I’ve lived in England for nearly eight years now, and I still cannot properly turn on an appliance or crack an egg.
The electrical sockets here are 220 volt. Yes, even for a night light or a Glade Room Freshener. This makes the Brits very cautious around electricity and practically eliminates amusing anecdotes about the time you convinced your little brother to stick a bobbie pin into an outlet. As a safety precaution, wall plugs have switches on them, so you can turn the power off “at the mains.”
This is all well and good, as long as you remember to turn it on at the mains. I wish I had a 5 pence piece for every time my laptop ran out of power or I turned a light off and on half a dozen times wondering what was wrong with it or I returned to the kitchen after 20 minutes to see why I didn’t smell dinner cooking only to find the stove stone cold and the mains power still switched off.
As for eggs, I spent 46 years developing the perfect tapping technique for cracking an American egg and then found out—to my bitter disappointment—that the skill is non-transferable le. The problem, in my opinion, is they don’t feed their chickens enough DDT or whatever it is we feed them in the States because the shells here (on their brown, not white, eggs) are hard as walnuts.
Since it is my privilege to make breakfast on weekend mornings, and since my vegetarian wife and I have a limited selection of foods in common, a typical morning meal inevitably includes eggs. A favourite of mine is eggs over easy, and my wife likes fried eggs (they are the same thing, by the way) but the odds of me getting a yolk out of an eggshell in one piece are about the same as the Labour government sweeping to victory at the polls in the next general election.
Now, I know from experience that I have to hit the egg harder than I am used to, so I steel myself and give it a good whack. Generally, the first blow glances off the armour plating leaving hardly a nick. The second blow, delivered with more determination, adds a dent and a few cracks. So the third blow is practically guaranteed to end up with me holding a dripping mass of canary yellow goo, splintered eggshell and a good deal of something that unnervingly resembles snot in my hand.
We eat a lot of scrambled eggs.
But only if I remember to turn the stove on at the mains.
So, Mike has thrown down the gauntlet in terms of sockets and switches I feel. For many years, both in our first rented apartment and then in the condo we owned, I was totally frustrated by how many electrical sockets dotted around various rooms simply did not work. I'd plug in a lamp (or a clock radio/coffee maker...take your pick of appliances) and would be totally mystified as to why it wouldn't turn on. There seemed to be a countless number of sockets that were completely useless. It drove me nuts and resulted in appliances being placed in the strangest and most inconvenient of places (a bedside lamp on the other side of the room to the bed for example - which made the sole purpose of its practicality questionable).
On the other hand, there were several 'light' switches on the wall which didn't appear to operate a single ceiling bulb or light fixture anywhere. I would wander around rooms, casually flicking switches up and down, thinking that one day something would happen to illuminate the case for their existence. Despite my increasingly OCD tendencies, nothing ever did.
After several years of enduring inconveniently placed electrical devices and only being able to use two thirds of the sockets at my disposal (the other third mockingly refusing to cooperate to any 2 or 3-pin insertion that came their way) and aimlessly toying with wall switches that served no apparent purpose, I finally mentioned my frustration to one of the builders refitting my bathroom. (The whole topic of having multiple 'live' sockets in the bathroom, directly next to all sources of running water, is another conversation all together...)
He looked at me as if I was an idiot (an experience that was not new to me) and very patiently took a lamp and plugged it into one of my 'faulty' sockets. "See!", I said triumphantly, "it doesn't work...I have loads of them just like that around the whole house." Without saying a word he walked over to one of my 'there for decorative purposes only' wall switches and flicked it on. Instant illumination. For both me and the lamp plugged into the wall socket, several metres away. Aaah. So not redundant then. I hadn't been the victim of temperamental power supply for all these years after all. Good to know.
Now it's just a case of working out which switch accompanies which socket (and believe me, it's not always patently obvious - they don't always bear any relation to each other in terms of proximity). However, I still have two wall switches in my living room and two by the back door which appear to serve no purpose whatsoever. After over a year of living in this house I still have no idea what they are there for and what they are designed to operate. So my OCD tendencies continue. You never know, with persistence and tenacity, one day there may very well be light.
Now there is one more thing that, even after nearly 10 years in America, I will never be able to get used to. As far as I am concerned it contravenes all Health and Sanitation Regulations and is something that I have NEVER encountered in the UK (and nor would I ever wish to).
That is the standard practice of placing the down stairs loo. In. The. Kitchen.
Yes, you read me correctly. And no, of course I don't mean that there is free-standing toilet adjacent to the obligatory marble kitchen island, with the loo roll stashed conveniently next to the kitchen roll holder. But in many houses (including my own) it is not unusual to have the 'powder room' situated directly off the kitchen.
Now if everyone simply entered the loo to powder their noses, it wouldn't present much of a problem in my book. But no. I have lost count of the number of 'guests' who have frequented the toilet, performed their necessary ablutions (amplified with an acoustic precision that only a bathroom is able to provide) and then exited LEAVING THE DOOR OPEN when I am within spitting distance stirring bolognese sauce. It honestly feels at times that these people may as well have just taken a huge dump in my kitchen sink.
And of course my 'sensitivities' over this issue are magnified whenever visiting friends and I become the one having to answer a call of nature, typically not even a stone's throw away from where everyone is congregating. (It speaks volumes about how polite Americans can be—that they can continue to dutifully chug back beer whilst I am doing my damnedest not to rupture anyone's ear drums with a mortifyingly loud fart just 3 feet away - and then have the good grace to accept me back into the conversation when I have finished without missing a beat or raising a sardonic eyebrow.)
I guess I should just be grateful that all the 'kitchen toilets' I have encountered so far have a proper door on them at least. After all, it could be worse. They could be fitted with the shrunken door that you find on all public cubicles, where complete strangers get to watch you relieving your bladder (or worse) due to the huge gaps between the door and the door frame. But best not to get me started on that little bug bear...
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