10 things that make Britain weird

Photo by Spratmackrel Flickr

Britain is a strange place. Especially when you’ve been out of the country for 5 years..

 1. Ice-Cream Vans

When you think about it, ice-cream vans are pretty strange. For those in the dark, ice-cream vans are trucks that drive round the neighbourhood selling Mr Whippy to young kids and they play a song from loud-speakers as they go. It’s always a really rubbish song like ‘Greensleeves’ or ‘The Entertainer’ and it usually sounds like it’s been recorded at the bottom of a well by narcoleptic rabbits. The ice-cream van round my way came by on Tuesdays and Thursdays, much to the excitement of Sandy the Labrador who lived two doors down. No matter how fast I ran, I never managed to beat Sandy to the queue. After bouncing up and down excitedly for a while, he would stand patiently in the queue with his bowl between his teeth, waiting for his two free scoops of vanilla. I loved that dog.

2. There are no bins in London

 In Central London a few years ago, a South American friend was looking for a bin. “They took them all out” I said, “…they were worried the IRA would blow them up.” He thought I was winding him up, but no, it’s true. Since the IRA ceasefire, we’ve made new enemies and we’re still bin-less.

3. This Coffee is Hot

Britain is obsessed with health and safety. It’s impossible to have fun in this country now without some jobsworth filling out a risk assessment and deeming it dangerous. Hot water is labelled ‘HOTTTT!, wet floors are ‘WETTTT! and concerts are LOUDDDDDDDDD! How we ever managed to hold our forks or leave our houses of a morning before all this nonsense is anyone’s guess.

Photo by Frankly Richmond

 4. Sunshine makes the front pages

 “OMG! SCORCHIO!” The sight of a thermometer hitting 30 degrees in this country is enough to have journalists and photographers scurrying to the beach to snap happy looking Brits getting their kit off. Good weather is so shocking in this country, it’s news. Go figure.

5. Don’t Walk. Oh Ok.

One of the things I loved about Chile was its people’s utter disregard for the law. Underneath a large sign saying ‘STRICTLY NO CAMPING OR PARKING’ would be 32 cars, a bus and about 50 people having a barbeque. ‘One-way street signs’ were thought to be advisory rather than obligatory and CVs were rampant flights of fancy. Here in Britain, we take the law seriously. We’re a nation of Rainmen stuck on the pedestrian crossing with the sign flashing ‘Don’t Walk’. They banned smoking so we stopped. They put cameras everywhere so we drove nicely. They made so many laws that we have to go on ‘blow-out’ holidays to Spain, Greece or the Czech Republic where we throw-up, black out and offend the locals. They’ve legislated so much; we’ve forgotten who we are.

6. Must-have moisturiser on sale now!

In other countries, people have hobbies. Of a weekend they go skiing, play bowls, visit the country or have long lunches with family or friends. In England, we go shopping. When we’re not actually in shops, we read magazines that tell us what we should be buying if we want to keep our friends and find a mate, we fill out credit card application forms and we show other people what we’ve done with the rent money.

7. How much?

I know tourists have been saying it for years, but sweet Jesus England is expensive. After earning Chilean pesos, the prices here actually make my eyes water. Last week, two newspapers and four stamps cost me £8. I started taking the shirt off my back assuming they wanted that too. In London pubs, I implode into a ball of Northern rage and have to be dragged out screeching ‘How much?!’ at the bar staff.

Photo by DavidHC Flickr

8. Which Northern Line exactly?

Whoever came up with the Tube map in London must have taken a lot of drugs. Poor tourists have it the hardest. On the Tube they have to remember to stand on the left in the corridors but right on the escalators, struggle with anarchically pronounced place names like Leicester Square and then have to figure out the map. Here, it’s not enough to know that you need to go south on the Northern Line, you also need to know which branch. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve confidently hopped on a train only to find myself shamefully having to sneak a peak at the map and ending up in Essex.

9. No alcohol=No fun

It’s a fact, but we British are completely incapable of having a good time without alcohol. We get all geeky and awkward without a pint in front of us. Once started, we also have absolutely no idea how to stop.

10. We worry about stupid stuff

Do my pores look big in this? Does decaf skinny cappuccino give you cancer? Will that reality TV star’s ex-boyfriend’s next-door neighbour win Celebrity Big Brother? Is that I-Phone application any good? Who cares? We do apparently. For want of anything better to worry about (we live in a relatively rich democracy devoid of big weather or regular natural catastrophes after all), we find other insignificant things to fret about. I have absolutely no idea why.

 And 5 things I’ve missed:

1. Everyone’s a comedian.

2. Living in a cultural melting pot of different nationalities, races and religions.

3. People aren’t afraid to look different. Fashion is anarchic here.

4. New music is treasured (even if the BBC has got some balls trying to get rid of alternative radio station 6 Music, the backlash against them makes me proud to be British).

5. Old ladies struggle onto buses and 10 people offer them their seats.



Filed under blog, britain, england, Travel blog

17 responses to “10 things that make Britain weird

  1. Sarah Newton

    Please can someone explain why London has no bins but Rhyl has cunning designed bomb proof ones? Why would anyone want to blow Rhyl up??

  2. Alex

    When will terrorists learn that they will never achieve their aims by targeting bins? Have you missed petty sarcasm? x

  3. Laura

    What’s even more weird about ice cream vans is that they’re all made by the same family firm which is based in Northwich (or somewhere round there). I saw something on telly about it just the other day. They revolutionised ice cream vans by developing an ice cream making machine that ran off the van’s engine and completely cornered the market!
    The ice cream van round our way used to play ‘strangers in the night’ which always seemed like an odd choice.

  4. Joris

    Very funny, Natasha, I loved it!

  5. tumble

    #9. “Once started, we also have absolutely no idea how to stop.”

    It used to be so easy.
    “Last orders at the Bar please!” Quick, get another round in, make it a pint and a whiskey (any kind, doesn’t matter, so long as it’s not the p*ss that Americans drink).
    “Drink up!”

    Bottoms up, and off we go. Home to bed, pint of water, then up the next day and in the office by 9, fairly clear-headed but in need of another cuppa.

    Now? I only stop drinking when I’ve run out of money. Please join me in my campaign to abolish late licences.

    P.S. Don’t 20p and 50p coins seem weird?

  6. claudia

    Hola Natasha que pasa ya no escribes, saludos desde Chile que estes bien!

  7. Pingback: Barcelona Blog: Barcelona, can you fix it? Yes we can! « Natasha Young

  8. Liked the article but don’t agree with #9; some of us don’t drink…

  9. Cyberman

    Should you find youself in the other Great Britain, the one to the West of Europe, you could write about that. Instead of the made up one in your head.

    All of Europe has ice cream vans.

    We do not have “Don’t Walk” signs.

    London has bins again.

    It’s Americans that sue for hot coffee.

    Have you ever seen somebody lick the chutney spoon in an Indian Restaurant and put it back?

    This would never have happened under the Tories.

    • youngnatasha

      @ Cyberman,

      I was writing about Britain as I saw it after 4 years in Barcelona and a year in South America. If I were making up Britain it would be much nicer and Marmite would come out of the taps.

      Europe may have ice cream vans but believe me, they seem pretty fricking weird after a year in South America.

      Didn’t spot any bins last time I was in the Underground or at the train stations but hey, I am getting older. The Don’t Walk signs was a reference to Rainman and if Britain isn’t suing for hot coffee yet, it will. Manchester city centre is now full of ambulance chasers desperate to know if you’ve had an accident at work recently. Nice of them to be concerned.

      Not sure what would never have happened under the Tories – spoon licking or any kind of social welfare programme maybe?

      • Dim Prawn

        “7. How much? ”

        Can you provide a breakdown of the £8 bill for 2 newspapers and 4 stamps?

        (Or it didn’t happen.)

    • Helder Oliveira

      All of Europe has ice cream vans?!?! You probably haven’t been travelling enough!

  10. youngnatasha

    @ Dim Prawn,

    Errm, is this what you do for kicks? OK you got me. Maybe I forgot to pay for my artistic licence this year. Maybe stamps are now sold in 6’s and I bought a bar of chocolate too. Whatever – the point is, weekend papers seem expensive when you’ve been away, as does everything else. I consider myself chastised for not uploading a copy of the receipt.

  11. Hi Natasha,

    Just wanted to say that this list is hilarious and very accurate! I’ve spent about 3 years out of the UK (1 in Argentina and the last 2 in Portugal) and so much of this is exactly what I notice now when returning to the UK.

    Some people who have commented here just clearly haven’t spent very long out of their own community (never mind the country) and so can’t really see the place in the same way as someone from another country or someone who has lived away from the UK for a long time does. It’s interesting the things you are able to notice about your own country once you become accustomed to living in another one.

    I really enjoyed this list and your blog in general. Hope all is well in Barcelona!

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