Desperate English Housewife in Washington, chapter 441

‘Put the what on?’

Episode #1

Recently I was at my American friend’s house and I asked if I could ‘put the kettle on’. Yes, this is a very British thing to do, naturally.

Her husband looked up in shock.

‘Do we have a kettle?’ he asked.

His wife shook her head. ‘Just microwave some water in a cup,’ she said. And I did just that.

A very British kettle

A very British kettle

Episode #2

I was at another friend’s house and it was 94 degrees outside. The combined factors of it being 3pm and that I am British meant that I needed a cup of tea.

I looked for the kettle. There was not one in sight, so I microwaved my water, plopped in my tea bag, and headed back out to the poolside, to much mirth at the fact that I was having a cup of tea in the sweltering heat.

So…I began to ponder. Do Americans not have kettles? Why had I not noticed this before? Is it really a British thing? I feel like I now need to conduct a survey of American friends to find out who has a kettle in their kitchen.

I also began to research this fact. Some bloke called Roy Sutherland has written an article on why Americans don’t have kettles. Yes, really he has.

He says this:

‘…..Browsing through Virginia Postrel’s column on cookery equipment on the US website, I was astonished to come across this recommendation among a list of fairly obscure kitchen implements:

Cuisinart electric kettle, $65. You may have gone to Britain and experienced the joy of their electric kettles, which heat up water for tea almost instantly. Sadly, you will not experience that joy on this side of the pond, because they use 220-volt power and we use 110, which apparently means that our electric kettles cannot heat up water as fast as theirs. However, an electric kettle is still extremely useful. It heats up water faster than a stovetop kettle and you can’t burn out the bottom of the pot. Also excellent for offices and dorm rooms. I have this Cuisinart, which is nice because the kettle itself is wireless (there’s a base with a heating element that plugs in).

Tea time, folks

Tea time, folks

Then he adds this:

‘Seriously? Americans can put a man on the moon and build the USS Nimitz, yet in 2014 you need to travel to Britain to experience the electric kettle? And people need a detailed explanation of what one is, and is used for?’

(He also congratulates Britain on its use of roundabouts, but laughs at the fact we don’t all have dishwashers. Fact: we did not have a dishwasher in our UK house until 2010, and we only got one when we extended our kitchen, cos one would not have fitted in our previous miniscule cubby-hole of a kitchen.)

Anyway, that is the phenomenon of The Kettle in America-land.

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23 Responses to Desperate English Housewife in Washington, chapter 441

  1. Sally says:

    Nope you can’t find your regular electric kettle in America land. I had to take my own teapot to leave at Diane’s house so that I can make a proper cuppa (taking my own box of PG tips each trip) What is it with us Brits and our tea? I have to admit I didn’t have a dishwasher until I lived in NY. Can’t live without one now.

  2. Paul says:

    My wife, Lizbeth (An American) was really taken with the electric kettle when I first ‘introduced’ her to them in the UK. We did think of getting one over here but never bothered in the end because of Roy Sutherland’s point about the difference in electricity.

  3. Andy says:

    We have an electric kettle (of course, how else are you going to make a pot of tea?), I think we got it in either Wal-Mart or Bed, Bath and Beyond when the last one died, so they are available over here.

    When we lived in England we also had a dishwasher… it was me and I did it with a dishcloth and a draining board (I’m pretty sure neither of those are available over here).

  4. Joan says:

    I have an American version of the electric kettle. I use it to heat the water to make iced tea. My understanding from British friends is that the American interest in “iced tea” is as hard to fathom as American baseball.

  5. One of my best friends at university was from California, and when she was fairly new to the UK (sometime in first year) she motioned towards the kettle in the communal kitchen and said something along the lines of ‘that thing’… it was only then we discovered that she didn’t know what it was, and she explained that (on the whole) American households just don’t have kettles! It was quite a revelation!

  6. caitink says:

    We bought a electric tea kettle from Target for $20. It takes considerably longer than the UK ones, but I’m not fussy when I need a proper brew!

  7. Maryjenmary says:

    We don’t have an electric kettle because the focused steam does a good job of bringing down popcorn ceilings that many in our area are stuck with since they’re so hard to get rid of. However, We ALL have kettles on the hob ready to be used many times a day.

    We do enjoy “sun tea” during the hottest part of the day. That’s right, we make our tea in a glass pitcher set in the sun. But it’s hot tea come evening. Also, there is an explosion of loose leaf tea cafés and stores in New York State. So tea bags are just for restaurants and other places we don’t expect decent tea. Microwave???? That’s just crazy. It does ugly things to the water and to the tea, and it doesn’t stay warm. Face it, those are coffee homes.

    We are building roundabouts like crazy here. finally!

  8. Call me old-fashioned, but I had a teapot that I put on the stove…I got rid of it when I had a tiny kitchen & decided the microwave was good enough. Now I just use the Keurig.

  9. Tanya Marlow says:

    Woah. Mind is blown. I’ve been to America, and totally didn’t notice this. (Microwaving a cup of water?? weird.)

  10. natalieahart says:

    I live in American and have an electric kettle for many years. I used to use kettles heated up on the stove, but my tendency to forget I’ve put it on meant a few utterly scorched pots, so I went electric. It should be noted that I’m Canadian, so I’m not really a good indication of what Americans do. I find microwave-heated water yucky.

  11. ukgreen63 says:

    I’m an ex-pat living in Maryland since 1985 and when America first started selling electric kettles years ago I figured it would only be a few short years and everyone would have one. Alas it did not happen. You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink! You can however expect a Brit to drink tea forever, lots of it throughout the day, even when a Maryland summer forces you inside to the air conditioning and the only reasonable thing to do is “put the kettle on”!

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  13. salpal1 says:

    I don’t have an electric kettle, but I do have a stove top kettle, and I use the Keurig for when only one cup is needed. My grandparents had an electric kettle that they got after my grandfather nearly burned the house down heating water on the stove (more than once). But haven’t had a need for one myself. My brother in law is from NZ, I will have to ask him if this is one of the strange things he found about moving here….

  14. I suppose electric kettles sell about as well as British flags in the US (from the comments I have read). While you can find tea drinkers here, coffee still rules.

  15. Another Sally says:

    We have two kettles, on on the stove and an electric one. I couldn’t live without them.
    Microwave water? Never!

  16. Haha, lots of comments (see I’m doing a bit of catching up!). Funny story, I put our kettle on the stove one day when my son had a friend over and he said, “You know you can go to Target and get something that plugs in to the outlet and the water boils in seconds”. Straight face no word of a lie. We laughed hysterically and said oh yes that would be an electric kettle, we have those in Australia too.

  17. Pingback: How to Speak British [Video] - ChurchMag

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