An American in Scotland

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Things I Miss

I’ve begun making a mental list of little conveniences that I took for granted in the U.S. and that, for one reason or another, never caught on here. This should by no means be interpreted as a latent desire to move back, however, since there are just as many things that I’ve discovered since my arrival that I’m surprised never made it to the U.S. (I think another blog entry’s called for). Anyway, here’s the current list:

Door and window screens
Every time I open a window or the balcony door and a large bug of some description flies into the flat, I puzzle over the lack of screens. You would think Brits would want to enjoy the nice breeze you get in the summer when you open the front and back door and leave the screen doors closed, without feeling like you’re inviting random strangers/thieves/stray animals to come inside. The only reason I can think of for this is that most Brits believe that the weather is always terrible (even though it isn’t) so why would they ever want to leave a door or window open to let the weather in? It will be interesting to see if screens become more popular with the warmer temperatures.

Porcelain toilet seats
This isn’t to say that the U.K. is completely devoid of porcelain and the U.S. has no plastic, but I’ve yet to come across a porcelain toilet seat here. It’s amazing how many times I’ve thought wistfully to myself how much I miss the reassuring sturdiness of porcelain under my bottom.

Garbage disposals
I think I miss garbage disposals more than anything else. I never realized how much easier it is to clean up after a meal when you can simply scrape the food remnants off the plate and into the sink, flip a switch (allowing the disposal to do its work) and then load everything into the dishwasher. Having to dispose of garbage in the waste basket is not only messier (try holding up the lid while attempting NOT to get food on the floor and sides of the basket) but also smellier, unless you empty the trash daily.

Electrical outlets in the bathroom
I understand the reasons for not having outlets in the bathroom. But if people are stupid enough to electrocute themselves with hairdryers, curling irons and other electrical devices, their demise is, though certainly unfortunate, not a good enough reason for giving me daily neck and leg aches while I kneel awkwardly in front of a mirror that I’ve propped up against the bedroom wall. Yes, I know, I could go out and spend £400 on a dressing table that goes with my furniture, but right now, my budget won’t allow it.

Mail boxes
I’m not convinced that having a rectangular cutout in the front door instead of a mailbox makes sense for a couple of reasons. First, the cutout’s size only allows for envelopes and very thin packages, which means that you either have to be home to receive bulkier mail or go through the hassle of picking it up at the post office. Second, there’s no flag to indicate that you have mail for the postman to pick up – not that they would anyway, because British postmen don’t consider retrieving mail to be in their job description.

Pleasant post offices
I really miss walking into a clean, cheerful, spacious post office that exists for the sole purpose of moving mail. I think people buy into the Royal Mail franchise like they do 7-11s in the U.S., resulting in businesses that are part post office, part card/toy shop and part convenience store. The majority are unkempt, depressing and cramped, and I always feel happier after I’ve left one.

Forced air heating
From what I understand, heating a house via series of radiators is more cost efficient than the way Americans do it, but my issue is the radiators themselves, which take up wall space that could be used for furniture placement, are impossible to paint behind, and are – lets face it – not particularly attractive.

Clothes in my size
This problem has gone from being mildly annoying to serious since I recently found a job that requires professional attire. I take a U.S. size 2 Petite in suits and a 6 in shoes, the U.K. equivalents of which are 6 or 8 Petites (depending on cut) and a small size 3 in shoes. I’ve been to multiple stores in both Edinburgh and London, and have reached the unhappy conclusion that practically no one carries my size, and if they do, it sells out immediately. Obviously, there are fewer American women who are small rather than medium or large, but there are a handful of U.S. stores that carry a decent selection of petite sizes. After a month of searching, I did find one black suit at a Debenhams department store – it wasn’t exactly what I was looking for, but it will have to do until I either have some made or take a trip back to the U.S.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

So what about the things that you LIKE. Give me a reason to visit Britain.

9:22 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello from the US. Found you on the net! Love to hear how they (Scots) treat Americans...
I'm in love with the country and want to take my family for a visit during the Spring. Wondering how you have been treated.

1:55 am  
Blogger Sherri McLain said...

Hello to my two commentors,

To commentor one: as I mentioned in this entry, I'm making a list of the wonderful things I've discovered and will post in a couple of days (I'm swamped doing a book edit for an agent at the moment).

To my second commentor: I can't reply to you if you don't send me your email address, so please email me directly at


8:50 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Garbage disposals do exist, on some newer homes and you can buy than at some DIY stores to fit yourself depending if your sink plumbing allows them.

10:34 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Sherri,
So glad you are writing an 'American in Edinburgh' blog. Please keep your posts coming! I am moving to Edi with my Scottish husband from San Francisco in June or July and am really enjoying your take on things over there. As to this specific post, I wanted to ask about the status of mail ordering stuff from the US to the UK. It occurred to me that it might help you with your problem finding the right sized clothes. But is the cost for shipping just prohibitive? I'm trying to prepare myself for a certain lack of convenience and change, but it's just hard to be completely ready.
Thanks again for your insights!

2:35 am  
Blogger Sherri McLain said...

Hi Caitlin,

I wanted to apologize to...uh...everyone =) for not writing for awhile - I've been trying to finish multiple exams for a career in financial planning (while I wait for my big break as a novelist, of course =)) But I'll try to write more frequently in the future.

The shipping cost isn't particularly prohibitive because of the dollar's extreme weakness right now. That also applies to the cost of goods - I can purchase a decent quality suit through Vickies (Victoria's Secret) for about $180 (about 100 pounds), when in a store like Hobbs or John Lewis (Hobbs has very nice quality suits; JL is a department store but everyone loves them here, including most "foreigners" I've spoken to) you are looking at +200 pounds. The UK then charges VAT (around 17.5%) and duty that works out to about 20% for clothing. Still as good deal, except if the clothes don't fit - then you have to pay VAT and duty twice if you exchange something, etc.

The UK is catching up fairly rapidly on most things (and is ahead of the US on a few), so you'll be surprised how easy it is to assimilate.

Good luck with your move - I absolutely LOVE Edinburgh (pronounced Edin - Bra) Let me know if you are interested in anything specific and I'll include it in my blog. Also there are a number of groups in town that you might be interested in when you get here, email me at and I'll tell you about them.


7:12 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I want to say 2 things,
1) You can get garbage disposers! My neighbours have one.
2)I've probably misunderstood, but you said that there aren't any flag things to let postmen know to collect mail, erm, you post your mail in a post box (red things on street corners) and then they empty them at around 6pm-ish, but since I know you have post boxes on the streets in the us, you'll know this already and I sound like a babbling idiot. Oops. A good thing about the rectangle thing in the door (letter-box) it's more private, as no one can steal your mail, unless they break into your house of course. Apart from that, I think your blog is really interesting, and I enjoy reading it. I live in edinburgh and have done for most of my life.

2:59 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To anonymous: In the US we have mail boxes on the street right in our front for each residence. It's very convenient, and we are spoiled because of it. :)

2:13 pm  
Blogger Amfarr said...

This is a great list. I have a sister that just moved to Scotland and I'm thinking about things I could get her that she probably misses. Any ideas?

5:05 am  

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