Although I had been to the UK before coming to study, there were still a few things I was not quite prepared for. The UK is a primarily English-speaking country does not mean it is just like the US. There are still a few daily things that are different that can only be seen by someone who lives and works there.
1. Public transportation.
It isn't even a problem that I don't have a car here. If there's a place I need to get to, I can take a bus, train, or tram. In London, I can take the underground and walk a short distance to wherever. It's actually incredible, and all the walking means I feel much healthier.
2. Grocery stores.
Most of everything, from cereal to laundry detergent, is different. I never realized how often I just grabbed the same type of everything, until I came here and had to gawk at shelves full of cleaning supplies looking for something like Comet or Dawn dish detergent. It's these little things that really require adaptation.
3. Pastries and pub food.
My favorite UK food includes Scotch eggs, sausage rolls, savory bakes, Yorkshire puddings, and curries. I don't think I quite lived until I had a chicken bake from Gregg's. It's so difficult to cut carbs when there are so many delicious food things.
4. Bland food.
That said, most of the food has little to no seasoning. Salt, pepper, and hot sauce are my friends.
5. Food expiration.
I do not dare admit to the number of fruits, vegetables, cheeses, breads, and yogurts I have wasted in my three months here. Food goes bad. So. Dang. Fast. Whereas in the U.S., I could buy something and not feel like it was a ticking time bomb counting down to mold.
6. Fruit variety.
But even though fruits go bad, there are so many more widely available kinds here (many which I've never tried), and they're usually all affordable. There are Chinese pears, inexpensive pomegranates and mangoes, passion fruits, satsumas, currants, damson fruit...and probably more.
The tap water in the UK is perfectly drinkable, of course, but I get a major stomachache if I drink it unfiltered. But then again, I drink purified water anyway in my home town because tap water there tastes like dust. A good Brita pitcher and a filter bottle saved me.
8. Store hours.
Most places open at nine and close at five. Every place that isn't a chain is closed on Sundays. It forces me to be a morning person.
9. Public drinking culture.
I come from a culture and legal system in which police patrol university campuses looking for underage drinkers. Inevitably, they find a lot. Here, there are university-promoted bar crawls and parties. It's very strange.
10. How quiet small towns are.
I live just between a small town and my huge campus, beyond which is the city. Small towns are sometimes so quiet that I wonder if people even live there.
11. The NHS.
I recently visited a health center. My visit and prescription were both free. Cue my American amazement.
12. Contact-less cards.
I feel a twang of embarrassment when I'm the only one in a checkout line who has to shove her chip card into the machine. Other people just tap their cards onto the reader. I will become one of them soon.
13. The weather.
As the UK's weather toes the line between bearably chill and terribly freezing weather, I can never reliably understand how many layers to wear. My desert-dwelling self was not prepared.
14. The daylight hours.
Currently, the sun rises at about 8 a.m. and sets at about 4 p.m. and oftentimes, I only know that the sun is out because it is gray and somewhat light outside. I'm sleepy most of the time.
15. Differences between close cities.
The culture is different between two cities as close as a 30-minute drive, including the slang and culture. It's jarring to travel a short distance and hear different accents.
16. Leisure time.
People here seem to take coffee/drink/pastry breaks every few hours. Then they go home and have more leisure time. Then they have more paid holiday time than Americans. It's baffling.
It no longer registers in my brain that everyone has an accent, because here, I'm the one with the accent. The exception is whenever I hear a Scottish person speak because I don't really understand them. I used to try to hide my voice by not speaking too much, but now I enjoy being different.
18. People are generally helpful and friendly.
I'm not trying to idealize all people who live here, because as with all places, some are just rude and annoying. However when I've been in obvious distress, someone has helped me. I once arrived with three suitcases at a train station that had no elevators. Someone helped me as I struggled to get them up the stairs. All too recently, I somehow shoved my debit card into the cash slot at a tram station. Someone stood with me and talked to me sympathetically as I called the tram service and my bank, before offering to buy me a ticket.
If I drop something in public, people immediately dive to get it for me. If I misplace something, someone turns it in and I get notified. Elderly women call me "darling" and "love;" really, nothing is cuter than an old British woman who calls people that. There are most instances like this, but I can't remember them all. There seems to be a better sense of community here than I've found anywhere in the US, and it makes this a very nice place to live.