I went to England for the second time in my life and liked it so much I stayed for 3 weeks. Based on my experiences I have decided to write a small 3-part series about British culture seen through my eyes, traditional foods I tried and what I think is worth checking out if you one day find youself roaming around that area. Don’t worry, I’m not turning this into a travel blog which is why I will try and word the blog posts so that they focus more on the cultural side and won’t become a travel guide. I hope you’ll like it.
Britain and Denmark are very similar countries. There are differences, of course, but you have to dive into the detail if you want to spot them. Nevertheless, there were some things that either struck me as odd or amusing while I was over – perhaps more now that I was living privately instead of in a hotel. I prefer if that way, though, because it’s easier to get a feeling of how people really live outside international London. I’ve always thought that if you want to really experience a country get the hell out of its capital city. I know that to be true for Copenhagen as well; it’s not the real Denmark.
Just a quick disclaimer before we start. I know that not all things are true for the entire country. This is just me writing about my experience.
LIVING IN STOKE-ON-TRENT
When I tell people in Denmark where Mr English is from they ask: “where? Never heard of it!” Of course they haven’t. It’s a small – debatable – town in England. I don’t even know all of the smaller towns in Denmark. Just saying. And England is much bigger than Denmark. At least people have heard of both Birmingham and Manchester so explaining where it is isn’t that difficult. Saying Stoke is small is, like I said, debatable. Apparently it’s small by British standard but with a population of almost 300.000 people there are about 260.000 more people than in my town. And my town is actually not considered small in Denmark. To put it into more of a perspective: Stoke is right in between Denmark’s 2nd and 3rd largest cities, so you see to me Stoke is huge! And I quickly got to experience the difference between a regular sized town in Denmark and a “small” town in England.
GOING TO TESCO
It happened in Tesco. First of all: we don’t have a Tesco in Denmark but I knew it existed (YouTube is good for many things) and wanted to go because of that. Now, I’ve been in supermarkets that size before, it’s fine. But I wasn’t preparred for what I in Denmark would refer to as Saturday Rush Hour – not always on a saturday but you catch my drift. The thing is that Mr English claimed that it was a fairly quiet time! WHAT? Trust me, it was NOT quiet at all. There were people EVERYWHERE! So many people.
Second of all: the variation of certain foods. Not most of the foods I tried to find, of course, but things like cereal, candy, chips (British translation: crisps) etc. Weirdly enough less variation on things like yoghurt or soda, which was weird. I don’t buy that we like soda more in Denmark than they do in Britian. Now, I obviously don’t know what the rest of the country has, but it seems you have missed out on skyr, the Icelandic typed yoghurt, which is a shame. Mostly because I was looking for it and ended up not eating yoghurt for 3 weeks because regular yoghurt does not make one full, but still. It’s healthy for you! Rye bread – and bread in general – was another struggle. All of the bread is so light and airy that it makes it almost useless to eat for breakfast. I did, of course, but – again – it does not make you full which is a problem. And German rye bread… I’m sorry Germany but the rye bread you export to Britain is not good! Also they come in such small packages. I’m used to perhaps 30 slices but I could only find ones with 10 slices. It’s so bad that I’ve promised myself to bring over Danish rye bread for May. What a travesty.
One of the best things about shopping in Britain is that they have either no, or very little, taxes on chocolate! That is amazing! Chocolate is much cheaper in Britian than in Denmark due to taxes and I am here for it! Especially because Cadbury is the same quality as the Swedish brand Marabou, which is my favourite, so that’s a huge win! You will also find eggs that are not in the cooler. I knew some countries did that and it doesn’t really matter if they’re in a cooler or not as long as you store them the same way at home.
Another thing is the milk cartons. Actually I woulnd’t call it a carton because it’s plastic and looks like they were once used to store gasoline but they are so cute! They come in varies sizes, even tiny ones, and the milk is measured in pints! It’s so British it’s a delight. They do put how many litres it is on there but as a rule of thumb: a pint is roughly half a litre. Easy. And here I thought only beer was measured that way. I guess we all learn something new every single day.
However, and I know I complain a lot but that first Tesco trip was not a huge success in my eyes: the tills! What. The. Fuck?! There is no conveyor belt on the other side! Why is there not a conjeyor belt on the other side? Even Mr English admitted that he liked the layout of the tills in Denmark better (the conveyor belt on the other side has a divider so that you can pack in peace while the next customer’s things are being scanned. Genius!) The thing is that some people pack while they wait to pay, but not all people do. Me included. In Denmark it’s because I would need to go down to the end to pack and then back up to pay – and mostly because I don’t buy that many things at once – but in England it is very much because I’m nervously trying to find the monopoly money I need to give to this foreign lady in 60 seconds. That’s what British pounds looks like to me: monopoly money. But the cashier looked at me like I was retarded – sorry but there’s no other word for it – and I felt beyond stressed out. Bitch.
Okay, weather is not culture but it is still worth mentioning so suck it up! (Or skip this paragraph, your call). Even though I technically travel South West when I fly from Copenhagen to Manchester just to drive even further South to Stoke, it was snowing the day I arrived and was generally much colder than it had been in Denmark. Mr English had said from the beginning of our relationship that the weather in Stoke is weird.
What I am used to: I look at the forecast and the day will 8/10 times be almost exactly as the forecast has predicted. I am used to the weather being one in the morning and another in the afternoon; very stabil.
My expeience in Stoke: there were days with nice, kind of stabil weather. But there were also days were we dressed for one but got 4566 other versions of the weather. The worst I experienced was snow, sunny clear sky, and overcast with rain followed by more snow all in about 30 min. I ended up checking the weather forecast the first two days and then gave up and did what Mr English told me to do: look outside and perhaps dress for rain/snow. Never thought I’d hate the British weather more than the Danish but here we are.
A REAL ENGLISH HOUSE
The first time I ever visited England was in 2010 when I went to London. But we stayed at a hotel and it is just not the same. This time I got to live 3 weeks in an English house. Bear in mind that I know British houses are different, and I’ve only been inside two, but I still think some conclusions can be drawn. The first thing that struck me was the layout. It’s almost as if the people who built it rather wanted a lot of smal rooms instead of a more open layout. Even in smaller houses I’m used to more open spaces. And carpets. Only 1 room didn’t have a carpet: the bathroom. One thing I did know about British houses is that you guys seem weirdly obsessed with flowers. You don’t have them in the windowsills like we do in Denmark but you have them about everywhere else. Walls, furniture, pictures, you name it. Flowers everywhere! But God forbid not in the windowsills – you guys are like a weird aunt. Fun and quirky, I love it!
I was reacquainted with a gas-stove. When I was a young lass we had a gas-stove. I don’t remember when we modernised to a regular stove but I might have been 8-10 years old. Having to learn how to operate a gas-stove again was a bit nerve-racking. The smell and the sound made me nervous. With my luck I would probably blow up the house before heading back to Denmark. Luckily, nothing happened. The house also had a gas oven! It seems I have managed to live for almost 30 years without knowing that even existed. I think Mr English tried to tell me but every time I was like “an oven with fire inside is NOT a thing!” but it is! It’s so weird!
Another fun thing is to be found in the bathroom: there’s neither a light switch OR a power outlet! The light has to be turned on by pulling on a string that hangs from the ceiling, and I have no idea why there’s no outlet. I tried looking for it at another house I visited but it was the same: no outlet. I don’t understand why. It’s annoying because I had to squat awkwardly in front of a handheld mirror every time I had to blowdry my hair or use my hair straightener. And if you’re sitting out there right now thinking: but water and electrocution, please. No-one gets electrocuted from having a proper light switch or an outlet in the bathroom.
“HEY, ARE YOU ALRIGHT?”
The Brits are generally very polite in their language and say please A LOT! I like it because it suits how the language and culture works in Britain. I know Mr English is frustrated by the seemingly lack of manners shown by the Danes but saying please and thank you all the time is not a thing in our culture and language in quite the same way. I have learned to adapt resulting in me being much more polite in English than in Danish. Anyway. You know how we all learn that when an American greets you with a “hi, how are you?” they don’t actually want to know how you are? The Brits do the same but as far as I’ve noticed it’s either “hey, are you alright?” or “hey, are you okay?” But I didn’t know that.
First time I noticed was when Mr English and I went to the cinema (we watched 1917. Good film even though it was loud as hell. Still, worth watching for sure!) I’d never gone to a foreign cinema before and it was all very exciting when we went to the counter to get the tickets and the cashier greets us with a “hey, are you alright?” and I replied “fine, thanks” before I suddenly noticed that Mr English hasn’t answered the question at all but gone ahead and started asking for the tickets. My mind starts to wonder if there’s something wrong with my clothes or something since he thought he’d ask me if I was okay. Do I look like I’m not alright? When we had gotten our tickets I told Mr English that I thought it was weird how we were greeted by the cashier and he smiled and said that that’s just what they say as an opening line; almost like he had forgotten what it is they actually say. I still find it hilarious. Most of all because my brain – without thinking or consulting me or anything – probably always will give the standard reply “I’m fine, thanks.” That’s what I always say at family gatherings when people ask me how I am. The difference being, of course, that in Britain it means something else. Tut, only ask if you want an answer. Jokes aside, that encounter still makes me smile.
The countryside is absolutely amazing and probably one of my favourite things about England so far. We do have hills in Denmark but it’s in smaller areas at a time and our hills aren’t as big. It wasn’t as much around Stoke as it was when we drove into the Peak District. Wow! Small mountains much! That’s what they look to me anyway. I epsecially love when you can see rock peeking out of a hillside. I’ve only ever seen that on the island of Bornholm (yes, that is a part of Denmark) and in Oslo. What made it even more pretty and special was the fact that there were sheep everywhere! I’m used to a bit of sheep on the fields at home but mostly it’s cows and horses. England has got a lot of sheep!
ROUNDABOUTS EN MASSE
Not only did I not get used to driving on the left side of the road – at least I wasn’t nearly run over a gazillion times this time around – I also managed to get pretty tired of the long distances. Everything is so far away! Mr English says that living in Denmark as made me spoilt and I do agree that many things are a lot closer in Denmark. It depends on what it is but when you’re used to most things being 20 min away at most by bike, and 45 min by car, then… yeah. Traffic is also a lot worse in Stoke compared to where I’m from but I feel like traffic in one of the major Danish cities would be the same so it makes sense. But not enough to make it less annoying. What I do like about the British road system is the use of roundabouts. At first I didn’t get why there were so many but later I realised that having 43803488 roundabouts per 4 metres is a necessity when there’s 475648965485694856 cars trying to get to and from places. They even have traffic lights WITHIN roundabouts! That’s how much they love them! Sadly, it also means that I would be terrified of driving in England. It is simply too complicated – especially when they also drive on the left side. Yikes! One thing I do want to import, though, is reflects on the road stripes. Damn, that would be nice when driving in the dark. Even as a passenger it was nice. Well done Britian!
SCHOOL UNIFORMS AND BRITISH HUMOUR
Other countries that have school uniforms may not know this but when you come from a country where that’s not a thing it can be fun to visit a country where it is. Or perhaps that’s just me. The fact of the matter is that I got to see a lot of kids in school uniforms and it felt surreal. I’ve only ever seen it on a screen. AND their uniform was so alike the Ravenclaw one so to me it looked like a lot of Ravenclaws walking towards me. It made me feel like Hogwarts was just around the corner!
I know a lot of people talk about the British humour but to me it just felt like being home. Irony and sarcasm is widely used in Denmark as well so in that sense it wasn’t different, and, to my knowledge, I didn’t get to experience banter so.. Perhaps I missed out on something?
Last but not least: let’s talk a little bit about dialects. I’m amazed at how the British dialects are still very much alive when Danish dialects have been flattened over the course of the last 70 years. To tell you the truth it is difficult to find a Danish dialect you won’t be able to understand. That’s not the case in Britain. People even change their dialects on purpose to either sound more posh – or what I call ugly snobbish English – or like they speak RP English (Received Pronunciation or standard English). My point is that the dialects are wild and even though we barely went anywhere I got to hear both Stokie, London ( I know they have more than 1 but bear with me), neutral, Mancunian and Yorkshire (I think!) And the first 3 dialects belong to those 4 people of whose family I’m marrying into! 1 household, 4 people, 3 dialects! If that’s not crazy then I don’t know what is. I know that not all households are like that but it made me realise just how many dialects there are in England alone. Understanding people weren’t too bad. When there was no mumbling involved I think I understood about 98-99% of everything that was said to me so second language ego-boost right there.
All in all – my complaining aside – I really like England. Not enough to want to live there but enough for me to long to go back and experience things I love again, and new things I potentially could like. As I said to Mr English: I love what your country has to offer, hate your government. Speaking of food: that is the theme of my next post so stay tuned. It’s going to be mouthwateringly delicious!
Have you ever been to Britain? If so what things did you find funny or odd?
If you’re British: how loud are you screeming at your screen right now that I am wrong?