There are things to expect when you move to the UK, and a lot of the things (as an American) are either similar or have been warned about in advance. This still did not make it any easier to translate the weather from C to F for the first few weeks, but at least there was warning. However, there have also been things that no one thought to tell me about before coming over. Not always huge things, and at this point it mostly just gets a raised eyebrow and a “well that’s interesting” response, but I thought I’d share some of the ones that come to mind in list form for a change.
The ‘meh’ attitude
I was somewhat warned about this phenomena beforehand, but it’s interesting to experience. It’s likely that I’m just used to the over-exuberant nature of Americans, but it seems like the overarching theme of life in England is ‘meh.’ Not a depressed ‘meh’ or an apathetic ‘meh,’ but almost like a kind of stoicism. Your food came out wrong at the restaurant? Meh, it’s not bad enough to cause a fuss. Come home to a flooded kitchen? Meh, it’s just a bit of water. I’ve heard some people chalk it up to the war mentality of previous generations and others to the weather, but the exact cause remains elusive. Being around it long enough though does prove infectious. Is this good or bad? Meh, I dunno.
People don’t talk to you
This one absolutely killed me the first few weeks here until classes started. I was lucky enough to have made some wonderful friends at the international welcome week as well as having some locals to call up and talk to, but in those mid-day hours I was miserable. In the States it’s completely normal to chat with staff at businesses or strangers waiting wherever you’re at in public, but here it’s almost taboo. My more socially awkward friends back in the US were excited to hear about this, but the thrill of being able to read your book in public undisturbed is quickly deadened when you realise it’s been three days and the last meaningful conversation you had was with a cat wandering the alley by the cathedral. However, sometimes you’ll get a conversation when people overhear you and realise you’re not from around here, which leads to…
People being excited about Americans
I WAS SO NOT READY FOR THIS. I was under the assumption that either A) Americans were common enough visitors as to be unexciting or B) Americans would be at least passively tolerated and possibly disliked. While I’m sure this is the case for some, it’s at least a weekly occurrence that someone will hear me or my fellow comrades of the North American Alliance speak and ask if we’re American. This will then diverge into four typical responses:
Where are you from?
This is problematic as it seems a lot of us move states (or provinces for Canada!) much more often and further than people in the UK move around. This question is usually just answered with “From the US,” but a lot of times people want to know what state. Sometimes I’m from one state, sometimes another, and sometimes both. It’s pretty remarkable if people actually know where these states are. This will sometimes lead to:
Oh, I’ve been to…
It’s always New York, Florida, or California. ALWAYS. Some very few will have gone to other states, but they’ve also gone to one of the three. I am convinced this is why we get asked such entertaining questions, because the Brits are going to the three most extreme examples of the country and expecting this to be America as a whole. The flipside can be said for Americans going to London though, so I try to keep my dramatic sighs to a minimum.
Why are you HERE?
This one only happens in Leicester really. Granted, I got the same question all the time from Westerners when I moved from the Eastern US so I could see why this comes up. It’s not a glitzy city or super historically important for the most part, but Leicester is seriously underrated, even by the locals. There’s SO MUCH to the UK that avoids London completely. This then leaves me with the last response of:
*insert pick up line*
I will give kudos to people brave enough to try this one, but the lines I’ve overheard have been so cheesy. My favorites so far are the guy who tried to convince my friend he was a big deal because he knew someone who was on Downton Abbey, and the drunk ones standing outside between a McDonald’s and a pub that wanted to say how beautiful all American accents were and how they wanted to sing us Spice Girls songs. Never a dull night in Leicester ladies and gents.
On that vein… the innuendos. We remain convinced that nearly anything can and will become a sexual innuendo at some point. I’m not talking pervy people making sideways comments, but in-your-face jokes and puns everywhere. On BBC, on advertisements, in businesses… You name it, we’ve probably seen one. Personally, I find it to be hilarious and a refreshing change of pace from the Puritan legacy left on the US, but it’s definitely something to warn people know about.
“But Kate, you knew that it was gonna be drizzly and wet all the time!” Wait wait, hear me out on this one. Yes, it does rain much more often than where I was, but that’s pretty easy to do. However, it’s not the dreariness that everyone goes on about. Actually it’s not bad at all. In Leicester, it’s pretty common to have it chuck down rain for about 10-15 minutes and then be fine to walk in. Most of the time it’s just fine with a hooded jacket and a scarf. The hair will curl or wave something fierce, but the only big difference is how early the sun sets in autumn and winter. This is still offset though with all the walking I do. I think I’m still getting more vitamin D than before. That brings me to…
Yeah, I knew I’d be walking a lot. I did the Google Maps from my flat around the city and figured it’d be at minimum two miles a day. What I didn’t expect was how far I could get just walking. Walking two miles back in the US would maybe get me to the nearest grocery store, but walking two miles here will get me from my flat to the university and back again with the entire city centre along the way and probably a good five grocery stores to stop at along the way. Walking anywhere doesn’t feel long at all either with everything so close together. It is AWESOME to be in this situation and it’s so hard to explain what it’s like in the ‘real’ United States to people here and why I’m so enthused about it. Interesting side note – I discovered after walking these 2-5 miles a day that one can in fact walk their posterior off. I am moderately devestated about the disappearance of my backside!
Walking with other people
Anarchy is alive and well in the UK and it’s seen best in trying to walk down a street. Back in the US the rule of thumb is “drive right, walk right” and when two people come up to each other walking in opposite directions they’ll usually both sway right to avoid each other. You might think “drive left, walk left” would hold here, but you would be wrong. It’s more like drive left, walk in the middle of the sidewalk and refuse to budge until either the very last second or not at all. If you don’t put on a serious game face you’re likely to be walked into a puddle, even if you’re the one carrying six plastic bags and you’re trying to walk through an empty-handed human wall moseying the other way. It’s brutal.
Taking pork to the next level
Americans LOVE to talk about how much they love bacon, but the British have taken it to the next level. BLTs? BLTs are for the weak – just have a bacon butty. Think you know what pigs in a blanket are? Pssht. Pork products seem to try and sneak into a meal almost every day. I’ve got some bacon and pork chops in my fridge as I type this. Being halal or kosher or vegeterian is a challenge here going out to eat, and I’m not sure how vegans manage it. From what I can gather there seems to be more of a push towards alternative food choices, but America needs to calm down the bacon claims.
Instant chocolate meltage
Unlike Hershey’s, the chocolate here is not coated with wax and will therefore begin to melt as soon as it comes into contact with the heat of your fingers. Plan accordingly or try to eat it from the wrapper.
Missing food I didn’t even really like
There was a long and enthusiastic gushing about Little Debbie snack cakes tonight as I’ve yet to see them anywhere around the city. Talking about the powdered sugar donuts that you’ll find in any US convience store was like describing opening Christmas presents. The strangest thing about this though – I’ve never been THAT big a fan of Little Debbie. Probably for the best really. Everyone knows when you leave for long enough you start craving missing items that you love. US Starbursts, Peter Pan crunchy peanut butter, and pumpkin pie are all things that I can get similar products to that will do in a pinch, but they just aren’t the same. It gets weird though when I realise how excitedly I’m discussing Cheetos and ranch dressing, when I hardly ever wanted them when there was access to plenty. I guess it plays into that whole idea of wanting what you can’t have?
Anyhoo, that’s all the excitement you get for this week. Tune in next week as I finish week one of the more practical work of museums and start delving into readings for digital curatorship. 😉