewise, I’m yet to find anywhere that stocks prawn cocktail crisps!
#5 The innocuous wildlife
I don’t do very well with the local wildlife here in Georgia. Too often there are unwelcome visitors in our home. Snakes, scorpions and giant, hairy spiders have no business here, and yet it’s a constant battle to keep them out.
And then there are the critters that roam outside, just steps from our house. Rabid coyotes. Black bears. I remember one time calling my up husband in a panic while he was away on a business trip, because a possum had taken up residence in the tree outside our bathroom, and I did not like the way it was looking at me. At all.
Growing up in the suburbs of London, the most dangerous animal that I ever came across was an adder – and the jury’s still out as to whether it was an actual snake, or just a stick that closely resembled a snake.
#6 The unwritten rules of etiquette
In Britain, there’s a silent code of conduct to which almost everybody adheres. For anyone British, this makes day to day life fairly easy. For anyone else, it must be a complete nightmare.
I automatically participate in the shared disapproving glances when somebody dares to flout the rules. Heaven forbid someone is cheeky enough to jump the queue. Or doesn’t offer you a cup of tea. But it wont do to make a scene. Direct confrontation terrifies us!
We Brits can portray our mutual disdain with the slightest grimace… we all just get it. There’s a silent solidarity to it all. And more often than not, the person on the receiving end will never even notice.
#7 Universal healthcare
It may be far from perfect, but as far as I’m concerned, the NHS is a national treasure. It’s my personal belief that healthcare should be a right and not a privilege. The US system just baffles me.
#8 Proper sidewalks (pavements!)
Let me preface this by saying that I know this isn’t true of big US cities, but since I spend much of my time in suburbia, it’s something that drives me mad.
I never even owned a car before I moved to the states, and got about primarily on public transport or walking. So I took for granted the fact that if I needed to walk somewhere, there would be a pavement on which to do so.
Not always the case here in the US. If I want to go for a walk in my neighborhood, for the most part I have to walk in the road and am constantly having to corral the kids (which everyone knows is about as easy as herding cats).
When I do find a sidewalk it often ends abruptly, leaving me to traipse through grass or dirt to get to my intended destination. Of course I’m nitpicking, but I do miss the consistency and widespread availability of pavements in Britain.
#9 British English
I don’t know why, but I just can’t bring myself to fully embrace the local dialect. You may notice that I go back and forth on this blog even. Much of the time, I’ll use the American spelling to vanquish the squiggly red spellchecker line, but it still doesn’t feel natural to me to drop all of those “u”s and swap out “s”s for “z”s.
I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to bring myself to start saying “yo-gurt”, “bay-sil” etc. Even if it means that there’s often confusion over what I’m going on about half the time here in the US.
Not only that, but the longer I’m away, the more I’ve developed a soft spot for silly British slang (regardless of whether or not I even used those phrases growing up in England).
#10 The close proximity of everything
I went to university in the north of England – about a three hour journey away from where I grew up. At the time it felt like I’d moved so far away. It was half way across the country. Living in the US, you get a different perspective on distance. I’m simultaneously awestruck and terrified by the vastness of it.
But one thing’s for sure – it’s much easier to get from place to place in Britain. You can drive for less than an hour and easily be in the next big city, with a completely different feel, and its own accent. Or you can be at the seaside, or in the countryside. The closest major city to Atlanta is Birmingham, Alabama (a minimum 2 hour drive). To get to the coast, you’re looking at a 3 or 4 hour drive minimum. Too far!
So those are the 10 things I really miss about Britain. At least they’re the ones that popped into my head as I was writing. And at the same time, here are a couple of things I really don’t miss!
#1 The weather
Grey and drizzly is always a strong possibility, regardless of the season. Enough said.
#2 The service
Since moving to the US, I’ve become unbelievably spoiled when it comes to the service in restaurants and such. It’s not that the service in Britain is terrible, it’s just that nothing can really compare to the warm reception and dazzling smiles bestowed upon you by an American server.
When I first moved to the US, I used to feel borderline harassed by store employees, with their constant badgering and offers of help. Now whenever I go shopping in Britain, I almost feel affronted by the neglect and apparent indifference!
#3 The cost of living
When family and friends from across the pond come to visit us here in Atlanta, they’re often shocked by the affordability of life here. There are of course exceptions (New York, California) but in general, things cost less in the US than they do in Britain.
Part of the reason I can cope with the lack of sidewalks and long road trips is that the low cost of gas/petrol makes driving extremely affordable.
But perhaps most importantly, when it comes to housing, you just get more bang for your buck in the US. American houses are typically much larger. There are multiple bathrooms. Built-in closets are the norm. They often have giant yards/gardens.
And all of this is remarkably affordable. Just watch an episode of HGTV’s House Hunters, and you’ll know exactly what I mean.
What do you miss most about your home country when you’ve traveled or lived abroad?