Slight differences

As Americans look forward to an extra hour of sleep this weekend, we “fell back an hour” last weekend.

I put together a list of things that we’ve noticed so far that are completely different between the two countries.

It is a US versus UK showdown!

1. Doors
For fire safety reasons (correct me if I am wrong), most doors in the US push out from the inside (you must pull on the door handle to enter). Opposite for the UK (pull handle to exit).

2. Light switches
To turn on a light (switch) in the US, you push the top of the switch. Push down to turn off. Opposite for the UK – one pushes down on the switch to turn on the light.

3. Outlets
The ground in a three-prong outlet is on the bottom in the US. Opposite for the UK; the ground is on the top. Also! You must have three prongs in the outlet in order for the device to be able to even plug into the wall in the UK. Additionally, the UK has switches on the outlets. Yes, to turn on the electricity to that device, the outlet must be switched on.

4. Bathroom electricity
The only electrical outlet you will find in a bathroom in the UK is the one for your electric razor. It is also the only place that happens to take 220 V or 120 V plugs. Sometimes, the shower will be electric (no, seriously…I’m not joking!) – it helps with water pressure and in some places it also helps create hot water. In the US, there is at least one electrical outlet in a bathroom. And we do not purposely mix water and electricity, unless it is a dam.

5. Plumbing
In the US, most faucets have two handles/taps that control the water temperature (one for cold, one for hot), and the water comes out of one spigot. Sometimes, there is one lever that goes through a variety of temperatures, ranging from cold to warm to hot – but almost always one spigot. In the UK, even in new houses and buildings, there are two taps each controlling their own spigot. One for boiling hot water, the other for ice cold water. Yes, when washing my hands, I love burning my hands just to cool them off. The only place that doesn’t do this is in the shower. Maybe I’ll just wash my hands in the shower all of the time.

6. Voltage
The voltage is different. 220 V in the UK versus 120 V in the US. I think most people already know that though. We tried to leave all of our appliances in the US before moving here.

7. Lightbulb size
The lightbulbs are a different size. They are slightly smaller in the UK.

8. Window Screens
Almost every window in the US has at least the ability to have a screen on it (if the window opens). Window screens are a luxury item in the UK.

9. Time frames
In the US, we get annoyed when that repair person or delivery person is scheduled to arrived at your residence between a range of hours. And generally speaking, they are always within those time limits. In the UK, they still give you those range in time, but it means nothing. They are never on time. They may call saying that they’ll be there “soon” – and several hours later, they show up.

10. Politeness
Brits are insanely polite. Painfully polite. There is a great list of examples compiled on the web about this (my favorite: “I don’t feel well but I don’t want to disturb my doctor”). They will go out of their way to be polite, even if they aren’t being sincere about it. I am blissfully and completely oblivious to the sarcasm or insincerity.
Exclusion to this: many drivers and bicyclists in Cambridge. Drivers park or drive in the bicycle lane without warning or signaling. And many bicyclists also can’t be bothered to signal when turning. Some bicyclists don’t even look before crossing streets or merging onto a street/bike path. They have a death wish since ~90% of bicyclists in Cambridge do not wear a helmet while bicycling on the street.

Feel free to leave a comment below if you’ve noticed other major differences between the US and the UK that I haven’t mentioned here!

Holiday versus vacation

In the US, I never really thought much about the meaning of the words I used on a regular basis. However, nearly every day I’m learning gobs of new words and phrases. Or I am learning alternative meanings for words and phrases (for example, pants aren’t the same thing as trousers). One thing I recently learned was what the difference between a holiday and a vacation. A holiday in the US is a day that people celebrate something (e.g., Fourth of July, Valentine’s Day, Christmas Day); some holidays in the US are federal holidays, such as New Year’s Day, in which almost everyone is off of work (e.g., school, federal employees) and some places may have limited hours but are usually still open (e.g., grocery stores, gas stations). Other holidays are basically “hallmark card holidays” that are celebrated by most but you don’t have the day off of work (St. Patrick’s Day, Valentine’s Day). A vacation in the US means that you selected days that you wanted to take off of work to do whatever you want to do, except go to work.

I think many people recognize that in the UK, to go on holiday is to go on vacation; literally meaning that you took time off from work to do whatever you want to do (same as vacation in the US). No one says that they are going on vacation. Holidays in the UK also has the meaning of being pre-selected days that may or may not have any significance and are vacation days for everyone. I believe the technical terminology for these days are bank holidays (similar to US federal holidays). On these days, everything (and I mean everything) is closed, at least outside of London. Don’t expect to be able to get a taxi or go to the grocery store.

To make things just slightly confusing in this holiday versus vacation explanation, universities have vacations. Specifically “long vac,” or what most American university students would just call summer break. Long vac is “long vacation” composed of the months that the university has off for the summer. And because nothing else seems to be the same in the UK as the US, summer vacation is July, August, and September. This was all brought to my attention because students started university last week, the first full week of October. Many young people seem to just call it uni – pronounced as “you knee.” And as long as we’re keeping up with differences, university is different than college in the UK (but mean the same thing in the US).

I can actually see a difference in the amount of people riding bicycles in the morning. In some cases, they appear to have never ridden a bicycle prior to going to uni. And, unfortunately, the number of people wanting to cross the street has increased, meaning that traffic is stopping more frequently at all of the crosswalks and intersections. I’ve also noticed the number of people stumbling home from the pubs increased last week and weekend. They all looked 12 years old. Which probably just means that I’m getting old and can’t tell the age of young people anymore. More than likely, they are probably freshers, which is a really unique way of saying that they have started their freshmen year of university. The word freshers may be inclusive to all first-year students (including first-year graduate students) though this seems to be debatable.