While studying abroad in England, I learned a lot about English culture. But, by learning about another culture, I realized I was also learning about my own. Based on this post, here is what I learned about America:
- Food inferiority: The first time I ordered cheesy “chips” in England, I expected the typical, synthetic nacho cheese you get with fries in the States. Fortunately, I was wrong. The cheese was real! On top of this surprise, once I ordered, the takeaway worker fried the chips right then instead of having them pre-fried and cold by the time I got served, like at most American take out restaurants. I also acquired a taste for garlic sauce, which goes great with cheesy chips… Although one of my British friends swears otherwise. Unfortunately, garlic sauce is hard to find past Northern England. I could barely find it in London, nevermind America.
- Intersections vs roundabouts: One of the first differences I noticed about the roads in England, besides driving on the opposite side, was the abundance of roundabouts and unnecessary winding crosswalks. At first I did not understand why they barely have any intersections in England, until one of my British classmates explained how little land there is in Europe compared to America, and that roundabouts save more space than intersections. I still do not understand why a lot of the crosswalks wind through traffic, though. I think they would be much easier to maneuver if they were straight. But maybe because they rely so much on roundabouts in Europe, they do not understand the practicality of a straight crosswalk.
- Drinking culture: First, you are legal to drink at 18 in most of Europe and 21 in America. Second, you are supposed to get carded if you look under 25 in most of Europe and under approximately 40 in America. Third, when buying alcohol or entering a club, people are a lot more relaxed about drinking than in America. Fourth, the British party harder than any American I have ever seen.
- Money: Besides the obvious currency difference that American money is plain old green compared to the colorful British Pound or Euro notes, I had not realized another major difference: Americans name their coins. Even after living my life calling coins by “penny,” “dime,” “nickle” and “quarter,” I never noticed we gave them specific names, whereas British coins are all “pence” and Euro coins are all “cents” no matter the amount, until I met an English student who studied abroad in America. He told me the hardest adjustment for him was trying to remember which coin was called what. Also, British money has eight coins, while American money only has four. This is because British one and two pounds are coins, not notes, and then their pence run in one, two, five, 10, 20, and 50 coins. As useless as Americans may find the penny, the two pence coin feels even more useless to the British.
- Sheep: So many sheep in Britain. On the motorway, I have passed fields and fields of sheep. The sheep were my first surprise when I arrived in England. Even landing in the country, I saw white dots on fields from the air and I had no clue what they were until I took the bus to my university. My fellow American students and I were in awe over the sheep, which confused many of our British friends until we told them we do not have that many sheep where we are from in America.
- Pedestrian streets: I love pedestrian areas! I think they encourage healthier living by requiring people to walk in certain areas. When I arrived back in the States, I went shopping with my mom, and she parked in one lot. Then, when we were on our way to get food after, she went to get back in the car while I wanted to walk to the restaurant, which was right across the street. I tried to convince her to walk, but she was too stubborn to change her way of life because she is so used to driving everywhere, even when it is right across the street.
- Sales tax: The first time I went to Poundland, which sells everything for a pound, I expected to pay more than a pound. Like how we pay more than a dollar at the dollar stores because of sales tax. I received another pleasant surprise when the total was a whole number. I later learned this is because sales tax is already worked into the sales price before you buy something, and not added as extra at the register.
- The alphabet: Ok, so I knew Z is pronounced “zed” in Europe, but what I was not prepared for was H being pronounced “haych.” Growing up in America, whenever a child said “haich,” they were scolded and told to stop pronouncing the letter “aych” the wrong way. Little did those kindergarten teachers know, almost everywhere else pronounces H “the wrong way.”
Any other differences I missed?
Thanks a lot!
Up next: my experience with reverse culture shock and other updates.