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14th of May, 2021



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The Firehose of Weird: Plugs

You would think that living in a new country would be great fodder for blogging. I’ve been living in the UK now for going on two years, and I find it almost impossible to write about. If something strange happens to you in the course of an otherwise perfectly normal day, you can sit down and pound out 500 words about it in no time, if you’re so inclined. But how do you single out any one particular thing as remarkable when absolutely everything around you is new? I guess the answer is: Arbitrarily. So let me get one thing off my chest:


When I first moved to Europe back in ‘98, I thought the Germans had some kind of switch-and-handle fetish. The outlets were huge; the light switches were huge; even the lever on the toilet was a big, huge surface that you needed two hands to operate. I got used to it over the years, but was once again startled by appliance gigantism when I moved to the UK.


Here you’ll see, from left to right, a European Nokia charger plug, a United Kingdom Nintendo DS Lite charger, and, for scale, my trusty Zippo™ lighter. You’ll notice that the UK plug is easily three times the size of a standard Zippo, and could eat the European charger in a gulp if it had a mind to.

As you might imagine, UK outlet strips are absolutely gargantuan; versions that accommodate more than four simultaneous connections resemble a cricket bat, in both size and weight.

The UK plug size does have its advantages. Shoving it into one of the equally-monumental receptacles recalls other, more manly tasks such as heaving furniture, or wrestling bison. Also, when it’s in, it’s in, by God. Stumbling over a plugged-in cord will more likely rip your hip from its joint than dislodge that bastard from the wall.

If I may speculate for a moment, I believe this is a form of compensation for the deep-seated British fear of electricity. For example, in British toilets, there are no light switches. There is a rope hanging from the ceiling which you tug to turn on the light, I assume to avoid operating a light switch with wet hands. Also, there are only low-voltage outlets in the bathroom, small ones suitable for European- or American-sized shavers, and not even powerful enough to drive a hair-dryer. They do, however, have no qualms about having electric shower units instead of gas ones; which amounts to having a big, electrical appliance with heavy juice flowing through it hanging above the bathtub. The Toaster of Damocles, I like to call it.

This is probably all a leftover from the early days of electricty, when the family would gather around the one outlet in the house every evening to listen to the BBC tell them how electricity was angrying up their blood and spreading the dropsy. The plugs were made huge to remind one of their menace. Once something like that gets established, it becomes mighty hard to replace.


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