One of the first things I remember being told about exchange is that assimilating into another culture can be hard. “It’s England,” I thought. “It can’t be that hard.” If I was to study in Italy or France, a country whose first language wasn’t English; that would be hard. Now I’ll just get this out of the road and say it. I was wrong. It wasn’t ‘hard’ per say, but it was a lot different than I expected. Don’t get me wrong, I love England. I love the perpetual cold and rainy days, the history, the Victorian architecture. But there are a few things that confused the hell out of me and here they are.
I now have many British friends, some of whom are from London. I have no problems getting along with these people – love ‘em to bits. But when I first walked through the streets of London I wasn’t met by friendly smiles, or people willing to help out the lost tourist. Instead they were steely eyed and hell bent on getting from A to B without disruption. At first it made me think ‘Oh god, why did I choose this country’ BUT I got used to it, it’s not bad it’s just different and that’s okay. Besides, now I know my way around I’m just another person on the escalator getting frustrated when some doesn’t stand on the right (this is a must: overtaking on the left, standing on the right).
You’d think being fairly similar countries the food in England wouldn’t be all too different from the food in Australia. For the most part that’s true but imagine my shock and disgust to open a blue packet of crisps (chips, I mean chips) to find not original, but salt and vinegar and that’s not the half of it. Cinnamon on donuts? Nope, sugar, sugar and more sugar. A bit of chicken salt on my chips? Ha, no. Pasito soft drink? Silly Australian, no again. Okay, I’m probably exaggerating slightly, the food is edible but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t counting down the days until I can buy a pie.
Yes we may both speak English but to say I haven’t had a few issues in communicating simply isn’t true. Among the few:
Pants. Get used to asking for ‘trousers’ when shopping or be prepared to have the awkward ‘ah actually I was looking for thermal trousers, not literal heated underwear’ conversation,’ you’ve been warned.
My first Subway encounter went a little like this: “I’ll have the green capsicum too thanks”
Subway employee,”uh… the what?”
“Capsicum, the green stuff?”
Friend, “Emma. That’s pepper.”
Sadly I learned the hard way that this is in no way orange juice or at a stretch, soft drink. It’s cordial. It took drinking a full glass of the stuff to realise that. Safe to say the flat mates have no let me live it down.
And of course we have the obvious, thongs.
On multiple occasions I’ve gotten the ‘that’s way too much information Emma’ look when saying, “I’m just going to put my thongs on before we go.”
My point here is that YES England is an English speaking country, YES it’s very similar to home and YES it really doesn’t take that long to settle in. BUT there are some things (plenty more that I haven’t talked about here) that are simply going to confuse the hell out of you or make you feel uncomfortable so don’t be surprised or feel stupid when it happens. It takes a while and debates like ‘crisps’ or ‘chips’ still happen but I’ve finally managed to stop myself before blurting out ‘capsicum’ at Subway. Adapting is key. Enjoy England.