Married 5 months. Been here in the UK a total of almost half that time. Although I try to get pass it, I have to admit still being at that stage where I feel like the outsider looking in most of the time. Not a big deal though. I was born an expat. Which means being the one who looks strikingly different from the majority is not an attribute that I am unfamiliar with. Which also means that noting these differences, and managing to swim along with them, is almost second nature. After all, I’ve had a lifetime of training. Here is a sampling of 12 basic variances, I immediately noticed between the UK and that big “colony” across the Atlantic.
1. Of course, we all know the obvious. Drive on the right. Fast lane is on the right. Exits are on the left. American drivers, be careful how you turn, and where you turn onto. American pedestrians, be careful how you cross. Just keep that head swinging and busy, and never keep your sight off anything with wheels moving in your direction.
Note: Drivers seem to respect pedestrians less here. I often wonder if I am the target object of some giant Nintendo game in the sky, — hit the pedestrian and earn 100 bonus points! Driver tolerance for spaces between vehicles in the UK is higher than in the US. Tiny cars have no qualms stopping “thisutterclosebehind” huge monster trucks — heaven help me.
2. You’ll scald your hand if you turned on the right-side tap. Yup, that too works the other way.
3. Escalators that go up are on the left.
4. Upright suitcases have their zippers open on the right side of the case. Irritating when you realize you’ve unzipped your bag facing the other way.
5. You pull doors IN to get OUT of a store. In case of emergency, bulldoze everyone behind you backwards so you can pry the dang door open…..
6. When a customer comes IN, the owner looks the other way. Yeah, you get treatment that is the polar opposite of hardsell.
7. The very same hands that receive and handle your paper money and coins (“Look ma, bare hands, no gloves!”), and punches the cash machine, are the very same ones that will handle your fries or your ice cream and hand them over to you. This gives a whole new meaning to personalized service. :) And anyway, where are the germs if you don’t see them anyway?
8. When someone steps on your foot, YOU say sorry.
9. The sales people or store attendants will talk, complain, or snicker and laugh about the customer who just left the store (that very one who was in front of you in the line/queue — your fellow customer, yes). So you can only hope you behaved as blandly as possible so they don’t do the same to YOU when you leave.
10. While the store attendants are chatting away about their daily lives (or gossiping), you, the customer, must wait quietly until they are done and turn their head to you to acknowledge your presence before you ask your question. They will not stop their chatter for a customer. And if you really must interrupt their chatter, be extremely polite and apologetic. That’s just the decent way to do things.
11. Get used to veiled expressions and very restrained reactions/emotions. It’s not that they don’t like you. It’s all part of the “reserve” ( — which they’ve been reserving for centuries. I don’t know for what or who). And yes you can tell they are mentally sizing you up — wondering where you’re from, … where you learned to speak English — once they get past the surprise that you speak English at all. But they cannot be so presumptuous as to ask.
12. Birthday card designs for a hubby would inevitably involve a picture/drawing of an overflowing beer mug, a champagne bottle, a socceer ball, or a car. So guess how romantic a card’s message can get with designs like that. Well, it’s, again, part of the “reserve”).
Amusing. Confusing. Sometimes frustrating. But not to be fazed, they too DO thaw somewhat after a pint or two.
In closing, here are a few photos only tangentially related to the topic, but let me try to seam them together — It IS a beautiful country, lushly packed with history and culture. I just have to try to fit in, however loosely. :)