Spending a fortnight with a host family in UK will give your children the perfect chance to observe our quirky habits as well as taste our cuisine. Seeing the steering wheel in the passenger’s seat of a car, driving on the wrong side of the road, catching double decker buses or getting up and going to bed much earlier than in Spain are just a handful of things that may surprise your children when they are there.
The UK is a country where many cultures and nationalities live together in harmony and yet where hardly any child speaks a second language to the level that most Spanish children understand and express themselves in English. British children find it unusual that their Spanish friends have two surnames; unless your children let their host family know otherwise, they will probably call your child by his/her Christian name and his/her second surname, not realizing that the first surname is the predominant one in Spain.
As schools in the UK don’t break up until the middle or end of July, this month is a perfect time to send your children on an exchange as the chances are they will be able to see what a normal British school day is like.
One thing they are bound to notice is that all children wear school uniform, whether they go to a State or Private school. “Concertado” schools don’t exist in the UK, although there are RC Primary and Secondary State schools in every town & city that take students that have been baptized Catholic. Primary schools are generally much smaller than those you find in Spain, with the norm being one class per year (not 6 classes per year, as is the case in my son’s mega-school in Madrid!). It is also worth remembering that school age runs in line with the academic year (Sept-Aug) rather than the calendar year (Jan-Dec), meaning that autumn-born children are the oldest in their class, unlike in Spain.
Everything happens earlier in the UK than in Spain.
It is not unusual to find the whole family having breakfast together at 7:30am on a weekday. Lunch is usually eaten between 12am-1pm and the evening meal can be eaten any time from 5pm onwards. Most working days end by 5:30pm and a lot of British parents work flexi-time so that they can spend time with their children who usually finish school by 3:30pm.
After- school activities and birthday parties are often between 3:30pm and 5:00pm, the latter usually being celebrated at the child’s house with a few friends (not the whole class!). Another fun option is going to the cinema, although this may be a bit adventurous for young Spaniards who are just learning English. If they are brave enough to watch a film in “versión original” and without the help of subtitles, then its worthwhile remembering that children’s films are shown earlier in the UK than in Spain, with sessions after 8pm being considered to be too late for children. Finally, if the host parents go out for an evening meal and a drink they are usually home by 11pm at the latest… which is probably why Brits enjoy the Spanish nightlife so much when here on holiday! British children’s telly isn’t limited simply to cartoons and serial dramas. UK children often watch nature documentaries, real life animal or zoo related programs such as Animal Hospital or Animal Park, or quizzes to help learn phonics or numbers. Don’t worry, not every afternoon is spent in front of the TV! British children don’t let the odd shower or cloudy sky interrupt their outdoor play – so don’t forget to pack waterproofs and an umbrella.
Almost every UK household has a pet – and we’re not just talking about cats or dogs.
Pet guinea pigs, tortoises and rabbits are often found in host families’ gardens, hamsters and gerbils are commonly kept in the children’s bedroom and lots of British families have fish bowls. A word of warning: there are a lot more spiders in the UK than in Madrid and in the summer there are lots of wasps and moths too. If visiting in autumn your children may have the chance of spotting hedgehogs among the fallen leaves. Squirrels, seagulls and foxes are also quite common all over the UK.
Onto other matters, it may be surprising to note that British children don’t necessarily take a shower every day. I mention this because lots of parents have told me that this was the one thing that most surprised their children when they stayed with a host family. Second to that was the fact some houses don’t have showers but just a bath. Sometimes the bathroom and toilet are separate – and the room with the toilet may not have a sink or bidet. Sanitary waste can be disposed of via the toilet if bins aren’t provided. Perhaps as compensation for any inconveniences, your children will discover that many British bathrooms are carpeted, along with the rest of the house (apart from the kitchen).
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