Has it seriously only been 2 weeks? It feels like we, along with some major jet lag, arrived yesterday! And yet, it also feels like we’ve been here for 2 years…
Our first week was filled with multiple errands to the town center department store (our new best friends are Marks and Spencer), a surprisingly complicated path to opening a bank account, and a multitude of opportunities to play up to some ignorant American stereotypes. We haven’t been able to break all of our American-icities, but some things have taken more getting used to…
Things we’ve learned:
1) Did you know the keyboards are different here?!? I go type in my email at the bank, but instead of @gmail.com, I get £gmail.com. Upon closer inspection of my work computer, I quickly realize some of the symbols have been shuffled! I now have the option to use a $,£ or €, –so multinational. Though a minor inconvenience, I now have to retrain 20+ years of muscle memory for @ and # signs (the underdogs of the QWERTY keyboard–do you realize how they get used on the reg but can be so easily forgotten?!)
2) Surely coffee is still coffee here, right? Well not exactly. I wasn’t shocked that drip coffee wasn’t a thing in our previous European continental adventures, but the default remains an espresso in the UK, as well. To get something resembling my US java fix I have to seek out the accordingly named “Americano.” Don’t forget to specify black or white (with milk), and steer clear of a major faux pas of asking to put the milk in yourself (as I did after my first cup, enforcing negative American stereotypes for that lucky barista. You’re welcome everyone.) You’d get a similar order if you asked for a “long black one”, but good luck on not busting out laughing immediately afterward.
3) I was worried about which SIM card plan to buy, but luckily wifi is available nearly EVERYWHERE! And not that spotty American wifi in your average department store. Solid, strong-signaled wifi found everywhere from the grocery store, to the bus, and airport–all for free! We did eventually settle on a “SIM-only” plan (for those rare times you’re not walking around a department store) called Giff Gaff and let me tell you, Nick loved when I serenaded him with my hit new cover song “Giff Gaff, I was takin’ a bath…”
4) Supermarkets are SMASHING! (I’m learning!) Surprisingly, not all that expensive in comparison to the U. S. of A., especially for your basic items–honey, yogurt, bread. Also, everything tastes so real and fresh given the stricter rules around preservatives. Some major differences for you breakfast lovers though–bacon is more akin to the Canadian version and eggs aren’t refrigerated!
5) From a purely bureaucratic view everything you need to do is very clearly articulated, yet takes sooooo long. The UK government website is very helpful. I type in one question (and I have typed many through this visa process) and typically get a straight-forward, concise answer. I did the same on the US website and got a novel written in legalese. Public transport diagrams are everywhere. The private sector on the other hand…getting a bank account require a half hour session to schedule an appointment 2 weeks later for 2 hours which then required any number of questions about every pound I plan on making and the creation of about 7 different passwords. Yikes!
6) People live IN THE MOMENT, which is a hard habit to break. I scream American with my latte in one hand and earbuds/zone-out mode on the bus, while everyone else pensively looks out the window. At restaurants and bars, tables are largely clear of cellphones. It seems cliché but definitely something I’ve noticed.
7) As I write this blog post, we’re watching a quiz show about sports in which the contestants are famous British athletes. The BBC is great (and commercial-free!) and the variety of educational and game shows is excellent (as well as the Great British Bake-Off…trust me you’ll be hearing more about that in the future.)
Have you visited the UK? Do you have anything to add to this list?