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9 Things You Never Knew About the United Kingdom
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January 4, 2020
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Travel Trivia Editorial
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The United Kingdom conjures up images of winding country roads and people drinking tea out of dainty cups. The weather is a popular topic of conversation, and the pubs fill the pints all the way up to the top. Of course, there is a lot more about the United Kingdom that we don't know. Here are a few of those facts.

The British Love Convertible Cars

People in convertible car driving down road
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Even though the weather in the United Kingdom is notorious for being rainy and cool, British motorists drive more soft-top cars per capita than any other country in the world, with the exception of Germany. Perhaps it is because of the weather that people are prompted to take full advantage of every second of sunshine afforded them.

The Queen Sends People Birthday Cards

Birthday cupcake on wood table with star confetti
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Each year, Her Royal Majesty Queen Elizabeth gets busy signing and sending out greeting cards to citizens of the United Kingdom. Over 50,000 recipients annually are honored in this way for special birthdays and anniversary celebrations. The old tradition began in 1917. Queen Elizabeth continued this congratulatory habit when she was coronated in 1953.

If you are a British citizen who has been married for over 60 years or have reached your 100th birthday, you might want to check your mail. Queen Elizabeth's long reign has been responsible for over a million greeting cards reaching these milestone honorees.

Hot Chocolate Is an Old British Luxury

Hot chocolate in a white cup on a wooden table
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Londoners have been drinking chocolate since the days of King Charles II. It was a sweet indulgence once reserved for the wealthy and the well-placed in the 17th and 18th centuries. Chocolate houses were established to cater to them with this popular luxury, and talented chocolate-makers were sought out by kings and noblemen.

Today it would be unusual not to see hot chocolate on the menu of any restaurant or cafe. The drink is different now, being much sweeter than the days of King Charles II. But it is still considered a British luxury on those bone-chilling days of winter when only hot chocolate will do.

Big Ben Isn't Actually a Clock

Big Ben
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One of London's most iconic sights is the giant clock tower at the corner of the Palace of Westminster. Most people refer to it as "Big Ben." But the clock tower is actually named Elizabeth Tower after the Queen herself. Before that official designation in 2012, it was simply called the Clock Tower. So what exactly is Big Ben?

Big Ben is actually the name of the great bell inside the tower. It is thought to have been named after Sir Benjamin Hall, First Commissioner for Works, whose large frame and girth earned him the playful moniker of Big Ben.

The UK Is Home to the World's Largest Library

Outside the British Library at Kings Cross in London
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The British Library in London is the largest library in the world. According to its fact sheet, it has over 260,000 journal titles. It took 180,000 tons of concrete and 10 million bricks to build it. The library boasts fourteen stories, five of which are below ground. It receives every journal and publication printed in both the UK and Ireland.

There are numerous treasures housed within the library's walls, including the Magna Carta and a few original manuscripts from The Beatles. The library also has several reading rooms, 8 million stamps, and an impressive collection of over 4 million maps. It's a great place to get lost.

Woman surfing
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The United Kingdom is not the first country that comes to mind when you think about surfing. But hitting the waves is what some Brits live for, just like their counterparts across the pond. With over 11,000 miles of coastline, it is no wonder there are several great spots to catch awesome waves. You might need a wetsuit, but, on the right day, the surfing is just fine.

Most avid surfers head to the shores of Cornwall or Devon to practice their skills — though the Scottish coast is not to be ignored. Unlike other parts of the world, the best time of the year to surf in the UK is in the colder autumn season. Be sure to bring hot chocolate.

American Eggs Are Illegal in the UK

Eggs in a straw wicker basket on display at a farmers market in Pimlico, London
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Eggs come from chickens, no matter what side of the Atlantic Ocean you might live on. However, it is illegal to sell American eggs in British supermarkets and vice versa. It all comes down to the process and whether or not the eggs are washed first or left unwashed. Health officials in each country have different ideas and standards about what keeps an egg safe for consumption.

The USDA specifies that all American eggs must be washed with an odorless detergent while the Europeans believe washing the eggs might pose health risks if they are not properly dried. There is also the matter of refrigeration — which is a whole other controversy in itself.

Buckingham Palace Is Totally Self-Contained

Buckingham Palace with flower garden in the front
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Royalty living in Buckingham Palace need not venture outside its doors if they don't want to. The fabulous palace in the heart of London boasts 775 rooms with a live-in staff of about 800. The royal residence sits comfortably on 39 acres and is as self-contained as any little town. There are tunnels beneath it and meticulous gardens outside for quiet meditation and a bit of nature.

Buckingham Palace is complete with its own police station, post office, and medical facility. There is a large canteen for the staff, a swimming pool, and a movie theater. The palace hosts garden parties in July and is open to the public for tours.

Coffee Consumption in the UK Is Competing with Tea

A steaming white mug on a table
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Tea is still the most common drink in the United Kingdom, but the rise in popularity of specialty coffees is giving it a run for its money. The younger generation is eschewing tradition by choosing espresso over oolong and super-sized lattes over herbal tea. This is causing some dismay for the British old-timers who see tea-sipping as an inherent part of their culture.

Tea still enjoys the upper hand. The UK's consumption of coffee is now at 95 million cups per day while tea drinking remains steady at 165 million daily cups, according to The British Coffee Association.