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Brits & Britain
Letter to a friend

By Reza Sami Gorgan Roodi
February 5, 2001
The Iranian

Dear Buddy,

I hope you are all in good health and that life is treating you well. In your letter you say that you have decided to come to England to continue your education and asked me about life in this country. If you are curious to know what we are doing here, let me quench your thirst and tell you, from my point of view, about how life is in this part of the British Isles. I hope this would give you a general idea about life in this country; however, you must bear in mind that every town and every city in this country has its own peculiarities that cannot be encapsulated in this brief overview.

The first day we arrived at the airport, we were told that, Brighton, the city in which we were going to spend the next four years of our life is the gay capital of Europe and we were a little bit frightened at first. We have found this to be true, but you need not fret about our encounters with the gay and lesbian communities. They are generally mild and easygoing people and although to this day we have remained their favourites and are always accosted by the gay pamphlet distributors, particularly in the library square of our university, we are still straight.

To tell you the truth, life in Brighton, is sometimes very tedious for a responsible family man and woman. Singles seem to enjoy it more than married couples do. Being the gay capital of Europe, Brighton does not have many attractions for us, despite all its nightclubs, discos, sea-life centres, department stores, diners, fast-food restaurants, and the beggers among whom you find young girls and boys accompanied by their dogs who call and ask you, "Spare me some cash, please!"

The reason that beggers here all keep dogs is that the British government allocates money to those who keep dogs.Yes! in Britain, animals receive payment from the government. Generally speaking, the Brits are known as animal lovers and the majority of them keep pets in their houses, and whenever they are poorly and sick they take them to the vet for treatment. All in all, they take animals very seriously and respect them.

If you live in the outskirts of a city, it normally takes a few minutes -- depending on whether you go by train or bus -- to go from your place to the centre. We usually go to Brighton for shopping and taking the tonic sea air. Brighton has a large Iranian community, mostly expatriates living in exile. Once, Morteza, the famous Iranian pop singer, had a concert in Brighton and one could see his posters all around the restaurants run by the Iranians. By the way, it might be interesting to you to know that a number of well-established restaurants in Brighton belong to Iranians.

One of the first things you notice when you come to this country is that the UK is an influential, well-administered and efficient country with a strong economy and stable institutions. But it is a traditional rather than a modern society. Young people know the United States best, the UK second. The part of British culture with which the world's young people connect best is popular music and film. In general the UK has a middling reputation for artistic creativity and design excellence, and this reputation is based more on past than present performance.

It is true that the Brits are very glacial, unfriendly, and xenophobic. British society is, in a way, multicultural. But commitment to racial equality is lacking and the people are not welcoming to foreigners. British people are cool, aloof and difficult to get to know. One always hears stories about racial attacks and racial killings in this country. People are usually stand-offish, and when they notice that the color of your hair or your eyes is different from theirs or if they see that you are wearing a different outfit, they look at you with suspicious eyes and try to keep away from you, but when you get to know them and talk to them in good English -- with a posh accent, of course -- and tell them about the past glories of your country and show knowledge of their literature, you take them by surprise and break their ice.

Southern accent sounds very posh. Surprisingly enough, American accent has a kind of virility here, it is associated with power and technology. The fact is that sometimes I notice the Brits show too much respect to those who speak English with an American accent and sometimes it seems to me that they are quite prepared to worship Americans. Those who speak English with an American accent sometimes find British accent to be very funny though. For example, in southern parts of Britain, they pronounce "can't" like the slangy word which refers to women's private part, or pronounce "staff" like "stuff," "last" like "lust", "dance" like "dawnce", "grant" like "grawnt", "order" like "odaw", and "branch" like "brawnch."

These people have absurd regulations. You can buy a television for less than 20 pounds but the TV license, without which you are not allowed to watch T.V., costs a lot more (£100 or so). In fact, nobody is allowed to watch TV without a license and their surveillance cars and officers with their antenna inspect the houses all the time to catch the offenders.

British products and services are generally of good quality, and British managers and workers are good at their jobs. But British companies fall behind their U.S., Japanese and German counterparts as world leaders. British business lacks the appetite to compete in some markets. Yet, the Britis are cunning business people. They employ different strategies to lure the consumer into purchasing their products.

One strategy which they often employ is "dishonesty" with the customers. If a product really costs them five pounds, they write six pounds on the price tag, then they either put up posters which read "Off the Price" and they reduce 10 pence or so from the price or produce vouchers with which you can get a reduction of 10 to 50 pence. These vouchers or "Off the Price" tags psychologically prepare the consumers to purchase these products.

They also take one pence, which is a very inconsiderable amount of money here, off the price of goods and almost every item has a 99 price tag. For example, an item which costs £2, is £1.99 which is not much different from 2 but makes customers think that it costs one pound, not two. They also use sly phrases like "Only £!0" for example or "Sales starting from only £10" to attract the attention of the consumers.

There is a discount German superstore here, called Lidle, which offers exceptionally competitive prices and we usally go there for shopping. This is due to the fact that British supermarkets rook the people and in comparison with American and European superstores are very expensive, yet the Britis prefer to shop at their own supermarkets and pay through the nose rather than shop at a superstore run by foreigners. There is another discount supermarket here called Asda which offers free bus services for those who wish to do their shoppings there. This is quite good because transportation in Britain, which is run by the private sector, is horrendously expensive. They rip you off even if you choose public transportation.

Their women claim they are emancipated from men. Women in the UK are free from discrimination This is true, yet it must be noted that they have gained their freedom at a great cost. Most women are lonesome single mothers, either by choice or out of choice. One of graffitti in the library here reads: "Women are sex objects. They are like sex machines. When men inject their fuel, they depart away." It is true that employment, processed food, child-care facilities and domestic labor-saving devices have all helped British women to move away from house-bound drudgery to the outside world.

The countryside here is so lush and one can see the cattle everywhere grazing in the pastures. There is a picturesque park near our flat with a beautiful pond and an ancient church, and we usually go there to take the air and enjoy the relaxed atmospher. A few weeks ago a female student was, as the authorities put it, "indecently assaulted" (euphamism for "rape") near this park. Later on, the University distributed leaflets warning people of the danger of going to out-of-the-way places alone.

The weather here is very capricious and unpredictable. It is misty in the mornings and when it is misty it is really amazing. In winter it is freezing. Still one can see giggling girls coming out of their nests topless and bottomless because the fire-water keeps them warm. And when they see you rapped up in your heavy overcoat they tease you and say, "Call the doctor!"

The UK has sound institutions such as a good national health service and fair legal system, and is protective of the environment. Health service is free of charge; prescription are also free for pregnant women and children and those living on low income. The water here is not pure and has a lot of limescale in it so we had to buy a water filter to purify the water. Sometimes, we think and talk about the magnificent water of Tehran and we miss it.

As for me, I spend most of my time here in the gigantic library at the university. In this library you can find almost everything including giggling boys and girls petting and necking in the carrols, cashing machines, photocopying machines which work with special cards that can be obtained from another machine; everywhere you can see these machines operating which drastically reduce the number of people at work and make you dizzy at first.

Codes and numbers are also very important here. During the first days I had to carry a list of the codes I would need in case I might forget them. These codes reminded me of W. H. Auden's poem, "The Unknown Citizen". They are often used for logging in your computer, accessing your work-space out-of-hours, accessing the 24-hour computer room, and in using the banks' cash machines. The university library is fully computerized so I had to enroll for computer courses at the beginning of the term to get familiar with the facilities.

I have now submitted my outline and am writing the third chapter of my thesis. My superviser is very helpful and we usually meet at a regular basis. I was asked to audit some courses and attend some seminars here related to my field. Generally, postgraduate work here is very lonesome and demanding and it requires perseverance and great effort to satisfy the standards of British professors.

Word has it that British higher education is excellent. The UK is said to be second only to the U.S. as a study-abroad destination and provider of distance learning courses. The UK ranks well behind the U.S., Japan and Germany for innovation in science and technology. For some, recent British achievements such as cloning are "scary science".

As I said before, life is very tedious here. I can summarize my activities here into library & internet search, reading, note-taking, writing, and typing. This process continues every time I start writing a new chapter. In order to do something for a change, I will be delivering a number of talks during the next term. The record for the completion of a D.Phil thesis here has been three years and 10 months. Although there is too much pressure on us to wrap it up it in three years, it is next to impossible that we would be able to do so.

We had a very pleasant summer last year. But this year it was freezing and, believe it or not, the heaters were running in the dead of summer. My wife who is not accustomed to such cold weather in summer is always complaining, yet she enjoys the lush countryside and the pure and tonic sea weather.

Transportation and cost of living are so high that they have trapped us at the university. We have to cut corners and save for rainy days in case my studies may take longer than expected. My advice is if you are not bringing a lot of money here, while you are in Iran enjoy the followings because you will not be able to afford them here:

1. Holidays
2. Fresh vegetable and fruits
3. Watermelon! Mmmmmm
4. Taxi and bus fares
5. Cheap petrol
6. Iranian bread
7. Local pickle
8. Dried nuts and fruits
9. Conversation with people
10. Fart (Fart as much as you can because there are smoke detectors here in the flats that are sensitive to odour and go off if you fart too often).

Give my regards to everybody and wish us good luck as we wish you a happy and prosperous life. Take care.


University of Sussex

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