I did not realize this was a thing

A childhood spent watching Masterpiece Theater has not prepared me for the fuss around:

  • Electricity. Every plug is controlled by an individual switch and sometimes two or three more switches between the electricity main and the actual outlet or hard-wired appliance. Some switches are located out of reach over doorways for extra security. At work, my use of a (grounded, surge protected) power strip triggered an emergency rewiring intervention by Estates to give me a proper cable rail with switches. Why are the British still so scared of electricity?
  • Classic rock tribute bands. Beatlemania and Bjorn Again were reviewed during my New York period as one-off novelty acts. We play a lot more covers these days, thanks to American Idol and Glee but we’re not into the full Madame Tussaud’s experience. Here there is an entire industry of touring simulations – not just superacts like ABBA and Queen (the Beatles re-enactment market is still catered to by Paul McCartney) but AC/DC, The Eagles, Marc Bolan, Tina Turner, ZZTop. I expect to see a Bay City Rollers tribute band coming to the Ipswich Regent any week now. There is also an industry of touring ’50s rock’n’roll musicals – Grease and knockoffs. [1]
  • Property. It’s a worldwide mania, of course. Even I, long a defender of renting because it gave me the never-exercised flexibility to move to Shanghai on a moment’s notice, now subscribe to property ads in three cities and read them the way 20somethings used to read personal ads. The difference is that here the property market takes up a huge share of property itself. Every second storefront seems to be an estate agent – the defining face of retail in Ipswich, like opticians and mobile phone stores used to be in Helsinki or shoestores in Nis, Serbia.
  • Christmas lunch specials at restaurants. The traditional American Jewish Christmas is Chinese food and a movie [2], but here even the Christian majority eats out and works in the restaurant trade on the day.
  • Valerie’s Patisserie. People on Streetlife are very excited about this chain cake shop coming to Ipswich. Good for them, but I would be more thrilled by independent vegan restaurants full of animal rights literature so I’d have somewhere to feed visiting friends.
  • Hard water. The water in Helsinki was definitely not pH neutral, it destroyed several kettles, and I now realize it was probably soft water, acidic. There is no mistaking the white lime on my saucepan here. I have bought the special variety of Yorkshire tea for hard water and am investing in Brita type filtering products, though it might be cheaper to drink bottled water.
  • Jolly hockey-sticks language, particularly noticeable during freshers week at the university but creeping into memos as well: Have a go! Have your say! Do a taster course! At the same time as I’m hearing all this determinedly non-heavy, non-committal exhortation talk, the default personal greeting seems to be, “Are you all right?” Which in my world, is used to people who are already in tears, i.e. clearly not all right. As an opener, from a stranger, it seems like asking for a ketchup burst.
  • I am all right though.

    [1] I once saw a Bryan Adams cover band (not tribute band, they appeared as themselves) called Different Ape at Kaarle. They were much better than you might think and also sang U2.

    [2] You cannot do this in Helsinki, by the way. The place shuts down more comprehensively than you would think possible for 24 hours from about 4 pm December 24. No buses, nothing. I strongly recommend organizing a party where people arrive ahead of time with sleeping bags, or skipping town.

    Posted on by Diana ben-Aaron
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