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7 Mistakes I Made as an American in England

Time October 17th, 2016 in 2016 Fall, England | No Comments by

I thought going to an English-speaking, Westernized country meant “culture shock” would be minimal. I could not have been more wrong. The differences between England and the U.S. are too many to count and I have had my fair share of uncomfortable experiences. Today I share with you 10 instances in which I really felt like a confused foreigner in hopes that you will learn from my experiences.

1. Not looking both ways (or the right way) when crossing the street: I remembered that they drive on the opposite side of the road here when I got into my taxi at the airport. It was so strange; I felt like the entire car ride I was slightly leaning to the right as if my body weight would move the car over to the side that I normally drive on. While I would never EVER attempt to drive in this country, I failed to realize that this difference in road movements affects me even as a pedestrian. I will be the first to admit that sometimes I lack the patience to wait for the “WALK” sign at a crosswalk. If I see an opportunity, I usually decide to cross. This has proved to be a dangerous habit if you look the wrong direction in search for cars. In an attempt to avoid the national health service, look both ways before crossing the street.

2. Yellow light does not always mean stopping: Along the same lines of different road rules, here in England (and I have heard this applies to other European countries) the stoplight uses yellow on two occasions: before red AND before green. So if you’re like me and you see a yellow light as essentially the go-ahead to begin crossing, this is also another dangerous habit. Unless you were watching the stop light for awhile prior to know which color is going to follow the yellow, it is not safe to assume that the car is stopping. On a slight tangent I think the use of yellow to essentially mean “get ready to _(stop/go)__” is really interesting and I wonder whether it was added or if the U.S. eliminated it.

3. Bikes are just as dangerous: My final advice to fellow pedestrians is to be wary of cyclists. In my hometown people who bike are usually doing so recreationally – some in the sidewalk and some in the street. Here biking is an entirely different ball game. It is an efficient form of transportation and they are ruthless. My eyes widen as they weave around massive, double-decker buses and as they speed right towards me coming down the street. I have not seen it myself, but my friend told me that today he witnessed someone get hit by a bike and just hearing about it made my body ache. Treat bikes with the same vigilance as you do cars (and honestly maybe more because since they are smaller they can easily sneak up out of nowhere) and hopefully that won’t happen to you.

4. Be cognizant of operating hours: Unlike in the U.S. where things are open 24/7 for 7 days a week, most businesses in England have much more limited operating hours. Stores close much earlier and Sunday evenings are a ghost town. I discovered this the hard way when my friend and I got a late dinner and wanted to grab some dessert sweets from a grocery store on our way back. Our chocolate cravings were sadly unfulfilled as we walked past the dark doors of every store. At the same time stores do not always open as early either. It is completely normal for a store to open at 10:00 am as opposed to the 8:00 AM or 9:00 AM that I consider normal back in the U.S.

5. Mind your manners: This tip is more applicable to Oxford students. While it varies amongst colleges, most Oxford colleges have some sort of formal dinner. At St. Catz we have the option to go to a formal dinner (called “hall” short for formal hall) every weeknight. While dress code is completely casual, the dining etiquette is more refined. You sit in these long tables with attached desk lights, which almost make you feel like you should be studying. Every seat must be filled by top to bottom, so you can easily be seated next to a stranger. There are waiters, multiple courses, and you can BYOB. Something very important about hall is learning the etiquette. Luckily, the people I was seated next to at my very first hall informed me of all the rules before I broke too many of them. A notable rule is that you cannot eat until everyone around you has received their food – something that I wish I had known before I started inhaling these amazing potato wedges.

6. BYOB (with the second b standing for bags): Because England is much more advanced in terms of environmentally-minded rules and regulations, it costs money to purchase plastic bags at the grocery store. During orientation I attended the freshers fair/activity fair/clubs and societies fair where different student groups try to recruit new members. After the event I had 3 different canvas bags which have all been repurposed into grocery shopping bags. Even though the plastic bags are cheap, it is much easier to carry groceries in a sturdier bag. Sometimes when I know I’ll need a substantial amount of groceries, I go with an empty backpack. Depending on where your college is, the walk to the grocery store can be over 20 minutes and it will feel like more than that if you have plastic bags digging into your arms.

7. Don’t be offended if people aren’t outrageously friendly: This is something I learned at orientation but also experienced first hand on my way there. I took a quick train from Heathrow airport to central London. As one would expect, I was bursting with excitement and wonder. The train was pretty full, so I placed my luggage in the racks and sat in the closest open seat next to this man. I turned to him to ask if the train went to Piccadilly and his eyes opened so wide. He nodded twice – silently. I didn’t fully realize this was probably him telling me that he was not interested in talking to me, but my excitement was so high that all I could do was look out the window. I made some remark about how beautiful the city looked, how it was my first time in England, and how I’m so eager to begin my journey. He looked at me with a slightly bewildered look on his face. I asked him if he had any recommendations on what I must do while I am here and he responded with, “Not particularly.” At that point the train was arriving in the station, but I had gotten the message. This man was not interested in having any sort of conversation on the train. After an orientation lecture on cultural differences between the U.K and the U.S., I was informed that making small talk with strangers on public transportation is a very American habit. People in the U.K. tend to be more reserved in public and do not consider a train ride to be a social experience. So don’t be confused if the person you sit next to does not want to be your best friend or offer to be your tour guide, it’s not personal.

 

I apologize for writing another “list-icle”. I promise my next blog post will include pictures of campus now that I am here and really settling in for the season.

 

Cheers,

xx

Zaya

 

 

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10 British Foods

Time April 26th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

For the most part, British food is the same as American food, but there are some foods that seem unique to the British palate or are food obsessions.

1) Curry
In Leeds, there are curry shops everywhere! Some of them are chain restaurants, like Jaldi-Jaldi, but the smaller takeaway (carryout) shops dot every corner. Chicken Tikki Masala is the #1 British food right now, not fish & chips (I’ll get to that later). For those of you who don’t know what curry is, it’s an oriental dish that is made of bite-size portions of meat simmered in a sauce & served with rice or noodles. The sauce is what makes it curry, and it’s full of spices and usually thick. I absolutely love it! My perception of its popularity may be a little skewed though, since my second family has a Jamaican heritage and likes things spicy (in general, the British are known to have a bland palate). I don’t think curry is very popular in the US, but if you want to try something new & amazing, find a good Indian restaurant.

2) Potatoes
I live in catered student housing, meaning I eat most of my meals in a cafeteria. So I’m not positive whether potatoes are a British food obsession or of they are just trying to fill is with carbs. Either way, they serve them every night & occasionally at breakfast. Most popular are chips (our equivalent to steak fries), but we also have them boiled, mashed, mashed then deep fried as fat stick, served as hash browns, or oven baked to crispy goodness. They haven’t served scalloped potatoes yet, so maybe that is an American thing.

3) Fish & Chips
Fish & chips is to the UK what pizza is to the US. If you don’t feel like cooking, get fish & chips takeaway. Skip the ketchup (ok, only sometimes…I still love the sweet, tangy dip), and go for salt & vinegar, freshly squeezed lemon juice, or a sweet chili sauce. All the above are delicious!

4) Pastries
When I hear the word pastry, my thoughts go towards a sweet dessert. Here, pastries are often meat filled and served for lunch. Instead of stopping at McDonalds for a quick bite, find a local pastry shop. Prices are really cheap, although its not the healthiest option, and you can eat on the go. While you’re there, see of they also sell flapjacks. Flapjacks are not pancakes, but rather oat bars, and extremely good!

5) Mint
Mint is something I would consider unique to the English palate…or at least it doesn’t really fancy mine. It’s most often served with lamb, as a dipping sauce or baked into the gravy of a mint pie. I’ve tried both ways, and neither was really a favorite, but perhaps it’s just me.

6) Tuna
Growing up, we didn’t eat a lot of tuna, so maybe that’s why I don’t fancy it. But tuna seems to be on every lunch menu here. They serve it traditionally on a sandwich…but the huge shocker for me was a tuna jacket potato. Jacket Potato = Baked Potato Why would anyone in their right mind want tuna on a baked potato? Curry jacket potato, yes please! Chili jacket potato, yum! Cheese jacket potato, yes! Tuna jacket potato……..what?!?

7) Scones
Loveliness! That’s all I need to say. In the US, I was used to the dry, hard, triangle shaped scones served at Starbucks that definitely must accompany a drink, but are good none the less. Here, scones are much lighter, softer, and just plane delicious. They remind me more of a sweet biscuit, which Britain doesn’t really an equivalent of. Biscuits & gravy is a crazy concept to them, because what they call biscuits we call cookies (or tea biscuits), and they don’t often use a white gravy. I was so happy to introduce that recipe to the Miller family! Nana & Pops, you would be well received in their house!

8) Spreads
The British love sauces and spreads! At the grocery store, a full isle will be dedicated to fruit preserves, chutneys, and other sauces. At a really nice restaurant we went to for Rachel’s birthday, once they delivered our meals the server came back with a plate full of spread & sauces for us to put on our plate. Oh, and they have marmite, which is a dark brown, sticky, salty, & savory spread made from yeast extract. I haven’t tried it yet, but it’s common knowledge that you either love it or hate it.

9) Custards
Pudding (which refers to dessert in general & not just the milk-based food) is often served with a custard, yoghurt, or other sauce to pour on top. It doesn’t matter if it is cake, pie, brownies, or sometimes fruit…drench it! I personally love this, since brownies in a bowl of milk and tres leches cake are some of my personal favorites. Ambrosia is a popular brand of rice puddings & custards that I love.

10) Italian-Style Pizzas
Although there are some US chain pizza restaurants (Pizza Hut & Dominos), I think Italian-style is more popular. By Italian-style, I mean thin crust and amazing toppings. I think I prefer it this way, because the toppings are usually fresh & the main attractions, as opposed to focussing on lots of crust, sauce, and cheese. But I also miss stuffed crust…which in my book reigns supreme.

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Little Differences

Time February 13th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

I’ve tried to remember as many of the little differences as I can between English and American culture. Here are the main one’s I’ve noticed so far:

Words:
American vs. British

Trunk (car) vs. Boot
Elevator vs. Lift
Biscuits vs. Cookies
Cell Phone vs. Telly
Mail vs. Post
Call (a person on the phone) vs. Ring
French Fries vs. Chips
Chips vs. Crisps
“Have a good day!” vs. “Cheers!” or “Cheerio!”
Friend vs. Mate (apparently not just an Australian thing :0)
To Rent (apartment vs. To Let
Grilled Cheese vs. Cheese Toastie
Line vs. Queue

I’ll add others as I think of them. But overall, adjusting to English culture hasn’t been that difficult. Sometimes I forget I’m the foreigner and find it funny when they can’t understand my accent. It takes me a minute for my brain to digest the fact that I’m the one with the accent…not them.

As far as accents go, I can distinguish where people are from, for the most part. People from southern England, especially London, have a more westernized accent that is really easy to understand. The others British people often call them “posh.” Those from northern England can be harder to understand, especially when they are speaking quickly or in a big group. People from Wales and Scotland have distinct accents too…but I think the easiest ones to pick out are the Irish. Their accent, in my opinion, is by far the best! I haven’t purposely tried to pick up on an accent yet, mostly for the fear of failing horribly! :0) But I do notice every now and then a word slips out that has a British sound to it. Secretly, I would love to come home with a full-blown British accent, but I want that to happen naturally. We shall see!

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Are the British Actually Polite?

Time June 2nd, 2009 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

How did the time go by so fast?! I only have 4 weeks left to study in Wales and I seriously feel like I just got here even though I’ve experienced and learned so much. The one part about studying in Wales. that means the most to me are the people and their camaraderie that they showed me.

One stereotype of the British is that they are very polite which I found to be true, but its not just a way they act in public to be respectful of others. They are genuinely nice and caring people. This is at least the case for me and for the friends that I’ve made while studying at University.

I couldn’t get over the fact of how caring and thoughtful people are here. Their general willingness to help others is far greater than what I experienced while living in the U.S. America has an overall individualistic culture where everyone has the general belief that they don’t need anyone’s help to get through the day where Britain has a more collectivist nature in the sense that they do offer help to others expecting the same treatment in return. When I speak to my friends, I feel like they are truly interested in what I have to say instead of just waiting for their turn to speak. My friends and peers look after one another, knowing that without each other, getting through the day would be a lot harder.

Being around very considerate people that count on each other’s support has made me feel differently about the individualistic attitude where it is believed that I could get by on my own. I feel the overall willingness to help others has increased the amount of kindliness among British people which is a much more pleasant environment to live in.

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