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some things that the u.s. can learn from the u.k.

A short list of things noticed in the UK that should be taken into account by folks here in the US:

  • You shouldn’t need a credit card to secure a hotel room. In Brecon, Wales, we stayed at the Castle of Brecon Hotel. sprite and I arrived fairly late, but didn’t need to present a credit card or any kind of ID to secure a room. Same goes for the Premier Travel Inn near Bristol Int’l Airport. Yet here in the U.S., each and every hotel requires picture ID, a credit card, a note from your mother, etc., just to secure a basic room.
  • It’s possible to have fast cars that are fuel-efficient Yes, this logic flies in the face of the “bigger is better” American way, but my experience proved quite enlightening. Our Nissan Almera (essentially the same as the Sentra here in the US) had only a 1.5 litre engine, but it still could do zero to 60 mph in less than 10 seconds. The secret is having gearbox ratios that actually differ by a great deal. For example, in a US car (with manual transmission), the difference between first and second gears is often trivial. But in the Almera, first and second were markedly different (e.g. it was nigh-on-impossible to start from a dead stop in second). The car did 90+ mph without complaining, and our overall fuel economy was just a shade short of 42 miles per gallon in mixed driving. We need this kind of fuel economy here in the US.
  • Airport security in the UK feels more secure than in the US – as well as less draconian. When leaving the UK via Bristol Int’l Airport, the security was evident: questioning from security officials while in the queue to check in; a bag search of sprite’s checked bag; and the usual x-ray and metal detector to get to the boarding area. But it was all done in a friendly way, with a smile. Going through the “mag & bag” before the boarding area was also striaghtforward: you place your bags on the belt (without having to remove laptops or digicams, and without having to doff shoes or belts), walk through the metal detector, and that’s that. It’s remarkably efficient, and the staff presents an air of confiendence without having to act “tough.” It was definitely of a better class than the usual TSA treatment here in the US.
  • Clear signage and clear language will get you far. Directionals road signs in the UK (at least for intersections of fairly major roads) are often extremely clear, stating which road is at the other end, without being huge and intrusive. Signs for lane closure, yield (or “give way”) and other such things are clear and concise, using international standard iconography to get their point across. Signs in areas such as the London Underground are very clear, and the audio announcements are clearly spoken and delivered at a very reasonable cadence. When you compare these audio clips with the old New York Subway or the DC Metro, it makes our system seem antiquated and pokey – yet their system is much older.

There’s bound to be more of this – but these just struck me at the present moment.

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3 Comments

  1. I’m a pretty big fan of Europe, too, especially the roads and cars. Haven’t been to England, but have spent time in Norway, Italy, France, and the lowland countries.

    One thing that does need to be mentioned, though is that part of their efficiency comes through lower emissions standards. The 1.5 L engine in your rental was likely running a much higher compression ratio than an engine in a comprable car in America. Makes it more efficient, but also increases the particulate emissions and (I think) carbon monoxide due to the higher burn temps.

    In europe, the tradeoff in emissions works since there’s a much higher percentage of non-driving commuters than in the US. But if the number of drivers would reach parity with the US, air pollution in their cities would rival LA’s smog in the 70’s.

    My favorite thing you didn’t mention? roundabouts. Work like champs, don’t slow the flow of traffic.

  2. soe

    Two corrections here:

    1. Actually, Premier Travel Inn in Bristol had the strictest request — not only did they want my address and the usual stuff, but they also wanted my passport number. And I paid with a credit card, so I’m not sure whether they would have requested one if I’d not volunteered it. But they definitely were the exception, rather than the rule.

    2. I did see a fellow toting a machine gun at Bristol Airport. But as he was wearing what appeared to be a British military outfit, I didn’t worry about it too much. (So although the folks you dealt with face-to-face were deferential and pleasant, their demeanor was backed up nearby with firepower.)

  3. Grand Poobah

    A roundabout is fun (we have quite a few here in DC), but they can get a bit tedious if you have one every mile for 14 miles (as seen in Wales, en route to Abergavenny).

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