The Little Differences

My last few days in London were mostly work. I’ve now moved on to Belgium, and this weekend I’m going to Amsterdam. Hopefully there will be some good stories from that trip.

Throughout my time in London, I couldn’t stop noticing the various differences betwen the US and London. Some of them aren’t even interesting really, but for some reason I found them fascinating. Aside from the ones I mentioned earlier, here they are in random order:

Of course as I mentioned before the cars are all backwards, but the gearshift is the same. What you might not know is that the windshield wipers also operate backwards.

The fast lane is the RIGHT lane.

For their traffic lights, they get a quick yellow between when they go from red to green. I didn’t notice if they get another yellow from green to red (I’m pretty sure they do).

Many parts of the country have moved to the metric system now that they’re all goody-goody Europe. This pisses be off, because we got our system from them, and now they’re switching.

They have, I’ve seen in a number of places, fire hydrants that are underground – accessible via panels in the sidewalk.

The signs that say “subway” don’t refer to trains at all – they are underground walking passages which they have on busy intersections so people don’t have to cross the street.

They call the trunk of a car “the boot.” Something about that is funny to me. I think it’s because it kind of sounds like “the butt” as if it’s the car’s ass or something.

Soda is expensive. Restaurants don’t give free refills. For a Diet Pepsi addict like myself, this can be frustrating (and/or expensive).

They have started charging “congestion fees” for driving downtown. A camera records you, and you have to pay in advance to drive around certain parts of the city at certain times of the day.

They have, in the city intersections, painted yellow boxes on the road. If you stop there, you get a ticket. Cameras record you again. This is to prevent people from getting backed up through an intersection, and then when the lights turn having a traffic jam for the people perpendicular to you.

They have “interest only” mortgages here, which I’ve never heard of (not sure if we have them in the states). Basically, it’s like a cross between renting and owning. You have a house and a mortgage, but all you pay is interest on the mortgage. If the house appreciates, you net that property value gain. You aren’t paying any equity into the house though. This sounds scary to me, but apparently it’s pretty popular (and can be cheaper than renting).

“Quid” is to “Pound” as “Buck” is to “Dollar”. Here I was thinking there was some other unit of money greater than the pound or something. Also, when they refer to pence they often abbreviate it “p”. So they’d say “seventy-five p”. I don’t like this abbreviation because both “pounds” and “pence” start with the letter “p”.

We crossed some streets that had a number of speedbumps to keep the driving speeds down. Our local friend pointed out that many people hypothesize that the speed bumps kill more people than they save, because they also slow down ambulances and other rescue vehicles.

The lines on the roads make no sense whatsoever. In the US, a yellow line on your left means that there’s oncoming traffic on the opposite side of it. Here, yellow lines like the double-yellow are only used along the curb as a sort of parking code. The lines in the middle of the road are white, often dashed, and often you have no idea if it’s a two lane one-way or a one lane two-way street.

The toilets flush with like 10 gallons of water. Ok, I’m exaggerating, but it sure seems to take a ton of water to flush the toilets here. In other toilet-related differences, they have urinals that flush on a timer regardless of usage. There’s no visible manual flush. For sit-down toilets, a number of them have a mechanism whereby you wave your hand in front of a sensor to flush them. Note that this is different than in the US where the motion sensor is used to flush the toilet – this is explicitly designed so you have to wave your hand. That prevents accidental mis-flushes, and it allows you to flush the toilet without touching anything. Also, in a number of cases, you have to pay to use a public toilet. As far as I’m concerned, especially for guys, there’s no sense using one of those unless you intend to get your “money’s worth” so to speak. A urinal generally isn’t worth paying for.

When you reset your computer clock to the local time, you finally get to say “Greenwich Mean Time” and specify zero offset (versus the GMT -5).

3 thoughts on “The Little Differences

  1. I am surprised at these observations of yours… I seem to remember meeting you whilst we were traveling abroad. Understandable that you didn’t notice them before due to the company you kept then 😉

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