As an English teacher you usually work in one of two situations: as a foreigner living as a ‘guest’ in another country, or as a native living as a ‘host’ to your own country.
A very common topic of conversation in any English lesson is the experiences of living in the country in which your lessons take place. These conversations often begin with a comment on the weather, or some other shared experience and then will develop to include all manner of interesting points of view on the cultural peculiarities of the host country…
As a guest in another country the teacher will often ask for advice or answers to puzzling questions about life in that place. For example, when I lived in Japan I had countless conversations about how to survive their very hot summers or where to get the best sushi.
Here in the UK I play the part of the host, and the students in my classes are the guests. They are the ones with all the questions about British culture. They are looking for answers to things they don’t understand about the way we live, and it seems there are plenty of strange and annoying things about life in the UK.
Most of the things that students ask me about in these conversations are to be expected. Why do you drive on the left? What do you really think of the Queen? Why is your food so awful? But, there is another question which comes up so often that I am now quite obsessed by it! This is the question of why in the UK we have two taps in the bathroom.
To explain, in most countries which are modern and properly developed there is just one ‘mixer’ style tap which you can use to control the flow of both hot and cold water out of one single spout.
These are fairly common in the UK too, but many bathrooms here have just two separate taps for hot and cold water. This seems to be a big problem for many of our guests. “How do I control the temperature?” they ask. “Either the water is boiling hot or freezing cold. There’s nothing in-between. How do you people wash your hands and face? Do you seriously wash using cold water? That’s really unhygienic!”
Sometimes the comments on this subject become almost insulting. I remember one student telling me that the lack of mixer taps was evidence that the British are unclean, smelly and backward people.
I had never even considered this question before I became an English teacher in London and had this conversation with student guests from around the world, but now I think about it every time I enter the bathroom. My friends don’t understand the issue. To them it is normal to have two taps, but I can’t look at a bathroom sink in the same way again. I am getting obsessed with it. Why do we have two taps in the bathroom, and more importantly why do people get so angry about it?
I have heard various theories about it, so here are a couple of them. Firstly, our plumbing system is different. The hot and cold water come from separate sources via separate pipes which makes it very hard to combine both hot and cold water into one outflow of water. As a result we always have two taps. Another theory is that we just prefer traditional designs. This is because we value our traditional past, when Britain was great. This is why we often choose two taps on a bathroom sink. We like the way they look.
Whatever the reason, I am convinced that this is just something strange that us British people do. Every country has its behaviour which is considered weird to the outside world. This is the way it is. I am also convinced that to use these differences to insult people from other countries is pretty small minded and blind. I agree, mixer taps are more convenient, but please think twice before insulting a whole culture because of the way they like to design their bathroom sink. It takes all sorts to make a world.
puzzling (adj.) - confusing
countless (adj.) - more than I can count
taps (pl.n.) - the devices which control water flow in your kitchen/bathroom
spout (n.) - the end of the tap, where the water comes out
unhygienic (adj.) - unclean, dirty
smelly (adj.) - smells bad
backward (adj.) - undeveloped, old fashioned
plumbing (unc. n.) - the water system in your home
It takes all sorts to make a world (exp.) - we should accept that there are many different types of people in the world because that is what makes the world an interesting place
Categories: British Culture