Sunday, September 14, 2014

England: Expectations VS Reality--Originally Run on Where the Heart Is

Note: This post was originally a guest post for Where the Heart Is. Please pay her a visit!


I moved to England, just like our lovely Caity is doing, in September 2012. I had already previously lived abroad in Hungary and The Netherlands, therefore the differences between America and the UK seemed very small in comparison to Hungary and the US (where the differences are vast).

When I first moved to the UK, I had visited quite a few times, due to an ill-fated fling with a British guy who turned out to be vile (but that is a story best left to the personal). My view of England before him or having any close relationship with British people, had been reduced to something between Prince Harry and Billy Elliot. I knew enough to know that not everyone was posh, but I didn’t know much about the average British person’s daily life until I began to make friends with locals. I had already made a few British friends in Hungary and The Netherlands, which made it a bit easier to ease into and understand the culture. I felt like I had already had a crash course in English culture and food from dating Mr. Horrible and having British friends in my social circle in the UK. To that end, the culture shock was virtually non-existent for me. There are a few big differences I notice every now and then, such as the fact that children seem to be less sheltered here than in the US and the fact that people tend to marry their childhood sweethearts a lot more often. Sometimes, though, the differences creep up on me in the middle of my everyday life, and I think the more time I spend here, the more subtleties will reveal themselves (such as there being no such thing as a refillable drink—except in the restaurant chains Nando’s and Harvester—and ice not really being a thing in drinks). Other small subtleties include the fact that stores close exactly on time (at least in smaller cities) and all customers are kicked out 5-10 minutes before. Often, restaurants and bars won’t serve you less than 30 minutes prior to closing (with fast food chains being an exception). 

Me in front of Big Ben and Parliament "Hey kids! It's Big Ben...Parliament!"

When making friends with “the locals,” I’ve found British people to be far more open than Hungarians or the Dutch. While Hungarians were more open to making friends than the Dutch, Brits have welcomed me with open arms. The common language may well have something to do with it, but as an American, my accent always breaks the ice. Just as in the US if a person from Australia or England came to visit and we’d marvel at their accent, the American accent seems to go down the same. I’m not sure if it is the fact that our countries are so politically close, but it is the one country I’ve been to where I’ve actually never had someone rant about American politics to me as though I’m personally responsible.

What surprised me most were the expectations of my American friends when I came back to visit, or the image they had of Britain in their heads. Here is a common conversation when I go home:

Friend: So, where are you in London?
Me: I don’t live in London, I live just a little north of London.
Friend: So, is it the greater London area?
Me: No.
Friend: So, when you go back home to London…..
Me: *facepalm*

Other expectations of people at home are that everyone has a “cute” accent. Honestly, they should hear some of the accents that come out of people’s mouths. Before I really communed with British people, I had no idea about the sheer number of accents that exist in such a tiny country. I knew about Yorkshire accents from my literary fascinations as a child, but Geordie, Essex, London, Cockney, Brummie, etc., were all foreign to me. Luckily, I’ve gotten a quick course in that from my current (British) boyfriend of a year who often does hilarious impressions of different British accents. Trust me, they’re not all cute!

Me and my boyfriend at the Roman Baths in Bath. He's my favorite English souvenir.

Often, there is this weird thought in the United States that Europeans in general are more cultured than Americans. For a while, I thought that myself (before I began traveling). Honestly, being uncultured is hardly an American phenomenon and it is pervasive all over the world. Being uncultured is honestly just a trait of some people rather than by nationality, although some countries have more of a reputation of it than others. People in Europe are generally more politically liberal than Americans and are more up-to-date on world politics (though I wouldn’t say they’re all extremely well-versed), but that’s about it.

The last expectation about Britain I’ll speak about is the idea that they love a good cup of tea (or a cuppa). I always thought this was an exaggerated stereotype until I realized it is literally no joke. My boyfriend downs 4-5 cups a day. He gave it up for Lent and was actually struggling. Personally, I’ve only been a tea drinker of the odd Lipton on a cold night or during the cold and flu season, but since I’ve come to the UK, I’ve been awakened to the glory of flavoured tea. My favourite is either raspberry or black tea with vanilla. Seriously, do yourself a favour and Google Ahmed Tea or purchase some sachets from Fortnum and Mason. YUM.

I will leave you with a few British words that I’ve learned during my stay here (these are more general as opposed to regional):

Cashpoint/Hole in the wall-ATM
Can’t be arsed- Can’t be bothered
Walkies- Taking a dog on a walk
Bird- Young woman
Lad- Young man
Sod- as in "Sod off" (screw off), "Those sodding shoes!" (Those f-ing shoes!), etc.
Bollocks- Literally balls, but also said in place of a expletive
Dog's bollocks- Amazing ("That pie is the dog's bollocks!") 
Give me/us a bell/ring- Call me (Some British people say “us” for the singular “me”)
Queue up- Line up
You alright?- How are you? (As a greeting, not a genuine question)
Alright, mate?- Hey there
Hiya- Hello
Old Bill- the police
Brew/Cuppa- Tea
Stropy- Moody
Fancy- Have a crush on ie "I fancy Rob."
Getting pissed- Getting drunk
Up the duff- Pregnant
Pet hate- Pet peeve
Brilliant- Amazing/Awesome
Bits and bobs- Odds and ends
And Bob’s your uncle- “…And that’s it” as in “To turn the lights on, flip the switch and Bob’s your uncle!”
Beer o’clock, babes o’clock, anything o’clock
Confused dot com (or anything dot com)

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  1. What a fun post!! You guys are so cute together, by the way. This was really interesting to read. I had to smile when you described how friends back home pretty much just think you live in London-- I have the same problem with everyone thinking I live IN Prague (which I did, but don't anymore) and it starts to drive me nuts.
    Question: I found Ahmed tea here awhile ago and I just assumed it was another wanna-be British tea knock-off..... but now I'm reading that it actually is really good and legit British tea?! This is really good to know! I've seen Fortnum & Mason too. I'll have to try it out!

    1. Thank you Cynthia! I know, everyone just assumes you're in the capitol. So annoying. How did you get to live in the Czech Republic? Do you have a blog talking about it?

      Yeah, Ahmad (I spelled it wrong in the post, sorry!) is authentic British tea and its fabulous! xx

  • Ugh.... I so agree with the London thing. Everyone back home thinks that London is the only place in the UK!!! I get it all the time :)

    1. Where are you living Jamie? I think it was worse when I was in Leicester because they both start with L and people can't process more than one place starting with L.

  • I loved this post! Having always lived in England, and grown up in greater London, it's so interesting to hear what people expect and think of this country. I especially like the English words thing- so many of those I hear every day and think nothing of them.
    Jennifer x

    1. Outside impressions are always so interesting, aren't they? It took me a while to get used to the phrases, but now I feel like they're second nature. :)

  • Holly Nelson @ English Girl Canadian ManSeptember 15, 2014 at 3:06 AM

    Love reading the British words! I miss those British words. People look at me gone out when I say things like that here in Canada! Now I feel a bit homesick though!

    1. Awww. Where in Canada are you and your man living?

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