Differences between America and London

One of the most common, vague, hard-to-answer questions that EVERYONE from America asks is, “So what’s it like over there?”. Personally, I love this question because it gives me an open invitation to talk that person’s ears off (which I am exceptionally good at doing, according to my boyfriend). Plus I know I was most interested and concerned about the differences between America and London before I moved over here.

The thing is, there aren’t many BIG things that are different which Americans don’t already know about. Yes, people drive on the opposite side of the road here but I don’t ever deal with that since, like half of London, I don’t use a car. Yes, people have an accent and are sometimes hard to understand, but then again I’m the foreigner-therefore I’M the one with the accent that’s hard to understand. Although it’s fun adjusting to the big differences, it’s the little, quirky, day-to-day things that catch me off guard and, for the most part, make me love London more. I’m sure I’ll find many other tiny twists as life progresses over the next couple of years so we’ll call this part one of an ongoing list.

♥You don’t have to use the designated crosswalks when crossing the street. You still get honked at if you cross at inopportune moments, but you can cross wherever you want. No tickets for jaywalking. (Just make sure you read the street markings and look in the right direction to check for traffic. The nice, international-friendly city planners remind you which way to look. Or, like me, simply look back and forth constantly because you’re so mixed up on the direction of traffic flow. I wish all streets were as small as the one in the photo.)

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Don’t ask me what the yellow or blue markings mean. I haven’t the foggiest.

♥Definitely don’t love this part, but heads up: it takes significantly longer to get things set up here than in the States. Getting wi-fi hooked up took a solid 3 weeks. Thankfully most cafes have free wi-fi. I really enjoyed that part; I visited a lot of different cafes around town that way. 🙂 It also took  about 3 weeks to get a bank account set up. The requirements to do so are much more elaborate than in America.

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♥On the plus side, you can use any ATM- there are no surcharge fees. Doesn’t matter which bank you use or which bank sponsors the ATM, there’s no charge.

♥Because a lot of people don’t have cars, and because apartments/kitchens/fridges are miniscule compared to the States, there are grocery stores EVERYWHERE. Literally. There are at least 3 on my 2-block walk home from the tube (aka subway). Which is fantastic because now stopping at the store 4-5 times a week isn’t crazy. I don’t have to plan and purchase a week’s worth of meals anymore, I can just do it a day or two at time.

Blog13Oh hey dorm fridge and small freezer. And dorm…stove? …at least it works.

♥That being said, the UK rules on food and processed stuff make it really difficult to find things that we use all the time in the States. Besides not having most of my favorite junk food, just this week I’ve had to look up the UK equivalent to corn syrup (doesn’t exist here), corn bread (they don’t do pre-made mixes here so I made it from scratch using polenta. Had to look that up too; that’s what they call corn meal here), sour cream (crème fraîche here), cilantro (coriander), and powdered sugar (icing sugar). That’s on top of discovering that eggplants are called aubergines, zucchinis are courgettes, they don’t have maple syrup bottles larger than 250g or refrigerated rolls of biscuit dough, and they have a significantly smaller selection of gum (apparently Extra bought the rights to be the Royal gum). Among other things.

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Also, corn starch is called corn flour here (not to be confused with corn meal, aka polenta). Forgot that one.

♥You may have noticed my use of ‘g’ in the previous bullet point. That’s because they use the metric system here. Which is really a mental exercise when you’re using American recipes for things, because you constantly have to do conversions. Grams, cups, ounces, milliliters, tablespoons, Celsius (non-food related: things got really complicated when I attempted to mentally convert distance on a treadmill)… Thankfully, I’m not the first American ex-pat to experience this frustration so there are conversion charts aplenty on Google. I’ve copied a few out and scattered them around the kitchen. On the plus side, weighing myself in kilograms makes me feel REAL good. I haven’t weighed double digits since I was in middle school…or if you use stones as your weight measurement (yes, that’s a weight measurement here. Look up the conversion yourself. Alright fine, I’ve converted it enough times I have it memorized…one stone=14lbs.), I’m in the single digits. Hellooooo newborn baby weight! 😉

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Everything is metric. Even my stove is in Celsius.

See, I told you I could talk your ears off. This is my longest post yet. I’ll call it quits for now, but more to come on this subject later 🙂

International friends, what else have you experienced that’s different? Add yours in the comments!

Takeaway Tidbit: There’s more adjustments to life in London than accents and driving on the opposite side of the road.

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Thrift stores saved my (social) life.

London. Cosmopolitan city of dresses and posh, put-together outfits galore. Where seemingly no one walks outside without meticulously layering an outfit that could be photographed on a runway, coupled with perfectly-in-place hair and stunning makeup. The guys, too (minus the makeup, most of the time). Or at least that’s how I felt the first week here.

Now that I’ve settled in I realize the put-togetherness of Londoners isn’t as prevalent as I thought, but my first stroll around my neighborhood left me feeling absurdly under-dressed and out of the style loop. I bolted home to reassess every piece of clothing I packed, and realized I was sorely lacking in the one item which almost every female chose to wear that summery day: dresses. I only packed two. Ugh.

The next day was spent semi-frantically journeying from store to store, trying to find a decent dress that wasn’t £20+ over my seriously reduced college kid budget. It took me much longer than it should have to realize that regular-price stores wouldn’t cut it. Thrift stores, hand over those dresses. And skirts. Aaand since I’m here and haven’t quite grasped that I no longer have an income, let’s check out the jewelry too…right??

Unfortunately for me, I couldn’t find ANY thrift stores when I walked around looking for them. Which was weird because I had been advised to get as much as possible from the thrift stores in London. Then I figured out that in London thrift stores are called charity shops. Because they’re associated with a charity. Logical. Dang London phrases, throwing me for a loop again. Consequently, they have the title of the charity as their name. You sneaky charity shops…

Blog3 There are   -count ’em-   5 charity shops in a 2-block radius of my apartment.

Now that I know my way around a bit better, I am continually amazed by the abundance of thrift shops everywhere. The great thing about London charity shops is that each shop is SMALL. Unlike cavernous Goodwills or overwhelming Thrift Worlds, I can browse each store in about 15-20 minutes (which means I can hit 3-4 instead of just 1…sorry, bank account). And the prices and lack of crowds are much more friendly than the Oxford Street shops. Plus, because they’re so small, inventory is rotated more often. Which means prices on current merchandise are reduced more often. Which means I buy dresses more often. Hey, it’s for charity.

Blog4…and they’re pretty darn cute. Because frumpy is not in a Londoner’s vocabulary.

I should probably start stretching out my suitcases for the trip home.

Takeaway tidbit #2: Charity shops will save your (social) life. And budget.

 

It’s “takeaway”, not “to-go”.

One of my thought processes when deciding to move to London:

They speak English in England. We speak English in the States. Therefore, I will be fine moving to London because there’s no language barrier. I know they say “loo” instead of “bathroom” and “chips” instead of “fries”; bring on the nuances. I enjoyed living in Mexico despite the language barrier. London will be a piece of cake.

Sidenote: clearly my audacity sometimes gets me into trouble, but sometimes it’s a really fun part of my personality (ie: the thought process that led me to quit my wonderful, rewarding, salaried teaching job and move across the ocean to an exciting, vibrant, expensive city to pursue my personal dreams and live on a college kid’s budget again). See what optimistic pictures I take when I’m feeling fearless?–

p1.1 So presh. So exciting! …and a little presumptuous, but who isn’t on Instagram?

Back to my language math at the beginning of my post. I don’t remember much from maths, but one formula that stuck with me was the one that says “if a=c, and b=c, then a=b”. So in my audacity (or imprudence, you decide), I figured that if England=English, and the States=English, then England=the States.

Obviously I know they’re not the same place. I just figured if I can thrive in the States and successfully handle studying abroad in Mexico then the transition to life in England would be effortless.

Effortless. Oh hey, imprudent Audrey. Let’s see how you get on.

I landed at Heathrow and had a very calm, reasonable experience getting from the plane to customs to baggage claim to exit. Each uneventful checkpoint left me feeling more and more confident about life in London.

  • “I was able to follow the huge yellow signs from the plane to customs…Feelin pretty good about myself.”
  • “Hey, the customs guy asked me a question and I answered it. I’m gonna be great in London!”
  • “Wow, I was able to get a cart AND grab all my luggage by myself…Look out London, here comes Audrey!”
  • “I followed the huge white pictures and found the large, highly visible bathrooms AND was able to get in and out with all my luggage? Elizabeth, honey, let me borrow that crown for a sec.”

By the time I got to the Costa (a coffeeshop chain here), I was confident I had London life figured out. So when the barista asked “here or takeaway”, I scoffed–“Sweetie, I don’t understand you. And I KNOW how to live in London”. What I really said was probably more along the lines of–“Uhh, what?”. She repeated the question, and as I frantically scrambled through all the London lingo I knew (which took all of .56 seconds) to attempt to translate “takeaway”, I mumbled something about a to-go cup. When she slid over my drink, it was in a porcelain mug.

Your Majesty, please take your crown back. I don’t want it anymore.

Blog1(Cute Turkish restaurant near my place)

#TakeawayTidbit for your day: If you want to leave the premises with your food or beverage purchases, it’s  “takeaway” not “to-go”.