The Same, But Different

Even though there isn’t a language barrier for me in England, there are many, many differences between English in America and English in the UK, as well as other cultural differences that I’ve come to notice. Here they are:

  1. “Are you okay?”

When I first got to London and walked into restaurants or shops, employees would ask me “Are you okay?” or “Are you alright?” I was taken aback and wasn’t sure how to answer, since that’s not a usual greeting from a stranger in America. Then, at orientation for school, they took us through some cultural differences and one of them was that people will ask us “Are you okay?” as a greeting instead of just saying “Hello” or “How are you?” It’s something that still catches me off guard and sometimes I’m not quite sure how to respond, but I am definitely getting more used to it.

  1. Cars (and bikes) don’t yield to pedestrians.

In the States, cars (usually) yield to pedestrians if there isn’t a street light designating when pedestrians can walk or not, but that is definitely not the case in England. Thankfully, I didn’t have to learn this the hard way by being hit by a car, but there have been a few close calls. Cars and bikers here really do whatever they want, and they have no patience for pedestrians that cross in front of them. Because of this, I quadruple check that it’s safe for me to cross if there isn’t a light. Especially since cars drive on the left instead of the right, I have to make sure I’m looking the right way before I step into the street. One of my friends accidentally stepped out in front of a biker once, and he screamed and swore at her!

  1. The education system.

Even though I’ve only been in classes for about four weeks, I’ve noticed many differences between the education system in America and the one in England. First, each class only meets once each week for usually around 2-4 hours. Discussions are called seminars. The professors are very personable and they usually make lectures a lot more interactive than at UW-Madison, but that’s probably because class sizes are smaller. Attendance doesn’t count towards your grade and professors post their lecture slides online, so students can skip class with little to no repercussions. In two of my classes, there are students who haven’t shown up to a single day of class yet. Additionally, college (“uni”) is only three years here and students start taking classes relating to their degree (no majors or minors here, either) right from the start – there are no general education requirements. The workload is also a lot less here compared to UW, as I usually only have one short reading for each class each week, whereas in Madison I would have around 20-50 pages for each class multiple times a week. One last difference is that usually only 1-3 assignments make up your entire grade here. For one of my classes, I only have one essay due at the end of the semester that makes up 100% of my grade, and for my other two classes I have two things that each make up 50% of my grade. It’s a lot different from UW, where we have a variety of things we receive grades for, like a grade for attendance, a grade for participation, multiple midterms, an essay, and a final.

  1. The hob.

In England, the electrical outlets all have switches next to them that need to be turned on in order for them to work. There are similar switches on the wall in the kitchen for the oven and the “hob”, which my floormates and I soon found out is what the English call the stovetop. There have been many times where one of us turns the individual burner on and tries to cook on the stove and nothing happens, only for us to realize that we never actually switched the hob on. It’s now a running joke among all of us since having to switch the stove on is something we never had to do in the States, and “hob” is a funny word to make fun of.

  1. People don’t even try to move out of your way on the sidewalk.

I have found that even though the English drive on the left side of the road, that does not translate to walking. In the U.S., we drive on the right and walk on the right. People in London just walk down the sidewalk wherever they want and expect you to move out of their way. There have been multiple occasions where I’ve almost run into someone because I was trying to see if they would move out of my way, but they didn’t. I’m not sure if this is because they can tell I’m American or what, because if everyone expected everyone to move out of their way, there would be a lot of collisions.

  1. Two words: Student. Discounts.

London is crazy about student discounts. Walk into pretty much anywhere, ask for a student discount, and there’s a good chance you’ll get at least 10% off. My favorite places that have student discounts include Boots (a Walgreens equivalent), Ryman (a household supply store), and clothing stores like Topshop and Zara.

  1. Smoking

Even before this semester, I knew smoking cigarettes was a bigger cultural phenomenon in England, and all of Europe, than it is in America. But even after living here for over a month, I’m still not used to the smell of cigarettes while walking down the street or the groups of people outside my school buildings or bars and clubs smoking. Will I ever be used to it? Probably not.

  1. Paying for plastic bags.

At grocery stores here, you have to pay for plastic bags (usually about 5 or 10 cents each), so I’ve gotten accustomed to carrying around a reusable bag in my purse. It’s also nice not having a ton of plastic bags around my room/apartment like I usually do at home in Madison.

  1. Eggs are not refrigerated. (!!!)

It’s still weird walking into the grocery store and seeing eggs on the shelf and not in a fridge. I don’t know if I’ll ever get over this one.

  1. Language differences:

Bathroom = the loo/toilet. Takeout = takeaway. Sweater = jumper. Fries = chips. Chips = crisps. “I like you.” = “I fancy you.” Q-tips = cotton buds. Cookies = biscuits. Sneakers = trainers. Apartment = flat. Line = queue. Mail = the post. College = uni. Elevator = lift. Television/TV = telly. Garbage = rubbish. Trash/garbage can = bin. Parking lot = car park. Cuppa = cup of tea. Cheers. Innit? Adding “yeah” at the end of sentences. Saying “sorry” a lot, even when something isn’t your fault.