I’ve been threatening to come up with a list of some of the things I like most about my adopted country, so here goes:
By virtue of T.V. licensing, which means it doesn’t have to cater to advertisers’ prime demographic of brain-addled 18-24 year-olds, the BBC produces the most amazing nature and historical programs I’ve ever seen. They also produce programs on controversial subjects that no self-respecting U.S. station would touch with a ten-foot pole, like the local village S&M scene…obviously, if you were one of those people who phoned in to complain when Janet bared her nipple, you probably wouldn’t find the BBC as refreshing as I do. The NHS
The National Health System provides free healthcare (funded through taxes) to 60 million Brits every year. While every British resident is allowed unlimited access to this system, in the U.S., 46.6 million people, or about 16% of the population, have no health insurance and therefore no access to affordable healthcare. In 2005, families who had insurance paid more than $10,000 in premiums and deductibles for it annually.
If you work for a large U.S. company and get group coverage, you obviously can’t be denied insurance, but if you’re self-employed or work for a small company that doesn’t provide healthcare, not only are premiums extortionate but the insurance companies can deny you coverage for just about any reason. You can purchase private medical insurance in the U.K. as well (one of the criticisms of the NHS is long waiting periods for some surgeries, which can be circumvented through insurance) but it is usually only used as a top-up for the NHS coverage, and is much less expensive than U.S. insurance because it has to compete with free-ish healthcare.
It’s really beautiful here
In spite of the fact that over 60 million people live on an island that is a bit smaller than Oregon, there seems to be a lot more green space (forests, parks, farmland, buildingless areas, etc.) than most places I’ve visited in the U.S. I’m guessing it’s a combination of comparatively more protected areas and that Brits tend to live in smaller houses, closer together. Of course, if you asked the pensioners, they would tell you that the U.K. is much more developed than it was 20 years ago and is going downhill.
Incredibly old buildings
I love living in a city that is filled to the brim with ancient architecture. Edinburgh has a wonderful gothic feel beyond even what London has to offer – I could ramble on and on about this but I think pictures speak volumes.
The pub scene
I spent the Christmas holidays in Wales and we spent the majority of our evenings in various pubs, ending with bringing in the New Year at the Hare and Hounds in Aberthin. I think the best part about the pub scene is that it’s a comfortable, everyone’s-invited-including-the-kids-and-the-family-dog experience, not a try-to-go-home-with-someone experience (though I’m sure that happens as well). Our group sat on a worn sofa in front of a fire, drinking, sharing stories and watching the children run around.
Great bread, great cheese
I like buying an unwrapped, uncut, freshly-baked loaf of bread with lots of seeds and bits in it. U.K. grocery stores also sell American-style bread (pre-sliced, processed and packaged) but I have no idea why anyone would want to buy it (maybe single mums on benefits with a dozen kids – yes, they’re here as well). I was also amazed that most cheese here is off-white in color, until I realized that off-white is real cheese color, while the American version adds orange food coloring. British and European cheeses also have superior flavor and texture to anything that’s ever come out of Wisconsin.
Being a short distance from a number of other countries
It’s mind-boggling to be within an hour or so (by plane) from so many different countries and cultures. I love to be able to hop on a plane and visit Paris or Berlin or Milan or Andorra or Prague or Dublin, etc. for the weekend with minimal planning or expense.
Surprisingly happy Immigration workers
I recently went to get my indefinite leave to remain designation on my Visa in Glasgow. As Gareth and I stepped out of our car, a man greeted us and asked if we were looking for Immigration, then directed us to a smiling man in a hut, who checked us in and directed us to more friendly, smiling people inside the main building. After the security checks, we went to a waiting room, and afterwards, were dealt with in the same fashion. The whole experience was, well, pleasant, if you exclude the 500 pounds we paid for the privilege.
Gareth went through U.S. Immigration and said the workers were rude and seemed acutely unhappy to be there. He thinks it’s a combination of the large number of immigration hopefuls the U.S. has to process and the cost, which is much less than in the U.K. Perhaps if the U.S. charged more, the government could pay the workers better and they wouldn’t be so miserable to do their jobs.
Doctors who see you at your appointment time
The first time I went to the doctor, I waited all of five minutes before I was called in. The doctor then apologized for making me wait. Being accustomed to spending upwards to an hour and a half in doctors’ waiting rooms, I’m continually surprised at not having to do this any longer. I used to fantasize about sending U.S. doctors a bill for all the time I could have spent doing something productive. I guess, since the NHS is paid for by everyone, the expectation is that the “everyone” in question should not have to pay for having their time wasted.
The Harley-Davidson void
How blissful it is not to hear the thunderous rumble of hoards of Harleys driving down your street (or across the next county…or even the next state, that’s how loud they are). Before a British Harley owner comments that he or she managed to import one (how wonderful for you) I know there are a few here but the number is a tiny fraction to that of the U.S., and therefore, tolerable.