Posted on: 24/07/2012 by


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.

By Guest Blogger Luke , with a fabulous cartoon by The Accidental Bookseller


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



There is two main reasons:

1- UK regulations does not allow mixing mains (drinking) water with heated water in the body of the tap. They must be kept apart until the tap outlet where they can be mixed. This avoids drawing warm, potentially harmful (bacteria sustaining) water into the drinking water if the mains is turned off or loses pressure.

2- In the UK the pressure generally does'nt exceed 2 bars (30 psi ) and even today there are many mains which are lead pipe, so they cannot increase the pressure. Use of smaller pipes ( 10mm 3/8" ) to connect the Hot & Cold water supply in a monoblock reduces the flow rate and water drips out. Also, dont forget, houses in UK is much more older compared to some buildings around the world, central heating/hot water is a recent (around or just after 2nd WW) luxury, not many people had the money to get their entire plumbing changed, so it was cheaper and easier to run a pipe from the boiler to the sink to provide the hot water.


Incidentally our country also has 2 tap wash basins because sometime back the wash basins were designed with 2 separate faucets. So sometimes people just connect 2 faucets for aesthetic reasons although both giving the same cold water. :) I never noticed any problem because we don't have icy cold weather.
If you're in a cold weather and if the taps are working as advertised :) (giving hot water and other the icy water because it's cold) then I think it's impractical for washing with running water other than using the bowl. As you said washing before the real hot water comes in is the option. :-)
But actually if the pipes are old metal ones I've read it's better if you let the stale water run out because the water could have lead and other toxic things.
"Different" is good. Fantastic. Otherwise it would be like the clone army. World would be very dull.
Imagine there is a society where the women have power over men, where traditionally men take care of the children, cooking, washing and cleaning and where women keep more than one male partner. (There are cultures like that, although with the westernization everything 'different' is getting destroyed.) For a person grown up in that society, *normal* society would look very strange, just as we would see them very strange. But there's nothing right or wrong. Nowadays everybody all over the world wear T-shirts and trousers. Few centuries ago you could see the dress people where and say that person is from that country or province. Now unfortunately you can't.


By the way, I think there's something missing from this deeply important debate. When I wash my face I just use the hot tap. I turn it on and after a few seconds it becomes warm. It takes a couple of minutes to get really hot (and never boiling hot). So, while the water is warming up I wash my face and hands. I'm usually finished before the water gets too hot. So, I never fill the basin. I just use the hot tap and it doesn't scald my skin. It's not a problem at all. It's fine.


Hi Jack,
I agree with what you said but the thing is, I don't think British people are any less hygenic because we wash using the bowl. I mean, we don't all walk around with dirty faces covered in disease or anything like that. We're just as clean as anyone else. If you can prove that this isn't true, and we actually have many more cases of 'face infection' (whatever that is) than other countries then I think we should seriously consider banning separate taps, but as it is I think that we're not a great deal dirtier than other nations. This is what I'm talking about in this blog post. Just because we do things in a slightly different way it doesn't then follow that we are mad/crazy/dirty/stupid or whatever. It's just different.


If you have two taps that means every time you use, you have to plug the basin, fill water from both taps then wash your hands. Then put rub soap and dip your hands in the basin and wash. But this doesn't really wash your hands in moving water, it's just dipping your hands in the dirty water. So you have to repeat this at least 2 times for a real hand wash. And you're using the common basin (bowl) that everybody used. Otherwise you have to wash the bowl with your hands to make sure you're not dipping your hands to a dirty bowl. Imagine the last guy spit on the bowl. :( So this is very impractical and not hygenic. If you're weather permits for you to use cold water directly then no problem. But otherwise this is really a impractical situation.


I can't see any problem with having two tapes instead of one. Actually I seldom use hot water to wash my hands. Maybe I'm an unhygienic person too. Ha ha, I don't care. I'm still alive.


Love the comments! Anna, you're right that sometimes people have a bath but no shower. Katherine, could you post us the link to your piece on English houses please? It sounds interesting! Hiroshi, you're right that showers mix hot and cold water :)


It's not a big difference. We have 2 separate taps sometime in Japan. 2 taps are not unclean, smelly nor backward. It's ecological, saving so that it's even advanced. We can't use the hot water without catching it in the washbasin mixing woth cold water for wash hands. It's a good way to save water. Good for simple life. 2 taps don't brake easier than mixing tap. I beleave that shower in the bathroom (must ) mixes the hot and cold water even in England. This is not a big issue which Teacher Luke shouldn't be obsessed.


Ha! Re taps, I think it has to do with the guilt the British sometimes associate with any kind of what they would define as "excessive" comfort (you may have read my piece about English houses). Discomfort is supposed to be character-building. I love your post.


Ha ha, it's true - I've been asked about this lots of times! Actually it's hard for me to understand why people get so wound up about this - if you really want warm water you can put the plug in and mix hot and cold in the basin. If you need a proper wash have a bath or a shower!


When I was in England back in 1995, I was also surprised that there was no shower in my friend's bathroom,only a bath))I wonder if it so in many English homes or was it just my friend's whim?
Come to Russia, Luke, and you will see plenty of things unfamiliar to your way of living! Still, I'm sure you will like it here! Welcome!!!

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