Houses are houses in every country; and they tend to be relatively similar. Four walls, a roof, doors and windows. On the inside is where things start to get a little strange.
There are a few small but significant differences between British and Spanish houses, that at first glance aren’t immediately apparent.
For example, houses in the UK tend to have carpet, a lot of carpet. Wall to wall carpet; it extends over the entire internal footprint of the house, downstairs, upstairs, on the stairs, even in the bathroom. I remember arriving to my childhood home at the tender age of five; there was a pink carpet in the bathroom. I say pink because it clearly had been pink at some point in the distant and murky past…at the time I lived there, it was a sort of pinkish with brown tinges. It was so thick, so deep was the pile, that I remember my tiny five-year-old toes disappearing into it whenever I peed. Now it makes me cringe to think of the things that could have been inhabiting that carpet, between the fibres. Fortunately, my parents disposed of it as soon as they could, and replaced it with boards.
Another curiosity that you can find in the bathroom, as well as the kitchen, is the taps. I say taps plural, because there are usually two. One hot and one cold. This creates the complex task of how to wash things, in particular, ones hands. There are always two options – suffer the penetrating cold until the soap has rinsed off, or broil your fingers like ten little prawns. There is a point at which the hot water flowing form the tap is between glacial and volcanic, and it’s pleasant to wash your hands. It last nano-seconds. The most common thing is for people to repeatedly jam their hands under first one stream, then the other. Of course, you could mix hot and cold in the basin and wash your hands in whatever temperature of water tickles your fancy, but who has time to run a tiny hand bath every time you wash something?
The windows in the UK, almost all, open like doors. The idea of a sliding window (except maybe patio doors) hasn’t arrived, or wasn’t cool enough. Windows open outwards, normally, and sometimes inwards. There is a little rod at the bottom to fix the window to the frame so that it doesn’t slam and explode in the wind. Windows are normally as large as possible to catch as much light as they can, and we have a light aversion to net curtains. You can, therefore, often see in to people’s living rooms, and observe all that they are doing. Also within the realm of windows, is the conservatory. A huge greenhouse that we tack onto the outside of our houses – a room made entirely of windows that we use as a sort of solarium, as there isn’t a lot of sun.
If you have the luxury of living in a house, instead of a block of flats, there is no letter BOX. In its place, is what we call a letterbox, but it’s just a slot in the front door of the house where the postman stuffs everything that fits. It all falls on the inside doormat in a little heap and makes it impossible to open toe door. If you have dogs, there are mini-cages that you screw onto the inside of the door, and they catch the letters before they fall, to be eaten by your furry friends. The door itself often has a handle on the outside, too, so you can open it without a key if it isn’t locked with the key.
The loo, is, of course, very similar – a porcelain throne, except for the chain. In a lot of cases it is a literal chain, which hangs from the cistern above the head of the user. Above all, in public bathrooms from the 90s, I remember in all my schools, there was a chain to pull…the ‘chain.’ People seemed to have a fascination for to break the chain so that you couldn’t pull it…weird.
Central heating in the UK is central, yes, but only in your house. There’s no ‘building’ central heating, everyone has their own. On top of the we have storage heaters – a big radiator which heats itself up during the night, when the electricity has a lower price, then it turns itself off during the day and releases all the heat it has stored up.
Last, and by no means least; the blinds. In the UK there are no external blackout window blinds. Maybe it’s because there isn’t so much sun to block out? For whatever reason, we opt for curtains, sometimes bordering on complete failure in terms of blocking out light. There are always gaps around the edges, sometimes the material isn’t even thick enough to completely block the light, and its usually almost impossible to unite the two curtains in the middle, leaving a little chink in between. Basically, as disaster. In hotels in the UK there are often two pairs of curtains. One big thick black inner curtain to actually block the light, and an outer, more attractive curtain to complete the aesthetic of the room. My Spanish friends tell me that they couldn’t possibly sleep without absolute darkness, the light is bothersome. I have no problems sleeping with the sun slapping me full in the fase, perhaps living with curtains for the best part of my life has left me insensitive?