Caught Out Yet Again!

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.

My first full day in the Highlands, summer 2008

My first full day in the Highlands, summer 2008

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!

Not Photoshopped: the sea really was this astounding color that day!

Not Photoshopped: the sea really was this astounding color that day!

Deb Segelitz
Deb Segelitz was born and raised in Pennsylvania, and is astounded to find herself living in the Scottish Highlands. Equally surprising to her is that she now has a small business restoring and selling old fountain pens. These two facts have convinced Deb that life is either beautifully random, or filled with destiny created by someone with a sense of humor. She hopes the fine north state residents will accept her as an honorary member, since she has some cousins in California who she visited once, but even more importantly because the north state folks she actually knows are fabulous people, who are also the reason for her presence here on An enthusiastic amateur photographer, Deb is grateful that she lives in a place that's about as point-and-shoot as it gets. Her tortoiseshell cat, Smartie, rates her as an average minion, too slow with the door-opening but not too bad on the food-dish-refilling, and her husband hasn't had her deported back to the States yet, so things must be going all right there, as well.
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23 Responses

  1. Darbie says:

    Good morning, Deb. I’ve become hooked on your observations. I love the stories and insights that you give us.

    You keep me entertained and please know that we appreciate what you provide.

    Thank you.


    • Deb says:

      You’re very welcome, and thank you for telling me, Darbie!  I’m so glad you enjoy my column, it’s lovely to know.

  2. Beverly Stafford says:

    Such a nice way to celebrate July Fourth – with a column from Deb.  Thanks, as always.  I hope Sem is doing well in the new toon.

    • Deb says:

      You’re welcome, Beverly, I’m glad you enjoyed it!  Sem is doing very well, “happy to be living where people speak the same way I do,” he said the other day.   Caithnessians have an accent unto themselves, and for Sem, it’s nice to be able to talk without having to modify his dialect.

      Happy 4th!

  3. Matthew Grigsby says:

    My house was built in 1938 and while my breaker box is on the outside wall and the gas meter is in the front of the house hidden behind a shrub, the fuse box is located in a cupboard under the stairs in my bedroom.  Building codes, schmilding codes, apparently.

    I have to say, I love that you’re not pulling the “back where I come from, we don’t do things like that” because frankly that irritates me to no end.  It always comes off as whiny and entitled.

    Lovely writing, magnificent photography, I grade this A+.  Again.  Forever.

    • Deb says:

      I think sometimes they put the fuse boxes in some dark and out-of-the-way place just to maximize Horror Movie Flashbacks.

      Teen Mountain-Top-Guest-House One:  Oh no, the power’s gone out!  And what’s that noise at the back door?  Sounds like a hatchet…

      Teen Mountain-Top-Guest-House Two:  Probably just need to flip a switch in the fuse box.  Where is it?

      T M-T-G-H O:  It’s under the stairs in the weird-smelling windowless basement…

      T M-T-G-H T:  *burbles incoherently as hatchet meets skull*

      Or, y’know, something like that.

      Ohhhhhhhhhhh the “back where I come from” people make me want to start slapping, or at the very least asking sweetly, “If it’s so great where you lived before, why did you leave?” Hint hint GO AWAY.

      I’m glad you enjoyed the story, and I hope my snark and horror movie reply has not put you off 😀

      • Beverly Stafford says:

        Add to your T-M-T-G-H-O when a noise is heard:  Is somebody out there?  Of course somebody’s out there – and he’s gonna split your skull with an ax.

        • Deb says:

          Hahaha you are so right!  Those kinds of things in movies just make me groan.

          Having said that, one steamy summer night when there was a very wild storm outside (in Pennsylvania) all the lights went out and there was a roar above the house.  You know how everyone says that tornadoes sound like an oncoming train, and get down to a basement if you hear that noise?

          I went to the back door, opened it, and scanned the blackness outside.  LIKE A TOTAL HORROR MOVIE IDIOT.

          I use as my defense the fact that Pennsylvania is not known for tornadoes, but still… yeesh.

  4. A Glesca lass says:

    Thanks again for the always-so-graphic-I-feel-like-I’m-there story,  Deb.

    I’m thinking being there on the bithdate of your original homeland is magnifying your observations of the differences? Or am I just projecting?! 😉

    Happy 4th.

    • Deb says:

      I’m glad you enjoyed it, thank you for telling me!

      You are projecting, though you couldn’t have known it – the timing of article submission and then publication versus first draft writing means that I wrote the article a couple of weeks ago 🙂

      Happy 4th!

  5. Hal Johnson Hal Johnson says:

    Another great post accompanied by tasty photos. Thanks, Deb.

  6. Linda Coplen says:

    Love your writings, filled with adventure, mystery, and humor about the everyday differences that bring us all together to one place, no matter how far apart we live. Thanks for the travel and chuckles!

  7. Ginny says:

    The first home we bought in 1955 was about a year old. Very small galley kitchen.  The washer was in the kitchen.  No place for a dryer.  Good old line drying out side, but not great in the winter!  I hadn’t thought about that washer in the kitchen for years.

    You brought back some old memories, Deb.  Many of the “Brit” things I knew about because a couple moved in next door to us in the 1954/5 house who were from England.  We were even charter members of the newly begun British/American Club.

    One funny form the Club was another neighbor and friend went to one fun meeting (eat and dance).  She was slightly hard of hearing.  A man came by and introduced himself to us.  He said his name was “arry”  She asked him to repeat it.  Finally, I leaned over and said his name was “Harry”!  Sure you can guess the district he was from.

    Thanks for all the good storytelling you do for us back in the Stages.  Always interesting with lovely photos.

    Blessings to you and Sem

    • Deb says:

      Another friend just told me that his washer is in his kitchen too (he’s in the US as well).   I guess it’s just not something I ever saw, back home!  You’re right about line drying not being great in the winter – here a LOT of people use their clotheslines, but everyone has to constantly take it down and put it back out when there are showers every other half-hour 🙂

      I like your ‘Arry story!  Glad you enjoyed the article, thank you for telling me.

      • Ginny says:

        Don’t think the washer in the kitchen was really successful, but tried after WWII, when the automatic washer came about and cheap (woops!) inexpensive tract homes were being built without back porches . We added on as soon as possible to get the washer out of the kitchen. ;o)

        I enjoy all your writing, Deb…..

  8. Gracious Palmer says:

    Thank you.

  9. A. Jacoby says:

    Oh Deb, I SO  enjoy your writing and musings. Always an interesting take or viewpoint on things we all encounter but to which we seldom give much thought. And always a wee bit of a peek into another world.

    Thank you.

  10. Steve Towers Steve Towers says:

    Every post you write makes me want to visit Scotland, but also makes me feel like I’ve already been there.

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