Saturday, January 31, 2015

13 Observations From A Newcomer To Edinburgh/UK

Note: This is a guest post authored by my awesome wife, Diana

I have been living in Edinburgh just over 6 months now, and I thought it would be fun to share my initial thoughts on things that have stood out for me for one reason or another. Maybe some of these things are just Edinburgh or Scotland specific and are different in the rest of the UK. This is not meant to be a newcomer’s guide to the UK.

Maybe it helps for you to understand these thoughts if you know that I have lived in various parts of Australia, and I lived 3 years in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. So it is not just from the perspective of someone who has never lived overseas before, but I have only lived in one other country, so I am not exactly an expert on these sorts of things, and if I was I would probably see these things I have noticed in a more balanced way.

You will probably notice that some things I am quite particular about for emotional/non-rational reasons, and so I'm not pretending that my position or point of view is always logical and well reasoned here, but that's not really the point of this post. I just want to present some of my reactions to things over here and I'm hoping others will find it interesting or amusing.

Anyway, let's get started...

13. My feet should not touch the end of the bed

Apparently a double size bed is the standard bed size for couples in the UK. Even some UK hotels will provide this size and it is a special thing if they have UK king size (Which is Aussie Queen size). I guess this is mainly due to smaller room sizes? Maybe if you never turn over and are deep sleepers, and are slim and short, and do not have pets that sleep in your bed, double size is fine for two people sleeping, but for me this size really reduces the quality of my sleep. And good quality sleep is really important to me and I don’t think I am alone on this.

We rent a furnished place as otherwise I would have bought a larger bed (the room is just barely big enough for a larger bed). But I am surprised that couples here seem ok with sleeping on a double bed. I guess something is wrong with me. Adam and I had a king size bed is Australia (UK super king size) and we had plenty of room and you could not notice if someone turned in bed, and there was even plenty of room for the cat. I guess with hot weather as well, you do not want to be close to someone else when trying to sleep. So maybe that is it, UK couples snuggle and if so that is great. But yeah, I look forward to sleeping in a larger bed again.

12. Trash bins in the streets

I get that Edinburgh is an old city, and it was built before they had to think about effective garbage removal, but seeing all the large black garbage bins in the streets makes the place look shitty (the bins are out there all the time, not just on rubbish collection day). I think it leads to more bits of rubbish being in the streets. This is not everywhere, and our newish apartment complex has a storeroom for the common garbage bins, but there are still plenty to be seen around Edinburgh. I guess this particularly bothers me as the place is so beautiful, so it seems such a shame to have big black garbage bins on the street ruining this. Maybe people here are used to seeing the bins and they do not even notice them anymore? I have noticed recently on Leith Walk they are trialling having the bins there only certain times during the week, when they are actually going to come around and empty the bins, and I think this has really improved the look of that road.

11. Power points in Bathrooms

I want to be able to dry my hair in the bathroom.

So, bathrooms can be small here, true. But apparently there is some rule about how there needs to be 1m between a power outlet and a water outlet (Or something like this), so this basically means very few bathrooms have any power outlets. They can have an outlet for shavers, and you can buy electric toothbrushes that can plug into these shaver outlets. So, from what I have heard most people just dry their hair in the bedroom.

I know they are trying to save me from electrocuting myself or someone I love. But I don’t care, I can handle a power point in the bathroom. I know my brother’s first apartment only had one power point and it was right up near the ceiling away from any water source, and you also needed a ladder to use it (maybe an exaggeration), so I guess Australia had something like this before. Aren’t there things you can install like a safety switch that stops electrocutions in houses anyway?

And a minor note, but do the shaver power outlets emit some kind of magic electricity that can't electrocute you? How is one type okay but not the other?

10. Mailboxes, you are doing it wrong

Actually I guess they are mail slots, because you basically get your mail delivered through a slot in the front door. For our place it is actually quite nosy when the mail gets delivered, the first few times it really scared me! What I understand even less about this, is that we live in an apartment which you need to either have a key or get someone to buzz you in to get inside, so how does the mailman get into the building? Does he have keys, or could anyone who buzzes and says they're the mailman get let in? Then why have security? Also, surely it annoys him having to walk up 3 flights of stairs to deliver my mail. Perhaps we can all agree having mailboxes at the front of apartments that we can also access with a key makes more sense.

9. Let me run free

One of my favourite things about Scotland is the freedom the average person has to walk on someone else’s land. The Pentland hills near Edinburgh are a great example of this. I won’t go too much into this, as I could write a whole other post on this topic. And I am sure most of you already know more about this than me, and if you don’t, google it!

I had this more or less at Lennox Head growing up. I use to walk on farmland, but I would have to climb through barbwire fences to do this (I got quite good at this) and I obviously was not meant to be walking on this land. But because I guess I was a bad child, I got to see some really beautiful parts around where I lived. Down the end of my street there was a bit of rainforest where there were vines me and my friends could swing on, but I had to get through barbwire fences to access this. So I really love the freedom to explore over here.

8. What’s all this about no sunshine?

Honestly it is not that cold, and not that cloudy. Maybe we have been really lucky with the weather, and I admit the sun setting at 3:30pm is a little soon, but this only lasts a short while, and in summer you get the sun setting at 10:30pm, so to me the trade-off is worth it. Maybe it is just because I love variety, and the weather and daylight hours vary quite a lot here. What bothered me was the endless sunshine and hot days without any rain in Perth. I really missed the rain. The cold is fine as you just have the proper clothes, and the heating in our home is great. I was way colder in my home in Perth in winter.

7. Scottish people are awesome

Yes, I know this is a generalisation, but you should be used to that now from me and meh!

Our first impression of a Scottish person in Scotland was our cab driver. He went out of his way to find exactly where our apartment was as we did not realize apartment number and street number are switched here when you write them (So 9/10 is unit 9 street number 10 in Australia , whereas here it is street number 9 apartment 10). We gave him a tip, and he handed back half of it as he said it was too much. Pretty much this first impression has held up. I feel really welcome here which is nice. Maybe I am actually not as welcome as I think, but I certainly feel like I am.

6. Castles, for real

Castles for us are such a novelty. We love roaming through them. We get as excited about castles as we do about snow. I am very glad that so much effort and money has been put into keeping these amazing buildings accessible to the public.

5. That was not food

The quality range here can really vary. My impression is that things are a little more expensive in Germany but you have better quality. We had some Toad in the Holes (admittedly this was frozen food) heated up in the oven and I have never felt so ill from eating something in my life (except when I have gotten food poising). I have no idea what type of meat they used but it was such bad quality. Maybe we should have known better, and maybe you all know better. Maybe all frozen meat products are a no go here. I do not know. Adam and I have frozen vegetarian meat as part of our lunches now.

4. Pierogi my favourite

So apparently there is quite a large Polish community here, there are Polish speciality shops all over the place. And we totally win from this as I love Polish food. I can get a pack of mushroom and sauerkraut pierogi from the local supermarket for £1-1.50 (AUD2-3.00 roughly). Bargain! My background is Ukrainian, Polish and Belarussian (or as Adam says it does not matter, and I guess I tend to agree), and my grandma use to make varenyky which is more or less the same as pierogi. I would like to make it too, but it is too time consuming. So it is nice to get it (or something close enough) so easily here. Now if only I could get cabbage rolls like my grandmother use to make…she was the best cook.

я голодний

Hope that translation was correct, I know how to say it, I don’t know how to write it. (It says "I am hungry!")

3. Not hot chips with meals, what?

Just so there is no confusion, I mean what you call crisps in the UK or potato chips in Australia. We have had a few times now when we have ordered a sandwich at a café where it would come with a few potato chips or corn chips on the plate. We have never had this before, and we think it is the strangest thing. But I guess do hot chips make more sense? Yes, yes they do! Or else you might as well throw a few Gummi Bears on the side if you're going to head down that path!

2. Washing, washing everywhere

It seems so odd to me that dryers are common in Australia but they are not in the UK, not even laundries seem common. In some units/apartments in Australia they do not have a separate laundry, but they will have something within the bathroom, like a cupboard with the washing machine and dryer behind it. Maybe this comes back to the lack of power points in the bathroom… and smaller sized places in general. In Germany we had a communal laundry room where we could all put our washing machines and dryers.

With the unpredictable rain, you cannot really hang your washing up outside here (There is not even the option where we rent), so the only option for our case, and I think this is common in the UK, is to air dry your clothes inside your home. So this means almost all the time we have two clothes racks with washing drying. From what I have seen new places are also being built without a laundry, and with the washing machine in the kitchen.  Why! Does it honestly not bother UK residents? I have seen some larger homes will have a laundry, so maybe having a laundry is a rich person thing here? I think maybe it would be fine to dry your clothes inside if you were one person, and you could open the windows to have airflow remove the dampness. But with it being 0 degrees outside, I do not really want the windows open all the time.

1. Tiny deathtrap bathrooms

They seem to love having the shower in the bathtub here. I think this is a US thing too. In Australia, only cheap places (Or maybe old ones) have the shower in the bathtub in the main bathroom. We tend to have a separate shower. Bathtubs are slippery, the shower curtain sticks to you, and it’s cold! With a shower with glass doors you are in this warm, safe box. I don’t know how old people manage to step into these bathtub/shower combo’s. In Australia, if there is a lack of space, they will only have a shower and not bathtub. The main plus of the shower/bathtub combo is not having to clean the grout. But to me, that is it.

Because the bathrooms are so small, the sinks tend to be right up next to the toilet, virtually to the point that you could be going to the toilet while leaning over the sink and brushing your teeth at the same time. I can't even imagine what this does for hygiene, but I know Adam is not overly impressed putting contact lenses in and out of his eyes two feet from a toilet bowl!

We tend to dislike the trend of putting toilets in bathrooms in general, but over here it's almost like they built the bathroom at a size intended only for a bath and sink, and then just decided to jam a toilet in there because they've been playing too much Tetris or something.

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