1. People Stand Way Too Close Together in Line (Or Queue as the Brits Say)
When we stand in line in America it is considered polite to leave a bit of room between you and the person in front of you, and if you don’t do this you usually get a look in return. In London, people will literally be so close to you in line that they shove up against you- I am not a fan. Originally I thought this was me being sensitive but the more I’ve talked to other Americans, I’ve realized I’m not alone. The first time I got in line at the grocery store, the man behind me was pressed up against me and I thought I was about to get robbed. When I turned around he wasn’t even looking at me and when I moved forward he didn’t move closer. It was totally bizarre and the more I’ve looked around when I’m out I’ve realized you can spot the American tourists based on how they stand in line.
2. Young Londoners Dress Incredibly Well
Now, I’m a huge fan of British films and television shows so I had a pretty good idea of how young people in Britain dressed. However, nothing prepared me for the reality. On my first day on the Tube on my way to school (I never in a million years thought I would say that), I was minding my own business, wearing what I thought was a nice and respectable outfit. However, I turned and saw a guy who was about my age, wearing a full-blown suit and tie. I found it a tad unsettling if I’m being quite honest. I’m not sure if it was because it seemed like he totally had his life together while I felt like I didn’t but it did make me up my fashion game and spend five more minutes every day trying to make myself look more put together.
3. People Wear Way Too Much Cologne/Perfume
This one may be a tad generic, but it needs to be said. Between the Tube, the crowded streets and school I swear I nearly get choked to death by someone’s fragrance every single day.
4. The “Whole No Talking On The Tube” Thing is an Exaggeration
Before I started taking the Tube every day I was told that under no circumstance was I to speak on public transport as it would out me as an American and make every Londoner hate me. I have since learned that this is utter nonsense. People don’t talk a lot on the Tube, sure. However, there are your fair share of people who don’t care about politeness and don’t mind that every single person in the train car can hear their entire conversation. Take the other day for example, my friends and I were on the Tube, minding our own business, when suddenly three British schoolgirls come bursting onto the train. They immediately start talking a mile a minute about everything under the sun paying no attention to the full, silent, train car. Granted, they were probably just obnoxious teenage girls but I have noticed that talking on the Tube amongst adults is fairly common too.
5. There Aren’t That Many Homeless People
When I first arrived in London I was walking around the areas near my apartment and my school and I was amazed to find that I did not see very many homeless people in those areas. However, I have since done some research on the topic and I have learned that everything is not as perfect as it seems. The reason I had not seen homeless people in those areas is because the police will come in and move the homeless people to rougher areas in order to keep the illusion of “clean” streets. I have also learned that, similar to America, the price of rent is increasing but wages aren’t. This makes it nearly impossible for the average person to pay their bills and rent, which can lead to homelessness. This could also be because London is considered a “rich area” and homelessness is a bigger issue in the north of England.
6. Nobody Likes it When You Smile at Them on the Street
If you make eye contact with someone in America, be it intentional or not, you give them a small smile as a way of being polite. In London, people don’t do that. My first day here I was walking down the street and noticed a maintenance woman standing on the street. Not knowing any better, I gave her a small smile as I approached. Big mistake! She gave me the nastiest look and actually started to back away from me. This is not the only instance in which something like this happened. I’ve noticed on the Tube, people avoid eye contact at all costs; if you do accidentally make eye contact, there is always a tense moment where you just sit staring at each other in silence until one of you looks away. Needless to say, it is incredibly awkward.
7. The Children’s School Uniforms are the Cutest Things I’ve Ever Seen
As an avid lover of British media, I knew that some British school children wear uniforms to school but I was not prepared for how cute they were! Back in America, private school uniforms in my area involve polo shirts and school sweatshirts with khakis for boys and plaid skirts for girls. Pretty basic, I know. However, here the young children (primary school to the Brits and elementary to Americans) wear khakis or plaid skirts, a button up shirt with a vest, a blazer, ties for the boys, tights for the girls and a little hat of some sort for everyone. The older kids (middle to high school age for Americans) wear the same as the young children, minus the hat. Now, I don’t know how the children wearing the uniforms feel about them but as an outsider I think they are just adorable!
8. PDA is Only a Thing Among Tourists
In America I feel like opinions on PDA vary from person to person. For example, in my opinion I think holding hands and hugging in public is fine, along with a quick kiss here and there. However, in Britain I feel like PDA of any kind (perhaps with the exclusion of holding hands) is generally frowned upon. Most people I’ve noticed are fairly conservative and will only steal a few kisses. There have been a few instances while walking down the street, on the Tube, or waiting in line that I have seen couples having full blown make out sessions, much to the chagrin of everyone around them. When the couples finally come up for air, I’ve noticed that their accent is almost always not a British one. Now, I don’t know if this is because Brits are generally more conservative and other cultures generally aren’t, but I do still find it interesting.
9. It’s Very Much a Smoking/Drinking Culture
This might be a tiny bit dramatic, but it is definitely something I’ve noticed since I have arrived. In America nowadays you don’t see many people smoking and people give you dirty looks if they catch you smoking. In comparison, when you walk down the street here you will get at least three different people’s cigarette smoke blown in your face. Regarding drinking, go into any pub anywhere after ten o’clock in the morning and you will see at least one person drinking. I’ve found that due to their drinking culture, people just don’t seem to care about it as much. In America, underage drinking is frowned upon leading kids to want to underage drink. Since alcohol is much more accessible here and the drinking age is lower, kids have a more relaxed view of alcohol which I think is cool.
10. It’s Incredibly Diverse
Growing up in Northern California, I am used to seeing people of different races and ethnicities, but since coming to London, I have been absolutely delighted by all the different people that I have seen and met, who come from all different countries and backgrounds. I love it!!! London is a major metropolitan city, and major cities tend to be more diverse than the countryside or small towns however I was completely unprepared for the amount of diversity I have seen. As you walk down the street you’ll hear a minimum of three different conversations going on in a language other than English. I am not saying London is perfect and everybody is accepting of each other, but what from have seen so far, I believe London to be an incredibly diverse place. It is filled with wonderful people of all different backgrounds, races, and religions, all living together in this beautiful city.
Isabella Selvitella is a student from the College of San Mateo, studying abroad in London, England through an AIFS Customized Faculty-Led program. Isabella has a passion for writing and travelling and is excited to explore both of these while in London this Fall.