Adapting to a New City
The other night my friend and I went out for a quick fish and chips dinner at The Fish House of Notting Hill. This local restaurant, where we ate during orientation, has great food, which, more importantly, we did not have to cook! We expected a good meal. We ended up with that and a realization of how much we have adapted to living in London already.
Across the dining room from us was a cluster of American students about our age who had quite apparently just arrived in London. They were not disrespectful, but still had characteristics of ‘the typical American tourist,’ that I am sure we all had the first few days here. Although my accent will forever give us away as an American, in just three weeks I have adopted some new habits that make going out to restaurants and shopping in particular a lot easier. Blending in is a natural part of survival in a foreign country regardless of how similar to the United States it may seem upon first appearance. Here are a few of my tips for the UK:
- Use your inside voice! Especially when among other Americans we have the tendency to get really loud, really quickly without noticing it. In large part, Brits are quiet people and even the busiest tube station is quiet enough to hold a normal conversation. It is important to blend in here not only for other people’s comfort (although that is very important to this culture), but also for personal safety from theft. Conversation can wait until you are back above ground.
- Reserve talking to strangers for emergencies only. Unlike the states, the average person in the UK has a fair amount of social anxiety and though they will help you find something on a map, they would like to avoid it at all costs. On the tube for example, the response to an obvious tourist entering the train whilst trying to sort out a map of the area is to raise the daily paper up and hide. One way to avoid this problem is to download CityMapper, a great app with step by step directions on how to get anywhere down to the cost of the bus ticket.
- Say please, a lot! Although Americans are very good at saying thank you, please is a word we do not often use in conversation. Especially when ordering food here, it is important to say please out of respect for the server. Brits are very polite people, and not saying please may come across as a demand.
- Learn to say a few words with a small British accent. Although I think it is very important not to try and mimic and accent in every day life, I have noticed myself, and many of the students I am here with, pick up an occasional accent to make every day life easier. The first word we all learn is sorry. This can be used in many ways, but most often when you accidentally bump into someone on the tube. I on the other hand had “sorry” mastered before I ever left the airplane because I kept tripping over the poor man in front of me. Next are the words ‘thank you’, ‘sorry – excuse me’ (said together otherwise people are afraid you are asking them a question not trying to get by), ‘please,’ and ‘alright.’ With these four or five phrases you can ride the tube, shop at a market, and get around much of London as though you belong.
For the most part this has become a part of every day life I don’t think much of. When I run into other Americans visiting London for the first time though, I can’t help but self-consciously pat myself on the back for no longer sticking out that much. Cheers and be apventurous!