US vs. UK

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.

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One Comment on “US vs. UK

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    Hi, just read a few entries on your blog and was quite interested in your point of view of US vs UK, being English and never having been to the US.

    Let me just say that your collegue sounds like they are watching too many repeats of Beverly Hillbillies and Malcolm the mountie adverts. Maybe the perception of ‘backwards’ comes from all the barbie doll women and plastic people that are far more interested in their looks than anything else, Baywatch started all this for us here in the UK, so you can thank The Hoff for all that, as you know it’s either freezing or raining so we are usually bundled up in layers of clothes to care (I’m from the North so this applies most weeks of the year for me :)). As for New Zealand, well I have no idea – if you aren’t too fond of your collegue then tell them you find their views racist, as you know this country has gone way overboard with the PC brigade, this may shut the fool up for a bit; walk away with a grin knowing that most people here DO NOT hold that view, I don’t know anyone who does.

    On the premium numbers and 0845 numbers, this is just purely to scam money out of us, nobody has kicked up enough fuss yet for this to be dropped, you will find though that small business tend to have 0800 phone numbers. Look on the website saynoto0870 and you can usually find either a free phone number or a local rate one.

    On mobile phones, what can I say? You are so right. I personally have 2, one for work and my personal one, I think it started up as ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ and followed from there, we found we couldn’t live without them.

    I don’t know how long you have lived here now, but I hope you like it and don’t meet too many ignorant fools. For the quaintness you love you should try Cornwall, St Ives especially it is such a beautiful place, georgous beaches in Newquay with surfing championship taking place at Fistral beach. Have you taken to drinking tea at every opportunity? You know you are in Blighty when someone offers you a cup of tea at the first sign of a crisis.

    Brilliant blog and a belated welcome to Blighty 🙂

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