I live in Leeds and I have lived here just over 3 months. I had been to England often before and had certain thoughts and opinions on this and that, some which have changed, others have been reinforced. I have also learnt a few things I didn’t know until I lived here and I am sure the people of Leeds and England will keep surprising me in the coming year.
People in Leeds are friendly
I say Leeds as from what I understand, people are not as concerned about the next person everywhere in England. Doors are kept open, bus drivers are thanked as people step out of the bus, strangers greet each other, people help others out in the streets (I have had total strangers offer to carry stuff to the car with us, pick stuff up that I drop etc.) and so on. I am told this video explains the difference between people from the north and the south pretty well.
Where I live (which is not that far from the city centre) is a real sense of community. I am already involved in “mummy”/” wives” groups. We have been to a charity event where I knew surprisingly many faces and we have had the people from our neighbourhood over for an open house in order for us to get to know them and for them to get to know us.
Even while seeing my doctor to get contraception (as we definitely don’t need another child at this point in time!) I felt like I was talking to a friend, or at least a friend of a friend. She told me all about how much older her husband was and that the fact he could be too tired for sex (due to age). She stressed that this was definitely not her fault as she was still sexy and up for it. She also told me that they had children quite late in life so I didn’t have to worry, there was still time for us to add more kids to the family. She was brilliant!
Carpets DO make sense
I used to think people from the UK made life way too hard on themselves. Coming from a country where most of the floors are wooden or tiled I couldn’t get my head around all the carpets. In a country where people tend to wear shoes inside and it rains A LOT it seems absolutely mad to have carpets on all the floors. I felt so bad for people having to drag a hoover around, even up and down stairs! Since I moved here however, I have learned most people do not wear their shoes inside. I have also learned about the cost of heating. I have therefore accepted the extra exercise while cleaning and seen the practical side of carpets. They keep it a bit warmer.
Things concerning children are expensive
Most things in the UK are cheaper than back home. If you see a delirious, dehydrated and exhausted person carrying 4 big bags from Primark, 2 from H&M and 3 from Tesco, you have most likely run into an Icelander that is making the most of a short visit to the UK. To my surprise things concerning children (other than clothes) are just as expensive and in some cases more expensive than in Iceland.
We brought an Icelandic au-pair over with us as we simply cannot afford the childcare in England. The average day nursery costs 232 pounds a week for 50 hours! In Iceland I would pay less for a full month in nursery, it would cost me around 195 pounds a month for 40 hours a week. Included in that price the children have breakfast, a healthy hot lunch and an afternoon snack. In each class we have at least one member off staff with a Masters degree (5 years in university) in childminding, teaching or upbringing etc.
Our au-pair is also a lot more than just a childminder. She helps us with things around the house, makes sure we as a couple get date nights and is simply a great addition to the family!
School meals over here are around the same price as back home. I find this mind boggling as I know for a fact that all the ingredients are cheaper, and the labour is cheaper. It might stem from governmental support though, maybe schools in Iceland get more support in this area than UK ones.
My kids have to take the bus to school as we live quite a distance from their school. Each week we pay 6 pounds per child which adds up to 12 pounds a week. In Iceland we would be paying 9 pounds for the same.
As I say I just find all this surprising as almost everything else is more expensive in Iceland, considerably more! Beer on draft for an example is a whopping 7 pounds!
Utility bills are your currency for most things
With everything you may need to apply for or need to set up you will be asked for a proof of address. That proof of address is a utility bill which is an electric bill, gas bill, water bill etc. It amazed me how important it is to drag an old bill around. I had to do this to open up a bank account and to get a phone and phone number. This is something I am not used to back home as one is registered to a certain address and that is in a database companies can access, and to be fair where you live just doesn’t seem as important to companies there. They just want to make sure you are who you say you are.
Due to this we hit a massive hurdle when we were applying for schools for our kids. We knew which area we wanted to live in but couldn’t start applying until we had a house. We started renting our house in March but by then all schools were full, the councils website told us they had been filled by January. Nonetheless we applied to 10 schools and with the application we needed to send a utility bill, which we didn’t yet have as we still lived in Iceland! What a mess!
The utility bill is just one example of the bureaucracy in England. In Iceland most things are done online and usually you can do them from the comfort of your own home. In England one seems to have to get actual documents, fill them out (block capital letters please so the people receiving them can read them…. Oh, wouldn’t it be easier to receive a typed document via the internet?), sign them and send.
One has to jump through ridiculous hoops as well. For an example while applying for schools for the kids we had to provide the application itself (of course), birth certificates (Ok, I understand that one), copy of their passports and mine (don’t see why as the birth certificate should have given all the details needed), proof of address in England (understood due to priority being given to the children living in the schools area), proof of baptism (as most of them were religious schools), signed papers from their (at the time) current school saying they know that they are leaving. Last but not least a letter from our landlord in Iceland stating that we are actually moving! (This one is so far beyond my understanding that I can’t comprehend it! As ANYONE would fill all those forms out and send them just for the fun of it, having no intent of moving, but for some odd reason is renting an empty house in England!?).
I am international when it suits
It’s a little frustrating that Iceland is not in the EU, it is however in the EEA. This allows Icelanders to move within Europe as freely as EU members, we do not need visas and all the same rules and laws apply to us as EU members. Except when it comes university tuition fees! Even the school itself told me I did not have to attend a gathering for international students as I wasn’t one. I replied with: “Huh, that’s weird as I pay as one!”. I got the explanation it was to cover police, visas and the general system here. It’s a surprising contradiction and, to be honest, I seem to be international when it suits.
Wasps live forever!
…or so it seems. This section is only here as I HATE them! Back home I wait for the first overnight frost and after that I know they are all gone. That happened over a month ago! The flying bastards are still hovering around here. We even got a pest control expert over this week to get rid of 2 nests as we have had quite a few inside our house and one morning this week I counted 23 of them on my bathroom window (the outside of it, thank god!).
Hosepipe ban is a thing!
I had never heard of this, but it makes complete sense!! When it is hot and dry for a while the government may issue a hosepipe ban. The ban is supposed to save water in these circumstances.
Bin days are something to be excited about
In my neck of the woods the bin people come up to the house, get the bin, empty it into the bin truck and then bring it back. Therefore, I never paid attention to when they came. Over here it is different. One has to put the correct bin out by the side of the road. My fiancé gets very excited when it’s getting close to bin day, thinks out loud whether it is general waste or the recycling bin (he only really knows after having a look at what the neighbours are putting out). He then makes sure to tell me loud and clear “It’s bin day tomorrow! It’s the grey one/green one!”. Like I really need to know so I can run out with the emergency recyclables (or general rubbish) I have been hiding away!
People don’t say what they mean
I am quite straight forward, and I believe Icelanders can come across rather direct. They generally say what they mean and mean what they say. However, I have learned that people in England tend to be a little passive aggressive in their ways or say something completely opposite to what they think just so they don’t offend anyone, and to avoid coming across as rude (God forbid!). For example, I have noticed that people can moan and complain about their food at a restaurant and even pick the service apart, but once someone comes over and asks how everything is everyone replies in perfect harmony: “Lovely, thank you”.
Coffee vs. tea
When English people visit Iceland and ask for tea rather that coffee they are faced with a dusty box, dragged from the back of a cupboard, fruit flavoured and an awkward Icelander who tells them to mix it themselves as we usually have coffee and are not entirely sure how to make a proper cuppa. Now that I live in the land of tea I see the opposite. When I ask for coffee I am faced with a host that looks like a deer in headlights. Very often instant coffee is pulled from the cupboards and apologies are made for it probably being to strong or weak. I find it amusing and can relate 100% and therefore smile and am just thankful to get some caffeine.
All these different things are, in their quirky ways, a part of what makes England what it is. Most of it I love and other things I have learned to live with as one has to adapt when moving to a new country. I had a few more things on my list but I will save them for another time. But “this has been lovely, thank you”.