England vs. America: First Impressions
Written by: Caroline Farley
When going to a new country for the first time, it’s guaranteed that you’re going to find many things that are different from what you’re used to. Even going to another English-speaking country, there are still plenty of things I’ve found oddly different about England. These things, though not necessarily bad, definitely caught my attention when I first encountered them. Here you will find a list of nine things that I’ve noticed are not quite normal from what I’m used to in America.
Hearing someone say to me, “Hello, you alright?” definitely caught me off guard the first several times. I would think to myself, “Of course, I’m fine. Does something look out of the ordinary?” or “Do I look okay?” I figured out, eventually, that this is the equivalent saying “Hi, how are you?” Another common word, “cheers,” is typically used to reply to someone after they’ve thanked you. It sounds weird to someone like me who doesn’t normally say it, but it’s kind of refreshing and cool, actually.
2. Driving – It’s Just Not Right.
This may be a pretty obvious difference, but seeing things from the opposite side of the road is definitely something I noticed right away and had to get accustomed to. Now that I’ve been living in England for a few months, I’ve actually gotten used to it and have stopped trying to get in the driver’s seat of my meet-a-family’s car, since the driver’s seat in on the right. (Okay, so that only happened once.) I also find it interesting that the majority of cars here are standard shift rather than automatic. I guess we’ve got it pretty good back in the States, only having to use one foot to drive and all.
3. Pinkies Out!
I found out almost straight away that the British really do love tea and drinking it is a much more common event than in the US. When out at a restaurant or having a meal in a British home, it is extremely likely that you’ll be offered tea (and usually coffee as well) after you’ve finished eating. Tea is a staple item in day-to-day life, and I personally find it to be a lovely tradition.
4. Planes, Trains, and Automobiles – Oh My!
One difference I’m most thankful for, I’d have to say, is the abundance of public transportation. Especially since I don’t have access to my own car, it’s great to have multiple reliable (and decently affordable) ways to get where I need to go. Want to go to London? Hop on a train for an hour. Flying from Stansted Airport to Barcelona for the weekend? Split a taxi with a few friends and maybe even save a few pounds (and definitely some time) on a train. I wish we had more trains and larger bus systems where I’m from, but I’m okay with being on my own schedule and having the freedom to drive myself whenever I need.
5. The Potty Problem
If you’re out and about in England and you ask where the “bathroom” or “restroom” is, you’re bound to get some pretty strange looks. To the British, a “bathroom” literally means the room where you bathe and “restroom” isn’t really used at all. (You don’t actually rest in there, do you?) It’s been pretty interesting getting used to calling it the “toilet” or “WC” (short for “water closet”), but it kind of makes more sense than the typical words Americans use, especially when referring to public toilets. The British tend to like to keep things simple and call things what they actually are, so why do we, Americans, like to make things so complicated?
Speaking of different terms used for things, here’s a brief list of some things I’ve come across have different names in England:
shop = store
post = mail
boot = trunk of a car
car park = parking lot
rubbish = trash
lorry = delivery truck
chips = french fries
crisps = potato chips
mince = ground beef
courgette = zucchini
aubergine = eggplant
lift = elevator
jumper = sweater
knackered = exhausted
gutted = disappointed
7. Money, Money, Money
“Thank you. That’ll be 10 quid.” Quid? What in the world is that? It sounds like a sea creature if you ask me. In Britain, as you may imagine, the money used is different from US dollars. The British pound, or “quid” if you’re using slang, is the currency used throughout the United Kingdom. (I won’t even get into the fact that both £1 and £2 come in coin form. Talk about having a ton of change….) Being from America, knowing I would have to deal with currency conversion for a few months brought about a small bit of anxiety. Thanks to Brexit, however, the value of the pound has gone down, which makes for happier Americans like myself when having to deal with pesky conversion rates.
8. Here’s a tip…
When you go to a restaurant it’s normal to tip, right? Wrong. In England, as well as other places in Europe, tipping is not a common habit. I thought this was rather strange until I realized that more often than not, there is an automatic “service charge” added to the bill at sit-down restaurants. If you ever find yourself eating somewhere in Europe, be sure to check the bill before tipping (and even look up the tipping custom if you’re still unsure) because chances are it’s technically been included. I find this pretty handy, actually. It takes care of the hassle of figuring out the tip, and everyone is satisfied.
9. Paper, Plastic, or Load Up Your Arms Because You’re Too Cheap to Pay?
This difference seems small, but it’s one that I find to be really odd and oftentimes annoying. Normally you’re offered either paper or plastic at grocery stores in America. Well, friends, I’m here to tell you that every time I have gone to a grocery here, I have had to pay for my bags. The cost is only a few cents (or pence, because we’re British territory), but it’s still a somewhat aggravating. I understand that the goal is to get people to use reusable bags, but I still forget mine just about every time. Thanks for trying to encourage me to be more environmentally friendly, England, but this is one thing I still haven’t quite caught on to.
These are just a few things I have paid special attention to during my time in the UK. There are plenty of other things you may find odd when visiting this lovely (a very common word in England) country. And on the slight chance there are any British folk reading this, do not fret, I think very highly of your country and I’m sure there are even more things you find odd about America and it’s people. We’re a pretty interesting bunch.