The weather in the UK is often a topic of conversation because it is so changeable. Do not be surprised if you go out on a sunny day, to find that it suddenly begins to rain! The weather is generally mild to cool and it is rare that there are any extremes of temperature. Cloudy and rainy weather is fairly common in all seasons. For such a northern latitude, the UK is not particularly cold in the winter as it is surrounded by the sea. Due to the latitude however, summer days have long hours of daylight and winter days have short hours of daylight. Daily maximum temperatures in the Midlands range from 0 Degrees Centrigrade in the Winter to 28 Degrees Centrigrade in the Summer. January tends to be the coldest month, while July and August are usually the warmest months. For more information, look at BBC weather for Leicester.
Food and Drink
Most people think of 'fish and chips' when they think of British food. This is usually battered cod or haddock and thick cut potato chips bought from a 'chippie' (a fish and chip shop) and sprinkled with lots of salt and vinegar. It is popular as a take-away meal, but most people do not eat it often as it is high in fat!
Other well-known English food is an 'English breakfast' - a fried breakfast which can include egg, bacon, sausage, hash brown, tomato, baked beans, mushrooms, fried bread and black pudding (blood sausage). Again, this is not a common breakfast because it is high in fat and most British people instead tend to have cereal or toast for breakfast.
Lesser known British food includes a variety of pies including shepherd's/cottage pie (lamb or beef mince covered in mashed potato), stews, chops and steaks served with potatoes and vegetables and roast dinners (a slow cooked joint of meat served with roasted potatoes, vegetables and a meat sauce called 'gravy'). Quick snacks bought for lunch are usually a sandwich, soup or jacket potato. There is also a large variety of traditional cakes and desserts or 'puddings' and many different kinds of British cheeses.
Strangely enough 'chicken tikka masala' is one of the most popular 'British' dishes - an Anglo/Indian dish which was invented in Britain in the 1980s and is sold in most 'Curry Houses' in Britain. This is a lightly spiced chicken which is cooked in a 'tandoor' oven.
If you are interested in trying British cookery, why not try some recipes yourself - there are some good free websites, such as: The Great British Kitchen or for regional specialities, try the BBC food website. You can also pick up free magazines from supermarkets which contain recipes e.g. Somerfield Magazine, which is published monthly.
If you do not want to cook yourself, you could always try a HOST or FOSSIL visit (see 'Staying with a British Family').
Leicester is a very multicultural city and as a result you can find foods from most countries here. Due to the large Indian community, there are many Indian restaurants and shops, which are especially concentrated in the Belgrave Road area. There are also Carribean and Asian supermarkets, Polish supermarkets and even large supermarkets sell a range of food from different countries.
Common drinks are of course, the traditional cup of English tea (although many British people also drink coffee). Normally black English tea is served with milk and with the option of sugar. Traditional alcoholic drinks are 'ale' - a dark, flat beer which is served at room temperature, although nowadays more people tend to drink 'lager', which is mostly imported from Europe. Guiness (dark, creamy stout) is made in Ireland and Scotland is famous for its 'single-malt' whiskies.
Drinking culture is well-established in Britain and there are plenty of pubs, which are places where British people often go to socialise. You may be surprised by how much some British people tend to drink! However, if you do not want to drink alcohol, it is acceptable to also buy soft drinks as all pubs serve drinks such as lemonade, orange juice and coffee.
The international dialling code for the UK is +44. If you need to make a call home, don't forget to put in your country code first - if you are not sure what it is, check here. Many students have a mobile phone, but make sure you shop around to see what the best deal is for calling your home country. It may be cheaper to buy an international phone card, although you may need a land-line for this. Mobile phones in the UK can be 'contract' (a fixed amount of calls and texts are agreed and paid for per month) or 'pay-as-you-go' which you will need to 'top-up' when the credit is used.
Festivals and Events
The UK has many local and national festivals and events throughout the year. These cover a large range of music festivals, usually held throughout the summer to food festivals and national holidays. The main holiday periods are during Easter and Christmas, although there are also long weekend holidays for May Day and August Bank Holiday. Some of the big celebrations in Britain include New Year (or 'Hogmanay') in Scotland, Glastonbury Music Festival in late June in Somerset, Notting Hill Carnival in London (a big Carribean carnival) and Edinburgh Festival in August (arts festival). England, Ireland, Wales and Scotland all have their own national days named after a Saint which are celebrated differently through the UK. There are also festivals throughout the year in Leicester. These include:
- Summer Sundae (a music festival in Victoria Park)
- Diwali celebrations at Belgrave Road
- Bonfire Night at various sites, the biggest being at Abbey Park (November)
- Carribean Carnival (the second biggest street party in the country after Notting Hill)
- Leicester Comedy Festival (February)
There are public toilets around the UK, which tend to be in bus and train stations as well as around the cities (these will be signposted). Sometimes there is a charge - this can range between 20p to £1 (London tends to have the most expensive toilets). Most big department stores also have toilet facilities which are free of charge, so look out for Marks & Spencers, Debenhams etc. if you do not want to pay to use the facilites.
Please be aware that in the UK, to use the toilets you must sit on the seat (unlike Asian 'squat' toilets). Toilet paper should be provided and this is flushed down the toilet after use.