Hello from across the pond!! I’ve been in London for about two weeks now, so I’m finally starting to feel settled! It hit me today that for the next three months, I get to call this unbelievable city my home! Each day, I discover something new that makes me fall in love with London all over again. The history, the architecture, even the number of Zara stores within a 0.5-mile radius from my flat: everything here is perfect!
While I knew I would have no trouble calling London my home, I really did not expect to face any culture shock. I consider myself a pretty experienced traveler, so I figured living in London would be a piece of cake. But, I could not have anticipated that the slight nuances of London culture and lifestyle would impact me so directly and deeply. Here are just a few of the culture shocks I’ve already experienced in my first weeks here:
1. Paying for things is … difficult.
Storytime! I wanted to join a gym, a specific gym, but they wouldn’t let me sign a membership contract without a UK bank account. This prompted me to go on a long, tiring journey of trying, and failing, and trying again, and succeeding, in opening an account with Santander (shout out to Zoe, best banking associate of all time ever). So tip for future American students studying in the UK, just be prepared to spend a day or two running all over the city if you want to bank here. It’s crazy, they don’t trust us Americans and our “failing financial institutions” (actual quote from an actual Londoner).
2. English in America is different than English in the UK.
Language has never been my forte, which is one of the reasons I chose to study in London. But, I’ve already discovered that Londoners do not understand my charming, fast-paced Long-Island-meets-Philadelphia-meets-New-Jersey accent. I am constantly having to repeat myself and spell out words for people. What I’ve found to be most troubling is that people even have a hard time understanding me when I say my name, which is also the name of a popular Square in London. I figured I’d come to London, and Starbucks would finally, FINALLY, spell my name right on my skinny vanilla latte. So you can imagine my disappointment when the barista wrote “Simone” (why does this always happen!?) on my cup yesterday. I’ve restored to introducing myself as “Sloane, like the Square.” Today, a man replied to this by calling me Madame Square. Is that a compliment? I still don’t get British humor.
3. Drive on the left; walk on the right.
This confuses me the most. They drive on the left side of the road here, but they walk on the right?? Every time I walk down Oxford Street I have a mini panic attack. The number of awkward side-step run-ins with strangers I have on a daily basis has skyrocketed. And every time I cross the street, I fear being hit by a car. At least they have these handy directions painted on the road… I’d be lost otherwise.
4. The weather is unpredictable.
Okay, so this isn’t too much of a shock for me. Spending the last two years in Ithaca, I know the importance of always having sunglasses, an umbrella, and gloves in my purse. In London, the same rule applies. I’ve walked to school at 9 AM sporting my sunnies and a smile, and I’ve run home in a torrential downpour with frizzy hair. You never know what kind of day you’ll have here, but the weather definitely keeps things interesting.
All shock aside, London is an amazing, inspiring, and unlike anything I’ve experienced before. I have been spending my days in markets, on the streets, and riding the tube, trying my best to get a feel for this incredibly dynamic city. I am sure there are more cultural differences between myself and my new home that I have yet to uncover, but for now, I will just enjoy being a newcomer!
Until next time, Cheers!!