So, you’re studying abroad in England. You’re here, you’ve done it! You’ve left California behind, you’ve started classes at your host university, and you’re adjusting to life in the UK. It’s a lot to handle – after all, it’s a huge transition! Though we may both speak English, it can feel like British people are speaking a whole other language at times.
Californian culture and British culture are vastly different, and I remember feeling a bit like the odd one out when I first arrived to study abroad in London. When I came back in July to start working here at the LSC, I was better prepared for the cultural differences but I still haven’t fully adjusted to the British way! So here are a few things us Cali kids are going to have to get used to while we’re here on this side of the pond…
I’m not saying that everyone in California is rude and loud and boisterous, but dang, the Brits are sooo polite! If you have an interaction with a British person and they don’t say thank you every other two seconds, are you even in the UK? It may seem a bit weird at first – I definitely remember not going through the same polite motions as my British friends and feeling a bit brutish or rude, but it’ll wear off once you get used to the endless thank you’s and sorry’s. They literally say sorry for anything and everything. Definitely try to catch on to their polite culture as soon as possible, because it’s a great habit to get into, and that way we can all collectively work on dispelling the British stereotype of Americans as being super rude.
Noise levels and passive aggression:
While Brits are usually always super polite, they are also very quiet. Especially on public transportation. Thinking about having a loud convo with your friends on the tube home from class? Think again. You can always tell who the Americans or foreigners are on the Tube, because they’re the ones yelling up and down the carriage to their friends, and using their outside voices when they are very much inside. And how will you be able to tell who the Brits are? Don’t worry, they’ll be the ones in the background staring those loud people down, burning holes into those loudmouths’ backs with fiery glares.
Not only are Brits usually silent on public transportation, but they are also hella passive aggressive. For instance, they won’t ask you to move if you’re standing on the left side of an escalator, they’ll just disapprovingly breathe onto your neck until you notice your egregious mistake, or until you simply shrivel into a little puddle of shame from their glare. Since Californians are generally known for being friendly and outgoing, this can take a little getting used to. I remember watching British people staring down others and wondering why they didn’t just tap their shoulder and ask them to move to the side, but hey, it’s the British way!
PS – Londoners are especially passive. People everywhere else in England will chat to you on the street and help you if you’re lost, but if you’re in the capital, people look shocked if you make eye contact with them, much less ask for directions!
Everyone knows that in the UK flavor is spelled flavour, and color is colour, but there are a bunch of other words the Brits spell differently here, and since professors at your host uni’s will dock your grade for failing to use correct UK English, it’s something you’re going to have to get used to quickly! Change your laptop language, and your phone too, while you’re at it. Jewellery, litre, manoeuvre, and defence? You’ll know ‘em all in no time! However, watch out when you’re texting friends and family from the States – they might think you’ve become a wee pretentious!
Why are these peas mushy? Why do people here put mayo on everryyything?? Why are
there mushrooms and chicken in the pie I just ordered and not cherries and pumpkins? These are just a few of the questions I had upon arriving in the UK for the first time and while some of their traditions may seem strange at first, I’ve found myself loving British food (though I still refuse to drench everything in mayo. Ew). You might find yourself missing drive throughs and ginormous sized portions, but definitely go for a proper Sunday roast with your pals at a local pub, and see what other delicious items this country has to offer while you’re here! I would just say to stay away from Sainsbury’s sushi at all costs.
Oh, and eggs aren’t refrigerated at the grocery store here! They’re in the baking aisle, and it’s totally chill. You won’t die.
Going out and dressing up:
As someone who is perpetually dressed in leggings and a hoodie, this one was definitely hard for me to get used to. Okay fine, I get that it’s somewhat cheaper to go out on weekdays, which is why English students study on the weekends and rage Monday –Thursday, but then to show up to lecture at 9 am the next day dressed in real clothes?! It’s beyond me. How do these British kids manage it? Besides the fact that their first year of uni doesn’t really count (?!), we’ll never know. Whereas most UC students roll up to school in sweats and t-shirts, I found that most of my classmates while studying abroad actually put some effort into what they were wearing. Props to you British kids, props. I’m sure you’ve all noticed this trend as you’ve started term, but don’t throw out your UC gear and frat shirts just yet! British students are always interested in Californians, so it might be a great conversation starter. However, if you decide to try wearing Rainbows or any other type of flip flop to class, you’ll definitely get the cold shoulder.
Is there anything else that took you some getting used to after you arrived in the UK? Drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll be happy to add to the list!