It’s The Little Things

There are a number of little things that are different in the UK. Here’s a few.

Switches are Upside Down Of course the Brits would say ours are upside down. 🙂 A light switch in the down position is On not off.

Plug Switches
Plug Switches

Every power outlet has a switch on it. I won’t even mention the plus are different and HUGE in the UK, but all the places you plug them in have a switch next to them that turns power to that one outlet on and off. This extends to things like your oven and countertop appliances.

They have different switches Like the US, there are lots of different power switches, but the one I see the most often is a rocker switch. It also makes the down is On more logical because they often have a little red flag on the top that’s only visible when the switch is down. So you can look down at a switch and tell if it On.

We have pull string switches in the States, but here they are very common in Bathrooms. They also make a lot of sense when you have a very small space and wouldn’t have a clear wall to put a switch on. I’m thinking about getting one for our bathroom at home, where the light switch is on the outside wall.

Melatonin requires a perscription As a guy who has trouble sleeping through the night, the supplement Melatonin is a requirement every evening. Imagine my surprise when I went to a natural food/vitamin shop and couldn’t find it. I asked and they said they didn’t carry it. A quick Google search told me there is no OTC Melatonin in the UK.

There’s a Tax on Dining InWhen you go to place like Starbucks or McDonalds, they will ask you if you want it “Dine In or Takeaway”. This isn’t just because they package it differently. They actually have to charge you more for Takeaway. I think it is a pound per order, but it may be per item. Starbucks actually lists two prices on the board.

US_vs_UK_KeyboardsHighlightThey have Different Computer KeyboardsI was registering my Oyster card when I joined the London HackerSpace and they wanted me to type in my email address. In the middle of the address I couldn’t find the @ sign. Shift-2 is the “, and the @ sign is where the ” is on our keyboard, over the single quote. Shift-3 is £, which maybe why I call the # the “pound key”. See the image for complete differences.

Stores with no UK Equivalent

Wal-Mart/Target There are some fairly large grocery stores, and a Tesco Super Store is a little like a Wal-Mart Super Store, but only a little. They have department stores where you can buy clothes and housewares, but they don’t have that category where you can buy toys, clothes, sporting goods, etc.

Hobby Lobby/Michael’s I needed a sewing kit and some proper needles. Well I can find cheap set at a Pound Store (Like our dollar stores and just as prolific), but there isn’t a big crafts store.


This has been the most difficult thing for us. We’re Americans and we’re used to tipping for everything. But in a conversation with an English photographer friend his comment was “Never. They picked their job, if they don’t like what they are paid get another job.”

On the other hand we Americans have corrupted the culture, and more places are encouraging tipping. At restaurants they either include a 10% “service charge” or say on the bill, “Service is NOT included”.

In the book Watching the English by an English anthropologist she told us it was an insult to tip a bartender at a Pub. That means they are “the help”. Instead you should occasionally buy them a pint.

They have a lot of delivery and none of those people expect to be tipped. I tipped a food delivery guy out of habit in Scotland and he appeared surprised.

In a twist, Uber, the disruptive car hire service started in the US, only allows tips for Taxi’s in London. Apparently London cabbies expect tips. (Uber by the way is cool. Used it for the first time getting from the train to our flat with 6 bags on arrival in London.)

Obviously the words used are different too, but you can find those in Britishisms.

Cardiff a Whogasim

DalekEyeWe spent a week in Cardiff and I have to say I really like the city. It was very different from Edinburgh which I liked as well.

Cardiff is a very modern city. Much more like American cities. Yes, it still had a castle in the middle of it and the house we stayed is was kind of “new” being built around 1920. But Cardiff has undergone a rejuvenation over the last couple of decades from a industrial port city to a cosmopolitan business and media center.

They like to say it is the youngest capital in Europe because it is the capital of Wales, which the Welch consider its own country. It is a new capital because the English just gave them back – devolved – some self rule in the last decade or so. But I think of it more like a state than a country, but that may just be me.

High Street

In the Cardiff High Street, but not the same as the Texas Mission burrito despite being a very similar big ass burrito place.
In the Cardiff High Street, but not the same as the Texas Mission burrito despite being a very similar big ass burrito place.
In every town in the UK they have a High Street. It is normally named this, but often that term encompases more than one street. The High Street is the main commercial shopping area. It has the majority of shops and many eating places. A smattering of banks and a Ladbrokes which is a sports betting chain here. As the High Street gets more popular, the road is often blocked off and it becomes a pedestrian only area.

So when you go to a new city and want to shop, you know to find out where the High Street is.

In Cardiff the High Street is more than one street. Doing a quick mapping thing, the area is about 92 Acres, 14 by 11 blocks. Some of this is enclosed completely, others parts are open areas. Much of it is blocked off to vehicles, and in the open outdoor areas you’ll often find street performers doing their thing. I even saw a street preacher on a literal soapbox speaking the truth in fire and brimstone. And people were listening.

Interestingly Google Maps will give you walking directions through the “mall” parts because it still thinks of them as streets. I get the impression they just closed off an outdoor mall and made it an indoor one. At least metaphorically, the architecture doesn’t look like it was ever designed to be outside.

Cardiff Quay

Cardiff Millennium Centre
Cardiff Millennium Centre
Another area of new development is around Cardiff bay. It’s called Cardiff Quay pronounced “key”. When shipping dropped off for the port the city decided to create a upscale business and entertainment zone around it. The new Welch Parliament building is right next to the water. The Millennium Center which is a beautiful performance and arts space. There’s a lot places to eat and it is very tourist focused.

It also the home of…

The Dr Who Experience

Whenever people asked why we came to Cardiff, I somewhat sheepishly answered “Dr. Who”.

The Dr Who Experience
The Dr Who Experience
I don’t think your average Brit understands just how popular Dr Who is in the States right now. Our hosts said they’d had other guests who came just to do the Dr Who Experience.

What is the Dr Who Experience? It’s a cross between a amusement park ride and a museum to the TV show.

The first floor is an “experience”. You walk through an an adventure that takes you from Starship Britain, lets you pilot the TARDIS, and run around with the Dr.

The second and third floor….wait I’ve got that all wrong.

The Ground Floor is the experience. The First and Second floors are the museum. The Brits don’t start numbering the floors until there is more than one.

The upper floors exhibit everything you could ever want to see from the show. There are at least 2 complete TARDIS consoles – the very first one rebuilt for the 50th anniversary special, and Tenent’s last one. Smith’s first console is part of the ride part of the experience. There is also the costumes of every Doctor. Costumes of most of the new companions from Rose through Claire. The top floor has props and monsters.

I took detailed pictures of everything and you can see them in my Dr Experience Album on Facebook.

Dr Who Watch
Dr Who Watch
I’ve noticed that my way of experiencing a place tends to include buying something. I now own a Scottish and Welsh flag for instance. At the Experience I wanted something unique and maybe subtle. Turns out they have a very nice Dr Who watch. If the band didn’t have the police box stuff on it, I don’t think anyone looking at it would realize it was Whovian at all.

I could go on about Cardiff, but I think this gives you a good understand of the place and my view on it.