Back in September, this native Texan packed up her cowboy boots and ginormous Texas flag (to hang above my bed, of course) and moved to London for grad school. Thanks to James Bond and Harry Potter I was prepared for all the major differences that occur in this land across the Atlantic. You know, driving on the wrong side of the road, the royal family, quidditch. All that basic stuff. I soon found out however, that there are other, more surprising disparities between my two favorite places on earth. In no particular order:
1. TV License Fees
Upon our first week moving in, my roommate and I discovered we had to pay a £150 (approx. $250) “TV License Fee” for the year just for the right to use a television in our apartment. Everything that is American inside of me was instinctively outraged. We have clearly established that our unalienable rights are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness and my pursuit of happiness very much involves Sherlock marathons. I was ready to dump some tea into a harbor somewhere.
Turns out this fee is a large part of the BBC’s funding which helps them make all the excellent programming. Also turns out there’s a cable service called Freeview that we don’t have to pay a dime for. The tea was left in our kitchen…. for now.
Speaking of cable, there’s a magical 9 pm rule over here that has shows jumping from zero to 60. If it’s 8:59 or earlier, every show on every channel has to be completely family friendly – so much so that gags in sitcoms like How I Met Your Mother and The Big Bang Theory will frequently be clumsily edited out. Once it’s 9:01 though, all bets are off. If you come across Forgetting Sarah Marshall, you will see all it, meaning you will see all of Jason Segel.
2. Breakfast is weird and they don’t have real bacon.
Did you know that the English like to eat beans on toast for breakfast? And that over here a biscuit only exists as a cookie and not a buttery bread product of perfection? And perhaps worst of all- they don’t believe in real bacon?
Yes, you heard correctly. English bacon, or streaky bacon, is a close cousin to plain, old ham. Now don’t get me wrong, it’s meat from a pig so it’s still delicious, but if you want the real stuff – crispy strips of pork belly fried to faultlessness – you’ll have better luck running into a member of One Direction.
3. They boil their burgers.
While we’re on the subject of food, the Brits have a habit of boiling their burgers. WHUT.
Please join me in being offended on behalf of all Texas ranchers. If I want a good burger, you know where I go? The Five Guys in Covent Garden. There’s always a line out the door, but until Whataburger makes the transatlantic journey, it’s my best option.
4. The restrooms make more sense.
I’m being very harsh on this city that I love, so let’s turn the tables for a minute: when you visit a public bathroom in the states, there are usually several ridiculous gaps between the stall, the door, and the floor. Why are we ok with that? It’s weird. In the UK, each stall becomes a tiny room. There are no awkward “I can see you on that toilet” cracks and isn’t that something we should all be a fan of?
5. If you’re a pedestrian, prepare to be confused.
I (naively) thought that since traffic passes on the left on UK roads that their sidewalks would abide by the same principle. Alas, the only rule of walking in London is there are no rules. Maybe it’s the tourists, maybe it’s the fact that many actual residents come from normal “pass on the right” countries, maybe it’s just the Lord testing my patience in large crowds. As a former elementary school teacher who had mastered the art of orderly hallway lines, it’s beyond frustrating to have to take a path down the street that resembles a treasure map drawn by a second grader.
6. Language barriers.
The story that Americans and Englishmen speak the same language is just that- a story. We’re talking myth-level on Snopes. My conversations with store employees usually go like this:
“Do y’all have _____? … that’s what we call it in the states, but I see from that look on your face that I should give you a detailed description of said product to prove that I do not make up words and am, in fact, very sane.”
My roommate once gave a two-minute description of what I thought were called Band-Aids before she exclaimed, “oh, you mean PASTIES!” No, I’m pretty sure she did not mean pasties–At least, that wasn’t what I needed– but ok. The most awkward instance I’ve discovered thus far is pants. Over here, pants most definitely means underwear. As you can imagine, running up and down our main street asking every shop owner for pants hangers- well, that’s one way to leave a first impression.
(Also- don’t ever use “fanny pack” in polite conversation. I’ll leave you free to google that one.)
Adjusting isn’t always easy, but differences are all in all a great thing. Variety is the spice of life, right? Texas will forever be home, but to London, you strange place: