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When I moved to London from California, I (obviously) noticed a lot of differences between England and America. I had been before, but I was in a new receptive mode of understanding the culture of my new home. As I adapted, I wrote down all the first differences that I really noticed between the UK and the US, and I think they could apply to anyone traveling to England from America!
So, picture this: you have just arrived in the United Kingdom, whether on travel, for business, to visit friends, or to live. As you get off the plane, arrive at your final destination, and start to experience life, you will start to notice the things that are done differently in the UK. No matter where you are from, getting to a new country means immersing yourself into its culture, and there will always be certain things that immediately strike you as different about that country. Here are the first things I noticed while adjusting to life in this Royal Land!
The First 25 Hilarious Differences Between England and America You Will Notice
♦️ The Way They Speak
This one is obvious, but definitely can’t go without being pointed out. The renowned British accent that everyone seems to want to try and impersonate has its home here. And not everyone has that ‘adorable’ accent that Americans seem to love, either. With at least 10 dialects and even more if you want to get into it, the UK is as varied in the English language as anywhere. You may speak English, but let me tell you that there are definitely dialects that you won’t be able to understand. The smile and nod should suffice.
♦️ They Use Words That You Don’t Understand, and Pronounce/Spell Them Differently
A ‘lift’ is an elevator. A ‘trolley’ is a shopping cart. They pronounce ‘aluminum’ like ‘aluminuim’ and a trash can is a rubbish bin. And this is just getting started! Color is now colour and favorite is now favourite. I’m working on a complete British word dictionary – coming soon.
♦️ Everyone Always Asks You if You’re Okay
What? I’m fine! Do I not look okay? Don’t worry, asking, ‘Hi, you’kay?’ or ‘you alright?’ is just the British way of asking ‘how are you?’
♦️ ‘X’ at the End of Messages
Here, is is very normal and customary to leave an ‘x’ or two or three at the end of messages – whether text, Facebook, email, or other. And yes, an ‘x’ basically as in ‘xoxo’ as in a kiss, but not in a very personal way… It’s just friendly gesture in the ever-s0-polite British culture; its a small yet incredibly interesting cultural phenomenon that seems to have its own separate etiquette that I am still really understanding myself. Why do we leave x’s at the end of every message? Even the short ones and questions? Am I supposed to always return them? Do I just leave the same number that you left me? Does it matter if they are capitalized or not, and what is the difference between leaving one x and leaving four? These are the adaptations of messaging in Britain – definitely a very new difference between England and America. Stay tuned for more analyzations as I attempt to grasp this mystifying ‘X.’
♦️ They Drive on the Other Side of the Road
WATCH OUT! YOURE GOING THE… Oh, never mind, sorry. Carry on.
♦️ You Try to Get into the Passenger Seat but There is a Steering Wheel There
Right, sorry. I knew that. With driving on the other side of the road comes having the steering wheel on the other side of the car as well. Getting in on the other side will take some getting used to.
♦️The Roads are About as Wide as a Car
Really though, I am 99% sure the roads are as wide as a single car with maybe an inch on each side. I have NO idea how cars in Britain pass so close to each other at such speeds. They’re used to it, but I still jump every time.
♦️ “Look Right” and “Look Left” Reminders on Street Crossings
Because of the whole issue of driving on the other side of the road than most of the world, the Brits have decided to help visitors not get hit by cars by reminding them that the traffic comes from the other way. I can only assume this became necessary from tourists walking out into the road after looking the wrong way and thinking there were no cars coming. I guess the whole kindergarden rule of ‘look both ways before crossing the road’ didn’t really stick for everyone.
♦️ Tea is a Very Accurate Stereotype
One does not simply stop by another’s house in the UK for a few minutes. A pot of tea/coffee will ALWAYS be made. The culture here seems to allow more for sitting and chatting and actually spending time with friends and family, most always over a cup of tea. They really do have 5-6 cups a day, too. I’ve had as many as four before noon, and you can just guess how many that correlates to in a whole day! Once I realized it was night time and I had had NO water that day, but about eight cups of tea.
♦️ The News is Much Less ‘Fluffy’ Here, on Radio and TV.
The news here tells it like it is. Coming from a country where we hear about viral YouTube videos and cats wearing clothes in the news, it is much more refreshing/depressing to hear more real world news- including everything from world politics & governments to world disasters. I’m not saying British news isn’t funny- it’s hilarious at times. But they don’t hold back on telling us important things even if unpleasant – one of the much needed differences between England and America.
What is a sausage roll? A pasty? Why did I order bacon and get basically just a thick piece of ham? These are the challenges of the British food world. Some things you think you know will be slightly different here, and there will be other things you have never heard of. But everything is worth a try!
♦️ Food 2: CANDY.
British candy is best candy, in my opinion. Everything may look unfamiliar at first, but once you try everything, I think you will become obsessed like me. I love me a Flake after a long week, some Smarties for after dinner, or some fruit pastilles as I walk to work!
♦️In the Countryside, Going on a “Walk” May Mean an 8 Mile Hike. Beware.
I really think this is a UK thing, because it has happened to me in many different situations and I have talked to others who say the same thing. But, it seems that whenever you go for a ‘walk’ in the country around here it really means a multiple-mile trek up hills, trails, and sometimes actual mountains. Basically a walk here is what I would call a hike (a long hike at that). But, for me, this is an amazing way to see the countryside and stay in shape too! For more about these extended walks, see my Walking in Wales post 🙂
Sorry, this one is definitely situational, but I come from California so I couldn’t leave it out of the list of first differences I noticed. Because I definitely noticed the cold. But, I do know that nearly anyone will confirm that the UK is the dampest cold you will ever experience. This isn’t dry cold; it is wet, damp cold that will find its way into your bones. So, even if the temperature is technically higher than other places, it still feels pretty dang cold.
♦️They Cut Food Up That I Would Pick up With My Hands
The Brits seem to have more of a tendency to cut things up on a plate and eat them in bites than I am used to. The other day I was shoveling a flatbread into my mouth, not very gracefully, when I looked over and saw a lady who had ordered the same flatbread and was daintily cutting it up with a knife and fork. Mental notes were taken. I also remembered a story of my British grandmother coming to the US for the first time years ago and attempting to cut up a hamburger with a knife and fork, which was also a hilarious mental picture.
♦️ Currency: Not What it Looks Like
The Great British Pound (GBP) is very misleading. If you come from somewhere where a dollar or euro is used, you can be especially subject to spending WAY more than you thought you were because the units are more similar. Everything is worth a similar number of pounds as it would be in dollars or euros, but you are actually spending way more. That £7 drink it not $7, it’s almost $11. It’ll get ya after a while. Check your bank statement regularly if traveling!
♦️ 50 Shades of Grey Has a Whole New Meaning Here
And it refers to the weather. The sky can be light grey, dark grey, or many greys in between, but it is indeed mostly grey. To me, it makes England, England. But to many Brits, the weather is quite draining. Mornings can sometimes seem to last all day, and rain showers can happen at really any time. But, the way you deal with the drab weather really depends on who you are.
♦️ But When the Sun Comes Out, Everyone Glows.
When sunlight is rare, it’s that much more celebrated. When a bright light finally peeks its way through the clouds, the UK rejoices and goes outside. On a nice summer day you can find people down by the docks of rivers or picnicking in the park, and the mood is tangibly happier.
♦️ Taxis are Black Cars
You won’t find any yellow taxis here, or any other bright color for that matter. British taxis are old fashioned-looking black cars that don’t have any ostentatious branding, just a little ‘taxi’ light on top that is lit up if they are available.
♦️ The Paper is a Different Size
It’s long and thin here. It feels strange and different in my 8.5×11-trained hands. It also sticks out the top of the folder I brought from America.
♦️ The Houses Have Names
It’s true, for many addresses in Britain you don’t live at (number) (Street) but you live at (name) House or just (name) with your flat number if applicable (a flat- not an apartment. That’s another thing). I think having named houses makes it so much more homey for some reason… It’s so much cooler to live at ‘Honeysuckle Cottage’ or ‘Meadow View’ or ‘Brompton House’ than something plain like 5 Cannon Street. It reminds me of when I lived in a named dorm, and everyone would call it by its name and have a strange yet strong sense of dorm spirit. Sadly that life is over and now I am an adult with real responsibilities, but it’s still fun that my house has a name.
♦️You Cannot Go to the Pub and Get Just One Pint
If one of your friends orders the first pint, the next friend will order the second, you may order the third, and so on. ‘One’ pint is not a thing with the British. They drink a bit differently here, AKA they drink larger volumes more quickly. The pubs are already crowded at 2pm on a Friday; it’s basically a lifestyle.
♦️ British Hospitality is Also a Thing
People are welcoming here. Whether to their home, their city, or their entire country, Brits are happy to have you here and will make it known. Arriving in someone’s home, tea and conversation will be had. But if you arrive for the first time in this country, locals and friends are happy to have you, buy you a drink, and show you around. They pay it forward so that one day you can do the same thing for someone else getting here for the first time. (Important note: this does not apply to dirving. the Brits will have no reservations honking at you if you try to cross the street 30m ahead of their car… they are hospitable but won’t stand anyone getting in the way of their commute!)
♦️ They are Hospitable, but You Mustn’t Look Them in the Eye on Public Transport. Or Strike Up Unwarranted Conversation with a Stranger in Public.
This one is mainly relevant in the city (lookin’ at you, London) but it’s WAY too real. This one can take some getting used to, especially coming from the USA! In America we talk to strangers EVERYWHERE, and strike up conversation about the weather, groceries, holidays, and basically anything at all, anywhere. In England/London this is NOT okay. No one talks to each other unless they know each other, especially on public transport (where even friends usually stay silent) and if you do, it’s very weird. I remember one time I thought maybe I could make friends getting off at the same tube stop as me…. boy, was I wrong! 😛 Learn more about my experience making friends after moving to London alone here.
♦️ History is Oh, So Rich, and England’s Recent History is Still Older than America At All.
In England I have walked through Iron Age forts, Ancient Roman Bridges, and fortresses from the third century. And I haven’t even begun to get into Renaissance, Medieval, and Victorian historical sites and museums, all of which are older than the country of America even is. England has SO much incredible history and much of the world has stemmed from Empires that were here. It’s amazing to be somewhere with such rich and tangible history – definitely one of the big differences between England and America