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Travel Facts for Ireland and the United Kingdom.
Travel to different countries can be a truly mind-expanding experience but how much you gain largely depends on how you approach your trip. There are two ways that you can experience different cultures; as a traveller or as a tourist.
Travellers tend to visit different countries in order to experience as much of the authentic culture as possible, to join in with the locals and to attempt to 'live the culture' if even only for a week or two. Tourists on the other hand tend to want to live their own familiar lifestyle whilst in a foreign country. Tourists are the people you'll find eating food as close to that which is available at home, watching familiar satelite TV channels in their hotel room and generally trying to avoid the locals.
This is written for the North American tourist visiting Europe as a traveller. It is designed to help you fit in as easily as possible so that you can experience how we live in Europe. There are a few major differences between the North American and European cultures and very many minor differences. Forewarned is forearmed, so I'll explain some of the differences so that you'll be well prepared for your travelling experience.
Europe is Small.
One of the first things you'll probably notice is how small everything is in Europe. You'll notice this from the minute you arrive at the airport. Many of the countries in Europe are smaller than a single North American State. For example, you can travel from the East to the West coast of Ireland by car in about two and a half hours. The houses are smaller, the shops are smaller and many of the shopping malls (called shopping centres in the UK and Ireland) are positively miniscule! One reason for this is that European culture is very old. The towns and cities have been inhabited for hundreds or thousands of years. This means that we can't build on a massive scale because there simply isn't the room!
That brings me on the the next point, Europe is old. You will see modern buildings alongside very old ones and that doesn't seem strange to us. Some of the hotels are old and very grand, others are just old! Of course there are the modern hotel chains represented as well as inns and guest houses. You will notice that the size of the rooms is generally smaller than you may be used to. Most hotels rooms in Europe will not be large enough to accommodate four beds, two or maybe three is usually the limit. In Northern Europe, including the UK and Ireland, air conditioning is rare in hotel rooms. That is because we very seldom need it. We spend most of our time trying to keep warm rather than trying to cool off! Any bit of warmth is relished and we wouldn't normally dream of complaining that it is too hot. After all, we spend hundreds of pounds flying to the Southern European countries for our annual holiday (vacation ) just to be sure of some sun and warmth!
The first thing to say is that there is a very wide variety of ethnic foods available in Europe. It goes without saying that British, Italian, French and Greek are all available, this is Europe after all! Also very popular is Indian, Chinese and Thai cuisine. In fact Indian food is the most popular cuisine in Great Britain. The ubiquitous 'Golden Arches' can be found everywhere as well as other fast food chains, some local, some international. You will find that portion sizes are not as large as in North America and we never have to ask for a take-away container (known as doggy-bags ) for any uneaten food. It is considered unseemly to ask to take away left-overs, that is why we call it a doggy-bag; we would never admit to taking away left-overs to eat ourselves! When ordering a drink, be it a soft drink or coffee, refills have to be paid for, just be aware of that before you start drinking the coffee pot dry.
Apart from in fast food joints, all meals are eaten with a knife and fork. You hold the fork in your left hand and the knife in your right. We cut the food as we eat, so we don't (can't) keep the fork in the right hand as that is used for cutting in right handed people. In any restaurant apart from a fast food restaurant, it would be considered very bad manners to eat anything with your fingers. If you do, you will stand out like a sore thumb. You can call us old fashioned but that's just the way it is.
Talking of restaurant manners, the napkin (serviette ) is placed on the lap, not tucked in the collar. When eating a meal of more than one course, you start using the cutlery from the outer setting and move in towards the plate for each successive course. Pudding (dessert ) cutlery may be placed above the plate, in the 12 o'clock position. It is the done thing for gentlemen to remove any headgear when entering a building, it's OK for ladies to keep hats on indoors. Gentlemen should never sit at a table wearing a hat, it is considered the height of ignorance to do so. Restaurants and taxis are the only two places that you might be pursuaded to leave a tip. 10% is usually considered about right. You would not be expected to tip in bars or pubs.
It is said that in the UK and Ireland, you can get all four seasons in a single day, so be prepared. The last couple of winters has seen temperatures in winter drop to minus 18 degrees Celsius (zero degrees Fharenheit ) A very hot summer's day could be about 25 degrees Celsius. We have had 30 degrees Celsius on one or two days over the last decade but it is rare. The rainy season is from January to December, the only difference is whether it is cold or warm rain. It is generally drier from May to July but a raincoat or umbrella is advisable year round. Likewise, always have a jumper (sweater ) or two with you. Even in summer it can get cool in the evenings.
Swimming in the sea around the coast line is a past-time reserved for masochists. The Atlantic and the North Sea never get very warm. Some very brave souls do go for a dip but without a wetsuit it is more torture than pleasure. Swimming costumes are used for sun-bathing rather than swimming.
Some countries in Europe use the Euro as their currency but not all. Ireland uses the Euro, the United Kingdom uses Sterling.
The Euro notes are the same across all the countries using it. Notes are denominated in €200, €100, €50, €20, €10 and €5. Each denomination has a different colour and size. The larger the value of the note, the larger the size. There are 100 cents in a Euro. Coins are denominated in €2, €1, 50 cent, 20 cent, 10 cent, 5,2 and 1 cent. The coins are slightly different on one of their sides depending on which eurozone country minted it but all can be used in any other eurozone country. Please note that in Ireland since 2015, shops will round your purchases up or down to the nearest 5c, so you won't get 1c coins in your change. This is because 1c will buy you nothing today.
The UK uses Sterling. The main unit is the Pound, which is divided into 100 pence. Again, all denominations of note are different colours and sizes. Notes are usually encountered in £100, £50, £20, £10 and £5. The coins are £2, £1, 50 pence, 20 pence, 10 pence, 5,2 and 1 penny.
You can only use Euro in a eurozone country and you can only use Sterling in the UK. Banks and bureaux de change will change any currency into any other. Credit cards are widely accepted. Travellers cheques cannot be spent in shops, they have to be cashed in a bank first and to do this you need to show your passport. ATM machines (cashpoints) are everywhere.
You may find that many things are more expensive than in North America but if you shop outside the main tourist hotspots you will find things cheaper. In general, the further North you go in the UK, the cheaper everything becomes. Ireland is generally considerably more expensive than the UK.
Like anywhere, when travelling you should take the usual precautions. Don't flash the cash, don't wander down dark alleys alone at night and don't drink so much that you lose control.
Gun crime is very rare as guns are not available to the general population. Most Police officers (Gardai in Ireland) are not armed; they don't need to be. There are special armed response units but these are seldom deployed.
Traffic drives on the left in the UK and Ireland as well as Malta and Cyprus. All other European countries drive on the right. It is very fortunate that those four countries that drive on the left are all islands or crossing a border would be spectacularly eventful!
Where the traffic drives on the left, when crossing a road, you need to look to your right. You don't get any trial runs at this so keep your wits about you. Pedestrian crossings are of two types. A Zebra crossing has black and white stripes painted on the road and flashing orange beacons on the kerbs. You have to wait for the traffic to stop for you but once they do stop and you start to cross, you then have right of way.
The other type of crossing is a Pelican crossing. This is the push button controlled traffic light type crossing. The green man means cross, the red man means that it would be in your best interests to wait for the green man. It is not illegal to cross against the red man but it is unwise.
The emergency number in the UK and Ireland is 999. You can also use the European 112 number. 999 is the single number you need to contact Police, Fire Brigade, Ambulance, Coast Guard and Mountain Rescue. May all your troubles be little ones and may you never need to use these services.
In the UK we speak British English, not American English. There a few differences, one of these being spelling such as the words colour, tyre, theatre and privatise. While the spellings are different you easily know what they mean, so that shouldn't cause too much grief.
Then there are the different words we use to mean the same thing such as traffic circle to an American is a roundabout in the UK. Pants are known as trousers in the UK, in the UK pants are underwear. Candy is called sweets and what you call chips, we call crisps. In the UK chips are what you know as french-fries. Never use the word fanny in polite circles in the UK! It means something totally different and is NOT your backside (it's a lady's front-side in fact!). This word alone will have people getting an attack of the vapours and running screaming from you.