Lili's Travel Diary #5: 20 pieces of culture shock I've experienced so far

Let's be real for a moment...I don't see myself ever not being homesick on this journey. It is 5 months in a new country that I do not know very well! And I came here expecting to not be as surprised by certain things because, for one, I am going to a city that does speak English, but I am noticing things are very different here. And it's making me miss the familiar a lot.

I could be sitting in my kitchen eating carrots only to realize I have to go out and buy a tupperware or something for the ones I don't finish, whereas they are just there when I am home. Little things like that are making me miss home, but the culture here is vastly different too.

I figured it was time to chronicle exactly what I am experiencing because it's hard for me to wrap my head around it sometimes. Plus, someone close to me asked me to make a list to better understand why I have been thrown off so much and I thought it would be entertaining.


1. You have to pay for bags whenever you buy things, so there's been more than one occasion that I ended up awkwardly holding things on my way home or wasting money that I didn't need to spend on an extra bag or two.

2. The tubes are very quiet. People sit and put their music on or read a newspaper or simply put their heads down. You do not speak, and it's so different than back home. If you speak, people will glare at the foreigners because they are so out of place.

3. Speaking of which, the tube is so different from NYC! I am finding that I've had a decent time navigating it compared to many others because of the rad skillz NYC has instilled in me, but the tube is cleaner, faster, and all around a nicer experience than the subway. But it has so many more issues on the weekend. Right when I think I am getting the hang of it, something shuts down.

4. I have almost gotten hit by cars a million and one times since arriving. My gut instinct is to look one way when crossing the street when I typically have to look the opposite. Certain parts of London, especially the parts surrounding my uni, have signs painted on the floor saying which way to look but not all of London does. Some streets look like they are one way roads, but are actually two, and some look like they are two way roads and are actually one. It's all so confusing. I'm hoping I adjust to this because it throws me every time I step outside.

5. It gets dark here ridiculously early! I am talking like 4 PM (or 16:00 as many Brits say) and it's again throwing me off.

6. If you don't specify that you want tap water in restaurants, they're still going to charge you for ordering a water.

7. For most places you get charged extra simply for eating in instead of taking out. It's like going out is a grand affair. It's making me lazy and I now spend way too much time in my dorm kitchen.

8. Contrary to popular belief, fries do exist here in the UK. They're skinnier fries as opposed to thicker-cut fries which are known as the chips we Americans hear so much about.

9. Learning the difference between a pub, a bar, and a night club has taken me some time, and I am quickly learning that I am more of a pub girl. The drinking culture here in pubs is radically different than at home (more of a have a few beers/ciders/drinks while eating a ton of appetizers type thing) and while I like it more here, I do not see myself engaging in it often for financial reasons, which makes me feel out of place because it is simply something that happens here?

10. Uni professors can be very young here. When my first professor walked into class I had a conversation with him as if he was a student. Then he stood up and introduced himself to the class (first name basis, no usage of professor here), and I noticed his wedding band...right before he mentioned his child. I have noticed that a lot of people here marry a bit younger at home or there must be something in the water keeping people looking so dang young! Sign me up for this elixir.

11. On the topic of water...a lot of fellow Americans say it tastes funny here. I sense no difference, but I know quite a few people who have told me it tastes chlorinated to them. It may be because we are drinking lots of tap from the kitchen since it is so expensive to actually pay for water here.

12. Food is different, too. Yogurt is creamier, hot chocolate tastes better, orange juice cannot even be consumed it's so different, and so much more.

13. They have certain regular sized supermarkets like at home, but they mostly have tiny express stores on nearly every street that have the essentials to get a week's worth of meals and nothing more. Not what I am used to because it is such a small selection, but I suppose it's all you really need in the grand scheme of things.

14. I knew coming in that the currency relied heavily on coins, but having one and two pound coins is throwing me off because coins, in my eyes, are change. I feel so embarrassed every time I am awkwardly rifling through my wallet and people start pointing out which coin is what to me.

15. Everything closes earlier here. A lot of restaurants close between 6-8. A lot of pubs close between 11-midnight. Night clubs and certain bars stay open closer to American hours, but it's like London shuts down at a certain time including tourist attractions. Even the tube closes at midnight!!! The tube! How crazy is that?! I guess I am very spoiled as a New Yorker.

16. Tea is a way of life here. I am slowly adapting to the fact that I feel incomplete without tea. I've had a professor consume four cups of tea in a single three hour class, and even stop class for an extra break so that they could get more tea. Back home I really only drink tea when I am sick.

17. Pedestrians do not have the right of way here. If a car is coming, they do not have to stop because it's their right. And it's freaking scary to those of us who are still adjusting. If you get hit, it's your own fault.

18. London is an expensive city, and I thought I'd be fine because I deal with NYC prices all the time back home, but I was so wrong. I am talking without the exchange rate...because that makes me want to cry even though it's at the best it has been in years. Every time I take out my wallet, it wants to start weeping. I can feel it. And then I do the exchange rate in my head and the weeping turns into gut-wrenching sobs.

19. Nobody I know has a TV here unless they live at home with their parents, which a lot of the students at my school do because it is such a large commuter city and school. But anyway, in order to have a TV you must purchase a license to have one, and then purchase the TV and everything else necessary to make it work. Call me spoiled, but I am used to just being able to bring a TV from home to the dorm if you want one and have had one every semester because TV is such a large part of American pop culture. It feels weird to not have access to one at all, so I am trying to watch more Netflix but even then I am missing US Netflix a lot. I just miss the act of vegging out in front of a TV and watching stuff.

20. The people here are a mix of beyond nice or very unwelcoming. In the just under two weeks that I have been here, I have had people stop going where they are going to escort me where I was going because I was lost, and I have been spat at when ordering a drink in the pub as the words "ugh, foreigners" past this man's lips. I am unsure if London has a reputation. NYC has a reputation for being rude when I do not think they are, so now I am curious if London has a reputation at all? The niceness is super welcome and is helping me to feel more at home, but every time I get called a foreigner angrily it makes me feel awkward, which is surprising since this is such a tourist destination. It is not what I was expecting in that regard.

These are just some of the many pieces of culture shock that have hit me since coming to the UK. I have so many other things to talk about like just how drastically different uni is here than at home, but that's a post for another time. Is anyone else surprised by any of these items on this list?


  1. Uni professors aren't actual professors here. You can work as a lecturer even when you're still a student! I'm 20 and I've taught classes before. Interesting, honestly, all these things you mentioned are specific to the US. I'm European and I have been all over the place here and never heard of any of these things.
    You can't generalize though, London is slightly different to other city's in the UK and even more different to all other cities in Europe.

    I don't agree with the xenophobia thing. The issue is, most Europeans specifically have a problem with Americans because they take lots of things for granted (which are custom in the US) that are considered favors here. It's not general xenophobia, really. It's just the fact that our cultures differ so much.

    - Jen from The Bookavid

    1. You are 20 and have already taught classes?! That is so foreign to me because in the states you need to have at least a Masters in order to teach at a uni (or any k-12 school for that matter).

      Yes! I am not trying to generalize I am just stating culture shocks I have experienced in London in general. I do not know what it is like elsewhere in Europe because I haven't been yet!

      Our cultures do differ, but I've never been angrily called a foreigner before, which was why I put the bullet there. It's so shocking to feel welcome and unwelcome in a single day, you know?

      Your perspective is super interesting! Thank you for sharing!

  2. I loooove your list So many awesome things, a lot of which I can relate to.

    1) This is actually quite a new rule. I'm talking like the last 2 months or something.

    7) This is because of VAT. VAT is like the sales tax in Europe. My understanding is that food places don't need to charge VAT if you're taking it out. But they are legally required to charge it if you sit in (as part of the "service" charge or something).

    11) I'm one of those people who think the water tastes weird. I actually hate the taste of our tap water. I loooove the tap water at my parents' house in California, but here it tastes funky. :( I think I need to force myself to get used to it though because I spend an absurd amount of money buying bottled water instead.

    20) What an asshat! I've never had that happen to me before! Sounds like just an asshole.

    1. It is a learning experience for all! haha

      1. So I have heard! I understand why it's in effect and I even support it, but it's just not expected, you know?

      7. Aghhhhh I hate that. I've also noticed service charges too a few times and it took me a while to figure out what they were.

      11. We discussed this on twitter ;) haha

      20. Yeah. I suppose I met a few not so great ones when wandering around huh?

  3. Interesting list. I hope your experience gets better. I am an American from south Georgia and I live in Germany, where English is not the native language and German is hard to learn (for me). But I love Germany other than the language barrier. I think you will find your niche there and eventually will be writing a post about all the awesome things about London. Living in Europe is expensive, the water in Germany is super salty. Enjoyed the post.

    1. London is 100% awesome, but that doesn't make the transition perfectly smooth for anyone, you know?

      Salty water?! Ouch, that is not at all appealing.

      Thank you for stopping by.

  4. This post is so interesting!

    1. They've have the same policy in Santa Monica/San Francisco for over a year now and both my mom and I refuse to pay the extra money for a bag sometimes. It's hard to remember to bring the reusable bags, but I guess it is more environmentally friendly.

    6. That's so weird that they charge for water! Is bottled water really expensive, too?

    10. lol, that is so funny! That'd definitely be a bit weird to have someone so young teaching a class. The youngest professor I've had so far has been in her late 20's.

    15. That is so early! I thought Dallas restaurants closed early (most around 9), but closing between 6-8 is hard to imagine.

    16. lol, I had this one high school teacher who would drink like three pots of coffee a class period. He was definitely very high energy.

    17. That is so crazy pedestrians don't have the right of way!

    Have fun in London! I love reading your updates on it :)