Sunday, 16 February 2014

10 things I love about the UK

(Through the prism of 5 years in Greece)

I am visiting the UK for work at the moment, as you might have gathered from my previous posts. There is a strange familiarity to this country and I love it so much - yet both my husband and I have consciously chosen to live elsewhere for the last five years. I do, however, think that the UK is a simply wonderful place to live and work and here are some of the reasons why (worryingly I could come up with my list of ten a lot more easily than my list for Greece...):

1. Opportunity
The UK is full of opportunity. Compared to Greece you can be anyone and do anything in the UK. Part of it is the economy - it allows for people to be able to quit their day jobs and follow their passions in more ways than you could ever do in Greece. There is also a culture of entrepreneurship  and a willingness to look at new ideas, in a way that I have not encountered elsewhere. For me, the UK really is the land of opportunity, where one can really flourish. 

2. Diversity
London especially must be one of the most diverse cities in the world. Diversity is normal, accepted, expected, celebrated. It is a multi-cultural, multi-racial society very open to integration. 

3. The Law
Again, I am seeing this through the eyes of having lived in Greece for a while now, but there is a certain respect for the law that I love about Britain. D calls it my love of "yellow lines" in reference to the beautifully painted yellow lines on the roads, indicating whether parking is allowed in a certain area. 

 4. The NHS
A lot of Brits complain about the National Health Service and in many ways I guess it is not perfect. But it is what it says, a national health service that does provide for those who need, when they need and usually what they need. My experiences of the NHS have been varied, but always worlds ahead of the health services I have experienced in other countries. 

5. The Food
I know, right? You are wondering whether (or what) I've been drinking this morning. But bear with me on this one. Yes, English cuisine is not known for its delicious recipes. The standard meat and two veg tends to be executed in several different versions - variations on the basic theme. However, most places in England have an amazing variety of international cuisine: Indian, Thai, Chinese, Japanese, Italian, French, Greek. It might not be very authentic, the Indian might not be as good as the one you would get in Mumbai, but it can be very tasty and the variety itself is exciting! 

6. Public Transport (and walking)
Unless you live in a very rural area (which I did for a year when I was a teenager) public transport links tend to be wonderful. This means you don't need a car, which is good in itself, but also you get to walk a lot more, as service is seldom door to door. And I simply love walking! 

7. How polite people are
Ok, not everyone, not everywhere, but being polite is expected. Only two days ago I stepped on someone while crammed in a tube carriage and they apologised to me! I also, of course, apologised to them, but the Brits do tend to say "sorry", and "excuse me" quite a lot. Not to mention the "please" and "thank you". 

8. Driving
I learned to drive in London. Understandably I was nervous, as every new driver might be, but the predictability and order of the roads helped. I actually got my license while in Greece. The driving there is chaotic and a lot more difficult to negotiate. I love the way the English drive, negotiate roundabouts, generally stick to the speed limit, obey traffic lights etc. I know, it sounds ridiculous, but it's not! 

9. Green spaces 
What it says. I love the fact that even the capital has an abundance of well-looked after green spaces. Not to mention the rest of the countryside which is ideal for hiking, cycling and running. Not rugged and wild like Greece, but pretty, predictable and usually well-looked after (and sign posted)!

10. Education
It might not be the best in the world, but it is darn well close. I had the privilege of attending two of the best institutions in the UK (and possibly the world) back in the day that it was (means-tested) free or very nearly free. Things might have changed a bit, but the quality of the higher education institutions remains high and the research coming out of most of those institutions is still cutting edge. That is something that I genuinely love about Britain!

So, that is my list. It was surprisingly easy to write, and I sit here, on a crispy England morning, at Terminal 5 in Heathrow, waiting for my flight to be called, I really do miss living in this country. It might be on the cards in a few years for sure... 

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