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5 Everyday Differences Between the UK and the US

by Chloe Richardson
Westminster Abbey and double-decker bus in London, England

Before going abroad, I thought I knew the major differences between the United States and England’s customs. I figured they were pretty similar countries aside from some major concepts. I was surprised that it was the small differences that caught me off guard and made it feel like more of a learning experience.

These are things that are easy to get used to after a couple of days but would have been nice to know. If anything, they’re just interesting to discover.

Pedestrians do not rule the road

In the United States, it’s a known concept that pedestrians usually have the right of way – even if they run across the street unexpectedly. I quickly learned, however, that in England cars would usually not stop for people trying to cross the road. It is safest to just wait for a walk signal, because otherwise you could get honked at – I learned that the hard way!

Red, yellow, green

The streetlights in England are slightly different in that they do not just go from red to green, but have a yellow light in between. This gives drivers a heads up that the light will turn so they can continue on their way. This didn’t really affect what I was doing, but I found it interesting!

Restaurants are not as rushed

Something I soon discovered is that staff at restaurants are not in as much of a hurry to get people out as they are in the States. In most cases, we had to ask for our bill after eventually realizing it would not come at the first sight of us being finished eating. It felt unusual at first, but became refreshing after a while to not feel like they were encouraging us to leave.

Another restaurant difference is that you often have to ask for water, because they usually do not bring it automatically. I found that specifying “tap water” saved some money, because they do sometimes charge for water.

Street signs

As I tried to find my way around town, I was confused by the lack of street signs. I found it difficult to tell which street I was on. It soon became clear though that the street names are usually on the side of a building near the corner of the street. If I had gone in knowing this, it might have lessened my initial worries of trying to navigate in a foreign country.

Americans have loud conversations

It wasn’t until a local in London told my classmates and I that Americans are known for being loud that I realized how true that is. I would sometimes listen to the volume of our conversations in comparison to locals and the difference was astounding. Even mundane discussions are at a much higher volume than most Europeans. I tried to be weary of that when speaking with my friends abroad.

This post was contributed by Chloe Richardson, who spent her summer studying abroad with AIFS on a Study + Travel multi-destination program focusing on European Art and Architecture.

5 Everyday Differences Between the UK and the US | AIFS Study Abroad

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