NOTE: This post was one of the first articles I ever wrote and was written many, many years ago. My feelings on the country have changed and I was too quick to judge.
A month spent traveling England, and I certainly learned a lot about the country.
A month in any country will teach you something. Cultures only really open up to you when you spend a long time in one. There’s only so much to notice in a few days. Learning more about each place is part of the reason I like to travel slow.
A month in England taught me that:
The English will sit in their assigned seats. If a person is assigned a seat right next to you, they’ll sit there, even if the rest of the carriage is empty.
Every night is a drinking night. It’s no surprise that the British like to drink, but what surprised me was the sheer quantity they do it in. No matter what day of the week it is or if there’s work the next day, they’ll drink. I saw a few scenes on a Tuesday that only happen on a weekend in America. The English love to put the drinks back any night of the week.
Two hours away is too far away. “Where you going from here?” I’d get asked. “Ohh, that’s very far” was the usual response. In a country that can fit into Texas a few times over, the British sense of distance is slightly warped. For me, it’s a short ride. But not for the Brits. I know distance is relative, but what really shocked me was that most English don’t travel around their own country because “it’s too far.”
The British rail system is overpriced. You can’t get cheap tickets unless you book far in advance. Otherwise, you’ll pay 50 pounds to go two hours on a train. Like the airlines, the closer to the date you want to go, the higher the price. It’s ridiculous for a public rail system to be so expensive. I think it’s also totally ridiculous that it cost me more to take a three-hour bus ride than it did to fly to Amsterdam. Luckily, I found some cheap ways to get across England and could avoid this system. No wonder so few people enjoy taking the train.
Everyone loves to hate London. No one likes London, not even Londoners. Londoners are cold, the city is overpriced, it’s hectic—the list of complaints goes on. Yet everyone always ends up moving there for a while. The English have a total love/hate relationship with the city. Despite all the downsides, they stay there. As everyone (including Londoners) told me, “London is shit. Wait till you get out of the city. England is much better there.”
No one talks in London. Speaking of London, get on the tube. It’s so quiet. People don’t talk to one another. They just sit and try to avoid eye contact. No one says anything. Not even any apologies for bumping someone. It’s eerie and a bit anti-social.
The English wear wet suits in the water. Since cold water surrounds England, the English go in wearing wet suits. Whether it’s a river, lake, or the ocean, 75% of the English had a wet suit on. When I saw this, I thought to myself, “wimps.” In New England, our water is just as cold, but unlike the English, we can take it. Well, maybe not me, but everyone else. Babies.
They treat parks as beaches. There’s nothing like a good day at the beach. But if you’re English, your park is your beach. Everyone comes out in beach attire to capture the four minutes of sun each day. They bring footballs, dogs, and frisbees. They lounge like it’s the Greek islands. Because remember, driving an hour to the beach is simply too far.
The TV shows are awful. I thought shows in America were bad, but the British take it to new lows with Hollyoaks, East Enders, and especially a much less censored version of Big Brother.
England has a lot of Poles.The whole service industry of England is dominated by Polish immigrants. I wasn’t served by an English person unless it was in tiny towns like Cornwall. Poles come to England for the wages, and since the English have no desire to wait tables, Poles dominate the service and other low-wage industries. I saw many similarities between the immigration of Poles into England and Hispanics into the United States. In fact, the debate between a lot of my English friends about whether this is good or bad also mirrors the immigration debate we have in America. Some issues transcend borders.
Overall, the countryside was my favorite. London’s exciting, but overhyped. There’s a lot to do, but the city really only reveals itself to those with deep pockets. The countryside is much more approachable. Prices are reasonable, the people friendlier, and the area far more beautiful. I still can’t decide if I liked the Lake District or Cornwall more, but both are leagues better than London.
And where didn’t I like? One place comes to mind: the city of Birmingham.
But England was certainly an interesting place and one I look forward to seeing again.
For more information, visit my page on backpacking Europe or my guide to England.