05 June 2009

Teensy appliances

(So I've not posted in a couple of days; it's been kinda busy around here. I apologize for any inconvenience.)

I suppose it's just a function of a lot of people living efficiently on a small island, but from an American perspective the size of the appliances here are minuscule. It's hard to not get a brief sense of having accidentally walked into a kindergarten “pretend house” when first confronted with the size of what are termed “white goods” here.

One might be inclined to organize a tour of UK appliances by traveling from laundry to kitchen, but that approach frequently doesn't work here. That's because you'll often find the washer, dryer, fridge, and freezer all in the kitchen (that should give you an idea of size). So you instead must proceed by function: storing food, cleaning your filthy rags.

It's very common to find under-counter fridges and freezers here. And yes, that makes the fridge hold just a little bit more than the cube fridge you had in your college dorm room that was mostly stocked with beer. It also means that if you're tall like me you hate having to look for anything in the fridge.

There's an additional sense that you can make regarding the size of fridges when you consider the shelf-life of perishable goods. I've heard it stated that the UK puts a lot fewer preservatives in the food, which would explain the somewhat shorter shelf life of perishables and also the laser-precise “use by” dates on those goods. Maybe it's just a result of guy-ness, but I remember being able to rely on the “sniff test” for food in the US to determine if it was still edible after the expiration date. But here, if they say that yogurt is good until the 4th, don't attempt any second-guessing them on the 5th.

So maybe you don't need a big fridge if there's never enough food because it's going past dates so quickly. In fact, it might be a blessing and keep you from loading up with stuff that you wind up throwing out because it goes past dates before you use it. Or maybe you don't need a lot of preservatives because no one can keep much on hand due to storage capacity at home. Or maybe it's society plotting to keep women tied to the home by forcing them to go to market every other day. Oh, the fun of theorizing!

This isn't to say that there are larger stand-up fridge-freezers. These run roughly around ½ the size of standard American fridge-freezer combo, which really puts into perspective how small the under-counter units are. The first house we rented here was a huge place and had lots of room in the renovated kitchen, and the owners obviously decided they weren't going to be encumbered by the conventional lack of storage capacity. So they installed two under-counter fridges, one under-counter freezer, and had a stand-up combo in a nearby room.

It is possible to get American-size fridge-freezers here, and in fact that exactly how they're marketed: “American-sized refrigerators”. But unless a kitchen is designed with one of these in mind, they often stick out like a sort thumb in the otherwise scaled down UK kitchen. It's hard look at them in a UK kitchen and not wonder if they aren't an unintentional indicator as to the reasons for the girth of so many Americans.

As for doing the laundry; well, the washer sits under lots of countertops here, too. Which means for guys my size that you can reasonably hope to wash at most a couple of pairs of trousers and a shirt if you don't want them hopelessly twisted up. Of special note are the “combi” units which have a washer and dryer in a single device, providing you the efficiency of being able to toss your laundry in soiled, and about 3 hours later pull out clean, hopelessly wrinkled clothes, ready to keep you busy ironing for the rest of the day.

To be fair, large homes often have separate units, and some folks have discovered the wash-day joy of the American sized washer and dryer. With a 5 year old in residence, we couldn't have lived without our big US machines, and so now a big determining factor for homes suitable for us is whether or not the house can accommodate our towering American Whirlpools. It's just one place where we can't accept the shrinkage in our white goods.

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