Apartments (or flats, as the case may be)

I apologise in advance for the fact that I am ornery. Yesterday I was sad about leaving America. Today I am annoyed at myself for living like a student in England, and trying to figure out if I can fix it somehow. Since I got divorced (amazingly coming up on 8 years ago) and sold the lovely 3 BR house that I had lived in, with all the modern conveniences, I have had 5 apartments. Three were in the US, and two in the UK. If one was to make a list of the modern conveniences in each of them, my current digs would come out worst or close to it. Let’s take inventory:

  • 1BR High-rise, down-town Minneapolis. Loved the apartment, hated the job. It was probably 1980s era but full of mod-cons and the views were amazing out the many windows overlooking the Basilica. Moved out to go back to school to finish my PhD.
  • Studio, student-friendly Marcy-Holmes area of Minneapolis. Closest approximation to what I have now in terms of its deficiencies, but benefitted from having a shower AND a full-sized fridge/freezer. And a pantry off the kitchen. And TWO count ’em TWO huge closets. Although no washing machine.
  • Amazing two-level apartment in Virginia. Again, loved the apartment, hated the job. It was new and totally kitted out including an extra half-bath upstairs where my study was, with my books and my computer, in a room over-looking the main living room with windows about ten feet high. Washer/dryer, dishwasher, the works. Bedroom was so big I used a divider to split off a separate music room.
  • Temporary furnished flat in England, at least it had a shower. Barely worth mentioning since I was there only three months or so.
  • Current one-bedroom digs in the UK. Only improvement on my student accommodations near Dinkytown is that it has a washing machine and an actual bedroom. But lacks a shower, of course has no mixer taps, no garbage disposal, no closets, no dishwasher, a washer but no dryer, a dorm fridge with a mini-freezer, and generally makes me feel like I am not a grown-up. And oh yeah it’s only big enough for a twin bed in the bedroom, due to the need to take up floor-space with wardrobes, which also makes me feel like not a grown-up.

What can I do? I know that not all British flats are completely devoid of mod-cons. I assume that not all British people live without a shower and are okay with it. I have been working in the UK for nearly 3 years, and thus feel quite annoyed that I am living like an impoverished student. Although I love and adore my job 89 or so percent of the time, I have been increasingly realizing that I can’t keep going home to my flat without being increasingly depressed. And as I basked a long and luxurious shower this morning, ahead of my departure for the UK tonight, I started wondering if it is showers that have been driving my near-constant travel this summer. Living out of a suitcase may suck, but living out of a suitcase and getting to shower every single day? Priceless. Funny how the simplest of things that one takes for granted becomes the most important thing in your thinking when deprived of it. Of course, if I vacated my job-subsidized flat and had to pay market rates for a 1 BR flat near where I work, I could say good-bye to ever being able to travel anywhere again. I can’t quite figure my way out of this particular pickle. But it is definitely starting to wear on me, so I’m going to have to figure something out soon.


18 responses to “Apartments (or flats, as the case may be)

  1. Eeek. I’m a New Yorker being moved to London in less than a year, and this makes me nervous. I wonder–do people in the city have these various housing problems (separate taps, no showers, no closets, etc.) as often? I know you’re outside London, NFAH, and I’ve been reasoning away your horror stories so far by telling myself that in a major city, with so many updated and sophisticated residences, this couldn’t possibly be a problem. But my confidence is starting to wane…Brits, or UK-based Americans, are NFAH’s findings typical everywhere?

    • I am not in London, but I am not in a small town either. I am guessing that the lack of facilities has more to do with the age of the building than the location, but that’s just my guess.

  2. I suppose I just assume that Londoners must be as picky as New Yorkers. And it’s such an international city…most of the nice housing must be updated. *Clings to single tap* Mustn’t it?

  3. I know people in the UK who have dishwashers, but it’s usually a pretty upmarket thing – a lot of kitchens seem to be too small for them anyway! I don’t know anyone in the UK who has a garbage disposal! I know lots of people there see no need for a shower – my sister remodeled her bathroom a few years ago and had the shower taken OUT! OTOH, my parents had the bath taken out and ONLY have a shower in their 1.5 bath house!

    I know what you mean about living like a student. I lived that way for 10 years after I graduated here in the US! For the first 3 years I had the excuse that I didn’t know how long I was going to be living in the US. Then it was lawyer’s fees, and eventually inertia. It wasn’t till I got married that I finally started to acquire ‘real’ furniture and lived in a real house!

    • Oh dear. I definitely don’t think I could do ten years like this. Even another three sounds really long…

      But what do British people do with the things Americans would put down the garbage disposal? I know there was a story in Mike Harling’s book about shoving things through the little holes in the drain, but it does start to seem like a generic problem. I had some leftover soup I needed to ditch right before I came on this trip and I could not figure out how to get rid of it. I ended up straining it with my colander to throw the broccoli away and then putting the cheese soup down the sink, but it seemed pretty clumsy… I can live without a dishwasher more so than some of the other things, though. As a single person, a dishwasher can be more trouble than it’s worth!

  4. I feel your pain! My husband and I made the choice to live further outside of London — thus longer commutes — to give ourselves those mod cons at the same price per month. (Well, except for a garbage disposal!) Would we rather walk to work? Yes. Do I sometimes wish that I was closer to the city? Yes. But am I happy to have a shower and a SEPERATE washer and dryer? Yes!

  5. Yes, we miss showers, too. But, that’s only because the landlord won’t fix the shower. Actually, we’re not exactly sure what to make of the plumbing and all in our bathroom. We were told, when we moved in 11 months ago, that it was to be completely redone. Then, the landlord changed his mind and wanted to take the separate shower out (we have not been using it because we had been told not to because the agent wasn’t sure if there was something wrong with it). He only wanted to fix the shower unit in the tub. Well, nothing has been done and we are still taking baths. I’d prefer to jump in the showers every morning.

  6. It’s many a long decade since I visited either a flat or house in Britain that didn’t have a shower.

    As for sink waste-disposal units, you can get them here, just as you can get mixer taps and fly-screens. Most Brits that I just don’t find this kind of convenience to be an amazing priority, just as they don’t regard drive-through facilities to be the acme of western civilization.

    • I have to say, Howard, having read through NFAH’s archives, it sounds very much to me as though you’ve never been to America. Your generalizations about this enormous, unwieldy country are sadly tedious and uneducated. Worse, the indiscriminate, reactionary defense of Britain you employ in every situation suggests an inferiority complex that I sure most of your countrymen don’t appreciate.

      Personally, I was raised in Chicago, educated in Boston, and work in Manhattan, and have never been to a drive-thru. Nor have I ever tried the “American cheese” you so like to mock as though it is near and dear to us all. Where do your perceptions of the States come from? It’s very strange.

      • If I had a house, I could put in a shower. But I don’t, I have a flat, one without a shower. And my friend who lives about a block down the street from me also has a flat (from the same era) with no shower.

        The few times I’ve been in British houses they have been modernized or added on to, to make larger and more “modern” kitchens, they have always had dishwashers and clothes dryers and mixer taps and full-sized fridge/freezers. Again, I think my small kitchen with minimal furnishings more reflects that I live in a rental flat from a circa 1920s building that has location, location, location but not much in the way of amenities. If I owned this as a condo, I’d fix it. But I don’t. And sometimes it makes me feel better to vent about it. So I do.

        And agreed, Emma, I don’t think I had been through a fast food drive-through until I was in college. My parents were very healthy, exercise-oriented types. The only time we went to McDonalds was for ice cream in the summer and we walked or biked there!

        And I like Emma’s query, and would love to hear how Howard came to form his views on America.

  7. > Your generalizations about this enormous, unwieldy country are sadly tedious and uneducated.

    Well, I’m sorry you should feel so, Emma!

    I am grateful for your comment about generalizations. They can be very misleading/misinforming, particularly when unsupported by evidence.


  8. > and have never been to a drive-thru.

    Thank you for your anecdotal evidence here, Emma. Would you say that the habit of having drive-thrus was greater in the U.S.A. than in Britain? Any figures around for this?

    • I’m afraid I never tried to draw a comparison between drive-thrus in the States versus Britain, Howard. It was you, in fact, who suggested that Americans “regard drive-through facilities to be the acme of western civilization.” And since it’s a favorite habit of yours to ask that people qualify emotive, tongue-in-cheek statements with “figures,” perhaps you would like to explain to me, using appropriate and timely research from a reputable source, of course, how it is you concluded that Americans find not having to leave their cars to be the height of Western Civilization.

  9. > And I like Emma’s query, and would love to hear how Howard came to form his views on America.

    What views in particular are you asking about? If you could allow yourself to be specific, it would help me to give the information you are asking for!

    • If you’re having trouble remembering your many insights about the States, you can peruse them in NFAH’s archives. They usually occur after a blanket denial that Britain has any shortcomings.

      I don’t mean to berate you, Howard, but your narrow commentary is just such a shame. You simply don’t need to defend Britain so vociferously—the people visiting this blog already appreciate the UK. It would be wonderful, since NFAH has so many expat (and soon-to-be expact, in my case) readers, if you could occasionally provide a perspective that balanced both the good and bad elements of Britain.

  10. > You simply don’t need to defend Britain so vociferously

    In fact I try not to do this, Emma. What I do do is to question unfair, unsubstantiated, and quite often *plain wrong* claims about the country. I am sure you would feel tempted, mutatis mutandis, to do the same for your country.

    > If you’re having trouble remembering your many insights about the States [etc.]

    This is not what I was asking: I have no difficulty in remembering what I have written. I was asking what interested you.

    > They usually occur after a blanket denial that Britain has any shortcomings

    An example of such a “blanket denial” would be useful. Otherwise I might think you are indulging in hyperbole.

  11. Howard,

    It’s uninformed generalizations like yours that are one of the reasons why Brits come off as so pompous and arrogant, particularly to those from the New World.

    I’m an expat in the UK as well and have found so far that one of the most infuriating aspects of many citizens here is an assumed knowledge of exactly how “life in the Americas” is, even if their only experience there was a week-long trip to New York or Disneyland.

    I side with Emma in that I too have gained the notion that many Brits have an inferiority complex that seems to rear its’ ugly head in the form of ridiculous pontifications about life in the US and Canada.

    I am not saying that there aren’t many great things about the UK, but I think that an overall less xenophobic attitude towards others would go a long way here.

  12. Re disposing of soup – I finally remembered what I probably would have done in the UK, without a garbage disposal to handle the chunky bits – flushed it down the toilet!

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