Culture-shock! A list of things that make England foreign to Americans

Even as I wrote my previous post, I experienced a culture-change: for the life of me I couldn’t figure out how to insert the British currency £ symbol!!! Thank goodness for google.

Anyway, I’m sure I’m not the only one who thought that moving to England wouldn’t be a huge culture shock. And that’s not incorrect in the sense that they do technically speak English, and it certainly is a first-world country. But I’ve truly been surprised at how different things are here than in the US! Especially compared to Tucson, AZ. So, besides the obvious they-drive-on-the-left, below is a short-list of some of the funny-to-us things we’ve noticed! Enjoy :-)

Cheers! – This is not always used as a “good-bye” but rather as a “thanks”! If you open the door for someone, they respond, “cheers” in a fairly monotonous tone.

Peeing on the playground – No joke. If a child needs to pee, their mum or dad just holds them over a bush and the kid does his/her thing. Only rarely do they make an effort to go somewhere discreet! This is probably due to the lack of public loos. (And my sister in Cambridge, MA says the same thing occurs on the city playgrounds in Boston, too…) So maybe just a city thing, not necessarily a London thing.

This is one section of the ham aisle.

This is one section of the ham aisle.

Ham – the other white meat. Seriously! There’s so much ham here. They have an aisle dedicated to it! All types of ham. Smoked ham. Chicken ham. (?) Ham salami. Ham turkey. Ham-I-know-what-you-did-last-summer-ham. Even their bacon is more like ham than bacon. It’s amazing and so very British.

Half-and-half – My search for half-and-half coffee creamer (or any type of Coffeemate thing) will continue ceaselessly and probably fruitlessly. This tea-drinking city does have coffee drinkers, but they add only skim or semi-skim (still not sure what this is?) milk. And the true cream (think heavy whipping cream) is sold in a container that looks like yogurt so it took me a full 6 visits to the store to find it, haha!

Trash pick-up – “Oh, you know, just leave your bags on your front stoop and they’ll be grabbed” was the reply when we asked a local when and how to get our trash picked up. So, on any given day, you might see a black trash bag on someones steps. Technically our trash pick up is Friday, but it’s hard to tell… It’s kind of weird if you’re used to a rigid HOA sending you threat letters because you left your empty trash bin out overnight. And the CRAZIEST thing: at AJ’s work, HE’S NOT ALLOWED TO HAVE A TRASH CAN AT HIS DESK!!! So crazy! Apparently it’s to force people “to use the proper rubbish receptacle” and to recycle even used tissues. (OK, maybe another exaggeration.) But he does not have a trash can under his desk. I can’t even imagine.

A playground across from the Tower of London. The brick wall on the right is part of the original Roman wall.

A playground across from the Tower of London. The brick wall on the right is part of the original Roman wall.

Playgrounds everywhere! – There are parks and playgrounds around every corner. I kid you not. There are at least 7 within reasonable walking distance from us, and I’m sure there are more that I haven’t discovered yet! It’s really great. If I ever, say, have to drag the kids to the Islington Council to talk about our taxes and school applications (fun fun), there’s always a playground very close that I can bribe treat my kids with.

School– While it’s not legally required for children under 5 to attend school, it is presumed by EVERYONE that your child will start full-time “Reception” at the age of 4 (essentially kindergarten with less academia and more free-play). Now, in preparing us for the move, I had read the “legal” part and thought, ok, we’ll just find a preschool for Tori that’s part-time! Yeah! So easy! Easy peasy. NO. WRONG. There basically is no such thing for a preschool for a 4 year old. Because it’s assumed she’ll be in reception. Even though legally she doesn’t have to be in school, there’s no place for her except in a reception class. The preschools all say she’s too old. It’s been an incredibly stressful and confusing process, as every mum I meet has a different view on how the school system works. And the one preschool I found that would offer her a part-time place was £12,000 a year. That is, as of today, $19,581 USD. For a PART TIME preschool. Not an option for us, so into Reception she will go, starting Tuesday. :-)

"British" semi-skimmed milk.

“British” semi-skimmed milk.

Total patriots – Even more than Americans, I’d dare say! All the food is labeled with “British” as the description. “British tomatoes” and “British milk” and “British pasta” and “British orange juice” and “British toilet paper.” Ok, that last one is an exaggeration. I think. I’ll look next time. While it’s true that Americans love to “buy American,” they don’t label EVERYTHING as American. Maybe American cheese. But they don’t say “American! Cheddar Cheese.” Unless I was totally unobservant in my US grocery shopping?

Our pile of burnt out electronics – this makes me so sad. I had read about needing adapters for the outlets (duh) and needing to purchase new “hot” appliances such as curling irons, crock pots and coffee makers. But nowhere in all my web-based research did I read that even a simple table lamp will literally POP when you turn it on. There are a few things that work (why, I’m not sure) but so far we’ve busted two lamps, a sound machine, and our gorgeous Dyson vacuum. (Moment of silence, please…) Even with the power converter, these things still couldn’t handle the UK’s higher wattage. A very sad, and very expensive, part of our re-location!

Laundry in the kitchen!

Laundry in the kitchen!

Washing machine in the kitchen – this is very standard-European.  You clean your clothes in the kitchen. It’s just the way it’s done, especially in a flat. And most flats/apartments don’t have a clothes dryer, so there’s an entire section in each grocery store dedicated to clothespins and laundry lines and racks. And an obscene amount of fabric softener. (Although I’m so excited to try out this scented vinegar rinse that supposedly acts as a softener…will let you know how it goes!)

Lemonade – isn’t always the lemonade as we know it! Lemonade here is often another name for Sprite. So, needless to say, we made the can’t-go-back mistake in one of our first dinners and now Anders asks for “lemo-lade” at every meal :-)

These are just a few of the things we’ve noticed. There are so many more! Paper towels are shorter, toilet paper squares are longer (aka, rectangles, lol). Of course everything is done in litres and kilos and Celsius. Utilities are less expensive but there’s a “Council Tax” every month, so it kind of evens out. Rent is absurdly high. Absurd. But overall, if you don’t consider the exchange rate, most groceries are comparable to Tucson, except for meat. Clothing and shoe sizes are different. Clothing is slightly less expensive (for instance a pair of Gap baby jeans that in the US are usually $24.95 are £19.95 in UK.) But the exchange rate kills ya :-)

Anyway, none of these differences, except maybe the school issue, has been detrimental to our experience here. If anything, it’s been fun to explore the new culture! Have you ever heard the idea that you should take a different route to work/school every few days to build up synapses in the brain? Well, moving overseas is like doing that ALL DAY LONG. There’s always something new! I think our synapses have been built up enough to last for quite a while :-)

Have any of you been to Britain? What other things did you notice as being culturally unique to the UK?

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