English oddities

While living in the UK appears to be less of a cultural re-adjustment than living in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), things are sometimes done just a little differently here and it can feel a bit like you’re living in an out-of-focus picture. You don’t quite fit in and what comes naturally to the locals is often something of a steep learning curve for you.

There are of course plenty of guides for visitors touring the UK, but I'm yet to find a book explaining some of the wonderfully quirky aspects of British life...

Railway stations
Railway stations are black holes for heat. In simpler terms, they are alwaysthe coldest place in every village, town and city. If it's 5º outside, its bound to be -10º in the station. They are also where the coffee always smells good and tastes awful. Where you pay 20 pence to use a toilet that’s seen less cleaning action than the 100-year-old ceramic relic in the pub down the road! And they are about the only places that have metal waiting chairs, conveniently placed in the draught so that you can have the wind blowing in your hair while your spine freezes onto the back of the seat.

Street cleaners
These oversized vacuum cleaners are usually seen first thing in the morning, sucking up and brushing away the leftovers of the previous night's binge-drinking excursions; unwanted fast food, containers and litter deemed too heavy to be carried to the nearest dustbin. Electric and silent, they stalk unsuspecting pedestrians as they nimbly negotiate the roads and pavements… okay, maybe I have some neurotic fears I need to deal with, but it really does seem that they aim for me!

Dialect
For a nation that supposedly invented the language, a normal english conversation can still be rather hard to follow. Ali G seems to have had quite an influence and nearly every sentence ends with the rhetorical 'innit': "Nice day out, innit?" "Good beer, innit?"

Another 'British-ism' is to replace the ‘-ng’ sound at the end of a word with a ‘k’. So 'nothing' becomes ‘nothink’ and 'something' becomes ‘somethink’… which is easy enough to follow until I had a person ask me if we were 'floor free?'. We were waiting for an elevator and I thought it had something to do with the type of lift the building had. After telling him that I didn’t know, he repeated the question a couple of times over until I worked out that he was asking if we were on the third floor — ‘floor free?’

Queues
I’m sure that everyone has heard about how the British love their queues. There seems to be an unwritten law about the need to queue for everything in an orderly line, except when on the tube that is. There are even signs up that tell you which end to start the queue from. And regardless of whether there is anyone in front of you or not, you are expected to follow the signs. We have been made to walk back around tills, through empty queue chains and three steps to the side, just to land up exactly where we started and with the same attendant — now willing to serve us…

The trust that is placed in the public comes as a nice surprise though. More and more supermarkets now have an ‘express till’ or ‘self check-out sale point’, where you can swipe your groceries under the scanner, pack the goods yourself and pay the machine. Or you can carry a scanner with you and scan the groceries before you place them in your trolley. Petrol stations have a similar set-up where you fill up with petrol and then walk into the kiosk/mini-supermarket and tell them the number of the pump you were at.

Of course, it’s all backed up with miles and miles of closed circuit television cabling, but it’s nice to think that it’s just your clear conscience guiding you.

Article by: Renay Pattinson - travel.iafrica.com