As I type this, a nice young lad from the power company is here installing “smart meters” for our electricity and gas. They track usage half-hourly and will give us a good picture of our energy and gas consumption, plus there's the added bonus of not playing endless rounds of “sorry we missed you” when the meter reader stops by because readings can be taken remotely. Will it save us any money? Who knows, but it will certainly be more convenient. A tiny concern is that when they rolled these out first, some customers were sent bills in the tens of thousands of pounds – oops! Let's hope they have worked that particular bug out of the system by now.
When the engineer arrived I showed him the meters, which are tucked into the corner of the walk-in closet in the hallway, a few inches from the floor, under a permanent shelf. Not much room even though I'd cleared the space around it! He had a look and asked, “Great, and where is your gas meter?”
There are two sets of meters in there, or so we thought, but nope, it's some other kind of setup. Not to worry said the nice young man, I'll go look outside. He was puzzled, since normally they ask on the phone about the location of the meters. I will never admit that they did ask that when we set up the appointment, and that we confidently answered that they were both in the house. Honest mistake!
He wandered around the apartment building, to no avail. He asked if he could look in various rooms and I agreed, though I assured him that we didn't put any furniture or bookcases in front of anything resembling a meter, and also that the meter reader had never been anywhere but that walk-in closet. He had another walk around the perimeter, then came back in and started opening kitchen cupboards.
Guess what? There's a gas meter at the back of the bottom corner cupboard where all the pots and pans live, in the kitchen. It could hardly be more hidden, or less accessible. Young Engineer searched while I was on hold with the power company to see if they could help. “Found it!” he called out cheerfully, then said philosophically, “They tend to just stick them any old place sometimes,” and left me to clear out what's in there while he worked on the electric meter in the hall closet. Wish I'd washed the kitchen floor...
Even after nine years here (nine years today as I write this, in fact!), I still get caught out by odd things like this. I've gotten a handle on the lingo: a pitcher is a 'jug', a sidewalk is a 'pavement' (I just had to fight with my British autocorrect because sidewalk kept spontaneously turning into 'pavement' – sheesh!), our apartment is a 'flat', and so on. I've learned to remember that it's 999 rather than 911 (unless it's 112 or the other new emergency number that I've forgotten already), and that if I talk to someone about my pants they will assume I am making indecent conversation about my underwear. I live in 24 hour clock time rather than having two of each hour, British cuisine no longer holds strange mysteries, and if I were to reach for a flannel I would be grabbing a washcloth, not a lumberjack's shirt. But the ins and outs of UK construction are not within my expertise.
In my former world, fuse boxes are at about eye level somewhere handy in the house, like the garage or the basement. Meters (gas or electric) live outside where the meter reader can get to them without having to gain access to the home, and washers and dryers live in utility rooms or basements or built-for-purpose closets. Very different here, at least where I live! In our last house the fuse box was at the bottom of the coat closet along with the electric meter, so that when the meter reader arrived (unannounced) there would be a hasty scramble to transfer armloads of coats and jackets so that he could see the meter. Here in this apartment when I had to phone in a meter reading because we missed the guy, I had to actually lay down on the floor, phone in one hand and flashlight (that'll be 'torch' in the UK) in the other, grunting out what numbers I could see. Washers and dryers typically live in the kitchen, of all places, which is still a bit weird to me but is apparently the norm, here. And in our apartment (and most of the others in our block) there is no place for the dryer to vent out – we all have dryer extension hoses that we have to stretch out an open window.
I've never been one to say “oh things are so much better where I come from,” because really if an entire country does their laundry in the kitchen who am I to say they are wrong? Instead, all of these differences are interesting, to me, even when they catch me off-guard. It makes me wonder why people in one place do things one way while in other places another way has become the norm. What are the thought processes behind the decisions? I'll never know, I guess.
It's not that often that I feel like a stranger in a strange land anymore, but today is definitely one of those days. It doesn't take much to catapult me right back to the summer of 2008, newly arrived on these shores!