After spending the past 2 weeks in England with my husband’s family, I thought it would be fun to share some interesting differences I noticed between the two countries. This last trip was my 6th visit to the UK, however each trip reminds me of how different our countries can be.
History – it goes without saying that the UK has a significantly richer history than the US. For example, the high school that my husband attended was founded back in 1495 and a church that we visited was built in 669! We have some fantastic history here in the US, but the UK has simply been around longer, so inevitably their history is going to include a lot more than ours.
Driving – Whenever we visit my in-laws we always rent a car so that we have the freedom to travel whenever we want. As per usual, we got to Manchester airport after THREE flights and picked up a rental car. We received a Ford Focus Estate which thankfully was much more spacious than those we have had in previous years. Cars are much smaller over there, due to lack of space, so this car was quite a luxury for us! Once the car is loaded, my husband then has the task of driving a manual car on the other side of the road. This always makes me a bit nervous at the beginning, but he picks it up right away and manages to only stall it a few times per trip.
Drivers are very courteous over there, and I did notice far less honking than what we experience in America. Additionally, their driving laws are much more strict, so I did not see one person using their cell phone while driving.
Tea vs. Coffee – The stereotype is that Brits drink tea and Americans drink coffee (or iced tea). However, these trends are starting to change with coffee becoming more and more prominent in the UK, and English teas being available at most national grocery stores across the country. Capital Teas, who are based in Annapolis, Maryland, have taken things one step further and now have stores where not only can you buy teas and associated utensils, but you can also sample a variety of brews before making your purchase. On the coffee front in the UK, Costa Coffee are the leaders and you literally see their cafes everywhere!
Recycling – The recycling policies in place in the UK are extremely rigid and have been for many years. Residents can be fined if their regular waste is found to contain items that could have been recycled, and they literally recycle everything. There are even drop-off points at the supermarket where you can recycle mobile phones, batteries, print cartridges, and light bulbs!
Dining out – In England, most eateries pay their servers a good wage which means that tipping is usually reserved for examples of exceptional service. The issue that I have seen with this is that because the servers are not necessarily dependent upon their tips and make enough money through their hourly pay, there isn’t as much urgency to provide exceptional service. Nor is there competition over who gets which tables. We visited a handful of establishments where the service was lacking, and there was no real ownership of our table taken by the staff that were serving us. At one restaurant we actually experienced 6 different people from arrival to paying our bill!
Public transportation – England obviously has the huge advantage that most of the country is heavily concentrated in core urban and suburban areas. There are excellent public transportation options in most areas including buses, trains, boats, and of course the world renowned London Underground. This makes things much more enjoyable when visiting larger towns and cities as you can easily avoid traffic delays and congestion. It also means that you eliminate the need to find a parking spot which is extremely challenging due to the narrow streets and limited space that is found in English cities.
Money/ Currency – After the Brexit announcement, the British pound took a hammering and the exchange rate dropped to 1 dollar: 0.78 British Pounds which is significantly weaker than back in 2004 when my husband first moved to the states and the exchange rate was 1 dollar: 0.50 pounds. Many items are less expensive over there, so when the exchange rate is at this level, it is great for us when we travel!
While we have pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters to keep track of, in England they are responsible for coins consisting of one pence (p), 2p, 5p, 10p, 20p, 50p, 1 pound and 2 pounds. So many coins jangling in our pockets!
Sports – Hands down, the most popular sport in the UK is football (soccer to us). Other common favorites include rugby, cricket, and netball. American football is gaining in popularity, as the English Premier League team Tottenham Hotspur just signed a contract with the NFL to host one game a year in England.
Biscuits and Gravy – This meal means something completely different in England compared to it’s equivalent in the USA. If you were to go to an English restaurant and ask for “Biscuits and Gravy” they would think you were mad as you would effectively be asking for cookies and brown gravy! Other areas of confusion (especially for our preschooler) were English crisps, which are American chips, and English chips, which are American fries.
As a side note, I always find it interesting that these people who are so proper look at me in utter confusion when I ask for the “restroom” and I am forced to say “where is the toilet” in order to make myself clear. I don’t know why, I just find that so crude and hate saying it!
The weather – When we landed in the UK they were experiencing a “heatwave” with temperatures of 82 degrees! To be fair this is much warmer than the average 66 degrees that they normally receive, but this is about 20% cooler than the temperatures we are currently experiencing here in Kansas City. With Britain being an island they are somewhat insulated by the surrounding bodies of water making the temperature fluctuations much less extreme than are typically found across the continental USA. However, because of their typically cooler summers no one has central air, so 82 degrees does feel extremely hot when you can’t cool off in your home!
Shopping – one of the things that my husband always gives me grief about is that here in the US, we do not add on tax until you are checking out. This means that items on the dollar menu at McDonalds do not actually cost $1, but typically cost $1.05 to $1.15 depending on rates in your part of the country. However, at McDonalds in England all of the items on the pound menu, do truly cost a pound as tax is included in the price that you see, and the tax is then broken out on your receipt. This makes shopping so much easier when you know you are paying exactly what is on the ticket.
Overall, our two nations have much in common and it is very simple to acclimate yourself to the different culture. While there are a few confusing words, it is easy to know what people are talking about and to make yourself clear as well. Driving is probably the most difficult thing to get used to, but once you’ve done it a few times it feels just as natural as it does over here. If you’re planning a trip soon, make sure to pack plenty of jackets no matter what time of year!