I wanted to study in London for many reasons: the opportunity to see a city that is both glamorous and filled with history, my fascination with the Royal Family, a love of Harry Potter, and of course the British accents. But there was a practical motive involved as well. London is the capital of an English-speaking country. I knew studying abroad was a big enough step for me to take; I didn’t want to have to adjust to a completely new culture and language on top of it. In my mind, England couldn’t be that different than the U.S.
Now I’ve been here two months and I realize that my expectations were a bit skewed. There are many small differences between the U.S. and England, and those details add up to distinct cultural differences. That being said, I’ve grown very comfortable with many aspects of London life; the most important adjustment being my confidence with the public transportation system and the layout of the city. However, even now, sometimes I get tripped up by a cultural difference. As they say, old (American) habits die hard, so here are a few of the things that I haven’t quite adjusted to yet.
The Top 5 “London Things” I Still Can’t Get Used To
Remember in 3rd grade when teachers would take fake coins and have the class practice identifying them and adding them up, and all the kids thought it was pointless? Yeah, I’m thankful now for those teachers, and I miss having a currency that I know like the back of my hand. I will still stand at any given cash register and have to spill the coins out in order to read the numbers on each one. I can easily find the pound coin and the 50 pence coin, but if I need any of the others, it’s a fun game of “How Much of a Tourist Do I Look Like Today?” Also, as a related problem, I will still ask how many dollars ($) something is, even though I mean to ask how many pounds (£) it is.
Crossing the Streets
I’ve decided that I’m never attempting to drive while I’m here, since I can’t even handling crossing the streets properly. In the center of the city, the curbs are painted with signs, either “Look to your left” or “Look to your right.” This is most likely the case because the city was sick of the tourists causing near-accidents. However, in the more residential areas like where my university is located, pedestrians have to fend for themselves. Just today, while I was crossing the street, I paused in the middle of the left-hand lane in order to let a car turn into the right-hand lane. Except in England, you drive in the left lane, so my “nice” gesture was actually blocking the car from making its turn. Needless to say, I deserved the honk that I got.
For some reason, even after two months, I’m still too stubborn to always carry an umbrella with me. I’ve witnessed multiple times how a perfectly sunny day can change to rain in a blink of an eye. However, I find umbrellas bulky to carry around, and based on what I’ve seen, only tourists carry umbrellas. The locals either tough it out or wear a hood. Every morning I convince myself that it won’t rain today and if it does decide that I can tough it out. Then a few hours later when my hair needs to be rung out, I promise myself that I’ll take the umbrella next time.
A popular greeting, at least among university students, is “You a’right?,” as in “Are you alright?” There is no “Hi” or “Hello” to preface this, just “you a’right?” when the person enters the room. I still don’t know how to respond to this, even though I hear it a lot. I’m usually just thrown off and stutter, “Yeah I’m fine.” I’ve been working on remembering the politer response of “Hi. I’m good, how are you?,” but it’s hard to remember manners when you’re wondering why a stranger cares so much about your well being.
The Fact that I Live in One of the Greatest Cities of the World:
This is the biggest thing that I can’t get used to. I have access to food from anywhere in the world. I can visit museums to view artifacts that are hundreds or thousands of years old. I can go see a play at some of the best theaters in the world. This is the hometowns of various authors and scientists, one of the centers for global politics, and home to people from every walk of life. In a matter of minutes, I can be somewhere new, beautiful, and exciting. I’ve been dreaming of this type of adventure for a long time and every morning I wake up and can’t believe that it is actually happening!
Hello! My name is Claire and I am a junior biology major studying at Elizabethtown College, PA. I am taking my first trip to Europe to study at the University of Roehampton in London, England. I am a lifelong musician and a dancer, as well as a complete book nerd. I also enjoy going for walks, seeing musicals, and shopping. I am very excited to see everything that the city of London has to offer and to share my experiences with all of you.