Culture shock. Well, a little.

I have a half-written post on the iPad I can’t fetch because of wireless restrictions, so you’ll have to take it from me that you’ll hear about our flight here later…. probably when I’m on the flight back.

The family I came here to visit had to put their cat down today, on a wet, miserable day, so the stay has started out a bit odd. We’re making the best of everything and everyone’s being very patient with everyone else, so I’m sure that while things won’t be quite what we all expected, they’ll turn out to be pretty nice for what they are.

Things I have learned in England so far:

The electrical system is so controlled that when you blow a circuit breaker in your hotel room, nobody knows how to go flip the switch to turn it back on. We were moved to a new hotel room instead. So that was a bit interesting.

The elevators (lifts) count up from zero…. but the sign in the elevator says that everything (lobby, restaurant, etc.) is on floor G so if the 0 button on the lift wasn’t raised above the others, I don’t know that we’d’ve ever guessed.

There are very few true intersections on the roads…. most things are merge points or roundabouts. There are no stop signs. Dashed lines are painted on the road itself if you’re supposed to stop. Whereas in the States we’re expected to accelerate to merge into traffic, in the UK you’re expected to be prepared to stop.

And wow, it is difficult to adjust to people driving on the left side of the road because you constantly think that there are drunks barreling toward you. It’s most especially scary when you’re at the front of a double-decker bus. The bus drivers are very very good but it really does look like you’re going to hit everyone and everything. The roads are particularly insanely narrow.

We ate at a pub for lunch, and it was delicious. Sticky toffee pudding is wonderful, the curry is very good, and the smoked herring and cheese cakes are interesting. We won’t starve to death, that’s for sure.

The money’s more accessible, because all the bills are different sizes, but that does make finding a wallet a bit odd. I learned you don’t tip in a hotel until the end of the stay, you don’t tip at anything short of a full restaurant, and parking at the supermarket is on the supermarket’s roof.

I don’t know that I have the personality to wander into a foreign country on my own, with no local guide. (It took the trip to Boston for me to be comfortable traveling in my own country, for pete’s sake, although I think I did very well on my own going to Seattle.) It’s the little things that build up to the point that your brain goes, “Are all these people out of their minds?!?”.

Tonight was Eurovision… think American Idol where every country gets their own entry, and everyone calls in to vote for their favorite acts (the call cost 10p from a land line and “considerably more” on a mobile phone, the TV said) but you can’t vote for your own country. They then announce which acts each country voted as the top 10 for that country, individually by country, until all the votes have been tallied…. and then the top act is expected to sing their song again. The country where the top act came from is expected to host Eurovision the following year.

Apparently this has been going on since the 50s although I’m not sure it would ever take off in the United States because the music is all pretty much bubblegum pop and not enough anorexic singers. Plus, some of the costumes remind me more of the Mummers Parade than they did of an international talent show.

Topping all this is the fact that since it’s a live show, the show itself has an announcer, and then there’s a second country-specific commentator speaking over the main announcer throughout the whole thing. England has apparently taken on the tack of using their announcer as an homage to MST3K, or at least, that’s what it sounded like to me.

Laughed our asses off, learned a bit about the world and a lot more about politics than I expected, and actually heard one or two songs that didn’t make me physically nauseous.

Tomorrow we’re going to tromp all over London and do the tourist thing. We have to be up at 9 and it’s now almost 2 and I’m not tired at all. Not sure how I’m going to sleep, and my brain’s starting to speak with an accent when I think too much, so I might just go play The Sims or something until I crash.

Filling in the gaps: How do you say “I blew a fuse” in British?

This post was actually written on June 5, but when they pertain to a specific date, I’m backdataing them. Also, in the tradition of protecting my family’s privacy, as usual, Internet aliases are used instead of names.

Just as I gave up on staying awake on the plane, they started raising the lights. We were less than 2 hours out of London and it was time to feed us breakfast. I don’t remember what breakfast was, just that I was thoroughly disinterested in it and wanted to be off the plane.

We landed in Heathrow without incident and walked through what I still swear were the employee entrances (lots of long skinny corridors of plan wallboard) until we were finally herded into passport control.

Passport control was a loooong line that terminated in someone asking us why we were here and when we were leaving. It wasn’t nearly as terrifying as I’d somehow worked myself up to it being, and by then I’m not sure if anything could have terrified me anyway. I was too tired. We collected our luggage and met up with Viv, who handed us a bag of soda and water and weird British candy and led us to the car.

An example of weird British candy

Because we couldn’t check into the hotel until 2, goatfiend took us back to the flat, where we enjoyed unlimited Internet, soda and snacks, a delicious breakfast bread, and wonderful wonderful naps. We were out so cold that Viv went out for a bit, returned, and had to get the neighbor with the spare key to let us in because despite the fact that the flat is 800 square feet and I was less than 5 feet from the door, neither of us heard her knocking to be let back in.

When plantnerd returned home we feasted on huge huge salads, chatted and caught up and drank tea, and then finally checked in at the hotel.

The room was nice, if small. Two beds, a bathroom larger than plantnerd’s kitchen, and a window that actually opened. We promptly went about the usual tasks of choosing beds, setting up (and paying for) internet access, and trying to figure out how to charge 2 laptops, an iPad, and 2 phones on one UK power converter.

Here’s the wrong answer: power bar. I’d packed an old 6-plug power bar from the house, figuring that we could plug that into the wall and then plug all our stuff into it. When you plug the converter-laden-powerbar into the wall, hear “FFFT!” and smell something almost exactly like gunpowder, you rethink your ingenious plan.

The right answer turned out to be twofold: borrow a second converter from the cousin, and change hotel rooms. That’s right, I said change hotel rooms. You see, everything in the UK is triple checked to make sure that it’s electronically OK to plug in, so they almost never blow a fuse or circuit breaker. When they do (as we did – none of the plugs on the desk now worked, including the TV), the hotel staff don’t know how to fix it. There’s no breaker box in the hotel room. There’s nobody on staff certified to go find the problem on a Saturday morning. The only solution was to switch us to the next hotel room down the hall… which is exactly what we did the next morning.

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