Lili's Travel Diary #11: 20 more pieces of culture shock I've experienced since coming here

1. Remember the whole water tasting funny thing? Well it tastes different everywhere you go in the UK. Definitely not what I was expecting. Rumor has it that it also tastes different depending on your destination in Europe. This is still to be discovered for myself, but I'll get back to you on that.

2. Music isn't a thing here. I mean, it is, but I've begun to stop wearing my ear buds while walking to class or on the tube because it is so rare to see someone else listening to music while going about mundane activities like walking to class, walking to lunch, taking the tube to or from a destination. In NYC you stand out if you don't have ear buds in. Here you stand out if you do.

3. Strikes are a thing here. I mean, we have them in the US, but they're way more common here to the point that the tubes were nearly shut down on a Saturday night. Worst thing you can ever imagine, especially when you're celebrating someone's birthday! At least in the US they don't really disrupt anything more than, say, traffic and streets are often shut down in advance to help avoid conflict.

4. Grilled cheese is rare to find if you're not making it. Here it is called a toastie, but to find a general cheese toastie is rare because most toasties are like intense sandwiches or at its simplest they are ham and cheese or cheese and tomato (yuck!). Girl's gotta hunt down a good grilled cheese every now and then, dang.

5. British pancakes are more like crepes than anything else. Certain brunch spots will serve "American style" pancakes, but they're still not the same.

6. Amazon is not as big of a thing here in the UK. I suppose that is not at all surprising when they have crazy awesome bookshops like Waterstones and Foyles. US bookshops can't stand up to these bad boys, and for regular Londoners that do not count conversion rates the way I do, the prices of said books are really great.

7. Speaking of books, there are very few hardcovers here. I suppose I always knew that in the back of my mind, but being a hardcover snob back home I am learning to adapt to the paperbacks here. Hardcovers can be so expensive here and hard to lug around, so whenever I do see one it is typically for a mega-hyped mainstream title and I know I should be scared to see the price on the back. The one I've spotted the most is for the gender-swap Twilight.

8. Ordering food at pubs or certain chains like Nandos is very different than in the states. You go up to the bar and order your food. They'll ask for your table number and will often bring it to you, but sometimes you wait for your number to be called and bring it back. The only thing you bring back immediately upon ordering from the bar is your own drinks. This isn't because the pub does not want to hire a waitstaff, but because they want to respect your privacy. I kind of like this way of thinking, but still find it strange not to have a waiter/waitress at times. I am adjusting!

9. Tipping is very uncommon here. There are mandatory service fees at a lot of places which may take the place of a tip in instances where one would typically leave a tip. I am used to tipping for nearly everything back in the US, so to come to a country where tipping is rare or not necessarily expected is strange. It's led to a lot of awkward pauses and looking around to observe what others are doing as well as furious last-minute googling about when tipping is and is not appropriate.

10. I just noticed this, but British people say "zed" to take the place of the letter "z" and I found myself asking "what are you saying?" a few times before I caught that. Oops.

11. Root beer. I cannot find a proper root beer anywhere. British root beer is weird and herby and, ugh, root beer, wherefore art thou?

12. There is no true weather guide here. It can be bright and sunny and within an hour be freezing and down-pouring. One thing I am discovering is that it is never very hot, just warmer than it was the day before type thing. It makes me miss the US, but also be thankful that there should be a few more months where sweat is not a daily part of my life.

13. Also, I giggle every time someone says calzone because they pronounce the "e" at the end so it kind of sounds like "cal-zone-knee" to me. The ex-Italian speaker in my scratches her head a bit at that one.

14. I noticed that nobody writes return addresses on letters? This little kid kept pointing to an envelope I had in my hand to send home when I was in the post office asking his mother why I wrote everything wrong, prompting me to look around and compare mine to the ones of those in line next to me. Is this strange to anyone else?

15. Honey mustard. They do not have honey mustard here. *dies a slow, painful death* I asked for it once in McDonalds and I was informed that's a stupid thing only Americans care about.

16. Student discounts are nearly everywhere. It's a nice change to NYC's regular pricing of nearly everything except the occasional show ticket, but because I am so unused to stuff like this I often find myself forgetting to even inquire about their existence. *face palm*

17. I had the hardest time trying to find push pins to stick in my cork board because I am making a memory wall for all the tickets/maps/cards/signatures/boarding passes I am accumulating in my time here. It's a nice way to make my room feel more like a home as opposed to a claustrophobic cell. However, the reason it took me so long to find them was because they are apparently called "drawing pins" here. I just...I don't understand. The Americans have the more straightforward definition with this one, even if British people often scratched their head if I asked where the push pins were.

18. Nearly every uni in the UK has their own student pub/bar. When I found this out I was shocked because while some schools in the states have a bar that most kids often go to (I know my school has one), we don't have one owned by the school with cheap prices just for us.

19. Assignments are given by word count and not page count, meaning they end up being half the length of the ones I typically write in the states which is more stressful than you think and it makes my question why some of my peers freak out at the prospect of a mere 1,200 words. 

20. College and uni aren't the same thing here. In the states, I feel like terms such as "college" and "university" are interchangeable. For example, the school I attend in the US is a university, but I tell my friends I am going to college. Here, college is the last 2 years of our equivalent of high school, called A levels, where you focus on a specific topic that you may pursue as a career and take a lot of tests that you have to pass in order to continue onto uni (which would be regular uni/college) in the states. I often find myself adjusting to simply using the word uni to make matters less complicated.


Have you had any weird experiences similar to these when you came to the UK? Or do the weird traditions of the states throw you off if the US is foreign to you? I'd love to hear your thoughts below!


  1. I've found that there is a lot to get used to here in Ireland as well. "Zed" in place of z is a common accurance in both the UK and Europe. I don't know why, but it is. There's also many different pronunciations for words. I've often found myself arguing with friends over the correct way to say something xD
    As for the college/uni thing, Ireland has primary school, secondary school, and college. Secondary school is 6 years and in year 4 there's this transition year. I'm not entirely sure what that entails, but I think it's kind of like a transition from middle school to high school. Their last year involves what is called a leaving certificate which determines what college they'll be accepted in. College is still college though. I think that since most things, at least school wise, seems relatively the same here I've been able to adjust (plus maybe the fact that I've never gone to an American university since I'm doing my entire programme here in Ireland)

  2. Lots of a interesting tidbits. I look forward to reading more about your adventures :)
    - Krys

  3. Love reading about your adventures Lili! As an Australian-slash-English native, it really does put everything into a different perspective.

    There's an American Food Store off Notting Hill Gate tube station - an American girl I made friends with when I was in London on work experience swore by it. Maybe they have root bear?

    I actually know about "zee" and "zed"! We learnt about it in my Linguistics unit last year. "Zed" is the old, proper if you will, way of pronouncing 'z'; which is Zeta in Greek, and then in Old French, zede. Zee became commonspread in America because it aligned with "bee" and "cee" in pronouncation!I think as well if you ask someone to pronounce the American z, the English accent changes as well.