An International Student of Literature in England.
I have been thinking about writing this for a while… I’ve now been living in England for two years and I have discovered so many weird things about English houses! The things I mention below are usually small details but they can be a bit confusing and disorientating for foreigners at first. Here’s my list, in no particular order: English (and I assume, British?) houses will have no secrets for you.
Red bricks, red bricks, and red bricks. This certainly felt very different for me when I first came to England since I’m more used to colourful pastel buildings and villas of the South of France than the old-fashioned red bricks that are so common in England. Interestingly, that kind of architecture reminds me of villages of the North of France, where some of my family lives. Another thing I that really strikes me is how all the houses are the same. Within one street or neighbourhood, you’ll see rows and rows of semi-detached houses that are all pretty much identical, with similar doors that I find incredibly old-fashioned, and their little bit of grass (“front garden”). I call this style “Harry-Potteresque”.
And while I’m talking about Harry Potter and clichés about Britain, I HAVE to mention the famous “cupboard under the stairs”, aka Harry Potter’s bedroom in the first film! I was quite excited about it in second year when I moved into my new house and realised we had one (and most houses do). I know it’s silly but you can’t understand, unless it’s a completely foreign concept to you. I remember Skyping my family several times to give them a tour of my house and mentioning this — joking about it being the place where my brother would sleep when he visits me. In reality, it’s usual a tiny, damp cupboard that’s full of random stuff, spiders and cobwebs. I don’t advise going in there.
Okay so I’m very conflicted about these windows but I want to say that they’re weird. Firstly, literally ALL the houses have the same kind of windows with one or two smaller bits that you can open, and a huge main bit that cannot be opened. I’m not sure what to think of them. While they size allows you to have a lot of light in the room, you can’t have them wide open (for the few warm days of the year). In bathrooms for instance, the windows are even more strange because only a small opening at the bottom. Oh and also, you can lock them. Not sure why but that confused me so much at first (I couldn’t open mine and I wondered why we had so many tiny keys hanging in various places around the house). On the plus side, there are window-ledges everywhere and they can be useful.
People don’t have shutters here. I’ve seen ONE house with shutters but they’re fake ones, stuck to the brick wall of the house. I find it so strange since all houses in France seem to have shutters and since I’ve always been used to sleeping in pitch dark. Blinds are supposed to help keep the warmth inside the house at night but apparently British people aren’t sensitive to the low temperatures that almost kill me between October and April. Instead, there are blinds everywhere, which is better than nothing. But again, I was confused about them and had no idea how they worked at first and made a fool of myself…
Conservatories are a very English thing and although in theory they could be very nice and useful, they’re not. As soon as it’s slightly warm or sunny, it’s unbearably hot inside. When it gets colder or cloudy (most days) it’s FREEZING inside! My house has one with a big table and I used to love working there because it’s a very quiet, isolated and bright part of the house but it got to the point where I had to work with multiple layers of clothes, covers and duvets on me to avoid getting frostbite.
Yes! A fireplace! I have to admit it’s pretty cool and gives the house a very cosy and classy feel. We never used it because after all the cooking “incidents” we’ve had, I’m afraid to see what would happen with fire when I’m around. That and the fact I have no idea how it works.
…. or rather, the absence of mail boxes! Here, people have letter boxes in their doors. If you get a parcel that’s too big to fit into the letterbox and nobody’s in, there are two options. I wasn’t just surprised, I was almost shocked the first times and still am. I still don’t know which is worse. Option 1 is they give the parcel to your nextdoor neighbour and leave a note in your letterbox saying where they left it. What if your neighbours are thieves and keep the new mobile or laptop you’ve just bought for themselves? Option 2 is they’ll leave a note saying they left the parcel “by the bins” — not the best hiding place. Twice, we even had our parcels thrown oven the back gate, in the garden. What if our stuff was fragile, if it rained, or if we’d gone away for a few days? This is the most disconcerting thing to me.
Carpets E-VE-RY-WHERE (except the kitchen, bathroom and toilet usually). My hatred for carpeted floors dates back to my childhood, when the carpet in the flat we had had turned greyish pink instead of pink. They also get so dirty very quickly and I’m always afraid to drop tea (my English friends have turned me into a heavy tea-drinker, you see… And I’m clumsy). However I have to admit that it’s very appreciated and helps keep some kind of warmth in the house. At least, it doesn’t feel like you’re walking on ice in winter!
Okay okay… Can someone explain to me WHY and WHO decided to put switches to power sockets?! The very first time I came to England back in 2011 with my boyfriend, we stayed at his grandparents’ house. I wanted to charge my mobile but it didn’t work so I assumed that the plug or my charger was broken… But no! I hadn’t switched it on! This is by far the strangest thing in the UK to me and it will remain a mystery all my life.
Also, there are no sockets in the bathroom.
This article is getting very glamourous but that’s another weird thing I’ve noticed. In houses, and also sometimes in public toilets, toilet flushers look a bit like door handles. In some places, I’ve even seem system that seems totally Ancient to me: the flusher was a long string hanging off the ceiling or the water tank.
That’s something I just don’t get and, once again, it seems to come from the 70s. I know I’m living in an old house but I’ve seen these things in other places too. Instead of the whole water heating system being into the walls, you get this small panel with controller in the shower. But there’s more! To be able to shower, you need to switch on the system (pulling down one of these strings hanging off the ceiling), to be able to get water in the hose. The second string is for the light (weird weird weird)
But that’s not it.
Instead of hot water just coming on whenever you shower, you need to set up times for the water (and for also the heating) to heat up throughout the day on a small box-thing that in one of my housemate’s room (not always convenient). I can’t say how confused I was. The worst thing is, for a very long time I thought that we’d only have hot water between the times we set up and only recently realised that you still get hot water anytime, as long as there’s water in the tank.