Very British Travelling Problems
There are many things that make the small island of Britain unique, and no more so than the expectations, fears, and deep-set psychological issues that, as Brits, we take with us when we travel.
So here’s a list of the 11 most troublesome features of travelling that only British people understand.
1. Finding a decent cup of tea
When I left the UK, I committed the greatest cardinal sin: I forgot to pack tea bags. Although many British-sounding brands exist abroad, all hoping to incite your trust, just one sip leaves you sobbing non-Tetley tears into your hostel pillow.
The only way to cope is to bring your own, refuse to share with anyone who isn’t British (they won’t appreciate the significance of your gift), and remember it’s a great bartering tool when you want your own way with other tea-obsessed travellers.
2. The Great Pudding Debate
“Pudding’s like dessert, right?” My Brazilian friend (who’d studied in the UK for a whole year and should have known better) asked. If you’ve ever started a conversation about “dessert” with someone from another country, you’ll understand the grief that this seemingly simple concept can cause.
Yes, pudding is normally sweet. But no, not exclusively. Steak and kidney? Savoury. Yorkshire pudding? Comes with gravy. Bread and butter. Yup, that’s sweet. Give up; they’ll never understand.
3. The ‘English’ language
It doesn’t take many interactions with other natives of the English tongue to realise that while we might all be speaking the same language, we’re really not.
I’m always amused by the incapacity of non-Brits to cope with “taking THE piss OUT of someone” (not “taking A piss ON someone” as a Chilean friend keeps saying), but even travellers from the US remain confused as to why British people are angry all the time (we’re not pissed off, we’re just pissed).
4. Customer service abroad sucks and we will TUT about it
As Brits, our default annoyed setting is the tut. A way of verbalising crossness at any example of impoliteness (and yes, we’re cross, never angry), it’s often used in lieu of actually speaking to someone about our problem.
In Bolivia, I once sat for 40 minutes in a café getting increasingly irate – and tutty – at the appalling customer service, finally leaving in a strop because I’d been ignored. While I’m not convinced our quasi-polite (read: passive-aggressive) approach to dealing with a problem actually works in our home country, it certainly doesn’t abroad. You actually have to complain abroad. How awful.
5. Forgetting everyone’s names and never being able to ask again
A real problem for me when travelling is managing to remember the names of new people I meet. Of course you can never actually ask someone their name after the initial meeting, because it’s, like, really awkward.
Consequently, I’ve spent days searching for every opportunity to get new acquaintances to refer to their own names, so that I can stop prodding them every time I need to address them.
6. We like to queue in Britain. Others nationalities should try it too
It’s not difficult: queues make up the very fabric of British society, and those who fail to adhere to their simple rules will experience our wrath (see #4).
Despite visiting countries where an Amazonian river squirming with anacondas would appear to have a more effectively organised queuing system, I cling to the idea that if I just demonstrate good queuing etiquette in shops, restaurants, and street food stands, then it’ll eventually catch on. Wrong: this martyred approach can bring only starvation.
7. Haggling is just not done
Bartering – or arguing with a complete stranger – isn’t our cup of tea. A friend once paid £20 for a £2 shoeshine in Peru because she sucked at it. We should be taking lessons from our American friends: I’ve watched in awe as one haggled so hard the vendor was close to including his first-born child in the sale.
8. Britain has many cities beyond London
“So you’re from London?” is the follow-up question to “I’m from Britain.” Er, no, actually. I’m from that other place, you know, THE REST OF BRITAIN. If by some magical twist of fate people can make reference to any other city besides our capital (and particularly somewhere northern), I’ll likely kiss them in appreciation. It has yet to happen.
9. Why does the crisp selection abroad suck?
You don’t realise how lucky you are in Britain until you encounter the pathetic range of crisp flavours outside the country. Living in Peru, I once had to persuade a friend to traffic 48 packets of pickled onion Monster Munch through customs to satisfy my need for anything other than plain. She got some strange looks, but has since found herself at the top of my Christmas card list.
10. Burn, peel, repeat
Sunburn is the biggest trial when travelling; scorched scalps, acres of peeling skin, and recognising another Brit from a distance thanks to the heat radiating from their blistered bodies.
But sunburn is also a great indicator you’ve been away; well, at least for the first week before your skin returns to its natural, pasty shade.
11. Nope, we don’t all sound like the Queen
Only we seem to understand that Hugh Grant or the Queen are not reliable examples of a ‘normal’ accent in our country. Hollywood has a lot of explaining to do on this one, but those who’ve visited Britain know the truth: they proudly speak about trips to Scotland where they almost managed to understand the locals.
Still, regardless of where you’re from in the UK, it seems that when people realise this, you transform into Miss or Mr Sexiest World Accent 2016.
In some small ways, it’s actually good to be British.
Steph Dyson writes about adventure travel and meaningful volunteering on her website, Worldly Adventurer. She left her job as an English teacher in the UK to travel the world in 2014. So far, she's made it to Bolivia and Peru. Follow her on Twitter @worldlyadventur