Britain isn’t like America. I know that’s a shock to some of you, and for others it’s a reason to be happy (especially when America’s government is shutting down). Some of the differences are well known: Brits drive on the left side of the road, they say “cheers” a lot,  they have awesome accents. Other differences aren’t so expected. Here are four surprises I had when I finally set foot on British soil….

Double Tap by alexbrn
Double Tap, a photo by alexbrn on Flickr.

  The Bathrooms

I’d like to say that the stereotypical frightening bathrooms of tourist lore are a thing of the past, but unfortunately a remnant hangs on. In my few months of traveling around England I don’t believe that I have found two bathrooms alike. Each one becomes a cultural exercise where one is required to translate each device in turn. The toilet–does it have a straightforward handle, or a strange button thing on top? The shower–which one of the thousands of combinations of knobs for temperature and pressure will you end up with this time, and how many hours does it take to get hot water? And perhaps most confusing of all: the sink (washbasin). Now I understand that modern British bathrooms are built quite like North American ones (which deprives them of all charm) but one old-fashioned tradition clings on in some homes and businesses, and that is the double tap. 

For the uninitiated, this means that there is one faucet for hot water and one for cold, requiring you to either freeze your hands or scald them, but nothing in between. You can flail around, flinging your fingers from one stream of water to the other in a vain attempt to equalize the temperature, but the most effective method I’ve found is to turn on both and plug the drain, making a pool of pleasantly lukewarm water. Of course you’ll end up splashing everything from the counter to the hallway when you try to wash your face this way, but that’s just part of the aforesaid charm.

U by tubblesnap
U, a photo by tubblesnap on Flickr.

The Sheep

Before coming to Britain I’m not quite sure what my image of sheep was exactly. I knew that they were dumb, but they were cute and that made up for it. Then I saw sheep up close. Lots of sheep. Very close. That’s when I discovered that sheep are filthy. Incredibly filthy. I won’t do you the discourtesy of describing every bit of filthiness I have observed, but a field of sheep is far from a idyllic sight, unless you’re looking down from a very distant hillside and the animals are just flecks of white on green. I still like them–they add a pleasant rural atmosphere–but let’s just say I won’t be getting into the shepherding business any time soon.


British Coins by Images_of_Money
British Coins, a photo by Images_of_Money on Flickr.

When my friend and her Liverpudlian husband visited me a few months before I went to Britain they brought me some British coins. I instantly fell in love (European currency is so much more creative and interesting than US currency). When I arrived in England I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a lot more coins, and I soon realized that that would not be a problem. You see, unlike Americans, the British actually use their coins. In the States they’re more like meaningless tokens that you get back after making a purchase and promptly lose somewhere in the couch cushions. Here they actually expect you to use them to pay for things, and many times are more willing to give you large amounts of change in coins rather than cash. Once I made the mistake of buying an £8 rail ticket from a machine with a £20 bill. It gave me my change in £1 coins. 

Four Of Three Hundred And Sixty Five by Wallie-The-Frog
Four Of Three Hundred And Sixty Five, a photo by Wallie-The-Frog on Flickr.


First of all, I was shocked by the number of Brits I met who had never heard of a s’more. That in itself is a tragedy. Next, I discovered that a British s’more would be rather strange indeed, as it would not involve graham crackers (something I’ve never seen for sale here–maybe digestive biscuits could fill in), and the marshmallows would be something completely unrelated to the North American marshmallow. The British breed is smaller, with a drier and denser texture than American mallows, but the truly disturbing thing is that half of them are pink. Now, a British friend of mine insists that they don’t taste any different from regular mallows, but there are those who swear the pink ones are strawberry flavored. A strawberry s’more…no thank you.

Those are just a few of the uncanny differences between my homeland and Britain. 
What about you? Any quirky tidbits to share? 

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    Written by Abigail Young

    I've had a passion for everything British my entire life, despite being raised as a small-town girl in the American Midwest, After years of dreaming, I got the chance to live and work in England for an entire year. Now I write about my favorite country, and hopefully inspire my fellow Britophiles to get over there and experience it for themselves.

    This article has 2 comments

    1. Diwakar Reply

      Hello Abigail Rogers. So good to know you through your profile on the blogger. I am also glad to stop by your blog “Picture Britain Blog” and the post on it “Unexpected Brits of Britain”. Well I am so glad to know your passion for Christian faith which gives me opportunity to share about our ministry in the slums of Mumbai, India amongst poorest of poor. I am in the Pastoral ministry for last 34yrs in the great city of Mumbai a city with great contrast where richest of rich and the poorest of poor live. We reach out to the poorest of poor with the love of Christ to bring healing to the broken hearted. We also encourage young people like you and the adults from the West who are passionate about their Christian faith and respond to the heat of God for the poor, to come to Mumbai on a short term missions trip to work with us in the slums of Mumbai during their summer vacation. We would love to have you come with your friends to Mumbai to work with us. I am sure you will have a very life changing experience. I would be very happy to get connected with you on your email id. My email id is: dhwankhede(at)gmail(dot)com. Looking forward to hear from you very soon.

    2. Jean | Delightful Repast Reply

      Abby, those double taps LOOK so charming, I very nearly got them when I remodeled kitchen and bathroom. Then good sense prevailed! At a hotel in the Lake District I once had a room with a cavernous bathroom that housed a bathtub (just a very old regular, not jacuzzi or “soaking,” that must have been 7 feet long and 2 feet deep. It was great!

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