Same Language, New Customs

Wow being a different country is very interesting, much more so that I expected.  I guess since both the US and UK speak English, I always assumed our culture would be relatively similar.  In some aspects, I was right, but it was kind of shocking to me how much I was wrong.

I don’t think I could explain it very easily, but here are some of the things I’ve noticed (at least in London) that are in the UK but not the US:

  1. Accents

I’m not just talking about British accents.  While there is quite a variety of different British accents here, I’m mostly talking about how foreign everybody is.  Maybe it just happened to be that the city I was staying in had so many immigrants, but I don’t think I heard more than one person talk the same way!  There were so many different languages being spoken too!  On the streets I was lucky to run into just one person who was actually born and raised in London.  However, the Tube and public transportation was exactly the opposite.  I’m pretty sure I only ran into native Londoners.

Additionally, I think at least 50% of people I ran into were obviously Muslim.  The women were either wearing a hijab or burka, and I saw many men wearing some sort of garb (kind of like a cassock…) and head covering as well.

Quite a stark contrast compared to STL.  While we might have a large Spanish speaking population, it is insignificant compared to the number of foreigners in London.

Might I also add that everybody LOVES my accent here.  Haha, I’ve never had people so interested in keeping me talking.  I went to a cellphone store to get my phone and the guy there told me to sit down and start talking about whatever just so he could listen to my voice.  Kind of… awkward… but ok.  He got me updated on the UK schooling system in return.

2. Left not Right

I know… this is totally cliché, but it’s the fact that they do everything on the left instead of the right is very confusing.  I embarrassed myself constantly by walking up and down the right side of stairways, only then having to push past a crowd of people.  Pretty sure I might as well have had a big sign labelled “AMERICAN” on me.

I also have become incredibly uncomfortable crossing the street… it might sound silly, but since the cars are coming from the opposite direction, I have trouble anticipating where the cars are going to see if it’s safe to cross.  Unfortunately, this has gotten me in some serious trouble, which I barely slipped out of unharmed.  Twice I got stranded in the middle of the street (luckily there was a tiny no-drive zone there that I could freak out in), and a third time I was inches away from stepping in front of a car taking a left turn (equal to our right turn), which doesn’t require a stop.

I just gotta remember to look RIGHT first then LEFT.  The problem is, I grew up remembering Look Left (with the double L’s) as a reminder.

3. Courtesy

Right away, I noticed that, compared to America, the British are much more courteous.  Especially to international travellers.  They are very willing to help out anybody on the street and very patient with us in general.  While I have never had any *problems* with people in STL per say, Londoners seem to go out of their way to make sure we feel welcome.

However, Pedestrian/Driver courtesy is a totally different story.  In America the idea seems to be that we can walk wherever we want and do whatever we please, if we get hit, it’s probably the drivers fault.  As drivers we also tend to be impatient and troubled.  Here in England, pedestrians pretty much ONLY cross at the crosswalk.  Very rarely did I see anybody dart across the street elsewhere, and cars were very willing to stop traffic to wave pedestrians on.  Plus, they have these very nice pedestrian streetlights which tell you when you can cross and in Central London they have reminders of which way to look before crossing (I was SO grateful for these!).

4. Not Cows but Sheep

On the train to New Brighton, we passed through the countryside and it was very interesting to see sheep everywhere!  At first I actually thought for a minute there were a herd of tiny albino cows or something.  But then I saw a bunch of horses in the midst and realized my silly mistake!

5. Efficiency/Economics

The British are so much more economical than we are.  Everything is much smaller, simpler, and (in general) less complicated.  People didn’t carry very much with them and houses and rooms were much smaller.  They have also are much more environmentally aware than we are, and it seems like they have been for a long time.

You know those toilets which have two way flushes to try and conserve water?  I never saw a bathroom without them.

Minivans and pick-up trucks?  Never saw those either.  The commercial vehicle (y’know those big white 12-seater vans with no windows that we use in America… or at least in STL) was even smaller than our standard minivan.

6. Taxes Included

Every time I went to buy something, I wondered how much the extra sales tax would be so I could get my money out and be all prepared for when it was my turn to check out.  And without fail, every time I walked away a little bit confused because the price didn’t sound right; they were always so… even.  It took me a couple purchases to realize that I was paying exactly the price that was displayed.  So, either there is no sales tax, or tax is already included on the price of the item, which is nice.

7. PDA’s

Yeah… this made sitting on the subway waaaaaay too awkward for me.  Everywhere I looked there were couples “publicly displaying affection”, in a shockingly more casual way than I’ve ever seen before in the US.  Golly… I felt like I needed blinders.


Of course there were some things in the US that are not really in the UK.

1. Trashcans/Bathrooms

I could never find a trashcan!  The only place that had one without fail was a bathroom, and public ones (that were free, yes… sometimes we were charged to us the restroom) were very hard to find. For so few trashcans, it’s a miracle that the grounds were so clean.  Either London has an amazing clean-up crew or nobody litters.

2. Clocks

For years, I have always gotten by without a watch since most businesses and public areas have wall clocks.  I think the only clocks I saw in public were Big Ben and ones in the airport and train stations.  There were none in our hotel (not even an alarm clock), in any shop we went into, or on the outside of any buildings.

3. Street signs

As a traveller, not knowing where I was going, the lack of street signs in a major city was incredibly frustrating.  When we did find some, they were on the buildings rather than on the corners of streets, so often we had to walk halfway down the street before we figured out we were on the wrong one.  It was also often we discovered that the name on the street sign was different than the one on our map.  So after a while, we gave up and just started saying:

“We’re supposed to take a right turn after 3 streets.  But not on the immediate left street…kind it’s kind of at an angle… y’know… like it shows on the map…”

Very much an adventure indeed.

4. Water fountains

I guess you are expected to buy and carry bottled water around with you every day, because I have not seen water fountains… actually, I’m pretty sure they don’t exist here.  Which is really disappointing… because I don’t like carrying water with me (or buying bottled water every day).

5. Jeans/Casual Clothing

I know most people have probably heard that casual clothing is quite an American thing, but I honestly couldn’t imagine how “formal” people dress every day until I saw it.  Dresses and skirts were 90% of what the women wore (excluding those wearing traditional clothing of some type), and the men were generally wearing some kind of pant-suit and a collared shirt.  I never saw any sweatpants/shirts, cheap flip-flops, and very rarely saw t-shirts.  However, the younger generation seems to be catching on, as just about all the teenagers I saw were wearing jeans.  I also noticed that the jeans that were worn, were always very tight ones, for both men and women.

6. Catholic Churches

I knew I should expect this given that the Anglican church is basically the standard for religion here… but I was disappointed that it was SO hard to find a Catholic Church.  We were always filled with false hope because it was sometimes hard to differentiate between the two, since the Anglican and Catholic Churches are so similar, aside from a few obvious exceptions.  My Aunt kept saying we should attend the “Holy Eucharist” mentioned on the bulletin board of those churches, and I had to keep reminding her that if it was Catholic Church, they wouldn’t charge £20 to get in.  We did end up finding one Catholic Church though!  It was Brompton Oratory in southeast London…


They had the Latin Mass!!! Yay!

They offered 4 Masses a day; 2 in Novus Ordo, one in Latin Ordinary (or Latin Novus Ordo I guess), and one in Tridentine Rite.  We went to the 8am Mass on Friday morning.  It was kind of awkward since the altar they used was on the side, but the chairs (with kneelers attached to them) were facing the front.  So, I ended up kneeling in the aisle along with some others, because it was too hard to watch Mass and kneel facing forwards.  The Church itself was beautiful and I took pictures which I hope to upload as soon as I get a good internet connection.  However… apparently taking photos in the church was a big “no-no” as I got yelled at by one of the parishioners there.  I thought she was going to confiscate my camera or something…


Now, I obviously can’t claim to be an expert on these cultural differences, so it might have been that I was just lucky (or unlucky) to have made these observations.  I would also assume that these are probably not a standard for all of the UK, but most may be specific to London.  It will be interesting to see if I still feel the same way as I travel through England and end up in Scotland!

I visit the Institute apostolate in New Brighton tomorrow!  I’m incredibly excited about it and I can’t wait to see it in person!

Pray for me!  I’m already praying for y’all!

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7 Responses to Same Language, New Customs

  1. We certainly are all praying for you! And now we have an additional intention for our prayers: that you always remember to look right first, and then left!

  2. ceciliazhu says:

    Glad that you began to enjoy new life in new country. It just remind me of the first days I arrived America, no friends… and a lot of curiosities and awkward things..but everything will go great! Go Girl! I heard about the Oratory in London. Their order seems to be found by the St. Phil Neri ( the name institute of Christ the King used for their seminary..)

  3. You sound like Bilbo! “I’m going on an adventure!” We miss ya, Nikki! It sounds like an incredibly interesting culture shock! Keep in touch! Come back in one piece!

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