On Being Sick in England

So these last few days (like 6), I've been sick, which isn't too surprising because everyone gets sick now and again. But this time was different, because this time I'm in England (see below).

Since childhood is the prerequisite for adulthood, and everyone gets sick when they're a kid, most people have the whole "getting sick" thing pretty down to a science. You know what the symptoms are, how you should deal with them, and what "getting better" feels like.

During this whole "childhood" phase, how your parents treat you when you are sick has a big influence on how you cope with sickness. (Duh). This is always a great thing to talk about with international students, because most peoples' stories and methods seem really natural to them and really bizarre to everyone else.

For example, to treat a cold when I was younger, I used to snort salt water through my nose to try and clear my sinuses. It may have worked, but I don't do that anymore. Now I take showers, because covering yourself in hot water is a great way to loosen up mucus (second only to spicy Chinese food). The bonus of showers is that you feel clean and fresh afterwards, instead of the usual clammy-sick-grossness that sets in after 20 hours of being curled up and coughing under multiple blankets.

By the time you "strike out on your own" and go off to college/get a job/pay for your own blankets, you have a pretty good idea of what helps you ward off a cold. I'm positive that a good part of this is the placebo effect or a logical fallacy or both, ("I feel better when this happened, so that must make me better") but some of it is probably backed up by legit science (mainly the "take drugs" part).

I'm all for drugs, but that can be overdone, too. I had a flatmate who was (probably) addicted to NyQuil, and once dated a girl who would take 10-12 Advil or aspirin at a time. She just gobbled up those nummiform tablets like they were Skittles.

So anyway, if my brother or I were ever laid up, my mom would stick to a fairly standard regimen of Foods That Help Fix Colds. This list included:

  • Applesauce (plain - none of that flavored stuff loaded with sugar)
  • Toast
  • Vitamin-C-rich fruits
  • Sprite
  • Orange juice
  • Chicken noodle soup (Campbells) 
  • Jell-O (preferably shaped like NASCAR cars)
  • Plain rice (or flavored rice soup)
  • Cheerios and apple juice (my parents didn't think having dairy when sick was a good idea)

So this is what I learned to eat to fix a cold. Looking back now, it's amazing that my mom could even get most of that stuff over in Japan, yet I never remember a time when I was sick and there was no (fill in the blank). As I got older, some stuff went off the list (toast, Cheerios and apple juice) and some stuff came on (Kosher baby dill pickles, Gatorade/G2). 

Fast-forward to last week, and I'm sick. To deal with it I think I need: drugs, lots of liquids, applesauce, Jell-O, chicken noodle soup, dill pickles, and fresh fruit. What do I discover instead?

--American applesauce doesn't exist here. Seriously. What the Brits call "apple sauce" is basically thick, cold apple pie filling-like jam that you add to pulled pork sandwiches. This is great in its appropriate context, but a poor substitute for proper applesauce, which you can basically drink when you need to and soothes your throat like nothing short of ice cream can.

--The British don't have a very strong Jell-O tradition. Instead what they have is "jelly." Hartley's is a popular brand. Somewhere in sweetness between Jell-O and grape jelly (sandwich spread), it comes in little containers the about size of a double-shot glass. This size is surprisingly OK, because with how sweet it is there is no way that I could pound it down like I do real Jell-O. Don't even try to look for Jell-O molds, either. A huge disappointment.

--Chicken noodle soup seems not to be high on the list either, since the supermarket I shopped in only has two facings of Campbells Cream of Mushroom soup, and no Classic Chicken Noodle (or Double Noodle!). I probably could have looked for some other type of chicken noodle soup, but I'm really suspicious of imitation soup, because one time aliens broke into my house and replaced my Campbells with Cub's/Walmart's/Target's generic stuff (either that or I was poor, which was probably more likely) and I had to deal with that generic garbage soup for one flu session. Who knew that an extra 30-cents-a-can could make that much difference? That experience ranks up there on my list of Worst Soup Experiences Ever. 

--And the pickles! Oh, the pickles. I finally found the pickles on the second-to-bottom shelf of the "Oils, Sauces, and Spices" aisle, and to my dismay there were only four (four!) options: super tiny& sweet, gherkins in sweet vinegar, gherkins in sour vinegar, and sweet sliced hamburger pickles. Really, I wanted none of these. I especially dislike sweet pickles (they offer all the looks of being a good pickle and then disappoint to mightily), so I had to settle for the sour ones. These were another huge disappointment. I can usually eat 1/3 to 1/2 a jar of pickles in a sitting (combine that with any Campbells soup and you have a lunch where sodium levels are through the roof!), so I was expecting to do the same this time with these, but I could barely finish three pickles. Just terrible.
Quality gets worse as you move from right to left
What the British ARE very good at is hydration. The juices are generally good quality, and thanks to a very widespread drinking culture, good-quality mixers are everywhere. I mixed some premium apple juice with fizzy lemon-lime water and the result was amazing! It was like ambrosia for sick people.

(Not pictured: Me, bursting with strength)

There was plenty of fresh fruit to be had as well, and I had my fair share of figs, bananas, and mikans. I also had a glass of wine, which I'm sure took the edge off of...something. Britain has plenty of drugs, too (thanks NHS!), so finding ibuprofen wasn't a problem. 

Getting sick is not great - I don't recommend it. However, as you've probably gathered, I recommend it even less if you're me living in Britain. I think that's the moral that we can all learn here. The other moral is that when child version of you gets sick, make sure your mom rehabilitates you with foods that are available always and everywhere. Bread. Potatoes. Rice. Water. Milk. Grass. Rubber. Bark. Sears catalogs. All the boring stuff that you already (might) eat anyway.  Or you could just never travel. Or you can choose to never get sick. These are all potentially valid options. Meanwhile, while you are considering those options, please ship me crates of kosher baby dill pickles and applesauce. Thanks.

_DZ submit to reddit