After living in the UK for a year in 2009, and visiting countless times since, I’ve come to notice a couple of quirky things that make the UK, well, the UK. I would not have it any other way and this is absolutely not a critical post – just a series of observations I made over the years. If you know me at all, you know I hold the country (especially its capital) very dear in my heart, and would gladly move there again if the circumstances permitted me to do so.
So, for the pleasure of expanding your cultural knowledge about my favorite country in the world, here are a series of fun facts about the United Kingdom.
1. British people are constantly being told what to do
Stand on the right. Look left. Mind the gap. All iconic sentences, but to me, they mean a little more than that when you look at the bigger picture. No matter where you go, you are bound to face some kind of instruction at some point, and I never really understood the point of all that. The instructions space in the buses is a good A4 size! Is decorum really more efficient when people are being told what to do and how to behave?
2. To watch television, you have to pay a licence
That was something I had never heard of, anywhere. Before you even think about getting a TV pack, you have to pay for a TV licence, which is priced at a hefty £145.50 per year! Meaning that watching television in Britain comes with a hefty price – but considering they have some of the best shows in the world, I’d be willing to cut out on other expenses. If only for the BBC documentaries!
3. British people are obsessed with fire
Am I the only one who noticed that? Fire doors, fire blankets, exhaustive “In case of fire” instructions, everywhere! I have a personal case against the fire doors, which, if you’ve never had the chance to see, are super heavy, tightly closed doors in the middle of each corridor to slow the process of the flames in case of a fire – very fun to go through with a suitcase or groceries! I’ve never seen so many “anti-fire items” anywhere else in the world – outside of the great fire of London, a mere 450 years ago, do anybody knows why Britain is obsessed with fire?
4. British park benches are often dedicated to someone
That one I actually find very endearing. Whenever you step in a park or a public square, you are guaranteed to find at least one wooden park bench dedicated to someone who had a history there. Hyde Park, my favorite place in the world, has hundreds of them, some dating only a few years, other a few decades. I love walking around and imagining all the stories behind the benches!
5. Brittons constantly talk about the weather
Despite the popular belief that it rains all the time in the UK, it’s actually not true at all. The weather is one of the craziest I have seen, starting foggy in the wee early hours, raining in the morning, sunshine in the afternoon and strong winds at night. The absolute best way to strike up a conversation with a Britton is to talk about the weather – with a simple mention of the dreadful skies or the sunny forecasts for the weekend, you are guaranteed a lively little chat.
6. Brittons like ‘em some sweets
British groceries are full -and I do mean full- of sweets: candies, liquorice, chocolate, everything! The grocery I used to go to had two full rows of godsent orgasmic goodness just waiting for me to throw them in my trolley. My favorite? The all-time classic Galaxy chocolate bars!
7. Both British mottos are actually French
Considering just how peachy and not at all antagonistic the relationship between the British and the French have always been, I was a bit surprised by this fact. Why on Earth would Britain have French mottos? The answer is simple, though. Because of William the Conqueror, French was the main language in the Royal Court for about 300 years, and the mottos were later on adopted by Edward III. France and Great-Britain have a more complex history than either one of them care to admit!
8. Speaking of which… How many French people are there in London?
That one particularly stroked me last time I was in London. It seemed that no matter which street corner I was waiting at, or which restaurant I was in, there had to be a group of French people nearby. Has half of Paris moved to London and forgot to tell the world? I know all about the so-called “French connection” of South Kensington, but trust me, it goes far beyond that neighborhood… London is actually the 6th largest French city!
9. Pubs close surprisingly early
For a nation that has such an important drinking culture, one of the most shocking things I came across while living in the UK was how early pubs close – last call is at 11PM, even in central London! Considering just how much the Brits like their pint in the evening, I was convinced that pubs were like regular bars in Canada and closed at 2 or 3AM. Was I wrong! It was definitely weird at first, not having anywhere to get a cold pint so early on in the evening – maybe that’s why there are so many clandestine bars in the city!
10. Laws CAN be hilarious.
With some laws dating back to the Middle Ages (and still in effect!), it’s only normal that a few would be qualified as outdated, to say the least. But that doesn’t make them any less interesting – did you know it’s considered treason to place a postage stamp with the Queen’s head upside-down? That all swans living on the River Thames are actually property of the Queen, and that by killing one you are committing a crime against her? That it’s illegal to die in the Houses of Parliament? That for 400 years, it was illegal for woman to scold, and if they were caught doing so, they had to wear a metal cage enclosing their head? Did you also know that tarot card reading is illegal because it’s considered witchcraft?
Did you know any of the facts? Did you notice some surprising things while you were in the UK? Do you know of any quirky laws?