The Trans-Atlantic Question

In the Challenge Cheryl series of articles, Carolyn asked:

What do you miss when you’re in the UK, and what do you miss when you’re in the US?

What do I miss when I’m in the UK? Three things: Kevin, Kevin and Kevin.

It is a trite answer, but when you have met someone that you’d like to spend the rest of your life with then you do actually want to spend your life with him, not have to spend half the year 5000 miles apart. Kevin and I connect on all sorts of levels, including the obvious one. I miss his companionship, I miss having someone to talk ideas over with, I miss having someone appreciative to cook for, and I miss him for many other reasons as well. And, as I explained in The Travel Question, California is where my home is. When I’m not here, I don’t have a home, and you can’t help but miss your home.

Of course there are other things that I miss as well, and at this point I should note that I’m not really talking about the UK versus the USA, I’m talking about Darkest Somerset versus the Bay Area. If I lived in London there would much less I’d miss when I was in the UK, and if I lived in Detroit or rural Texas the same would hold true.

So what do I miss about the Bay Area when I’m away? Let’s start with food. Chipotle is the world’s greatest fast food chain by a long chalk. These days the first food I eat when returning to the US is always a Chipotle burrito. In the summer I also miss Jamba Juice. Britain is starting to get the hang of smoothies, but only in big cities. Finally on the subject of food, eating out in the US is roughly half the price they charge in the UK. When I was in Orlando for ICFA I ate at one of the best fish restaurants in Florida, and it cost me no more than I would have paid at a cookie cutter curry house in London.

Then there is the environment. The weather in California is superb. And within an easy drive we have redwood forests and Monterey. It is very noticeable that there is a lot more space in America than there is in the UK. Of course I also have the ability to get into the country. When in California I have Kevin’s van available to me. In the UK I don’t have so much as a bicycle (or anywhere to keep a vehicle when I’m away if I bought one).

I have friends in California. Of course I have friends in the UK as well, but none that live anywhere near me. The closest SF person to my usual UK base is Liz Williams, who is about 12 miles away on narrow country roads. When I am in the UK most of my social interaction is via the Internet. In California I can go to BASFA, to SF in SF events and so on.

This may surprise you, but in the UK I miss the sense of personal safety that I have in California. Of course there are parts of the US, and even parts of the Bay Area, that are dangerous, but you know where they are and you can avoid them. In the UK, no matter where I am, I never know when I’m going to get yelled at in the street by a complete stranger, or by people passing in a car, and I am always conscious of the danger of robbery. This is highly subjective, but the UK feels threatening. I feel much safer in California.

And finally there is baseball. UK television has good coverage of the NFL, I can survive without hockey, and basketball bores me to tears, but baseball is a fascinating sport and you get very little coverage in the UK, most of it in the middle of the night and featuring the detestable Yankees or Dodgers.

What do I miss when I am in the US? That’s harder.

We’ll start with food again. There isn’t a lot of British food that you can’t get in the Bay Area. Even good cheddar cheese can be found if you know where to look, but it is around five times the price I’d pay back in Somerset. The main thing I miss, however, is smoked fish. I have finally found a source of smoked mackerel, but I don’t know anywhere that sells smoked haddock. I’ve tried making kedgeree with smoked trout, but it isn’t the same.

Then there is toast. This will sound odd, but it just isn’t the same in the US. To start with you can walk into any British bakery or grocery store and buy a nice granary tin loaf or something similar. You can get good bread in California, but the tin loaf seems unknown outside of the sliced plastic stuff they still sell to people with no taste buds. And all British cookers come with an attached grill for making toast (and cheese-on-toast). American cookers don’t. We’ve recently invested in one of those mini-oven things that might do the trick – it certainly handles bagels better than our toaster – but making toast here is hard.

Next up would have to be television. When I’m in the UK I live by Sky Sports. It provides an almost constant supply of good quality rugby and cricket. Of course I can get those things via Internet TV in the States, but the coverage isn’t nearly as good. And America simply doesn’t get snooker. I still live in hope of being able to show Kevin the awesome sight of Ronnie O’Sullivan making a 147. As for documentaries, while British TV has been going downhill of late, it still has a long way to go before it hits the depths of US television. Thank goodness for Mythbusters.

Even though the UK is very expensive, some of the UK shops are better. In particular it has better (and sometimes cheaper) clothes. America is beginning to catch up, but I still buy most of my clothes in the UK. Of course not having a home there, I have to keep most of them in the US, but so it goes. And, of course, if I couldn’t shop at Marks & Spencer, where would I buy my underwear? Fortunately we now have Lush stores in the Bay Area.

Finally a quick shout out to Alison, my hairdresser. A good hairdresser is hard to find and takes a while to train. I still haven’t managed to find anyone in the Bay Area that I can communicate effectively with and who will be at the salon when I go back a few months later.

And that, I think, is just about that. The UK? Meh.

5 thoughts on “The Trans-Atlantic Question

  1. Thanks Brian. There is a British Foods shop in San Mateo that we have used on occasion, particularly to buy haggis. However, there’s no way they’ll be stocking fresh bread, and I’ve not seen any stock smoked fish. Such places were very useful when I first started living here, but became less so with the advent of places like Cost Plus World Market (who handily satisfy my annual craving for mince pies).

  2. Very interesting – some cultural differences there I wouldn’t have guessed. You don’t do a lot of bread shopping when you’re a tourist, so I’d missed the US non-tin loaf situation completely, for example. (Probably too rapt in the bagels to notice.) And as you say, I did find the safety thing surprising at first blush, although not perhaps on reflection.

    I really do feel for your situation being able to stay in SF only half of the year: I only wish I could think of something useful to suggest. About the best I can come up with is a Make Cheryl Famous campaign.

  3. Nicola Griffith got in on the basis of winning the Tiptree. Sadly winning a Hugo for a fanzine doesn’t cut it, but I’ll keep working at things.

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