anyways, here are the top 10 shocking things i discovered about england and the UK:
1. everything is smaller
the first thing that strikes you is the sheer diminutive size of everything - from houses, to cars, to food portions, to the land. yes, the land. - you just don't expect an entire country to be smaller than a state. and certainly, you don't expect the UK to be roughly the size of california.
2. stationery is different
for some reason, i'm weirdly fascinated by stationery. so i was completely confused when i couldn't find a standard two-pocket folder to save my life. in england, folders aren’t like the american two-pocket ones. here, they usually look like giant envelopes - sometimes, they're made of colored cardboard material, and other times, they're transparent plastic.
3. weight is measured in stones
i was already prepared to be completely baffled by the weather reports, being (still) unaware of what any temperature means in celsius. but when i heard about people's weight being measured in a unit called "stones", somehow that just sounded so - archaic - so, medieval. time, however, never taught me, and to this day, i still have no clue how much i weigh in "stones".
4. groceries and laundry
at first, this might seem weird - surely, there couldn't be that many differences when it comes to groceries and laundry. but oh, there are! looking back now, this definitely seems like a very embarrassing and princessy item on the list here. but at first, i was admittedly traumatized by having to - bag my own groceries. it's a lot more stressful than you might think. here in the UK, there's not that extra store employee standing at the end of the line, bagging your groceries for you. instead, i had to fumble with the plastic bags myself, trying to open them and bag everything, with a giant line of people behind me, impatiently breathing down my neck. arrgghhh... so nerve-wracking. plus, instead of your store card giving you automatic discounts off your purchase, coupons are sent (and often lost) via the mail (or "post", as they say here). ung.
there was also that grocery item called "squash". i had to have this explained to me over and over, before i finally saw it "made" and the light bulb ultimately came on. basically, at the grocery store, you can buy bottles of concentrated "fruit squash". but you can't drink it straight from the bottle, like juice. you have to pour some of the squash into your glass and fill the rest of your glass with tap water or "lemonade". "lemonade" in this case isn't that yellow summery drink you make from lemons - here, it's more like a 7up or sprite.
a common form of squash is "blackcurrant". blackcurrant is a common flavor for a lot of things here. blackcurrant does not exist on a commercial scale in the states. it took me the longest time to figure out what it was. judging from pictures on boxes and bottles, i originally thought maybe it was the british word for "blueberry". so finally, after months of excruciating curiosity, i just had to ask my co-worker, who reacted much as i'd expected, "you don't know what blackcurrant is??? IT'S A BERRY!!" basically, it's a european berry that's used to flavor a lot of commercial products (juices, candy, etc.), the same way that cherries and strawberries are used in the states. in fact, the skittles and starbursts over here in england have a blackcurrant flavor. weird.....
- blackcurrant squash:
*whew!* i could just go on forever about groceries (there are also no wonderful unhealthy american cereals, like lucky charms or apple jacks - basically, none of the sweet cereals. there're only healthy fiber stuff here, and the traumatizing blocks of weetabix). but let’s move on to - laundry. this wasn't really any different while i was living in student dorms. in dorms, you get the typical campus laundromat with the cheap washer/dryers. but once you move out, you realize that most places do not have dryers. dryers are expensive, usually only operating for a few minutes at a time, so you practically have to keep loading it with coins to get any real drying done. most people here hang dry their clothes - and you can buy racks to hang your laundry on. this was admittedly very traumatizing for me at first, although, now i'm used to it - i didn't buy a rack, or anything, i sort of just hang everything on coat hangers in the bathroom.
oh yea, and another thing about the washing machines here - they're usually in the kitchen. so for the longest time, i thought they were dishwashers. so, if you're american and staying with someone in the UK, make sure that it really is a dishwasher before putting in any dirty dishes. dishwashers aren’t that common, so if it's in the kitchen, chances are, it's NOT a dishwasher, but a washing machine for your laundry.
surely, the evil that is discrimination exists everywhere? well yea, it does. but the way in which different cultures discriminate is... well... different, as i learned. yes, discrimination is a hot potato, sensitive issue. but meh, i'm just gonna get it out there. in america, we've all heard about racial discrimination, blah blah blah - who hasn't. the weird thing is, when you come over to this side of the pond, you notice that the racial checkboxes (or "tickboxes", as they say here) are different - you know, the section you fill in on the "equal opportunities" form when applying for employment. i'd always made the assumption that race was the same everywhere, but i guess different places classify it differently. in the states, the checkboxes are fewer and more "color oriented": white, white hispanic, black, asian, native american, mixed. here, in england, all of a sudden, there are about fifty different checkboxes, revolving around nationality: white, white irish, asian indian, asian pakistani, asian bangladeshi, chinese, black african, black caribbean, and then about ten different forms of mixed races.
even though america is stereotyped as being an evil racist country, personally, i think the UK is somewhat worse in terms of discrimination. because in addition to the typical racism that you'd expect as an american, there can also be anti-ginger sentiment, which is discrimination against redheads (something that south park has recently exposed america to, apparently). this probably stems from historical tensions between british vs. irish and scottish. since there tends to be more redheads in ireland and scotland, anti-ginger sentiment developed in england.
furthermore, there's also something called "classism" - discrimination against different classes. i had no idea why “class” was such a giant deal in the UK, and why it kept coming up, and i had never heard of “classism” before coming over here. yea, in america, we have the super-rich and the super-poor, and everything in between, but because of the ideals of the american dream and the firm belief in class mobility, there's no real idea of "class" as something that exists as a permanent part of your identity, the way "race" does - "class", and the wealth that's associated with it, is thought of as something that can change with your job or circumstances, while "race" is fixed - and even though people have varying degrees of wealth, we're all thought of as being equals, as "working middle-class". but in the UK, it's a whole other mentality altogether. people are born a certain class and it becomes pretty much a permanent part of their identity, such as “royalty", like the queen et al - they're the extreme, at the top of the class chain. i didn't really understand the point of "royalty" when i first came over - yea, it's a romantic archaic notion to have kings and queens, but in today's day and age, why care about them and give them respect when they haven't done anything to earn their standard of living? but i guess it's just a long-standing part of british culture. the whole idea of "class" being a fixed part of your identity, similar to "race", probably stems back from the UK's medieval roots, when everyone pretty much just did the same profession as their parents.
- the queen's castle at windsor:
6. artsy-nessengland definitely lives up to its european stereotype of being "artsy-fartsy". (on a side-note here, although the UK is part of the european union, it's still somewhat separate from the rest of europe. when they talk about "europe", they're referring to continental europe, rather than to themselves. this whole mentality of separate-ness probably comes from the fact that the UK is a set of isles apart from continental europe, and also that they're on the pound, rather than the euro.)
anyhoo, another artsy thing i noticed is the prevalence of food shows dominating the UK entertainment industry and populating your everyday life. food is elevated to a high art form. yes, we've all heard about the notorious horror that is british cuisine. but when it comes to the more high brow stuff, amazing food is definitely on the menu (if you can afford it). when i came over to the UK, i started hearing about "michelin stars", which are these awards given to amazing chefs and their restaurants. there are tons of celebrity chefs here, publishing cookbooks, endorsing supermarkets, and filling the tv channels with their shows. - they're even starting to invade the states, like gordon ramsay's hell's kitchen. one of my fav celebrity chefs here is heston blumenthal. i met him while he was signing his beautiful and giant cookbook at bloomsbury publishing house - i was an intern there, handing him the books as he signed them. i actually didn't really know who he was at the time, since he's not famous in the states. but his restaurant is the fat duck, and if you can spare the cash, it is definitely worth going!! (i haven't been yet, 'cause i'm still poor - but one of my fellow classmates has just gone! you know who you are!!). this is cuisine unlike any other - part delicious food, part science experiment.
7. lack of workaholism
europeans tend to stereotype americans as workaholics. yup, europeans are generally less hardcore about everything. this has its positives and its drawbacks. the positives are obviously - less work. even when it comes to paperwork (school applications, tax forms, etc.) there's less of it. the drawback is that everything's always closed and generally more inefficient and disorganized. in the states, nothing's ever closed. supermarkets stay open well past midnight, and it's easy to go to starbucks and just sit and read with a coffee whenever you feel like it - whether it be at 6am or 11pm - weekday or weekend. not so, in the UK. here, a lot of stores are usually only open for a few hours on sunday, supermarkets close anywhere between 7pm-10pm, and all coffee shops shut down around 7pm. usually, only restaurants stay open past 7pm, even in central london. so if you're over on this side of the pond, keep these early closures in mind when you're planning your day.
8. different parts of the UK are… different
somehow, i expected the UK to be pretty much uniform... for an area that's roughly the same size as california, i didn't really expect very many regional differences. of course, i expected the slight regional variations, like what you'd find between northern california and southern california - northern california's a bit colder, some southern californians can't handle northern californian rain and "cold", etc. so when i came to the UK, i could not believe the dramatic differences between close regions.
regional accents vary significantly - some can even be virtually unintelligible to the un-trained american ear. yup, it's not always that nice open-vowel sounding accent that you hear on tv, with americans pretending to have british accents. usually, the american idea of the stereotypical english accent is the "posh" or "queen's" accent. people in southern england have more of this stereotypical british accent. sometimes, the "lower-class" accent can be harder to discern, and especially in northeast england, there's an accent called the "geordie accent", which is even unintelligible to other brits.
so boy was i wrong in assuming that, when i came to england, i'd be speaking the same language. learning british english was almost like learning a foreign language - they have different words for a lot of things, like "boot" "skip" "crisps" "chips" "footpath", etc. and the list goes on. respectively, to translate into american english, it's boot = trunk (as in the trunk of a car), skip = dumpster, crisps = potato chips, chips = french fries, footpath = sidewalk. plus, of course, you have to train your ear to decipher all the different accents and slangs. i could have really benefited from a translation course before coming over.
plus, i learned that all the different countries that make up the UK are very separate and unique. despite being 'united' into a single 'kingdom', the different UK countries (england, scotland, ireland, and wales) are vastly different, from having different accents, to having their own flags, culture, etc. the irish and scottish tend to be friendlier, more upbeat, and more american- and australian-like, while the english tend to be more reserved, pessimistic, and standoff-ish (hey, it's true). the english (or "british", as americans tend to say) are also more subtle, less direct. when i first came over, it was really hard for me to understand what people were trying to say, since most of our meaning is conveyed in the tone of voice and body language - which i could not read at all. everything just seemed very subtle to me. there're also the subtle ironies of british humour, which are quite elusive. ultimately, however, i’d say the UK culture’s more similar to the american east coast than to the american west coast.
9. sports are different
so the countryside is very romanticized over on this side of the pond. - the simple, quaint, country life, with little cottages, etc. - think “the shire” in lord of the rings. while an american might think, "omg! we're in the middle of nowhere!" - here, the mentality's more, "this place is just beautiful! it's completely empty!" in the states, we're pretty used to everything being developed - the city doesn't just end when you leave the city, there're still miles and miles of sprawling suburbs that go on endlessly - civilization as far as the eye can see - and that's, of course, how we like it! but here, i was shocked to find that, the second i got out of london, the whole UK pretty much turns into countryside. it is EMPTY! outside of london. this really scared me when i first came here - while everyone else in the car was crooning about how beautifully empty the scenery was, i was getting that agoraphobic feeling, like i was stranded in the middle of the ocean with no land in sight. however, i've since adjusted, and the countryside has taken on very idyllic connotations for me now. =)