Whenever a group of British expats get together the conversation always ends up leading to the same subject; what products and tasty treats do you miss from England? Everyone has at least one thing that they miss, something that they can’t find here in The Netherlands or something that simply does not compare to its British counterpart. This usually involves childhood favourites, items for special occasions or just something that is considered quintessentially British. It’s the kind of conversation that leads to me browsing the British Corner Shop website at two in the morning, while trying to resist the urge to lick the screen.
So when the British Corner Shop actually contacted me a few days ago and asked if I would be interested in receiving a free selection of their items I was not able to say yes fast enough. Of course I would love to receive a free care package from home… But what items to get? I started thinking about all those conversations I’d had with other British expats and asked myself the same question; what are the things British Expats miss the most when they are living abroad?
Things British Expats Miss: Food
Tea is more than just an important part of British life. It ‘is’ British life. A lot of the things that we have achieved as a country would have been impossible without our unique ability to solve any crisis with ‘a nice cup of tea’.
Once a British person has chosen their favourite brand of tea they will stick with it for life with a devotion not seen in most marriages. In fact, if you believe in such things it is possible to say that ‘you don’t choose the tea, the tea chooses you’. That is why sometimes only a British brand of tea bag will do.
This might also explain why my Dad sometimes carries around a pocket full of his own favourite brand of tea bags when visiting The Netherlands and sneakily switches them with whatever tea bag he has been given.
The British love a good biscuit almost as much as they love a good cup of tea. This is possibly because of the important role the biscuit plays within the tea drinking experience. The Dutch might melt their stroopwafels above their coffee cups but we Brits have a proud tradition of dunking. A good host always offers a packet of biscuits to their guests for tea dunking purposes.
The category of biscuit is very important too. There are two main options: Basic biscuits (such as Digestives and Rich Tea Biscuits) or what is sometimes referred to as ‘the fancy biscuits’ (such as Chocolate Digestives, Jammie Dodgers, Bonbons, etc). The biscuits you choose to serve can tell your guests a lot about you and what you think of them. Likewise, the way your guest reacts to an offer of biscuits can tell you a lot about them. For example, a good guest always politely refuses at least once before accepting a biscuit. It’s traditional.
In England no school pack lunch or visit to the pub would be complete without a packet of crisps. The Dutch might be very adventures with their flavours (paprika, bolognaise, etc) but for some reason they have never fully embrace the good old British salt and vinegar or cheese and onion crisps and that is a shame.
It’s not just these two flavours that a lot of Brits miss either. Britain has a proud tradition of novelty crisps that have never quite made it to Holland; Monster Munch, Quavers, Skips, Wotsits, Hula Hoops, Squares, Space Raiders and (one of my personal favourites) Frazzles which are technically more like real bacon than Dutch bacon.
Yes, technically the Dutch have bacon but it is not bacon as we Brits know it. To us bacon is not bacon unless it is thick with streaks of fat in it. However, to the Dutch bacon is not bacon unless it is sliced as thin as possible and can be mistaken for sandwich meat. Neither side will ever truly agree on which one is correct (even though we all know it is the British thick bacon). It’s one of the things British expats miss the most.
Out of desperation I once tried to make British bacon by frying a whole pack of Dutch bacon together into a single block… It didn’t work.
The Dutch have some very good mints but I’m talking specifically about Polos; the mint with the hole. Until they have tried them I don’t think the Dutch are able to fully understand why anyone would want a mint with a bit missing from it. Surely it must be broken. It’s certainly not value for money. They simply don’t understand the joy of being able to put the tip of your tongue through the hole in the middle or seeing how thin you can get it before it breaks.
My Dutch wife was very easily converted to ‘the mint with the hole’. In fact, as soon as she heard that I would be receiving a package from the British Corner Shop her first reaction was to shout, “Get Polos!!”
Anyone who grew up in England will know that Cadbury is the one true chocolate to rule them all. There is not much more that can be said on the subject.
Other things British Expats miss when living in another country include; Yorkshire Pudding, Clotted Cream, Branston Pickle, Mr Kipling (who makes exceedingly good cakes), Bisto gravy, Heinz Baked Beans and anything else made by Heinz.
Is there anything I missed from the list? Did I make the right choices? What food do you miss the most from your country? Do you think there are other things British expats miss?
If you are a British expat and have never tried out The British Corner Shop you really should. They have everything you might miss from back home. Just try not to drool on your keyboard too much while browsing (as I did).
I should have seen this coming. It was obvious really. I could only claim to be ‘Invading Holland’ for so long before Holland decided to retaliate. I guess declaring myself the new king of Holland was the final straw. Now Holland has invaded England.
The Dutch store Hema has opened its doors in London and things will never be the same again!
This might sound like an overreaction at first but anyone who has visited one of their stores in Holland will know how dangerous shopping in one of them can be. They sell everything and at low prices too. You might go in only intending to buy some printer ink but before you know what is happening you’ve exited the store again having just bought; some new oven gloves, a usb stick, a packet of Stroopwafels, an orange t-shirt (for next King’s Day), some storage boxes, an inflatable rookworst (that can not be eaten), super glue, a Jip and Janneke story book and a new bicycle bell. You didn’t even by the printer ink you went in to buy because why would you need to when you were just able to by a new Hema printer so cheaply. Hema is a very dangerous store.
And who knows what affect the influence of Hema will have upon the English culture.
1) Will Queen Elizabeth start having Stroopwafels with her afternoon tea?
2) Will the British public start whistling the famous Hema whistle everywhere they go, unable to get it out of their heads?
3) Will the iconic British red buses, telephone boxes and letter boxes all be repainted orange?
4) Will Hyde Park and Regents Park be closed to the public and converted into tulip fields?
5) Will Jip and Janneke start making appearances on Children’s BBC? Will Miffy suddenly change her name to Nijntje?
6) Will Big Ben be converted into a windmill?
7) Will London be taken over by bicycles?
8) Will the Themes river be reclassified as a canal and will people start skating on it if it ever freezes over?
9) Will England expand its landmass by flattening all of its hills and using them to reclaim the sea around it?
Only time will tell.
Over the years I’ve written a lot about the Dutch and their funny little habits and traditions but I’ve never really written about my equally weird fellow Englishman. This seems somehow unfair since (as I will admit myself) we all know the English can be fairly strange and peculiar themselves (even if we are more prim and proper and know the correct layout for cutlery at a tea party). To rectify this injustice I have decided to turn the focus onto my fellow tea drinkers and expose just what it is that makes us tick.
Whenever you are discussing the habits of the English it is important to know that the English really like to apologise. It does not matter what it is for, if there is something that requires an apology the English are more than happy to provide it. Even when it seems like something might need apologising for in the future we will pre-emptively apologise to minimise any inconvenience. This is because the English hate inconvenience. In fact, if an official 1 to 10 scale of things English people like and dislike was ever created (1 being the least liked and 10 being the most liked) inconvenience would be at number 1 and apologizing would be at number 10.
Even in rare situations when an Englishman cannot find anything to apologise about they will apologise anyway… just in case. And then they will most likely apologise again for the inconvenience of having apologised when they are told there was nothing to apologise about in the first place. It is a vicious circle.
When in the comfort of his fellow countrymen the Englishman’s second favourite thing to do is complain. Again, it does not matter what it is about. It could be something trivial like a slow waiter at a restaurant or something important like the tea not being the correct temperature, the English are simply happy to have something to complain about.
However, the English cannot be ‘seen’ to be complaining because doing so would lead to another need to apologise for being an inconvenience. This is why the Englishman can only complain in the comfort and safety of those who share his opinions and views and will not actually challenge or asked him to make a more valid argument beyond; “Because it’s simply not cricket.”
The kind of complaining the Englishman likes to do the most is comparing things to how they used to be better. This is most noticeably noticed in conversations that start with the phrase, “Well in my day…” followed about some statement about the youth of today, their habits or choice in music (or as it is more commonly known in such conversations; ‘noise’).
This usually leads to a kind of one-up-mans-ship about the way things used to be better with the oldest in the group always winning because as all English people know the older things are the better they were (including the time when we were all having bombs dropped on us). Such conversations usually end with apologies to the oldest member of the conversation for the inconvenience of having to prove he was right and listening to people who were wrong.
England. Home of cricket, good showmanship, afternoon tea, the Queen, Winston Churchill, the British stiff upper lip and now; the classy foil top plastic wine glass (the funniest thing I saw during my recent visit).
On offer at most London train stations the decadent foil top plastic wine glass is available in white, red and rosé. It is perfect for the sophisticated young Englishman on the go who likes to enjoy their train journey in style (and is not too worried about spilling wine all over themselves as the train lurches about). It is also perfect for dinner parties or a quite romantic night in with that special someone since (as the foil top tells us) the plastic glass can be reused.
Anyone can instantly look like a sophisticated Englishman while drinking from the foil top plastic wine glass. It can be enjoyed with a straw for the intellectual look (the foil can be tough so make sure to use strong stabbing motions)…
…or for added sophistication open and leave the foil attached while drinking.
The foil top plastic wine glass has a full bodied, fun and fruity taste with hints of metallic foil and a twang of glue and recyclable plastic (or to put it in a more English way; bloody awful).
Once you have become familiar with the sounds of the Dutch language in any way it becomes a very easy language to recognize and once you can recognize it you will realize it is impossible to escape the Dutch. They are everywhere. No matter which far away country you run to you will find them or they will find you.
This was something I was reminded of during my holiday to Scotland last summer. Everywhere I went the Dutch were there and I don’t just mean this because I was traveling with my Dutch girlfriend.
At first it did not come as a surprise when we heard Dutch amongst the other multitude of languages being spoken in our Edinburgh and Glasgow hostels. We did not go a single day without hearing the familiar throat clearing sound of the Dutch language from unknown Dutch people.
However, when we went even higher north into the highlands of Fort Williams and we were still hearing Dutch I started to wonder if I should get a restraining order.
One evening while we were enjoying a quite meal in an Indian restaurant I spotted a couple approaching the menu in the window for a read. From the way the man was dressed I got the strong impression that he was Dutch. I quickly dismissed this theory since it was possible that fashion had simply gotten that colorful and that bad in the rest of the world.
However, I quickly discovered I was right the first time when a short while later they entered the restaurant and spoke to the waiter in an accent so thick that I thought they were about to order a tandoori stamppot (I breathed a sigh of relief for the fashion sense of the rest of the world).
The following day we visited Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in Scotland. I felt pretty confident that it would be just us, some sheep and the odd Scotsman. We had not been at the summit for five minutes before I heard a child shouting, “Mama, kijk,” several times as he expressed his absolute surprise (and maybe fear) at being (a) above sea level and (b) on a vertically inclining surface steeper and higher than a speed bump (more commonly known as a hill).
Maybe that was it. Maybe we had never actually arrived in Scotland. Maybe we were actually in some rare part of Holland that had hills.
During the train trip from Scotland to London (which was starting to feel more and more like it was for the purposes of escaping the Dutch) we were still surrounded by Dutch couples speaking their native tongue.
By the time we arrived in London to stay with my parents I had heard so much Dutch that I would not have battered an eye lash if they had greeted us with, “Dag. Hoe gaat het?”