People here often ask me how it’s different from America. I try to keep a pretty short, amusing list for them, but I am actually noticing a lot of things. I mentioned a few in January, but here are some others that have come up since I’ve arrived.
1. People get very excited when they realize I’m from the states. Strangers approach me after they hear my accent just to chat. A surprising number of people have actually been to the US, but only California or New York. No matter how many times I say I’m from Kansas City, Missouri, people still assume that I’m from Kansas. If I correct them, they ask me what the difference is between Kansas and Missouri. I have to tell them that Kansas public schools teach creationism instead of evolution, and that normally is enough. The amount of Dorothy references I get is unreal. I refuse to be the one to mention it. If people ask me where Kansas is, I don’t talk about Oz. I tell them it’s in the middle of the map and leave it at that.
There was one night I was actually forced to bring it up. I was walking home and talking to a girl, and when I told her that I was from Kansas City, she goes, “Oh, like that girl in that one move…” (here it come, I think) “…Alice in Wonderland. Wasn’t she from there?” I felt too sorry for her to keep my mouth shut. And isn’t Alice an English story?
2. I never know whether to yield right or left when walking towards someone. You’d think that, since they drive on the left side of the road, they would automatically go to the left. But it’s not that simple! On escalators, for instance, you still use the right side. Usually, I end up going right, they go right, and it all turns out okay. Or they just walk right into you. The people here aren’t as bad about that in Brighton as they were in Dublin, but it still happens. In Dublin, walking on the streets is a continual but futile game of chicken. No one ever yields. Women push strollers to hold their groceries (not children) and use them to push people out of the way. Considering how nice everyone is when you talk to them, it’s really odd.
Another thing I’ve noticed is that people don’t hold the door for the person walking up after them. I’ve had doors slam in my face many times, and people always look a little surprised when I hold it for them. Half the time when I do, they stop in the doorway to chat so I’m just stuck there with the door in my hand unable to go anywhere. In our out, people!
3. Much like we are American are afraid of flying after 9/11, English people are afraid of trashcans after a series of trashcan bombings in London, I believe in the 90’s. While we have been increasing our airport security, they have been busy developing bomb-proof rubbish bins. In the mean time, they basically removed all public trash cans. Until now… I think I’m going to get one of these for Matthew. For those of you who don’t know, my boyfriend disposes of explosives for a living.
But trash cans are still few and far between, and in the years that there were literally no public trashcans available it became customary to just… litter. You just leave your trash, and someone else will come pick it all up. Considering this, London is surprisingly clean.
4. I have no sense of direction here, and I have finally realized why no one can seem to give proper directions. The streets here don’t run north/south and east/west. You can’t tell someone “Oh, it’s on Lewes Road just west of Sainsbury’s.” I haven’t figured out what you do instead. You either just know how to get somewhere or you don’t, no one can help you. And since the streets aren’t even in a grid, I rarely have any idea where I am.
5. I am constantly seeing doppelgangers of people from home. It’s never anyone I’m particularly close to or see very often. I think I see old coworkers from Waldo Pizza, people from KCAI who I’ve never actually met, and an occasional former teacher or old friend. Needless to say, it’s never really them. It just feels very odd.
6. Many people here seem to have a very different definition of personal space than we do in America. They stand much closer to you when they talk to you, even when you first meet. I didn’t expect that because I’d always heard English people are more reserved than Americans. I also had an girl from school ask me the other day if I found everyone here to be very outspoken. I guess they think they’re louder and more opinionated than we are? I don’t think that’s really possible.
7. Most people I met haven’t traveled very much. I know that many people in the US haven’t been to Mexico or Canada, but England is approximately the size of Louisiana… and I think most people from Louisiana have been to other states in their lifetime. It’s especially odd considering how cheap and convenient traveling is here. My flight to Ireland was 20 GBP… you’d pay 10x that to fly from KC to St Louis.
8. More odd crisp flavors:
9. I didn’t expect a lot of the slang that I’d heard of to actually be in use. I knew that fries were chips and chips were crisps, but I didn’t expect people to actually use the word shag. It just seems so 70’s to me. You also hear a lot about snogging, smoking fags, and the finding the loo. It’s loo or toilet, but never bathroom or restroom. It’s litter or rubbish rather than trash. Bollocks, wanker, and tit are common vulgarities, and everyone calls one another love or darling. The definition of fanny is slightly different. “You alright?” is the equivalent of “what’s up?”. When a person likes something or someone, they really do fancy them. “Cheers,” seems to mean anything from thank-you to you’re welcome to goodbye. If you have too many pints you get pissed, and at the end of a long day you’re really knackered. Everything is still a little hard to keep up with now, but I’m sure I’ll notice more… and bring a few things back with me. I have yet to figure out what American slang isn’t used over here.
There are other little things that aren’t lingual. The water is hard, there are no electrical outlets in the bathrooms, and the washing machines are in the kitchens. I haven’t seen a dryer, yet, everyone hang-dries their clothes. The houses are all stuck together, and you can only tell one from another by the color of paint. Many houses that have been divided into apartments have a raised door and sub-sidewalk level door. This is an original architectural feature, dating back to the need for a separate servant’s entrance.
10. Bread is way better here.