What people really want to know about Britain: part 6ish

How do I know what the world wants to know about Britain? By taking a quick dip into the search questions that bring people to Notes.

Does that constitute a biased sample? Absolutely. I only see search questions related to topics I write about. So yes, this is completely unscientific. Will that stop me? Absolutely not.

Repeat topics

Tutting: In my latest batch of questions, I found three about English tutting. Now, if you’ve never been tutted, you don’t live in England. Tutting is the way the unwritten rules are enforced. You butt in at the head of the line? Someone tuts you and your soul quietly withers. It’s not a subtle thing, but compared to what an American would do—“Hey, buddy, the rest of us have standing been on line here for, like, half an hour. How about you get to the back?”—it seems that way. It works best if you’ve been brought up to dread it, but even we barbarians know when we’ve been tutted and we don’t like it.

Lawyers’ wigs: I found the usual scattering of questions about lawyers’ wigs, most of them involving the word silly, including the one that wanted to know if barristers feel silly wearing them. After the first twenty or thirty years, I’m guessing they get used to it.

One writer managed to avoid the adjective and asked where lawyers in the U.K. get their wigs. Now that’s a new take on the subject. They get them at the Lawyers’ Wig Store, of course. Which has a separate entrance marked Courtroom Drama Wig Store. Customers meet in the middle and buy the same wigs but they can’t talk to anyone who came in the opposite door on pain of banishment.

No one ever asks if actors feel silly wearing those wigs.

Brussels sprouts: Now that Thanksgiving is past and the Christmas trees have been delivered to the stores, I’m getting questions about why we (we here being the British, so this is the British looking for information about the British) eat sprouts at Christmas.

Isn’t it strange that someone born and raised in this country is turning—or is directed—to me for an answer? It’s enough to make an anti-immigrant campaigner’s blood run cold. It’s enough, in fact, to make me want to answer, even though my first impulse was not to bother, since I’ve written about it in the past.

For the sake of variety, let’s do multiple choice this year: a) Brussels sprouts cast out intestinal demons that would otherwise trouble a person throughout the coming year. That’s why every British mother insists that her children eat at least one. b) They commemorate the fourteenth disciple, whose name has been lost to history but who was very short, even at a time when humans were closer to my height than to what we now think is standard. He was, in fact, so short they called him Sprout. Beansprouts weren’t known in the West until the 1960s, when the hippies discovered them and decided they’d solve all the world’s problems (you can see how well that’s worked). That was far too late and too fringy for a traditional Christmas dinner, so brussels sprouts it had to be. c) How many other vegetables are ready to pick in December? You eat what you can, then it becomes a tradition. And after that, you make up obscure reasons for it. d) All of the above.

The correct answer is d).

I should note that Thanksgiving isn’t a holiday in the U.K., but Black Friday, the shopping day after Thanksgiving, has been imported, so a non-holiday ends up being a reference point anyway. Anti-immigrant campaigners should be having fits about this but don’t seem to be worried. There’s no understanding some people.

Why the British dislike Americans: I’ve come to think of this as the American Paranoia Corner. Some people at least ask whether the British dislike Americans, but others leap over that step and go directly to why.

So why do they? Because we think everyone hates us, that’s why. It’s not an attractive quality.

Related to this, in an opposites-attract sort of way, is “americans love living in britain.” (Google searches don’t use caps.) Someone else asked, “do americans like visiting britain.” (Google doesn’t use question marks either.) Yes. All Americans, without exception, love living in Britain and like visiting it. We’ll tear each other to pieces about everything else, but we agree on those two things.

Driving: Someone was looking for photos of narrow Cornish roads and someone else typed in a statement, “emmits can’t drive cornwall,” which is true and would still be true if it included the word in. My favorite, though, was cut short, because it was turning into an essay. It reads, “Official length and width of a passing place on single track lane in cor…”

I love this, because it so misunderstands the nature of Cornish single-track roads, which rarely have official passing places. What our narrowest (as well as some of our wider) roads have is wavery sides, as if the edges had been drawn by a drunk or a kid just getting used to crayons, and these make the width vary between narrow and narrower. In the narrow places, you can pass. In the narrower ones, you can’t. If there’s a field gate, you can pull over to let someone pass. If it’s not too muddy, you can get back on the road again.

I have seen passing places consciously carved out from the fields that border the road, but they’re rare and if anyone’s measured them it’s news to me. I’m guessing they were made by farmers for their own convenience.

New and interesting

Music: Somehow a question about Edith Piaf and Les Barker found its way to me, although their names appear here only once, buried deep inside a post about the differences in musical notation in Britain and in the U.S. I’d guess that the poor soul who typed that search was looking for the lyrics to a parody Les Barker wrote of the Piaf song “Je ne regretted rien.” Barker’s version was “Non, no courgettes,” and if you type that into Google you’ll find discussions of male and female courgette flowers and how to grow zucchini, which is American (and Italian) for courgette. Which is British and French for zucchini.

Don’t you learn a lot here? And isn’t it important stuff?

I didn’t go very deep into the list the great googlemaster offered me, but I couldn’t find either my post or the lyrics. Or a recording. Which is a shame, because the song deserves more visibility. Unfortunately, the lyrics aren’t mine to publish, so you won’t find them here, and as a public service I refrain from recording my singing.

You’re welcome.

Notes from the U.K.: Someone asked, “who writes notesfromtheuk.” I might as well confess: Fast Eddie, the cat, dictates it to me, mostly on Wednesdays so I can post it on Friday morning. I can pass it off as my own because he can’t read and wouldn’t bother to if he could.

Thanks, Eddie. You’re a great cat.


Two searches are looking for–well, it’s probably better if I get out of the way and quote them. The first reads, “driving throug narrow land writte on note back.” The second corrects that to “driving though narrow land written on note back.”

Narrow land written on note back. Is this the start of a fantasy novel? Is it bad typing? Whatever it means, it’s haunting, but I doubt the searcher found what she or he was looking for. I feel bad when that happens.

37 thoughts on “What people really want to know about Britain: part 6ish

  1. I love these posts addressing expat concerns I didn’t even know I had until you list and resolve them. There is something deeply satisfying about getting answers before I even knew the questions. More please. (Why are British fridges tall and narrow? Why are washing machines in kitchens? Why can’t you have normal power sockets or light switches in a bathroom?)

    Liked by 2 people

    • >Why are British fridges tall and narrow?
      To fit in tiny kitchens in small British houses.
      >Why are washing machines in kitchens?
      Because few British houses that have basements or outhouses (where Americans put their washing machines).
      >Why can’t you have normal power sockets or light switches in a bathroom?
      Because, long ago it was recognised that 240 volt electricity supply and wet hands and bodies in bathrooms do not mix well. (240 volts can easily kill a person, especially a wet one). Shaver sockets in bathrooms use a special isolating transformer, so they’re safe in wet conditions. Normal household mains sockets don’t have isolating transformers, so they’re not safe in wet conditions.

      Liked by 2 people

      • That saved me a lot of work. Thanks. A friend told me the other day that on new-builds, even light switches have to be outside the bathroom. That seems extreme to me, but I’m not an electrician. I know where to place a comma, not a light switch.


    • Y’know, I’ve never noticed that people don’t say weekend, so yes, I think they do. It’s surprising how easy it is not to notice until someone says, as a young boy did when I used the word vacation, “I don’t know what that means.”

      I should have said “holiday.” At least if I wanted to be understood.

      Anyway, flaunt away. And have a good time with it all.


  2. It’s always good to learn about the things people turn to you, well, Fast Eddie, for. I’m trying to think of the things I searched for before traveling to England. The only one I remember was tipping. I thought my friends might be trying to set me up for a major league embarrassing moment by telling me not to tip the barman. If I had searched about the narrow roads, I might not have ever gone for a ride with my friend. As it turned out, I was just scared.

    Liked by 1 person

    • We’ve recently understood that what we need to tell visiting Americans about the narrow roads is that if you have an accident on one of them, it’ll be a slow speed. That is, if you allow yourself to think about it, reassuring.

      I do tip at the only pub where I’m a regular. (I’m not a drinker anymore, but they have a singers night that I love.) It’s sometimes more embarrassing to tip than not to tip. Mostly, they’re used to me, but when someone new starts I’ve learned to say, “I’m American. I’ve been a waitress. I’ve been a cab driver. I have to tip.” And they seem to forgive me.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Inquiring minds want to know must an American have employment in order to move to the UK? Since that isn’t a pre-requisite for the US I thought I would ask. Being an odd duck, I love brussel sprouts and we had them for Thanksgiving so I don’t see what is wrong with that tradition. As for the last note, it will also haunt my dreams. Did the person want to know about driving through narrow land written on horse back? What could this possibly mean? Is it code? Shall we conjure up the spirit of Alan Turing to help decipher it? So many questions, Ellen……. thanks for the smiles!

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’d love to explain the rules on immigration, but they’re complicated. What I can tell you is that they’re getting tighter and pretty much designed to keep people out. Wild Thing and I were lucky in our timing: We got in as part of a category that allowed artists and writers a path to permanent residence, and we’d both published books so we qualified. That pathway’s been closed (although they still allow sports figures to follow it; it’s all about priorities, isn’t it?). So the short answer is I don’t know but they don’t make it simple.

      The last question could be code. You’ve been following the story about Clinton and the pizza restaurant and the people who decided cheese was a code word for some sort of sexual act with children? So by that logic, sure, it’s code. So’s “do you want fries with that?”

      Liked by 2 people

      • Uh, no! I will pass on the fries. With the kind of luck I have, fries is probably code for embezzlement. The immigration rules make me sad but it doesn’t mean I can’t plan a future visit. The whole “Pizzagate” is a blog in and of itself which I will leave to the qualified pundits. Of which there are many out there on the “internets” that know a great deal more about such matters.


  4. This made me laugh out loud, and I’m not even past the #1 yet. I tutted my partner the other day. who was rambling on about something I disagreed with, and realised what I was doing as I was doing it, as if in slow motion. From his reaction you’d think I’d just poked him in the eye or inflicted a mortal wound. I never thought about it before but a perfectly timed tut really is the ultimate put down but only, as you perfectly observe, “if you’ve been brought up to dread it.”

    Liked by 2 people

    • As an outsider, I often second-guess myself about my observations. (Did I really hear that? Did they really mean what I’m sure they meant?) It’s both very nice and very odd to hear about it when I’m right.


  5. “Someone asked, “who writes notesfromtheuk.” I might as well confess: Fast Eddie, the cat, dictates it to me, mostly on Wednesdays so I can post it on Friday morning. I can pass it off as my own because he can’t read and wouldn’t bother to if he could. Thanks, Eddie. You’re a great cat.”

    Liked by 1 person

Talk to me

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.