It’s the little things

Even though you may think the U.S. and the U.K. are very similar as far as different cultures go, it’s the little things that can catch you off guard, the little differences that you didn’t know even know were there. Sometimes they’re surprisingly refreshing, and sometimes they lead to some awkward moments. So here are a string of little differences that I’ve noticed. The main idea is in CAPS so you can skip what you find boring.

  1. THE KEYBOARD: Something that catches me a little off guard every time I type with a U.K. keyboard is the ever so subtle differences in placement of the keys. For one, the @ symbol took me forever to find the first time. It’s switched with the “quotes symbol”, I guess because @ is used more often. The shift button next to the left pinky is also half the size, so when I was typing my password into one of the school computer’s for the first time, it took me at least 15 tries until I noticed I was pressing the wrong button.
  2. THE ROADS: So the cars drive on the other side of the road, which can make crossing the road a bit confusing, but I think y’all know that, so I’ll mention the other differences. The stop lights turn yellow before they turn red AND before they turn green. I was unreasonably excited when I discovered this. There are also more roundabouts than anyone would ever want to encounter, which terrified me the first time I cycled the roads here, but something I got used to with practice. On my ride from Manor Park to campus, there are 4, arguably 5, roundabouts, some of them small and completely unnecessary, but they do make cars slow down a bit. On another note, what does the word “pavement” mean to you? I had an awkward moment with my professor when I said something about riding my bike on the pavement during class (this may seem like a totally random thing to talk about in class, but we were talking about the infrastructure of roads). He stopped me and said, “you’re not supposed to do that, that’s illegal here” to which I responded with an uncomfortable silence and finally said, “I guess the rules are different in America?” not knowing that the rules are the same but our interpretations were different. While I was referring to the road using the word “pavement”, “pavement” actually means sidewalk here. So now ya know and can skip the uncomfortable miscommunication.
  3. MORE MISCOMMUNICATION: Through talking to British people in class, I’ve picked up a few words and phrases that are different here. When reviewing a paper as a group, I mentioned something about there needing to be a period at a certain point in the sentence. My British friend paused for a moment looking confused until he realised what I meant and told me that’s not what it’s called here. He was a bit flustered when he said he almost thought I was referring to the menstrual cycle and was adamant about it being called a “full-stop”. Another time, the same dude asked our group if anyone had a “rubber”… needless to say, I was the one confused until he remembered my American ignorance and said, “I think they call it an eraser in the U.S.?” as someone pulled out an eraser. Something I learned soon after I arrived in the U.K. is that the way they greet people is not the same. I was asked “you okay?” so many times I thought I wasn’t okay and that strangers thought I was sad all the time, though I do have somewhat of a resting sad face. Then I figured out/was told later on that “you okay?” is the U.K. equivalent to “what’s up?” or “how are you?”, where “how are you?” here means the equivalent to “you okay?” in the U.S. I’ve also learned that “taking the piss” does not mean going to the bathroom and instead means joking around by making fun of someone.
  4. CHOCOLATE CHIPS: The grocery stores here (which are not called grocery stores but “food stores” or “supermarkets”) are a wee bit different. For one, I don’t think chocolate chip cookie dough exists here, not that I would buy it back home, but now that it’s not an option, I strangely want it… Food shopping here makes me realise how many things in the U.S. are sold in large quantities or packaging, like chocolate chips. Chocolate chips are my kryptonite and they’re not a big deal here. They’re sold in very small packaging with limited options. Thankfully, my sister is bringing me a few bags when she visits for the holidays. The crisps here (or chips in the U.S.) are also pretty strange with a lot of meat and cheese flavoured options, like “Ham and Mustard” or “Cheddar cheese and Bacon”… not my cup of tea.

I could go on forever with the little differences I’ve found, but I’ll save the rest for a later date.