I’m from New Zealand – from the lack of flirting to the way fish and chips is served, the


I come, to quote Men At Work, from a land Down Under. I immigrated to the UK 16 years ago in search of easy access to Europe (ahem) and a cultural education. And I am, broadly, a fan.

There is much to love about the UK: The droll wit; the bracingly inventive swearing. Opening up a crisp packet at the pub and laying it out as if it was a rich bounty, rather than 26 Kettle chips split eight ways. The NHS. Claudia Winkleman‘s fringe.

But this country is perplexing. Sometimes jaw-droppingly so. 

It is, of course, ungracious to complain about an adopted home. ‘Why don’t you just leave, then,’ may well choke the comments section, as people understandably baulk at a foreigner proffering a lordly thumbs down to certain customs. 

But like spending the day at work with spinach between your teeth, sometimes the brief sting of hearing the truth is better than toiling in ignorance. 

Tea

Katrina Conaglen moved to the UK 16 years ago - and still finds it perplexing. She explains what she finds weird, embarrassing, and why the UK reliance on tea is downright aggravating

Katrina Conaglen moved to the UK 16 years ago – and still finds it perplexing. She explains what she finds weird, embarrassing, and why the UK reliance on tea is downright aggravating

Why must we always be making tea, drinking tea, offering tea as if it’s a salve to all ills, be it a slight hangover or having your arm ripped off? 

It is a drink so offensively insipid it whacks you around the chops with nothingness. A brown crayon dipped in hot water. 

How the British flirt

The Brits 'don't have great game when it comes to seduction', Katrina says, relying on 'knocking back one too many down the pub then mashing mouths together'

The Brits ‘don’t have great game when it comes to seduction’, Katrina says, relying on ‘knocking back one too many down the pub then mashing mouths together’

I’m going to spark controversy here and say, ‘You don’t.’ 

The British don’t have great game when it comes to seduction. When flirting does occur, it consists of teasing, a mode of letting someone know you’re interested I thought lost its cachet after high school.

More often, though, couplings seem to be reliant on knocking back one too many down the pub then mashing mouths together on a vaguely sweaty swaying walk home. 

Whatever works, I guess? I’m just saying, compliments can be nice.

Putting fish and chips under heat lamps

Leaving fish to 'sweat under heat lamps until someone comes to claim it' is a sin, says Katrina

Leaving fish to ‘sweat under heat lamps until someone comes to claim it’ is a sin, says Katrina

This is a sin. Fish and chips are manna from a higher power. But then British chippies take this comestible heaven and leave it to sweat under heat lamps until someone comes to claim it, like a sad orphaned puppy.

What should be feather-light batter transmogrifies into a soggy sarcophagus for a fish that frankly deserved a better end. 

Bad supermarket tomatoes (and the ready acceptance of bad tomatoes)

Like a soured red blancmange somehow possessed by the concept of defeat.

Newspapers declaring a heatwave when it is 25 degrees in July

Or, what we fondly refer to as ‘summer’ in the Antipodes.

The railway system

The state of the British railways is enough to drive one to despair, Katrina says

The state of the British railways is enough to drive one to despair, Katrina says 

The efficiency (or lack thereof) and cost of train travel makes one yearn somewhat for Mussolini.

‘Was fascism that bad?’ one wonders, two hours into a supposedly short commute home.

The popularity of M&S sandwiches

People go mad for an M&S sandwich. I’ve had WhatsApp threads light up in delight when new flavour combinations hit those fluorescent fridges. 

All (willfully?) ignoring the fact that cold kills taste and those sad little sammies are bland pabulum.

The worst comes at Christmas time, when suddenly every sarnie is stuffed with some form of congealed pig’s meat and entirely TOO MUCH cranberry. I wouldn’t mention it were it not for locals being utterly evangelical about their quality.

Reader, they are not good. They are not cheap. They are a mass-produced nonsense and the sooner we stand up to the propaganda the happier our tummies shall be. To paraphrase Douglas Adams, a pleasant sandwich is not something sinful that only foreigners do. You deserve better. 

Washing machines in kitchens

Baffling: The presence of washing machines in kitchens

Baffling: The presence of washing machines in kitchens 

When I think ‘laundry fresh’ I don’t leap to the room with a lingering whiff of fried garlic and burnt toast.

Scottish pronunciation of place names

I live in England now. For a decade I was based in Scotland. The Scots language is gorgeous, as are the regional dialects, from the inscrutable cadences of Aberdonian Doric, the gruff glottals of Glasgow, to the fascinating Dundonian use of vowels, stretched and contorted like verbal mozzarella.

But I would swear the pronunciation of place names is a ruse designed to embarrass foreigners. Milngavie is mull-guy? Culross is coo-riss? Kirkcudbright is somehow kir-coo-bree?

Pure deid confusing, pal.  

Arguing about whether jam or cream goes on a scone first

What's scone on? Jam first or cream? Not as interesting as you might think, argues Katrina

What’s scone on? Jam first or cream? Not as interesting as you might think, argues Katrina 

This is a nation of Shakespeare and Austen; of Hume and Locke; of Jesse Armstrong and Armando Iannucci. It’s full of thoughts and humour and insight and philosophy. There’s so much to be discussed. But no.

Instead, let’s go six rounds AGAIN about which smooshy gloop goes atop sweet bread first as if it is in any way scintillating. Or matters. It all gets chewed, folks.

See also: arguments about the best biscuits or correct tea strength. 

Football chants

I attended my first football match in Edinburgh in the biting cold, having to suffer through a cup of hot Bovril for warmth (it tastes like stale bull sweat). 

Some fine-haunched fellow on the pitch did something silly with the ball.  

A ferociously rude chant started up through the crowd. Not directed at the away team, at the home team. 

It fries my noodle that a crowd of people who likely hadn’t laced up their trainers for years felt it right to berate fit young men they claimed to LOVE.

Brits complaining about foreign influences infiltrating the culture

The Beatles and the Rolling Stones took their musical cue from black American blues and rock. Ska started in Jamaica. Fish and chips stem from Spanish, Portuguese, and Dutch culinary traditions. Tea is from Asia.

So let’s not clutch pearls when someone who just binge-watched Friends says ‘trash’ instead of ‘rubbish’. The British cultural identity isn’t being slowly corrupted. We’ve always been a global village.



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