10 Things You Need to Know!

Though we have roughly 9 more months to spend living in Aberdeen, I feel as though I've garned some worthwhile information that would be good to share with our friends and family who are plannings trips in the upcoming year, as well as with any other curious souls that might be reading this blog. Now remember, I'm no expert, all these tips come from personal experience or observation and certainly don't set the standard for everyone's visit to the UK as they are all different! Here goes...

1.) Because the UK is 6 hours ahead of the US, it seems best to arrive in Scotland mid-afternoon. This allows time for a short nap after arrival and a regular bedtime. It's the fastest way to overcome jet lag. Jesse and Leigh Ann did exactly this for their trip and were on our time schedule by the next day. When Mike and I arrived, it was late morning and we had the entire day in Scotland to face. We napped for 5 hours, a mistake, and spent days trying to adjust!

2.) Scotland -- and most of the UK, save for Ireland -- operates on the pounds currency (£), the GBP or United Kingdom Pound. It's best to have cash onhand when you arrive to easily pay for cab rides, snacks at the airport, tips, etc. This saves a lot of time and hassle. You can pull money from ATMs after arriving if preferred, there are some charges. It's best to pull a lump sum and use cash during your vacation in Scotland to avoid additional credit card fees. This turns out to be more convenient and easier to track, especially at the bars and pubs which don't allow credit card tabs.

3.) Don't overtip. Americans are known for their over-generosity when it comes to gratuity.  Some things don't even require a tip, depending on the situation. But when in doubt, tip a strict 10%. This goes for things like dining out and beauty treaments (masssages, manis/pedis, etc.). The servers in Scotland don't work for tips, they are paid stable salaries. Which brings me to my next point...

4.) Service is slow. The art and importance of customer service is a bit lost over here. Because, for instance, restaurant waiters and bartenders work on salaries, they're less inclined to deliver speedy and accurate service to your table. You must ask for the check as soon as you're ready for it, otherwise you could easily sit at your table for 20-30 min. waiting. If you want a drink refill, point it out. If you need ketchup, flag 'em down! Don't assume they'll recognize you're in need until you let them know. They also don't generally like going through the extra trouble of splitting checks, taking appetizer orders separately from the main meal, etc. but if you want something specific, go for it!

5.) The average cost per meal per person starts at £10-£12 and there's usually plenty to choose from. The UK is known for its variation on fish and chips, always always always a safe choice! They love chips here, which are French fries, and serve them with everything. Mike and I have ordered a baked potato and pizza and got fries with them! Talk about carb overload. Other worthwhile dishes include steak and Guinness pie, steak yorkies (similar to a Guinness pie, served in a round breaded bowl with mashed potatoes and veggies), Cullen Skink soup (a bisque-like soup with fresh fish), chili (it's not quite like the stuff at home, but still usually pretty good), a traditional Scottish breakfast (toast, tomatoes, fries, beans, eggs, sausage, etc.), chocolate and cookies (they're absolutely delicious) and most sandwiches. Their tuna or chicken sandwiches, though, usually come completely loaded down with mayo. They love the stuff here, in fact they love Heinz here! Everything like mayo and ketchup to vinegar and relish is Heinz brand. Food to shy away from: haggis (made of sheep's or calf's viscera minced with oatmeal and suet and onions and boiled in the animal's stomach), black pudding (a black sausage containing pig's blood and other ingredients), shrimp scampi (it's not like the usual stuff at home... unless it's indentified as 'whole' scampi, it'll be a creamy mush of small tails and shrimp pieces minced together and breaded).

6.) Extra words aren't necessary. As silly as this sounds, it's true. It must have something to do with the slight language barrier. For example, one of our first dinners out, Mike and I just wanted to start with waters. So I politely asked if we could have two glasses of water if it wasn't too much trouble. This managed to thoroughly confuse our waitress, who gave me a blank stare in return. We also figured out they will serve you a bottle of still water (which comes with a charge) unless you indicate you want tap water. So now when we order it, it comes out "Tap water, please." And we've never been misunderstood since!

7.) Walking shoes are your friend. If you're struggling to pack light for a trip across the pond, do a quick recap of your shoe inventory. If you have any shoes in your suitcase that make you wonder for even a second how long they'll be comfortable before they start giving you blisters, take them out! Hiking around town on foot is a requirement. The car we have is super small and doesn't allow for many passengers to begin with, plus there's rarely places to park and a zero drinking and driving tolerance. It usually ends up being much easier to hoof it to your destination, rain or shine, then driving. Thus the need for extremely durable and comfortable shoes. It's also good to have a pair or two of shoes that will withstand the rain and keep your feet dry for the more unpleasant days...

8.) Speaking of rain, there's a lot of it here! Especially in the winter months. If you are planning to bring a jacket or purse or shoes that can't withstand getting wet, leave it at home. Not to say that you should only bring bright yellow rain coats, just not things that would be ruined by water. If you're staying in the UK for several weeks or more, it might not be a bad idea to pack a little vitamin D or special things like coconut-scented lotion or bronzer or something. Just a pick-me-up for dreary days when you crave sunshine! It's also a good to bring a weather-proof rain coat with a hood. The wind is ridiculously strong and there's a lot of days when an umbrella doesn't do a lick of good, the wind blows it inside out as soon as you get out the door.

9.) The winter is COLD. Bundle up, scarves and boots are in here! Most of the girls my age wear tights and flats or tights and boots every single day. Wraps, scarves, cardigans (cardis), leggings... dress comfy and cozy! As much as it pains me to say, layers are a good thing here.

10.) Don't bother packing a hair dryer. As most of you well know, adapters are needed to accomodate US appliances but they still won't all work. The hertz for a blow dryer is much to powerful for the sockets in the UK and will blow the fuse if attempted. (I tried this in London and blew out the entire hotel my mom and I were staying at! The little man at the front desk was amiss when his computer went down.) I have a blow dryer and Chi straightner available at our flat for those coming to visit, so free up a little room in your suitcase for all the great finds you'll get while shopping over here! Guys shavers, iPod chargers, laptop plugs and battery-operated items are all okay.

Hope this helps!

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