The American Shopper’s Subconscious, OR Why I’m Throwing All My Money at England

Normally, when the Weather Channel website tells you there’s only a 10% chance of rain in your area, you can assume it won’t rain. In London, a 10% chance of rain means that it’ll pour all day — or so I’ve learned this week.

My cheesy touristy pursuits came to a screeching halt starting this past Sunday when a full week of rain began confining me to my building. I’ve spent so much time with my Tumblr that it’s actually starting to grate. I never thought this day would come.

Needless to say, I haven’t had many (worthwhile) photo ops in the past six days, so I’ll take this damp-ass Friday night as an opportunity to throw in a non-sightseeing related post about money.

Well, currency.

Excuse the glare in these images. Camera flash and shiny objects paired up are so cringeworthy.

Top left, 50 pence pieces (one front and three backs). Most of the ones I have are 2012 Olympic-themed. Top right, 1 pound pieces (one front and five backs). Bottom center, 2 pound piece.

I still haven’t figured out British coins. I realized this yesterday at Caffe Nero on Oxford St. when I was looking for 15 pence in coins to pay for my £3.15 blended coffee exactly. Except I couldn’t find that 15p quickly enough, since I couldn’t identify them without holding them up to the light to see the tiny numbers on them. So I took an evening to familiarize myself.

Left group, 10 pence pieces (one front, two backs). Right group, 20 pence pieces (one front, two backs).

Left, 1 pence (penny) pieces, one front and back. Center: 2 pence piece (an awkward monetary amount, in my opinion). Right, 5 pence pieces (one front and back).

Coins come in more amounts than are perhaps necessary: 2 pounds, 1 pound, 50 pence, 20 pence, 10 pence, 5 pence, 2 pence, and a penny. The upside of this is that a) unlike in the US, you can pay for an everyday item entirely in coins in the UK, rather than resort to bills, and b) each coin type has a multitude of different tails images, and they are so damn pretty. They’re like wizard money. They feature things you’d never see in American imagery — roses, dragons, lions, etc.

The downside, however, of having so many coin types is that there are so many coin types. It’s bound to get annoying and complicated and why do two-pence pieces exist? 

And of course, the fact that the pound is stronger than the dollar is giving me a lot of unexpected trouble. The pound is worth about 1.65 US dollars, a fact of which I’m perfectly, perfectly aware, and yet I can’t seem to get rid of a subconscious tendency to think, Hey, so cheap! when I see something in the UK priced at less than £10 or £15.

Case in point: Primark clothes.

To get an idea of what Primark is, it’s essentially Forever 21 mashed up with H&M, except with a British aesthetic (think peter pan collars, lots of blazers, intarsia sweaters, booties, and grandpa cardigans). And to get an idea of how popular it is, think of how large the crowd at your local Forever 21 is on a Saturday afternoon around Christmastime. This is what it looks like in a Soho, London Primark — all the time.

Generally Primark blouses run somewhere around £12, and being American, it’s easy for me to see the 12 and immediately think $12. Even when I calculate the actual price just before checking out at the counter and discover that it is, in fact, about $19.80. I need to get rid of my American shopper’s knee-jerk reaction of finding everything so ~affordable~ just because the numbers on tags here look lower than what they’d be in the States.

I need to stop buying these. But everything is so, so strange (in a delightful way) compared to what I see in American malls, and I can’t help myself. Bulldog prints especially. How does one say no to bulldog prints.

I’ve made myself a promise that I won’t buy myself cutesy British souvenirs now, because these clothes should count, and they’re definitely more than enough. That’s it. No more personal shopping until at least December. And even then, I’ll be careful~

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Doctor Who mid-season finale tomorrow night. I can’t tell you how over the moon I am to be able to watch BBC on-time.

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Foraging: one of my new friends here, a fellow international student from the US, seems to have picked us a “usual” place — Chutney Raj on Grays Inn Road in Camden. We discovered this tiny, dim Indian restaurant by accident after arriving at the Calthorpe Arms on the same street only to find that they weren’t serving food at the time. Chutney Raj is passable, despite serving sauces with a bit more sugar than I’m accustomed to in Indian food. Unsure if I’ll go back a third time — especially since the waiter made fun of me for not knowing how to work the little card swiper thing at the counter. -_-

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On heavy rotation: “Hold On” by Aiden Grimshaw, lovely and atmospheric. “Ride” by Lana del Rey, recently released to go with her new Born to Die: Paradise Edition album…which I want. Strongly.


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