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Tips For Adulthood: Five Things To Savor About London

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

Well, I’m back.

Back from a lovely holiday in Barcelona. (Thanks to my Facebook friends for setting me straight on Stephen Sondheim. Turns out I’m not alone in having such an intimate familiarity with all things Sondheim. I’m in good Company you might say. Heh heh…)

Back from a last-minute, whirlwind trip to Boston.

And back from a 5 day, take-no-prisoners assault on my inbox, which I’m pleased to report is down to a manageable 67 messages. I feel at least 10 pounds lighter. More on that next week.

Whenever I travel to the United States, I can’t help but take note of the things I really love about living there and the things that I’m not so keen about. On this particular trip, the first category of items was dominated by the elegant, LARGE digital washing machine and tumble dryer that reside in the home of the friends who hosted us in Boston.

Regular readers of this blog will know of my ongoing “issues” with the ecologically-correct-but-essentially-worthless-tubs-which-pass-for-washer-slash-dryer-combos in this country. Suffice to say, they’re for the birds. So I practically leapt with joy when I realized that I’d accumulated enough laundry during our stay in America to try out my friends’ sleek, modern washing machine and (separate!!) dryer. The lights! The gentle hum! The lovely WARM clothes that emerged at the end of the cycle!


At the other end of the spectrum was the over-load of stuff that you find everywhere you go in America. For me, it hit home when I went into a (two-story) CVS drug store in Harvard Square and literally had to sit down to contemplate the plethora of choices for buying a child’s toothbrush. A tooth brush, mind you!

Inhale to Prepare had a great post awhile back on what she calls the “the “Whuf” question – i.e. “What if we moved back to the States?”

As a fellow expat, I can completely relate. It’s impossible not to. Unless you’re 100% sure that you’ll live abroad your entire life, you constantly weigh the balance between what you’d give up – and what you’d gain – if you were to repatriate. (For an excellent primer on this topic, see Writerhead’s recent discursis on parallel parking.)

Inhale To Prepare asks herself the “Whuf” question rhetorically on a constant basis in order to appreciate more fully the things she loves about living in London. In that vein, here are five things I savor about London:

1. Free Museums. Everyone knows that London is home to some of the most breath-taking museums in the world: The British Museum, Tate Modern, as well as several lesser-known but equally compelling ones. What they don’t always appreciate is that 90% of these are free. That’s right. You just walk in off the street and check out the Elgin Marbles. When we were back in Boston, we tried to visit its storied Museum of Science one morning. The price of entry for a family of four? Eighty bucks. No kidding. Even my 10-year-old thought that it wasn’t worth it. In light of the current economic crisis over here, I’m sure that museums – and other cultural policy institutions – will undoubtedly have to re-think their financing models (and their ticket prices). But for now, boy are government-funded arts organizations hugely valuable to our family.

2. Free Health Care. And speaking of government funded, my quick trip back home also made me value the nationalized health care system they have in place in the U.K. I’ve waxed poetic before about why I prefer the so-called public option. But every time I go back home and face some unforeseen medical issue, I value it all the more. This time, I’d run out of medicine for my migraines and needed to get some more pills. Fortunately, I know plenty of doctors in the States, so I was able to get a prescription called in to a local pharmacy near where we were staying. But I’d forgotten what it is to need health insurance for your prescriptions. I had to wait in a lengthy line to give the pharmacist all of my details (even though I’d never see this place again) and then had to shell out $20 for like six pills because I had no insurance. Yipes! Thank goodness I didn’t need more than six!  Health care may be changing in the U.K. but it will never reach a point where it isn’t universally provided. And for that, dear Britannia, I am eternally grateful.

3. The BBC. I love you, NPR. Really I do. But pound for pound, you are no match for the BBC in terms of breadth of programming, depth of worldwide coverage and no-holds-barred interviewing styles. I came home to a riveting analysis of the whole Royal Wedding thang followed by a dissection of the philosophical foundations of free will. What’s not to love?

4. Fast food. This may sound like an odd item to add to the list of  someone who’s openly slammed America’s love affair with fast food in the past. And don’t get me wrong: the U.K. has its share of disgusting fast food. (And a corresponding obesity crisis to go with it.) But there are some really great, healthy fast food chains that I’d love to see transplanted to America. Check out this slideshow to preview just a few.

5. The weather. Ah, now you surely *will* call me crazy. But not so fast. Yes, it does rain here. A lot. But not as much as people think. And it’s nothing a good, sturdy pair of Wellies can’t handle. More importantly, it never, ever gets very cold. Proof in the pudding? You can run, year-round, outdoors. That’s right. No need for a gym membership (unless you want one). Ever. Love that.


Image: Wellies by Gerry Balding via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.