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Even though I’ve lived in the UK for the better part of the past twelve years there are a few things that I still cannot understand, one of which is the bucket in the sink.

Not everyone has one, but when I come upon someone who does, I can’t help but ask what it’s for. Frequently no good or decent answer is given. Because to someone who grew up with the bucket in the sink, I suppose, it’s completely normal. Sort of like how we grow up here and know that you don’t put bare flesh on metal in winter. You don’t need to explain why, you just don’t do it.

But the bucket in the sink. I’m collecting answers as to its purpose. Near as I can figure, it’s for washing the dishes. Now, it’s almost always a tiny bit smaller than the sink in which it sits. You don’t take it out and fill it with hot soapy water, to wash your dishes, or cold clear water to rinse them (mostly because I think rinsing soap off dishes is not the done thing in the UK – to the point that one of my first flatmates, before agreeing to let me take the room in her flat, asked if I rinsed the dishes.). Anyhow, the point is that from what I can gather the plastic bucket (like one you would get at the dollar store or pound shop) is used in place of the sink.

So let me repeat that: you have a perfectly good sink. Into which you put a plastic bucket and set about using that as a sink. But not because there’s anything wrong with the sink.

People have told me that this is so you use less water, or so what you can keep the water in there and tip a half-finished cold mug of tea down the drain. I feel there are easier solutions to both these situations, ones that don’t involve a plastic bucket.

I was telling this to The Mom over the holidays this year. Saying abut the plastic bucket and how my current flat had come with one, how it had looked sort of cheery, and was obviously meant to be a nice touch by the landlord, providing me with that essential plastic bucket so that I could wash up the dishes (that were not provided in my furnished flat). It was sweet if, to my Canadian brain, strange.

The Mom couldn’t quite understand the point of the plastic bucket and kept interrogating me, thinking that perhaps I had missed its essential purpose. And every time I kept having to explain to her that, no, it just appeared to be a funny thing that British people do.

I wonder if, if I eventually take the citizenship test, there’ll be a question about the plastic bucket. Like, what if people are keeping its true nature from me, as though it’s a trick question, like a secret handshake you only know if you’ve been given some kind of tip-off from MI5. Or maybe that’s the extent of the entire citizenship test, they just put you in a kitcehn with some dirty dishes and a plastic bucket and if you do the right thing, the correct only in the UK thing, then you get to stay. If not, deported.

Maybe we have the same thing in Canada: give people a milk bag cutter and see if they know what it’s for.