Brits & Britain
Letter to a friend
By Reza Sami Gorgan Roodi
February 5, 2001
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"
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
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 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
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:
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.
REZA SAMI GORGAN ROODI
University of Sussex