Saturday, November 25, 2006

Electricity - We will, we will Shock you!

I think the British must have an innate fear of being electrocuted. Let me show you what I mean.

Electrical plugs come in two sizes in Germany/Europe. The sleek version:

And the slightly more bulky version known as a "Schuko plug":

The British, (and Irish, as different as they might like to claim to be) despite using the same power as the rest of Europe - around 220 volts - use this monster of a plug:

I'm not going to bore you with the whys and wherefores of the differences in the plugs, if you really want to know about electricity, I found a very nice explanation of the different electrical and plug systems here.

But it's not just the plugs that are huge and bulky, they have taken extra steps on the sockets themselves:

That bit in the middle is two switches to turn on the power to each individual socket! I tell you, that caused me a fair amount of short-lived frustration the first week or so. I'd plug something in, turn it on and then be baffled as to why it wasn't working. Then I'd remember that I had to flip the switch to turn on the socket. Which of course is usually located somewhere awkward and low, so me with my big pregnant belly would have to do all sorts of contortions again to flip the switch. This has resulted in the having the opposite effect of what is intended. Instead of the extra safety of a switch, I just leave all of them on. Risking my life, I'm sure.

This doesn't just stop at the plugs and outlets. Oh no. The bathrooms are the same way, with an even greater fear of electricity and water. All bathrooms have a pull switch to turn on the light, so that the dangerous power is far out of reach. It always looks really dinky to me, having a cord to turn on the light. Okay, Germany wasn't really any different because their light switches for the bathroom are located outside of the room itself, allowing your friends and family to amuse themselves by turning off the light while you are taking a shower, causing outrage within the bathroom and laughter without. But in Germany, they at least trust you to plug in electrical appliances. In every bathroom I had, there was at least one regular electrical outlet. Usually located a bit high on the wall (above the mirror or so) so it didn't get water splashed on it, but you could at least plug in your hair dryer or toothbrush. In our place here, we have one of those dinky little things where you can plug in an electrical razor, but nothing else stronger. Just out of curiousity I tried the hair dryer, and it most definitely doesn't work. There aren't a lot of outlets around the house in the first place, so it's annoying not to have one in the bathroom.

To top it all off, what amazes me, after all this caution towards electricity; it seems quite a standard thing to rewire a plug! Something I've never ever done, nor had to do in my over 30 years of life. Yet the English seem to find it a very normal thing to do. Why rewiring might be a useful skill, I have yet to learn. One of the mysteries of living on the island that has yet to be solved...


Anonymous said...

it's only been in the last 20 years (?) or so that electrical items are provided with plugs already.
i remember when i was a little girl, we always had to put the plugs on the items we had bought (my dad always let me do it - under strict supervision, obv :))

but yeah, it's crazy that there are no sockets in the bathroom
and i always leave the switches on at the sockets, which causes my mother great consternation ("ooo, our Dee, you'll electrocute us all..")

you'll get used to the brits in time, i guess :)

love from dee

Kathie said...

The goog thing about those plugs is that each contains it's own little fuse... so if your hairdryer explodes or whatever, it only blows the fuse in the plug and not the "sicherung" in the whole house like in germany, causing you to wander round with a torch searching for the right switch to turn the electricity back on.
True though, I think I learned to wire a plug at Brownies, and am not sure I've ever done it again since...


Fat Tony said...

If you don't want to go to all the effort of changing your plugs, just stick a pen or some other implement in the top hole of the UK socket to force the safety thing back, and then you can stick your Euro plug in the bottom 2 holes.

ZeeBride said...

Tony, I'm not sure I'm brave enough to do that. For right now, we have several adaptor plugs which we use on a power strips. As things need replacing, we'll probably update, but the idea of poking things into electrical outlets gives me the willies.

Fat Tony said...

It's not dangerous. The top hole on the socket doesn't have any voltage on it, as far as I know. It's just for the earth connection.

Anyway, if the socket has its own switch you can leave it switched off while you do the fiddling.

Lash MacLeod said...

Hi Andi,

I would think that Riley would love 'trainspotting' and I'm sure Marie & Brian would appreciate your bird watching.

Love Mom

Anonymous said...

leaving the plug on until the appliance wears out could take some time before you've swapped over everything... I'm still running 1 UK plug through an adaptor 8 years after moving to Munich!