As is obvious from the title of my blog, I’m allergic to nuts. I guess I don’t talk much about my nut allergy on this blog, mostly because there’s just so much to say about books that I never seem to know how to bring up my allergy in the midst of it all. However, I thought it would be a good idea to share a bit about traveling to England with a nut allergy.
Every country and culture has a different outlook on allergies, particularly when it comes to ones that are life-threatening. These differences have been most apparent to me when eating at restaurants and dealing with servers. In the United States, restaurants are generally very accommodating when it comes to food allergies. Although I often get the “we can’t guarantee anything isn’t cross-contaminated” disclaimer, most waiters and waitresses follow it up with “but I’ll still let the cook know.” That little mention is really comforting to me because I know how much of a difference it can make. If putting “nut allergy” on an order means that the cook uses a clean knife to butter my toast at breakfast rather than one that was just in a jar of Nutella, then I don’t see why a restaurant wouldn’t want to do it. Not only does it lessen the chance that I’ll have an allergic reaction, but it also means that I’ll be more likely to come back to that restaurant in the future.
It’s safe to say that the British are not nearly as accommodating when it comes to food allergies. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the majority of the restaurants I’ve eaten at in England do the bare minimum to cover themselves legally and then leave you to fend for yourself. When I tell a server at a British restaurant that I have a nut allergy, their immediate response is to pull out a binder of allergen information, show me that there are no nuts in what I’m ordering, but then say, “But of course, that doesn’t mean we can guarantee it’s safe.” There is no offer to mention it to the cook or any other effort to accommodate my allergy whatsoever.
Once during my most recent trip to Oxford my friends and I went to a board game café that I frequented during my year abroad. My friend, who always has a nut allergy, ordered a milkshake and then informed the waiter that she had a nut allergy. The man’s responded, “Well, I hope you have your epi-pen.”
My jaw almost dropped. I couldn’t believe how rude and insensitive he was, and how this was just accepted over there. He clearly must not have been close to anyone with a life-threatening allergy or have one himself—I just don’t see how someone could otherwise lack that much empathy for someone who has such a scary allergy.
My word of advice while visiting England? If you have a severe food allergy, eat out as little as possible. Make or bring your own food so you know that it’s safe. Not only does this end up saving you money, but it will also lead to a more enjoyable, relaxing trip because you won’t be so worried about having an allergic reaction.
Have you travelled with an allergy before? How have your experiences been? Let me know in the comments section below!