We have some great British friends who live in Atlanta. They bought a lovely older home and were telling us about their plans for updating and remodeling it.
The sharing of a few increasingly funny stories about us Brits attempting to deal with the very different world of American building works and home improvements reminded me of these differences and some of the challenges of remodeling that my husband and I faced when we first came to live in beautiful coastal Georgia.
The first step is describing the sort of store you want and knowing where to shop. In England, we call a hardware store an “ironmongery.” And that the big chain home improvement stores are B&Q and Home Base, rather than Lowe’s and Home Depot (by the way, if we did call a store by this name, we would pronounce it depp-o, not deep-o).
Anyway, let me share with you some of my experiences when I researched the options for updating and furnishing our home and ended up having some mutually confusing conversations with charming Southern sales assistants:
Scenario No. 1 — the bathroom. When the English talk about the bathroom, it means the room where the bath is. We would never say restroom or bathroom when we want to go to the loo or toilet – and if we are being coy, then we might say “visit the little girl’s/boy’s room.” When it comes to plumbing, we talk about drains, not sewer pipes. If we really do want to bathe, we turn on a tap — not a faucet — to run a bath, not fill the tub, and we would use a flannel not a washcloth. And by the way, if the British say they are going to wash up, they mean do the dishes, not clean themselves!
Scenario No. 2 — electrical issues. None of our British electrical appliances would work here because of different voltages. Plus, everything in the U.S. has small plugs (as the English say), often with just two pins rather than the big three-pin, boxy British version, so the whole electrical arena was a confusing minefield for me.
However, the silver lining was that I had a wonderful excuse to buy everything new. When I first came here I was completely gobsmacked (freaked out) to see refrigerators the size of cars and washing machines the size of closets, as most British appliances are small in comparison to their U.S. cousins. I was further gobsmacked to see electrical outlets (which the British call sockets) in bathrooms near water. As a child growing up in England in the 1970s and 1980s, we always were warned of the dangers of taking anything electrical anywhere near a bathroom. My husband tried to explain something he calls a GFI circuit to me, but I got bored after 30 seconds.
Scenario No. 3 — decorative dilemmas. This was the most fun part in my opinion, although my patient husband seemed to glaze over on occasions as we debated different color schemes. Firstly, in the U.K., we buy curtains and nets rather than drapes and sheers, and no one in England would understand the phrase “window dressing.”
When it comes to decorating and painting, in England we would “Pollyfilla around rawl plugs” as opposed to “spackle around wall anchors.” No one told me that a skirting board is known as a baseboard here. For storage, we have cupboards and wardrobes, not pantries and closets, and when explaining where to place furniture to delivery men, the confusion was multiplied by the fact that the first floor is called the ground floor in England and the second floor the first floor…
Scenario No. 4 – cleaning up. However careful one is, there always seems to be a mess to deal with when doing home improvements (or “a spot of DIY/Do-It-Yourself” back in old Blighty). In England, we would use a Hoover (yes, the brand name became the generic description decades ago), not a vacuum cleaner, and put rubbish in the bin, not garbage in the trash can. When that gets full, off we go to the rubbish tip, not the garbage dump.
Despite the practical and verbal challenges I have in all things related to home improvement, my favorite quote on the subject comes from Ann Douglas, author of many books on parenting and home life: “Home is an invention on which no one has yet improved!”
God Bless America!
Contact Francis at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.lesleyfrancispr.com.