Hello, everyone! I just got back from my Grand Tour of Europe, so I’ve finally got time to write some new posts.
As you may know, I spent the last three months travelling with my Kiwi boyfriend, starting in my native Britain. In the last post I wrote before leaving New Zealand, (Back to Blighty, or Poms Away Up Top,) I said I was nervous about returning to England. Basically, I was worried that my boyfriend, spoiled by growing up amongst New Zealand’s spectacular nature, would think that my home was a bit rubbish.
Well I’m glad to say he didn’t.
I actually had a great time seeing Britain through the eyes of a New Zealander, so let’s invert the usual format.
Instead of a British immigrant’s view of New Zealand, let’s investigate a New Zealander’s view of Britain.
So here, in no particular order, are some of the things that struck us about Britain:
1) Summer days last far too long
It was evening when we landed at Manchester Airport. We expected to fall straight asleep after our thirty-hour journey, but we got to my grandpa’s flat and found that we couldn’t. Something was wrong. It was still light. It was half past ten at night. And it was still light.
I nearly went insane that first week.
In New Zealand, the sun sets way earlier, even in summer. In Auckland, it’s dark by nine in summer, and we’d just come from the depths of winter. Now we were facing a sun that was blazing hot before six in the morning.
“It feels so wrong,” Tim said as we climbed into bed one night. “It feels like five in evening.”
2) Britain is warmer, drier and sunnier than New Zealand
You just scoffed in disbelief, didn’t you? Well I know it’s not usually the case, but for the three weeks we were in Britain, the weather was beautiful. It only rained twice, and it was hotter than a New Zealand summer. I’m afraid my boyfriend came away with quite the wrong impression.
3) Britain has too many coins
After a few days back in England, I realised my purse felt unusually heavy. It was overflowing (literally, to my embarrassment in Boots,) with coppers I couldn’t get rid of. All the one- and two-pence coins really began to annoy me. When my family arrived in New Zealand in 2001, there were no one- or two-cent coins, and the five-cent coin was abolished a few years ago. I’ve become used to a light purse, especially as, in New Zealand, you usually pay for everything with EFTPOS.
4) English villages are more picturesque than New Zealand villages
Norton Priory Walled Garden
If you drive through a village in New Zealand, you’re likely to see a few flaky, wooden houses surrounded by farmland. If you drive through a village in England, you’re likely to see neat rows of charming stone or brick houses, each with their own perfectly kept front garden. Tim noted, quite correctly, the English obsession with flowers.
“I haven’t seen one untidy garden,” he said as we were walking through my hometown.
“There’s one right there,” I pointed out. There was indeed, but it had a real estate sign in it. We didn’t see any wrongfully neglected gardens until we turned onto my old street. My God, it had gone downhill. The window above the door of the house I lived in for the first ten years of my life was boarded up, as was the bay window of the house next-door. From the way the grass looked, it’s not an unreasonable assumption that the last person to mow it was my mum, back in 2001.
Shabby as the houses on my old street looked to me, Tim still saw the charm of the Victorian terraces. When you come from New Zealand, any building built before 1930 is a rare wonder. Tim kept stopping in front of what I thought were perfectly ordinary houses, wanting to take a photo. (Although, I admit, I did this myself when we got to Germany.)
5) British drivers are more careful than New Zealand drivers – except on the motorways
Me in the Lake District
Because most of the towns in Britain were built before the invention of cars, most of the roads in Britain are narrower than the roads in New Zealand. They are made narrower still by the fact that there are usually cars parked end-to-end down both sides. You’d think this would make British roads more dangerous than New Zealand roads, but my boyfriend didn’t find this to be the case. Rather, it forces drivers to go slower and be on constant lookout for obstacles, whereas in New Zealand, because the roads are wider and obstacle-free, drivers can get more complacent.
My dad’s always saying that British drivers are far better than Kiwi drivers, and the statistics would seem to back this up, but we found the general standard of driving on the motorway was actually a lot dodgier in Britain. People were constantly crossing barely two metres in front of us without indicating, from both sides, and everyone else seemed to be going fifteen miles above the speed limit at all times.
Miles, not kilometres, as it is in New Zealand.
6) Food in Britain is cheaper, but not necessarily healthier
We were walking round a supermarket, (it was a Morrisons, so draw your own conclusions about that,) and we were amazed. There were so many brands to choose from compared to the supermarkets in New Zealand, yet, somehow, so little choice.
“This is what the nation eats?” I said. It was cheap, but not in a good way. “Is it possible to eat healthily in this country?” I’m sure it probably is, but certainly not if you’re a lazy person.
7) English bakeries are better than New Zealand bakeries, but not as good as German ones
England also has some absolutely gorgeous tea rooms, such as this one in Lincoln
A famous snack in New Zealand is the pie – piping hot, in a plastic wrapper, relatively cheap from a bakery or dairy… just try not to think too hard about what’s in it. In England, my boyfriend discovered the pasty – cheaper even than pies, yet far nicer. He developed quite a liking for them, once he’d learned the correct pronunciation of ‘pasty’. It was quite funny, really, when we walked into one of the bakeries in my hometown and he asked, in a loud Kiwi accent, “What’s a Scotch egg?”
Even funnier was when we asked my uncle if there were any sushi bars around and received the incredulous reply, “In Retford?!”
8) Britain has a serious lack of sushi bars
In Auckland, it seems like every second shop is a sushi bar. If you want a fresh, tasty lunch that’s also cheap and healthy, sushi is the only way to go. My boyfriend and I love sushi and, in England – all over Europe, in fact – this was the biggest thing we missed from New Zealand. It’s all very well having pasties and custard tarts and pain au chocolat, but we just wanted something fresh.
9) It’s impossible to get away from civilisation in England
Even in the beautiful Lake District National Park, as you survey the lakes and the mountains, you see farmhouses and field boundaries, a natural landscape tamed and shaped by humanity. There is spectacular nature there, but not wild, untamed nature like you get in New Zealand.
The English landscape has been inhabited for so long that it’s become interwoven with human history. But that in itself is beautiful. In England, you can be walking through a forest and come across some mystically beautiful stone ruins. The farmhouses in the Lake District are beautiful farmhouses. England has a manmade beauty that New Zealand simply doesn’t.
Castlerigg, a stone circle that’s about 5000 years old in the Lake District
10) England is as nice as it can be made; New Zealand is as nice as it can be kept
That’s a direct quote from Tim. No sooner had he come out with it, I was scribbling it down in my notebook. The ideal of beauty in New Zealand is nature as untouched as possible by humanity; the ideal of beauty in England is nature perfected by humanity. Both have their merits, and, as Tim said, you can’t say one is better than the other. However, by the time I’d spent three months surrounded by beautiful civilisation, I was definitely longing for some good old Kiwi countryside.
In fact, before we’d even left Europe, we were planning a New Zealand campervan foray. Ever since I wrote that article about the Kea, Tim’s wanted to go in search of them. So, to the Southern Alps it is. Particularly apt after encountering the original Alps in Europe…