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Observations from Old Blighty

 

We Chauvinists recently spent two weeks (and an extra day – long story) touring Britain.

We said a “long goodbye” to Grandpa Chauvinist, which ended gracefully and mercifully this last spring, and that clever old Okie Airborne Ranger double dipper left a nice enough sum to Mr. C to sponsor the four of us on a most enjoyable holiday. Thank you Grandpa Chauvinist! We love you! Mwah!

What follows are my impressions from a tour which began and ended in London and looped through the country with stops in Oxford, Bath, the Pembrokeshire Coastal National Park and Cardiff in Wales, Fort William in the Scottish Highlands, Portree on the Isle of Skye, and York. Highlights included:

  • Churchill’s Bunker
  • The Harry Potter Studio Tour
  • Phantom of the Opera at Her Majesty’s Theatre
  • J.R.R. Tolkien exhibit at the Weston Library
  • Jane Austen Festival, Bath
  • Tintern Abbey
  • The Jacobite (Harry Potter) Train from Fort William to Mallaig for Chauvinist the Elder
  • The castles of Skye (Eilean Donan and Dunvegan Gardens)
  • Highland cows and scenery, including the Fairy Pools (we did a Clark Griswold Grand Canyon tour during a gale)
  • York for the Viking Museum (joking) and Delrio’s Italian restaurant (serious)
  • Westminster and the Tower of London for the history
  • The top of The Shard at sunset

Pleasant Surprises

The Brits like Americans. They really, really like us! You might even call ours a “special relationship,” since we have an affinity for them, too. We met people, both British and American, who’ve lived and worked side by side in various capacities — everyone from an English cruise ship worker, to a young Scottish cyber security software engineer who’d lived in South Carolina in his teens, to an American cyber security engineering manager working and vacationing in-country with his wife (notice a theme?), to a Scottish Calamity Jane groupie working the counter of the Nevis Bakery in Fort William (if you go, you must have the scones!). We even had a tour guide at Buckingham Palace claim to love our American accents! Our friendly and satisfying interactions might have been due exclusively to Mr. C’s genial nature, but I don’t think so. I think Brits are sincere in their affection for and admiration of us. Feeling’s mutual.

The multi-ethnic, multi-national mix in London works. Now, I can’t speak to the Muslim presence in the city. We avoided East London because of the acid attacks (what works if you’re intent on violence and can’t get guns or knives? Acid.). But, the Italians, the French, the South Americans, the Indians, even the Germans seemed to intermix seamlessly and even enjoy each other. They commented as much.

Speaking of commenting, we were fascinated by a television show where “ordinary” Brits were empaneled with a few politicians and a moderator to discuss Brexit. The conversation was passionate, but civil, and highly informative. Other than on Ricochet, I’m not sure there’s any such discussion to be had in the US these days.

We also watched a show about dog rescues (the Brits love their dogs) in which we learned Britain has banned Pitbull Terriers. I know some Ricochetti love their Pitbulls, but I have to say, I approve of Britain’s ban. These dogs were bred to attack, just like my Corgi was bred to herd and my Border Terrier was bred to flush a fox out of its den. It’s like leaving a loaded gun lying around. /expecting blowback in 3..2..1..

Brits are having kids. Little ones are everywhere — on the trains and the Tube, in the museums, and being pushed in carriages along the streets of Notting Hill. Maybe our perception was skewed because we were using so much public transportation (unlike in the States), but it was encouraging – and adorable – to see.

Brits go out of their way to be helpful. I can’t tell you how many times we looked like lost tourists (can’t imagine why) and people offered help. Once, we were lugging our bags through the Tube looking for a “lift” (no elevators at this particular stop) when a young woman offered to help us carry our bags down the stairs! Amazing. I’m pretty sure nothing like that would happen in NYC. I hope I’m wrong.

The Tube, the trains, and the streets are spotless. I mean completely litter-free. We saw a little graffiti outside Glasgow, but that was about it. And the scarcity of trash bins makes me wonder how the heck they keep things so tidy. It’s a mystery.

Pret a Manger is the British version of Panera Bread, but better. Much better. When in doubt about what to eat for lunch on the go, choose Pret.

The Italian food is to die for. This wasn’t a complete surprise to Mr. C. and me because of our experience in 1994. But, it certainly was pleasant!

Signs of the Nanny State

There are no electrical outlets in bathrooms anywhere. Not even GFI outlets. Why would that be? Was there an outbreak of electrocutions from people dropping their hair dryers into sinks filled with water? Odd.

Most sodas are sweetened with Aspartame, except for Coke and Ginger Ale. They’re not even labeled as “diet,” I guess because they contain sugar, too. I can only figure it’s because the NHS is trying to lower people’s sugar consumption. 

File Under Fashion

Facial hair is not a thing like it is here. Few men were sporting it, and no one is wearing the Duck Dynasty look. We saw one guy with a full beard, but I’m pretty sure he was an American tourist.

Brits have caught up (sunk to our level?) to us in footwear. Everyone was wearing some kind of athletic shoes, whereas in 1994, you could always tell Americans by our sneakers. It’s certainly more practical, if not as aesthetically appealing.

Notable Contrasts

Finally, America is fat. You simply don’t see the obesity in Britain you do here. In fairness to us, we’re stupid rich, we drive cars instead of walk between subway stations, and we don’t smoke. My theory is Brits are skinnier because their food isn’t as yummy (no Ranch with their nuggets), they walk everywhere, and they still smoke cigarettes (appetite suppressant sticks).

Their politicians and their media are more honest than ours. I can’t provide evidence, it’s just a sense I get from reading their newspapers while riding the Tube and watching Skye News.

Notable Similarities

The Left is the same everywhere. It’s an ideology in service to the pursuit of power by any means necessary. It doesn’t value truth or facts or freedom (except the freedom for women to kill their offspring) and it is relentless. The Left in Britain is proposing another referendum on Brexit because it simply can’t accept the people’s verdict the last time around. It’s reminiscent of the Left in America losing its collective (hive) mind over losing the 2016 election and trying to destroy Judge Kavanaugh and mobbing the Senate. They never give up, no matter how destructive of national sovereignty and personal freedom their ideas are. We will always have the Left with us.

But, visit Britain anyway. It’s a great country.

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There are 64 comments.

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  1. Member

    Western Chauvinist:

    The Italian food is to die for. This wasn’t a complete surprise to Mr. C. and me because of our experience in 1994. But, it certainly was pleasant!

     

    I had the best Italian food of my life there. I did two weeks in London on business, so my touristing was limited mostly to that Saturday. After walking around for about four hours, I smelled a wonderful smell wafting up the street. Followed my nose into a tiny restaurant run by an Italian family. Ate every scrap they put in front of me, and wiped the bowl clean with the last of the bread.

    • #1
    • October 9, 2018 at 8:15 pm
    • 5 likes
  2. Thatcher

    The best food we ate was Indian curries, at various pubs (we did pub lunches every day). Oh, and a dish called “Crofter’s Chicken” at a place in Atholl, Scotland. It was basically a chicken pot pie with the most luscious pastry crust.

    • #2
    • October 9, 2018 at 8:27 pm
    • 4 likes
  3. Coolidge

    Thank you, @westernchauvinist, for your kind remarks about my native land.

    I would agree with your neatly-categorized assessments. The only variation from my point of view concerns London. I was born in Paddington and grew up in a middle-class suburbs in the 1950’s, so although I agree that today’s cosmopolitan character is congenial for foreigners, there is a huge contrast with the London of my youth.

    My London was still the center of a powerful and wide-ranging empire, and one felt it. It was both majestic and living.

    If you haven’t already done so, you should complement what was obviously a happy experience by bringing up on YouTube the final pieces of the Last Night of the Proms (preferably the 2012 version. The two extracts are Land Of Hope And Glory https://youtu.be/Vvgl_2JRIUs and Jerusalem/God Save The Queen https://youtu.be/041nXAAn714, the three pieces being in fact our three national anthems.) In particular, the views of the immense crowd,participating in the concert from Hyde Park, will give you some idea of the fervor with which we Brits celebrate our nation.

    • #3
    • October 9, 2018 at 8:35 pm
    • 6 likes
  4. Member
    Western Chauvinist Post author

    RushBabe49 (View Comment):

    The best food we ate was Indian curries, at various pubs (we did pub lunches every day). Oh, and a dish called “Crofter’s Chicken” at a place in Atholl, Scotland. It was basically a chicken pot pie with the most luscious pastry crust.

    I assume you’ve done the HP Studio Tour, RB? If not, I have a recommendation for your next vacay!

    My girls thought it might be hokey, but it was superb! I’ll try to share some pics after I get them transferred to my computer. 

    • #4
    • October 9, 2018 at 8:51 pm
    • 2 likes
  5. Thatcher

    Sounds like an awesome trip! Sorry we missed you in the springs.

    • #5
    • October 9, 2018 at 8:53 pm
    • 2 likes
  6. Member
    Western Chauvinist Post author

    Instugator (View Comment):

    Sounds like an awesome trip! Sorry we missed you in the springs.

    Yeah, me too! I was hoping we could get the kids together. But, we were a day late getting home and I had to take off for Ohio at the end of the week, so chaos all around. Hopefully you and Joan will find an excuse to get up here again before the next reunion!

    • #6
    • October 9, 2018 at 8:59 pm
    • 3 likes
  7. Thatcher

    Thanks for the come-with, dear Chauvie! Welcome home!

    • #7
    • October 9, 2018 at 9:20 pm
    • 2 likes
  8. Member

    There are no electrical outlets in bathrooms anywhere. Not even GFI outlets. Why would that be? Was there an outbreak of electrocutions from people dropping their hair dryers into sinks filled with water? Odd.

    Most sodas are sweetened with Aspartame,

    The Left just have to save us from ourselves. Don’t you realize that if left to our own devices, we’ll die? As to the Aspartame, that really makes me mad. Aspartame gives me a pounding headache that lasts for two days. And I’m not the only one who has ill effects from it. Who do these people think they are! I bet this is some kind of offshoot from nationalized health care. We can’t have those sugar junkies costing us more money than other people.

    As to why they aren’t as fat as we are, I’ve never had edible food in London unless it was in an Indian or Italian restaurant, run by actual Indians or Italians. I haven’t been there in years, though, so thanks for the memories!

     

    • #8
    • October 9, 2018 at 9:34 pm
    • 4 likes
  9. Moderator
    She

    Loved this. Thanks for the Cooks Tour. Welcome home. I always enjoy my stays in my native land, but I’m always happy to get back.

    Western Chauvinist: There are no electrical outlets in bathrooms anywhere. Not even GFI outlets. Why would that be? Was there an outbreak of electrocutions from people dropping their hair dryers into sinks filled with water? Odd.

    This is a long-standing thing. UK electrical power is 230V, and I think an accident in a bathroom, involving water, will kill you. Usually, the light, or the heater or vent, in a bathroom has a pull string, or the switch is outside the bathroom door. At least, that’s the way it used to be. It’s incredibly inconvenient. Don’t know if you ran into this, but a lot of the wall outlets have individual on/off switches on them so that you can shut off the power to them one at a time.

    My mother-in-law had a marvelous little summation of her trip to the UK in 1984. We went all over England, saw London, Bath, Stratford, visited family and had a great time. When we got back, I asked her what she thought, and she pondered for a moment and said:

    “Well, their sheets of paper towel are smaller than ours, but their sheets of toilet paper are bigger.”

    Always kept tabs on the important things in life, my mother-in-law did.

    • #9
    • October 9, 2018 at 9:36 pm
    • 14 likes
  10. Member

    RightAngles (View Comment):

    As to why they aren’t as fat as we are, I’ve never had edible food in London unless it was in an Indian or Italian restaurant, run by actual Indians or Italians. I haven’t been there in years, though, so thanks for the memories!

     

    I had a really nice steak dinner in one place, in a big group setting. At the end of the meal they brought a special treat, some type of special candy. All the Brits were raving about how much they loved them, how wonderful they were.

    They were Whoppers. Malted milk balls. When I was a kid we used to buy 200 count cartons of those for forty-nine cents.

    • #10
    • October 9, 2018 at 9:41 pm
    • 9 likes
  11. Member

    Judge Mental (View Comment):

    RightAngles (View Comment):

    As to why they aren’t as fat as we are, I’ve never had edible food in London unless it was in an Indian or Italian restaurant, run by actual Indians or Italians. I haven’t been there in years, though, so thanks for the memories!

     

    I had a really nice steak dinner in one place, in a big group setting. At the end of the meal they brought a special treat, some type of special candy. All the Brits were raving about how much they loved them, how wonderful they were.

    They were Whoppers. Malted milk balls. When I was a kid we used to buy 200 count cartons of those for forty-nine cents.

    Haha!

    • #11
    • October 9, 2018 at 9:43 pm
    • 3 likes
  12. Moderator
    She

    Judge Mental (View Comment):

    RightAngles (View Comment):

    As to why they aren’t as fat as we are, I’ve never had edible food in London unless it was in an Indian or Italian restaurant, run by actual Indians or Italians. I haven’t been there in years, though, so thanks for the memories!

     

    I had a really nice steak dinner in one place, in a big group setting. At the end of the meal they brought a special treat, some type of special candy. All the Brits were raving about how much they loved them, how wonderful they were.

    They were Whoppers. Malted milk balls. When I was a kid we used to buy 200 count cartons of those for forty-nine cents.

    Maltesers?

    • #12
    • October 9, 2018 at 9:48 pm
    • 3 likes
  13. Member

    She (View Comment):

    Judge Mental (View Comment):

    RightAngles (View Comment):

    As to why they aren’t as fat as we are, I’ve never had edible food in London unless it was in an Indian or Italian restaurant, run by actual Indians or Italians. I haven’t been there in years, though, so thanks for the memories!

     

    I had a really nice steak dinner in one place, in a big group setting. At the end of the meal they brought a special treat, some type of special candy. All the Brits were raving about how much they loved them, how wonderful they were.

    They were Whoppers. Malted milk balls. When I was a kid we used to buy 200 count cartons of those for forty-nine cents.

    Maltesers?

    Yes, same thing. They were acting like they were a rare delicacy. So much so that I actually smelled it first, trying to tell if I was going to be disgusted by lark’s vomit or something. You know how it is in foreign countries. ;-)

    • #13
    • October 9, 2018 at 9:52 pm
    • 9 likes
  14. Member

    I swear I was thinking about this:

     

    • #14
    • October 9, 2018 at 10:01 pm
    • 10 likes
  15. Member

    Western Chauvinist: Pret Manger is the British version of Panera Bread, but better. Much better. When in doubt about what to eat, choose Pret.

    People are entitled to their opinions, but I can’t let this pass. Pret a Manger is poison. It serves one dish in dozens of tiny variations. That dish: Mayonnaise and Red Onion sandwiches. Just. Say. No.

    • #15
    • October 10, 2018 at 2:17 am
    • 3 likes
  16. Member

    Snacking and helping size also contribute to Americans becoming fat. 

    I have only visited London. It would be nice to see more of the British Isles. 

    • #16
    • October 10, 2018 at 5:31 am
    • 4 likes
  17. Member

    genferei (View Comment):

    Western Chauvinist: Pret Manger is the British version of Panera Bread, but better. Much better. When in doubt about what to eat, choose Pret.

    People are entitled to their opinions, but I can’t let this pass. Pret a Manger is poison. It serves one dish in dozens of tiny variations. That dish: Mayonnaise and Red Onion sandwiches. Just. Say. No.

    Pret a Manger is death literally.

    • #17
    • October 10, 2018 at 5:33 am
    • 1 like
  18. Member
    Western Chauvinist Post author

    genferei (View Comment):

    Western Chauvinist: Pret Manger is the British version of Panera Bread, but better. Much better. When in doubt about what to eat, choose Pret.

    People are entitled to their opinions, but I can’t let this pass. Pret a Manger is poison. It serves one dish in dozens of tiny variations. That dish: Mayonnaise and Red Onion sandwiches. Just. Say. No.

    Ha! No. I went back for the Egg Salad several times. My family ate the ham, cheese and mustard toasties — toasted, of course. 

    But, now that you mention it, their mayonnaise isn’t as good as Hellman’s (Best Foods). Too bad. 

    • #18
    • October 10, 2018 at 5:59 am
    • 1 like
  19. Member
    Western Chauvinist Post author

    RightAngles (View Comment):
    As to why they aren’t as fat as we are, I’ve never had edible food in London unless it was in an Indian or Italian restaurant, run by actual Indians or Italians. I haven’t been there in years, though, so thanks for the memories!

    We only tried the Indian food in York. It was… disappointing. We’ve never had bad Italian food in Britain, whether it was in 1994 or this trip.

    In ’94 we dined at an Italian restaurant in London run by a (very) Italian family (they were arguing kinetically and loudly, in Italian, about the receipts as we left) that specialized in squash blossom dishes. Fantastic. We remember my Mr. V’s in Edinburgh fondly as well. This trip it was Delrio’s in York that was most memorable. I’m not kidding when I say I will pine for the eggplant appetizer and the sauce on the fish until I can get back there. I would try to replicate it at home, but I don’t think I can get the ingredients here (the olives? heavenly.).

    If you wait a bit, I have pictures. Yes, of the food!

    On the politics front, we spoke to our Italian waitress at a French brassier about how she ended up in London. “There’s no work in Rome.” Sad. But, it explains all the great Italian restaurants and French bakeries in Britain. Damned tax and spend central planners ruin everything. 

    • #19
    • October 10, 2018 at 6:23 am
    • 1 like
  20. Member
    Western Chauvinist Post author

    Hang On (View Comment):

    genferei (View Comment):

    Western Chauvinist: Pret Manger is the British version of Panera Bread, but better. Much better. When in doubt about what to eat, choose Pret.

    People are entitled to their opinions, but I can’t let this pass. Pret a Manger is poison. It serves one dish in dozens of tiny variations. That dish: Mayonnaise and Red Onion sandwiches. Just. Say. No.

    Pret a Manger is death literally.

    Now, be fair. That was an allergy. As I recall Chipotle killed a few people with food-borne contaminants. It happens. 

    • #20
    • October 10, 2018 at 6:25 am
    • 1 like
  21. Member
    Western Chauvinist Post author

    She (View Comment):
    This is a long-standing thing. UK electrical power is 230V, and I think an accident in a bathroom, involving water, will kill you.

    Yes, but it means their electric teapots heat faster, too. Priorities.

    • #21
    • October 10, 2018 at 6:26 am
    • 4 likes
  22. Moderator
    She

    Western Chauvinist (View Comment):

    genferei (View Comment):

    Western Chauvinist: Pret Manger is the British version of Panera Bread, but better. Much better. When in doubt about what to eat, choose Pret.

    People are entitled to their opinions, but I can’t let this pass. Pret a Manger is poison. It serves one dish in dozens of tiny variations. That dish: Mayonnaise and Red Onion sandwiches. Just. Say. No.

    Ha! No. I went back for the Egg Salad several times. My family ate the ham, cheese and mustard toasties — toasted, of course.

    But, now that you mention it, their mayonnaise isn’t as good as Hellman’s (Best Foods). Too bad.

    English mayonnaise (salad cream) is horrible stuff. Perhaps one should try dipping Maltesers in it and seeing if it improves one, or the other, or both.

    PS: I can’t say this when I’m on my native soil, but most English Fish and Chips? Yuck. And mushy peas? Double Yuck.

    • #22
    • October 10, 2018 at 6:46 am
    • 6 likes
  23. Moderator
    She

    Western Chauvinist (View Comment):

    She (View Comment):
    This is a long-standing thing. UK electrical power is 230V, and I think an accident in a bathroom, involving water, will kill you.

    Yes, but it means their electric teapots heat faster, too. Priorities.

    Yes, that’s true. And nice.

    • #23
    • October 10, 2018 at 6:46 am
    • 1 like
  24. Moderator
    She

    Tartar sauce in British restaurants is nice. Fresh and tasty. Not like the stuff here at all.

    • #24
    • October 10, 2018 at 6:47 am
    • Like
  25. Member
    Western Chauvinist Post author

    She (View Comment):

    Tartar sauce in British restaurants is nice. Fresh and tasty. Not like the stuff here at all.

    That’s to add flavor to the fish and chips… I kept thinking, “Why hasn’t Gordon Ramsay taught these people how to use salt??”

    • #25
    • October 10, 2018 at 7:11 am
    • 1 like
  26. Member

    She (View Comment):

    PS: I can’t say this when I’m on my native soil, but most English Fish and Chips? Yuck. And mushy peas? Double Yuck.

    English fish and chips are 7 or 8 times out of 10 yuck. You have to search, but you can find the 1 out of 10 where it is really great and then you keep going back – or I did when I lived there. But the donner kabob shops were almost always good especially if they were Greek Cypriots running them. I also found a news shop run by an Indian family and the wife brought in fresh lamb samozas every morning. Guess what I had for breakfast 2 or 3 times a week. US sanitation laws would put a stop to that faster than lightning. Also, I loved the wind dried duck in Chinese restaurants. Never pass inspection here.

    You could find traditional English food that was very good but you had to do your research. I’m sure you can find it on the web nowdays but back then it was newspapers, guide books and word of mouth.

    • #26
    • October 10, 2018 at 7:53 am
    • 4 likes
  27. Reagan
    iWe

    Last summer I asked our young Polish waitress at a kosher restaurant in Golders Green what she thought of Vladimir Putin. She had never heard of him.

    Ignorance is more widespread than we might first assume.

    • #27
    • October 10, 2018 at 8:11 am
    • 4 likes
  28. Member
    Western Chauvinist Post author

    Hang On (View Comment):
    You could find traditional English food that was very good but you had to do your research. I’m sure you can find it on the web nowdays but back then it was newspapers, guide books and word of mouth.

    The difference between traveling with internet/cell phones this time and without in ’94 is night and day. I have visions of Mr. C in red phone booths with his Fodor’s Guide trying to reserve rooms for us for the night back then. This time we not only had Airbnb reservations before we left Colorado, we had tickets in-hand for the theater, our London Pass, our Brit-Rail passes, our Oyster passes (for the Tube). We used Google-maps to get to the Pembrokeshire Coastal Walk trailhead in the middle of nowhere Wales and to navigate the underground. We used rating systems to find good restaurants instead of the dated guide book/trial and error method of the 90’s. It’s truly amazing what the internet has done for travel. It can’t fix things like a member of the party losing a passport (ahem), but otherwise it makes travel almost foolproof.

    • #28
    • October 10, 2018 at 8:19 am
    • 5 likes
  29. Reagan

    RushBabe49 (View Comment):

    The best food we ate was Indian curries, at various pubs (we did pub lunches every day). Oh, and a dish called “Crofter’s Chicken” at a place in Atholl, Scotland. It was basically a chicken pot pie with the most luscious pastry crust.

    Athol? Blair Athol has been a biannual locus for my wife and boys to participate in the Scottish Jamborette. Mrs III had been 6 times, each of the boys twice, I made the trip once. Beautiful countryside, food was better than most of the stuff I eat at Scouting events, but the weather was “In Search of Sun” . The warmest day it just reached 21C (70F) and it was the only day I was not chilled to the bone miserable. It was also the only day they issued a heat advisor for the kids.

    The Scots are a hardy bunch, I wonder how they ever adapted to the sultry heat and humidity of the US south east along the Appalachians. 

    • #29
    • October 10, 2018 at 8:31 am
    • 8 likes
  30. Member

    GLDIII (View Comment):
    The Scots are a hardy bunch, I wonder how they ever adapted to the sultry heat and humidity of the US south east along the Appalachians. 

    That’s exactly how they adapted – they headed for the hills. But still lots of them staid put at least in the sandhills of North Carolina. (Scotland County kind of gives you a clue.)

    That’s also the thing about Brits. When the sun came out, they would drop what they were doing, and go to a park. When it clouded up again, back to work.

    • #30
    • October 10, 2018 at 8:47 am
    • 5 likes
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