Last September I arrived in Manchester Airport on a particularly overcast and drizzly day from sunny California. I boarded a train for Sheffield, South Yorkshire and sat in the carriage with my eyes firmly set on the scene over my left shoulder: green fields, red brick houses, a Church steeple here and there, and sheep. So many sheep. This was the beginning of a tumultuous relationship with the rainy little island and by now I have lost count of or intentionally forgotten the number of times I complained I shouldn’t have left my shores. But when it comes down to it, I regret none of it and would do it all again.
Now that I’ve relocated once more to the U.S., I find myself missing the country I briefly called home. I spent nine months in the North before moving to London for four more, and by the end of it, I wasn’t sure I was ready or willing to go home (apologies to the security in Heathrow airport who had to awkwardly stand there and watch me sob). So I’m easing back into my American life and it feels like I have gotten to know the UK as well —if not better— than the place I am now calling home.
Here are just 13 of the many things that you can only know about England after you’ve made it through their rainy winters and basked in their ridiculously pleasant summers.
What a full English breakfast really means
So there is something equally disturbing and enjoyable about the full English. Beans, toast, bacon & sausages (or a vegetarian equivalent!), mushrooms, tomatoes —and some people go ahead and have a little black pudding too. If you don’t already know what black pudding is, then there’s a good chance you won’t want to know.
And the glory of scones, clotted cream and jam (or tea cakes and butter!)
American scones are really sweet and vary in flavors —I’ve had everything from cheddar to pumpkin spice— but as far as I can tell the British have two: ones with dried fruits and ones without. They’re crumbly and look more like an American biscuit than what we would typically think of as a scone, but I promise you they are pretty yummy. In particular, they are clouds of heaven when served with clotted cream and jam (cream first, always).
The importance of a Sunday roast (complete with Yorkshire puds)
Do you know all the bits that you love about Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner? Now imagine that (good) pubs everywhere collectively get together and serve this madness on the weekend. And there is lots of Yorkshire pud, which is somewhere between pancake and paradise. Luckily, that place is not imaginary but it is England.
The best thing you can do with a fiver
When you work as a writer for a living, you don’t leave yourself a ton of extra money for wild nights out but if you have the stamina to stand for 2 hours or so, you can see quality theater for only 5 BPS at the historic Globe —you know, the one of Shakespearean fame. I went a few times with friends and we didn’t even notice how long we had been standing because the plays were that good. Honestly, tickets to the theater are expensive anywhere in the world so to get an afternoon or evening of culture for the same price as a trip to the cinema is definitely something I can get behind.
Reliable public transport. . .
One thing that seems but a pipe-dream in most of America is reliable bus and metro systems. I can’t speak much for places like New York but it’s so hard to live in places like California without a car. I never thought twice about getting around England because I could usually count on a train, a bus or a light rail that would help me get to where I needed to be.
. . .and the terror and odd comfort of Night Buses
If you live in London and you decide a night out is the thing to do but you are skint and can’t afford a black cab, you will —without a doubt— end up on the night bus. They are loud, they are dirty and they are full of obnoxious drunk people singing Maroon 5 songs with their friends (OK, that last one was me). But through it all, you know you will make it back to your borough. . .eventually.
If you want a good party, don’t go to SoHo.
I, like any self-respecting woman in her 20s, enjoy a good and cheap dance club. Cheap, however, is not going to be found in central London. Bypass SoHo, which has been watered down and so many of the good places are closing up shop (just in the last two years, an awesome little art-deco burlesque club as well as one of the city’s rare lesbian venues were shut down). Instead head over to Dalston or Shoreditch.
The best Turkish food is in Wood Green (or Edmonton, if you’re willing to brave it).
Do you like kebabs? Buttery rice and garlic yogurt and roasted aubergines? Turkish food is everywhere in London but the best places —in my totally humble opinion— are in the North of the city, concentrated in Turkish hot spots like Wood Green and Edmonton.
Proper used bookshops are fab. Charity shops are even better.
There are charity shops and used book shops scattered all around the UK, and when I had a few extra quid I could go into one and walk out with a new adventure tucked under my arm. To me, this is bliss, but unfortunately a lot of really great bookshops in the US keep closing their doors and I actually don’t know of a single one within walking distance from my home. When I was living in Sheffield, I knew of at least three within a 15 minute walk from my door. The message is simple: America, let’s keep our bookshops alive. Please and thank you.
Forget Hyde Park and hit up Greenwich
Greenwich is still popular with tourists but it’s a lot quieter than Hyde. Plus when you go to Greenwich, you can sit up near the Royal Observatory and get an absolutely amazing view of the city.
The North and South divide is real.
In London, you either live above the river Thames or below it. In England as a whole, there is in general a big cultural clash between the (seemingly) more rural and working class North and the urban and often disconnected capital. It’s a crazy political and social identity issue within the country but I’ve lived both in the North and South, as well as braved both sides of the Thames. I can tell you the differences, particularly socio-economic, can feel really vast. I lived in Deptford —which, if I’m honest, has a reputation for being rough but also has a lot of color— and it was the polar opposite of the leafy green suburbs of Muswell Hill, with its tea shops and wooded areas.
There is a LOT more than just London
It’s so easy to get sucked into London life — there are so many museums, galleries, bars and high streets to explore —but it’s also really important to see more than just the capital city. There are some great coastal towns, absolutely stunning national parks like the Peak District, and great quirky towns to get lost in, like the book village in Wales. So book yourself some Megabus tickets or hop on the rail and go away for a weekend. It’s easy to get to other parts of the country, so there’s really no excuse to stay put.
But most importantly. . .
Ok, ok so I’ve gone on about all these stereotypical “great things” about life in the UK but I haven’t talked about the thing I miss the most: the Brits. My S.O. is a Londoner, born and raised, so maybe I’m just showing my bias but I did meet a lot of good people while living abroad and it’s those people I met that made England feel like home. I didn’t always find living in the UK easy but I had some really marvelous men and women behind me that helped whenever I felt like I was crumbling (and not in the fabulous way scones do). So, hats off to all the wonderful human beings who let me into their homes, offered me a helping hand, and made me feel like a sister.
If you’re considering a move abroad, whether brief or long-term, don’t be too nervous. I promise if you take the plunge, it will be worth every cent spent and every tear cried in airport terminals.