The USA vs. The UK

I recently got back from a week in the UK, and while I was there the missus and I talked about a lot of the things that the US does better than the UK and vice-versa. It’s certainly interesting to go to a foreign country and see how things differ between that country and your own country. Maybe that country even does some things (gasp!) better than America!

Here’s a quick list of things we thought of that either the UK or the US does better than the other:

Stuff The UK Does Better

1) Scarves – This is one category where it’s not even a contest. The UK absolutely kicks America square in the ass when it comes to scarves, specifically the wearing of scarves. British people seem to have this innate ability to effortlessly fold a scarf and make it both practical and beautiful. Remember on the school playground how the girls used to play with string by hooking it around their fingers and pulling their hands apart? Remember too how the guys would occasionally try to copy the girls at this, yet only succeed in cutting off the blood supply to one of their fingers? Well, in that analogy the girls are British people and the guys are Americans. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure that there are plenty of Yankees that can tie a scarf as well as an Englishman… but they just don’t have the grace that Britons (of both sexes) do.

2) Potato Chips – Ya know, Americans invented potato chips. But then the Limeys renamed them to “crisps” and started making them in all sorts of delicious flavors. It seems that Brits aren’t afraid to try bacon, turkey or roasted chicken flavored chips, while we here in America seem to be stuck in a constant cycle of barbeque or sour cream and onion chips… oh, and don’t forget salt and vinegar chips… which are also a British invention. Of course, there are plenty of “wacky” American chips that like: I love me some Utz’s Chesapeake Bay Crab chips, some Snyder’s Sweet Hawaiian Onion chips or some Zapp’s Cajun Crawtator chips… but these chips are all regional specialties at best. In Britain, the love of different tasting chips seems to be institutionalized in their national character. I WANT ME SOME CURRY PRINGLES, DAMMIT!

3) Vegetables – the “megafarms” of the United States produce a huge quantity of food, enough to feed almost the entire world. But it seems that we’ve been shortchanged, trading lower prices for flavor. Seriously, ask your grandparents about how tasty grocery store tomatoes are compared to the ones they used to get when they were kids. Although Britain’s agricultural system shows some signs of Americanization, Britain is still part of the EU, and one of the things the EU values far more than America does is small farms. And because of this, British peas are bright green delights the size of marbles. They actually taste like… peas! America’s sad, tired looking peas are jealous!

4) Cheese – The Brits invented cheddar, but it took America to make it boring. Please don’t get me wrong here: America does makes some great cheeses. The only problem is that it’s usually hard-to-find “artisan cheese” that’s likely to cost you an arm and a leg. Of course, Britain has those types of cheeses too. But comparing the block of “cheddar” sold in most American grocery stores with the delectable cheesy goodness sold in British stores is simply no contest.

5) Packaged Sandwiches – You know those sad sandwiches you see in the triangular packages at American gas stations? They have those in the UK too… but they’re good and they’re everywhere! Marks and Spencer alone sell delicious sandwiches like “Soy Glazed Roast Chicken, Avocado & Sweetcure Bacon”, “Roast Chicken & Stuffing”, “Salmon & Cucumber”, “Wensleydale & Carrot”, “Chicken Tikka”, “Prawn & Smoked Salmon” and “Chargrilled Chicken & Watercress”, in addition to old standbys like “British Ham and Cheese” or a BLT. On my first trip to London I was even able to enjoy Marks and Spencer’s “Beef Wellington Sandwich” – rare roast beef, goose liver pâté and mushrooms on fluffy white bread. Yum! OK, so maybe goose liver and mushrooms ain’t your thing, but you’ve gotta admit that the selection of packaged sandwiches in the UK far outshines the sad old ham and cheese or tuna salad you see here in the US.

6) Prices On Merchandise – The UK has a national sales tax, called the “Value Added Tax” or VAT. I don’t think that that VAT is cool at all. But one cool thing about it is that the price you see on the tag is the final price you pay for the item. In other words, if you have a £10 shirt and a £3 pair of socks in your hand, your total at checkout will be… wait for it… £13! Given that sales taxes vary from state to state in the US (and even from county to county within the same state), a system like this simply could not be set up in America, especially in states with exemptions for certain items, like food or clothing. If you went to a Super Wal Mart in Georgia, for example, it’d be nearly impossible for you to keep up with how much you’re paying in taxes on the items in your cart. For example: a hammer and nails would be taxable while flour and sugar would not be taxable. TV dinners would be taxable, but at a lower rate than non-food items.

Stuff The USA Does Better

1) Street Signs – In the US, street signs either hang over large intersections or are posted on highly visible poles at the corners of smaller intersections. In the UK (OK, London specifically), street signs are posted on the walls of the buildings themselves on street corners. Due to the fact that different buildings have different facades, the British street sign might be placed anywhere from ten to fifty feet off the ground. British street signs also tend to be much more random than their American counterparts, especially on larger streets. You can walk several blocks down a large street like Regent Street before you see a sign telling you that you are, in fact, on Regent Street. It’s silly.

2) City Planning In General – OK, maybe this one’s not really fair. After all, London was already 1600 years old when New York City came into being. But still – grids are good! Giving alleys and walkways four feet across street names is bad. Giving addresses ascending numbers with odd numbers on one side of the street and evens on the other is good. Randomly picking between that system and simply numbering the houses consequentially as they go up the street is bad. Not having addresses at all and only referring to houses by their names is bad. Giving every building an address, no matter the location or significance of the building, is good.

3) Keeping To The Right – We drive on the right side of the road here in America, and as a result we also walk on the right on sidewalks or automatically pick the right-hand side when ascending a flight of steps. You’d think it’d be a simple reverse of all of this in the UK since they drive on the left side of the road… but it’s not. Conflicting signs at Tube stations tell you to keep left on one flight of stairs but the right side on another. People walk down crowded streets in any direction they choose. Getting from Point A to Point B in London can be a nightmare of choosing which side you’re supposed to be on. In America, it’s always the right.

4) Free Refills! – Americans are a thirsty people. That’s why when you go to almost any restaurant in this great land you’ll pay an initial charge for a drink (say, $1.95) and you’re free to ask the waitress for as many refills of soda, iced tea, lemonade, coffee or water as you’d like. Hell, in many less expensive American restaurants the drink fountain is out in the seating area, so you can get as much as you want yourself! In such restaurants, you also have the ability to make yourself that curious American concoction called a “suicide”, which is a drink made up of random amounts of different types of soda. Dr. Pepper and Sunkist Orange? Yum! Diet Coke and Ginger Ale? Not so good. Regardless of where the drink fountain is in a restaurant, you can drink 20 ounces of Coke… 40 ounces of Coke… 60 ounces of Coke… 80 ounces of Coke! Drink as much as your little heart wants… ‘cos it’s all free here in the USA… except for alcoholic beverages and fancy coffee drinks.

5) Ice! – Nothing says “God Bless America” more than a cup full of ice! I have a theory see, and it’s that the farther south you go, the more ice you get. In Atlanta, you’ll get a glass filled to the top with ice cubes – the way God intended Coke or iced tea to be served. In New York you’ll get maybe half that. In London, you’ll get one measly ice cube in your drink, no matter how hot it is outside. Perhaps it’s because the UK rarely has the sweltering weather that we get here in the American South? Maybe there’s something in the British psyche left over from the days when there wasn’t any refrigeration that says that lukewarm Coke is OK? I don’t know, but I did notice something interesting on my last trip to the UK: for some reason, mixed alcoholic drinks (like a vodka & tonic) come with plenty of ice cubes, while soft drinks like Coke don’t. Maybe the English are just cheap bastards that will load you up on ice when there’s liquor on the line?

6) ONE System of Measurements – America uses the Imperial system of measurement that was in use at the time of the American Revolution. Since then, the Brits overhauled their own system (which is why an American pint is 16 ounces while a British pint is 20 ounces). And now Britain is attempting to convert over to the metric system. At least here in the US we picked one system and stuck with it. It’s so bizarre going into a British pub and ordering a pint of ale and a 250ml glass of wine. It’s even more bizarre watching Tony Robinson describing a wall at some historical site in England as being “30 meters long and 18 inches thick”. Hell, most people in England still use stone (14 pounds) as a measure when referring to their own weight. So if an English mother takes their child to the doctor for a check-up, she might find that he’s 125 centimeters tall and weighs 7 stone. Hats off to the English for their use of the Celsius scale for temperatures though – although I don’t think that Celsius is any better than Fahrenheit, at least it’s the one metric measure that all English people seem to use. Except for perhaps the very old ones. And before anyone sends me a nasty email, I am fully aware that there are a lot of things in the US either sold, bought or maintained in metric units. Yes, drinks come in 2 liter containers. Yes, almost every car built within the past 20 years uses metric wrenches. I know all that. But if you stopped the average American on the street and asked him or her how tall they were, how much something weighed, or how far away another city was, they’d use the Imperial system of measurements. That’s all I meant there.

How about you? Do you know of any things that either America or Britain does better than the other? If so, leave a comment!

2 Replies to “The USA vs. The UK”

  1. hehehehe… Thanks for pointing that out! I KNOW that 1 stone – 14 pounds… I don’t know where that .5 came from. The article’s been fixed. THANKS!

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