I know there are people who go to other countries and complain about everything they find there.  And I know people who go to other countries and complain about everything they left behind.  I don’t belong to either camp but I have a little of both.  I think it’s good to have both perspectives.

I can’t really compare the UK and US in terms of good and bad, but rather more like they are different.  A couple of recent comments from colleagues have made me aware of these differences.  The first comment was: “I would never live in America.  I could never live in a country where people won’t walk or cycle to work.”  The second was: “I couldn’t live in Canada.  It’s too backwards.”  Canada is not the US, but in terms of “backwardness”, I don’t think Europeans discriminate between the two.

There’s a misconception amongst my English colleagues that there are no sidewalks in America.  That’s why it discourages people from walking.  I’d like to point out that there were plenty of sidewalks in various places I lived.  I will say that “in the sticks”, you might not find them easily, but the same can be said in the UK.

I agree most people don’t walk or cycle to work in the US, because most of us don’t or can’t live near work.  However, road access is much easier, so you can afford to live further out and still get to work.  In bigger cities, such as NYC, you see crowds walking to work or taking public transport.  I won’t deny some drive, but they would be insane to do so in such places unless they have to.

The comments certainly point to differences in one’s priorities.

I didn’t mind driving to work if I could live in a nice, quiet neighbourhood where I didn’t need to worry as much about my kid’s health and safety.  Of course, my colleague is more concerned about the environment.  I must say that people in the UK and Europe are much more aware, or much more concerned, about environmental issues that the US.  I’ve known tree-huggers in the States, but the proportion of tree-huggers to gas-guzzler owners is quite minuscule.

As for backwardness, I don’t know what to say.  My husband did point out there are certain things that the British would consider backwards in the States.  First of all, wireless.  Practically all of the UK is wired for mobile phone and internet access.  That being said, not all of the UK has high-speed access, yet.  Of course, the US is huge compared to the UK, so there’s a lot more work that needs to be done in order to reach the same level of access.  There are areas of the US that are quite remote and isolated, in terms of community and technology, and it’s questionable whether they will ever be taken forward.  But, then again, if you were to move to another country, would you choose to move into the back woods?  Probably not, since there wouldn’t be anything there in terms of work or play.

We use the internet a lot and some areas of the States were difficult with high-speed access, but we got by.  We didn’t care too much about cell phones and if we had a dropped line, we lived with it.  Most cell phone use was not emergency and I find that people tend to use it so indiscriminately, it becomes annoying.  We thought it was silly that everyone had a cell phone in the US, but it’s even worse in the UK.  I suppose it’s backwards of me to think that we can live without a mobile, especially in an age where public phone access is being phased out.

Speaking of phones, I find that many businesses in the UK don’t even have 0800 numbers.  They usually have 0845 or 0844 numbers, which is cheaper, but not free.  Most businesses in the States have toll-free 800 numbers to call when you have a question.  It really discourages people to call if they have to pay for it.  You are not allowed to use the work phone to make calls for anything outside of work.  It is fraudulent, because local calls are not free.  (That’s why everyone has a mobile.)  Recently, we had to call an airline in an urgent matter at work, and the only number, which we received through the airport, was a premium number, charged at 65p per minute.  That is the height of ridiculousness.

The person making the comment about backwardness also mentioned New Zealand as being backwards, living in the 50s, with small shops, etc.  I find it very funny, then, to hear that Canada was just as backwards.  Canada, being very similar to the US, does not conjure up images of small shops for me.  England was supposedly the nation of shop-keepers.  Though it no longer is a nation of shopkeepers, it was the quaintness of small shops in England that I found charming.  It’s perhaps not the most convenient way to shop, but to me, representative of a bygone era.

I found the US to be much more convenient than the UK in terms of living.  Towns were bigger.  You could usually live, work and play in the same town (I say “usually” because it depends where you live in the States).  Here, we live in one town, the kids go to school in another, extracurricular activities in a third, and I work in a fourth.  It’s not London, but we’re not exactly in the villages either. 

It was easier to get around by car in the US; though I don’t mind the public transport in the UK.  The only problem with public transport is relying on their schedule, which is affected by adverse weather.  I have not been too inconvenienced by it, but to hear the natives complain…well, there’s still work to be done in that department.

As I said, you can’t really say one is better than the other.  The US and the UK are different.  We’ve discussed staying vs. going back and can’t decide because it’s not about one being better.  It’s about priorities and mentality.

They recently published data showing that new homes in Britain were smaller than those in France, Australia and the US.  Now, it’s not difficult to imagine that houses would be much larger in Australia and the US (room dimensions almost equal), but I was surprised to find that the British homes were smaller than the French ones as well.

I know that immigration and the populaton explosion has led to a housing shortage, so they have to put up a lot of homes quickly and squeeze them all in.  But, it’s a disservice to people when they have such cramped spaces.  And, they do away with unnecessary space.  A typical home has a lounge (sometimes referred to as the living room or the front room), kitchen, bathroom, and the bedrooms.  It’s no wonder they have that phrase “two up, two down”.

Not all homes are that cramped, I’m just referring to a lot of new builds.  Some may be lucky enough to have a dining room, and if they’re really lucky, they might have another cloakroom (toilet).  Most homes we’ve looked at have a small space in the kitchen for a dining table, or if the lounge is big enough, they will put the table there.  That’s what we’ve had to do for the past year, even though there’s barely enough room.  It’s also one reason why we’ve adopted the minimalist look.  We only have the ripped up sofa that was left behind, the piano and the dining table in that room.

We live in a bungalow but it feels like a flat (apartment).  It’s as big as the apartments we’ve lived in.  Our houses had living rooms, dining rooms, and most also had a family room.  Not only that, they all had basements.  Not all US homes have basements (some areas are just not good enough for a basement because of drainage issues).  However, for the most part, it’s taken for granted that they do.

Here, you will only find basements in older homes and there are not too many of those around.  Many of them have been converted, so that a mansion is split into four apartments, with the basement being one of them.  I remember reading an article some months ago about rich people renovating their homes rather than buying or building a new one.  Because of the lack of space, these people were moving downwards, building multiple underground levels.  So, why don’t they do that for new builds?  It would make sense that if you don’t have the space above ground, you would try to use the space underground.  And I don’t mean for them to use the basement to put the necessary rooms, just as additional space for whatever they might like.

It appears that there are loads of storage facilities that have cropped up.  These people must be making a killing because people lack space to store their stuff.  There are no attics and no basements.  Very few homes even have closets of any kind.  You have to buy wardrobes and cabinets.