The Everyday Pace of Daily Life
Sorry I’ve been out of it for a while! I know we’ve talked about this in bits and pieces, mostly relating to doing grocery shopping almost daily and the (associated) small size of refrigerators; but I think it is perhaps a key difference in lifestyle. Here, and I wouldn’t be terribly surprised if it extends to other parts of Europe at least, there is a decidely daily scale and pace to life.
As we have mentioned, shopping for groceries daily – just what you need for the next 24 hours – is common. Why is this? For one, the “shelf life” of most perishable products seems to be much less – at least, you will only find things on the shelves that are good for a couple of days out. I hypothesize that this might mean that what you get is a bit fresher. Likewise, the size of most localized grocery stores is much smaller, with significantly fewer quantities of items. This is all supported (or necessitated? chicken vs. egg) by the typically small fridges – what we might call dorm room size in the US. Also, perhaps even more importantly, the virtual non-existence of freezers, at least in flats. Our little fridge has a small freezer shelf at the top that a) doesn’t really work and b) can’t really fit anything. I just discovered appropriately-flat ice cream containers at Tesco, but we tried it and it didn’t really stay frozen 😦
Of course, it is also true that our carrying capacity for bringing groceries home is limited – representing perhaps a third dimension to the symbiosis of food shopping in London. Granted, there are certainly larger supermarkets with large parking lots and large shopping carts, and presumably somewhat more suburban types with cars and larger homes handle that sort of thing in more of what I think of as “standard American” style. Perhaps, as well, some Manhattanites at least may live more on the shopping-on-the-way-home-from-work-almost-every-night plan as well.
But there are other things that suggest this different, daily approach. Laundry is one; our small washer doesn’t hold too much, which is generally good because our drying rack can only hold, at most, two loads, and takes at least 24 hours or so to dry (again, a bit of a chicken-and-egg relationship: no need for massive drying capacity if you can’t generate that from the washer, and vice versa). This, of course, means that you can NEVER do a lot of laundry at once. If you procrastinate in doing it, you will never actually catch up, because the rate at which you generate new dirty clothes will essentially match your laundry capacity, and the hamper as a result will never fully empty. The other consequence we have learned is that you really have to plan ahead; if you think about washing clothes for Monday on Sunday night you are out of luck!
Another is trash (or, pardon me, rubbish!). Ours is collected six times per week (early in the morning each day except Sunday) from the sidewalk in front of our door (which means in front of the real estate office). Again, this is a good thing because we have no place to store garbage, so that if it lingers it starts to really stink up the flat. Apparently, this is common practice for all commercial streets, where shops generate larger amounts of rubbish and flats have no outdoor space to store it (on most purely residential streets flats/houses have small patios in front that are unfortunately devoted to parking, trash, or both). Unfortunately, this system breaks down with regard to recycling, because that is only collected once per week.
What else? The dishes fall in this category too, although that might be a bit more universal with-or-without dishwasher issue (although the dishwashers here tend to be smaller too). Well, I could perhaps also argue that the focus on more “pay as you go” type of things (such as for transport, or mobile phone usage) is in line with a more finite timing of things, and the fact that most rents are advertised by the weekly price (instead of the monthly price) also points to a smaller temporal scale. In a sense, the fact that everything is generally smaller, as I have noted before – everything from trains, cars, and lifts to sidewalks, streets, houses, and offices – is certainly also smaller scale (in a non-temporal way).
Am I getting too existential? Maybe. But pat of our goal here is to understand the differences (and share them with you), and I think this is one of the core ones. With regard to implications, the jury is still out; we feel like we spend more time doing some of these now-daily type tasks, and I could see an “economies of scale” argument to affirm that. But are we more likely to only do what we need and not what we might forecast, thereby conserving resources? If we aren’t planning on eating something in the next day or two, we can’t buy it, whereas previously we might have gotten something (especially if it were on sale) with the thought that we would certainly use it eventually. Are we more aware of the price, spending $15 every day or two as opposed to $150-$200 every 3 weeks?
Food (but just for tonight) for thought!