United Kingdom -- First impressions

We have been in Great Britain for about 10 months now and I thought I should write down some of my first impressions about this place. This is definitely not pretending to be a scientific evaluation, but a mere side scratches of a newcomer. It's also worth noting that we only saw part of the South West (Surrey) which seems to be in a more favourable situation than the rest of the country.

The name
It's still a bit confusing for me to make a clear distinction between Britain, Great Britain, England and the United Kingdom. It seems like the official name is "United Kingdom" although the top-level Internet domain name for this country is actually GB (and not UK) as per ISO 3166. England seems to be used to indicate the largest island.

Food was probably the most noticeable difference for me. The British seem to heavily consume ready-made and frozen meals, grocery stores contain huge sections of this type of food. The "hot food section" is usually a tiny corner that the shopper can barely spot, hot food is almost synonymous with roast chicken. The national junk food is fish and chips which is usually a portion of deep-fried, breaded Cod fish with potato fries.
The other significant food in the UK is alcohol, it seems to be an integral part of the social life and there are shops dedicated to nothing but selling beer, wine and spirits. It's very common that people head to the pub (bar) right after work, everyday at times.

This seems to be the term to use to express anger while avoiding vulgar expressions. It appears to be socially acceptable.

A very good roads network. The underground service is well-designed and reliable. There's a problem with the cost though; parking is very expensive at several GBP per day, gas is at an average of 0.90 GBP per litre and diesel is usually a little more expensive than gas. Trains tend, apparently for safety reasons, to run slower then in other European countries, a round-trip from Guildford to Cambridge costs about 36 GBP which is, by Tunisian standards, a lot.

Health Services
The National Health Service (NHS) is the public authority running the Government's health services. The state is controlling almost all aspects of health care, patients need to register with a local General Practitioner (GP) who coordinates all their health service needs. The first general impressions are not very positive so far, but we had a very good experience with the emergency service.

Fellow Tunisians have a lot to learn from the British on this matter, everyone queues, everywhere.

Urban organisation
All buildings look exactly the same: red-brick walls with tiny rooms and really tight doors, I often wonder how they could take sofas inside the house. Actually, whe I moved I shipped a 3-seater sofa to my address in the UK, unfortunately I had to sell the item on e-Bay (for a fraction of the price) because I simply couldn't take it upstairs. Some modern buildings tend to use more metal and glass. Roads are usually a bit tight compared to Dubai or the US. Some of the roads suffer a little damage, clearly because of rain water.

The Independent is my preferred newspaper. I don't have exposure to many popular TV channels, I only receive five of them. I listen to BBC 4 Radio daily and I find it great, Radio Tunis has to do a lot of restructuring to reach this high standard; too much music has exactly zero informational value.
The British media has the particularity of being shocking without turning politically incorrect. Showing body liquids and extreme nudity on TV is somehow a form of joking here and I recall seeing postcards with human genitals in London. I find it an interesting form of humour. Some say that the British were shocked so many times that they hardly find anything shocking.

No middle finger
Extending the middle finger as a vulgar sign of extreme offense does not work in Britain. The British express the same by extending both middle fingers of the same hand (the ones closest to the thumb). The legend says that in earlier times, when British archers were captured by the French, they had their fingers chopped, at least the ones used to throw arrows. Therefore, showing off the fingers is used as a sign of defiance.

هناك 5 تعليقات:

Jimbo يقول...

Apologies for the food--it's been so bad for so long it's become a sacred tradition. (Blessedly, there are lots of Indian and Middle Eastern eateries.)

About that middle finger…

An interesting origin. As you note, it’s a rude gesture, and often accompanied by an expletive rhyming with “Pluck Yew!” –which is the original phrase, much corrupted since the Battle of Agincourt. (October 25, 1415—St. Crispin’s Day)

At Agincourt 5,000 bone-weary, hungry English archers under the immortal Henry V and a handful of his earls, defeated a French force of 30,000--mostly armored knights and heavy infantry. The French had threatened to cut off the middle fingers of all captured English bowmen, so they could no longer “pluck yew”—pull the English longbow, made of yew wood. http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=yew

The French cavalry charged, the English bowmen held their ground and when the dust settled, 10,000 Frenchmen were dead and about one-hundred Englishmen. As the defeated French rode away, the English bowmen held up their right hands, middle finger extended, shouting derisively “Pluck yew! Pluck yew!”

Agincourt was and remains The epic stand of English (or is it British? :) ) arms.

For more than you’d ever want to know about it: http://www.geocities.com/beckster05/Agincourt/AgCampaign.html


Then shall our names,
Familiar in his mouth as household words-
Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester-
Be in their flowing cups freshly rememb'red.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.
-- Wm. Shakespeare, King Henry V

Karim2k يقول...

Good luck there man , we want to hear more about you !

Roheet Shah يقول...


My name is Roheet Shah, and I am an intern with the American Islamic Congress, and its project, HAMSA (Hands Across the Mideast Support Alliance) based out of Boston. I came across your e-mail address through reading your blog, and I greatly admired what you had to say. I am writing today to ask for help in regards to a project I am working on in Civil Rights in the Middle East.

One of the projects I am working on is the promotion of an essay contest on Civil Rights in the Middle East. The contest has two parts: one for Middle Eastern youth (25 and younger) and one for American youth (25 and younger). To participate, all one has to do is write a brief essay (600-2,000 words) addressing one of the questions below. Winners - selected by a group of celebrity judges, including Gloria Steinem, Dr. Saad Eddin Ibrahim, and Norman Hill - will receive a $2,000 prize, with other prizes for top essays. For more information on the contest, please visit: http://www.hamsaweb.com/essay-contest.php

Specifically, I would first like to encourage you to enter the contest (if you are eligible), and secondly, I would like to ask for your help in publicizing the essay contest, either by posting about it in your blog, or telling your friends and colleagues about it. If you would like to post about the contest in your blog, we have pre-made promotional materials available at: www.hamsaweb.org/promo

For you convenience, I have included a short announcement about the essay contest below this e-mail, and attached a flyer about it to this e-mail.

Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions, and thank you in advance,

--Roheet Shah
Program Intern
American Islamic Congress (www.aicognress.org)


I write to inform you about a new essay contest launched by the American Islamic Congress on civil rights in the Middle East. Anyone under the age of 26 can enter, and finalists can win up to $2,000 in cash prizes.

The "Dream Deferred Essay Contest" (see http://www.hamsaweb.org ) challenges young Americans and young Middle Easterners to express constructive ideas for individual rights in the world's least-free region.

Judges for the essay contest include Gloria Steinem (founder of Ms. Magazine), the Cato Institute's Tom Palmer, Azar Nafisi (author of Reading Lolita in Tehran), as well as noted Middle Eastern bloggers Ammar Abdulhamid of Syria and Mahmoud Al-Yousif from Bahrain.

We are hoping to awaken young Americans to the reform efforts of indigenous Middle Eastern progressives and to engage them in this discussion. Several hundred Americans have already submitted essays, but we would like to reach out to students on campus so you can enter before our deadline, on March 31st, 2006.

We hope you consider submitting an essay, and please feel free contact me at roheet@aicongress.org with any questions or concerns.

Thank you,

--Roheet Shah


Imed Chihi يقول...


Thank you for the clarifications. You can feel the weight of history wherever you walk in Britain, I think I still have loads of things to learn.


Imed Chihi يقول...

Hi Karim,

Thanks for dropping by. I keep an eye on your blog, it's my remote eye inside Tunisia :)