This is just a general observation post. I’m going to write about work-related differences in a later post.

Coins/change add up much more quickly over here and weigh more too. I remember liking that about Euros as well (the adding-up part, not the weigh-more part).

The English seem to assume you’re responsible for your own safety and sell eyebrow/eyelash dying kits in the stores, as well as offering it in salons. The US doesn’t since it assumes everyone will blind themselves doing it and sue.

They refer to packages as “courses”– which sounds so much better. E.g. a course of laser hair removal.

They refer to programs/plans as “schemes” — which sounds much worse. E.g. join our hotel scheme and earn reward points.

Pubs are extremely popular and small. Most pubs have a huge crowd after work blocking the sidewalk. Some are smoking outside, most are simply standing and drinking.

I haven’t been carded once. I like that.

I’ve gotten totally ripped off by this shop that sold me an obscure SIM card and every time I went to refill it, they charged me 5GBP. I found another refill stop and was charged nothing.

Today I realized I’ve been writing GPB everywhere and it’s GBP. Wish someone had pointed it out earlier.

There are no trash cans in Heathrow after you pass through customs. None. Anywhere. No litter on the floor either. So you walk around carrying your own trash.

I’ve asked a native about specifics of waiter service here. You must ask for water refills — apparently an empty glass is a sign of absolutely nothing to British waiters. You must also request your check or they’ll leave you to sit the entire day. Then again, there are many American restaurants like this only in America it’s considered bad service.

Don’t look for street signs on the actual street corners. Instead, they’re posted (if at all) on the corners of buildings rather high up. The few streets signs I’ve seen tend to point off in random directions regardless of the actual road and are confusing.

There is no such thing as jay-walking. If you think you can beat the bus (or cabbie or cyclist), you can cross the street. It’s another sensible solution based on the assumption that you’re responsible for yourself. Of course, on major streets there are lights with crosswalks and most people use them. The crosswalk “go” has a little green man who looks like he’s lurching across — probably appropriate given the number of pubs in this country.

Since the traffic moves in the opposite direction, looking both ways twice is the best solution for an American.

Cabbies are indeed helpful and not surly, nor overly talkative (yet).

I feel sorry for the people who stop and ask me for directions.

I’ve seen all sorts of people here I’ve never seen in America. I like that. Doesn’t mean I want to talk with them or hang with them, but I like the seeming “live and let live” attitude.

It is cold and rainy, then sunny and cold, then cold and humid and overcast, or windy, overcast and cold (and rainy). Once it was warm, sunny and dry.

The men walk around in very nice suits that fit well. It’s certainly eye-candy because I’ve yet to have a suited client. (They all come to me for relaxation — imagine!)

The street/construction workers are generally attractive.

There are a few ubiquitous places: Cafe Nero, Bertolli, Pret a Manger. If you get lost don’t rely on these places as landmarks because they’re everywhere.

Don’t rely on bookshops as landmarks either. They’re also everywhere — which is a beautiful, beautiful thing.

In this country, a licensed sex shop means a store full of books (erotic literature and photo books). Or it might also have lingerie. I don’t think I’ve seen a porn DVD or dildo yet.

London seems very 60s mod. I understand Austin Powers a lot better now. I don’t think he’s quite the joke here that he is in America.

London eccentrics seem to be more sincere and more grounded in their quirks than American eccentrics — who often seem harsh, crazy or trying too hard.

I really like this article about the British people.

Have not yet spotted Eddie Izzard and probably won’t. Will let you know if I do.

One more: “circus” does not mean the same thing in English as it does in American. This can lead to disappointment.

29 thoughts on “it’s the little differences — london

  1. I haven’t been carded once. I like that.

    I still can’t believe they actually carded you here last summer. Ah well. We got to talk and bond, so that’s cool.

    It is cold and rainy, then sunny and cold, then cold and humid and overcast, or windy, overcast and cold (and rainy). Once it was warm, sunny and dry.

    I always suspected that London was Chicago’s long lost twin. That’s our weather every season except winter.

    The men walk around in very nice suits that fit well. It’s certainly eye-candy because I’ve yet to have a suited client. (They all come to me for relaxation — imagine!)

    The street/construction workers are generally attractive.

    Now this sounds lovely. Do the street/construction workers catcall as much as the ones over here? I love the idea of bookshops being everywhere and the eccentrics.

  2. There is no such thing as jay-walking. If you think you can beat the bus (or cabbie or cyclist), you can cross the street. It’s another sensible solution based on the assumption that you’re responsible for yourself.

    Same thing can be said about Montreal, but I disgress…

    I hope that you are enjoying your time in London, and I wish you a lot of success.

  3. That is a good article about the Brits, but I have a quibble on the author’s summation of race relations there. He projects the American conflict and animosity between black and white onto Britons. No, black Britons and white Britons don’t have the divide Americans do. However, ask an Asian Briton and they will relate the same issues black (or Asian or Hispanic) American do relating to whites. The racism against Asians in Britain remains a huge problem according Brits I’ve spoken to regarding race relations in their homeland.

  4. Aspasia,

    I get carded regularly in the US, it wasn’t just that one time! And I’ve been kicked out of bars before for not having my ID. Nice to not worry about it here, though I always have my passport on me. Good to know I look over 18.

    You would LOVE the bookshops (erotic and non). LOVE them!

    No catcalling as far as I’ve noticed. I think I’ve caught some significant glances but that seems to be as bold as it gets. Looking is certainly not harrassing or threatening or invasive. I assume the women “look” too.


    Canada is on the list of places to visit. For some reason, I guess because it’s so close to the US, it just didn’t have the exotic appeal of starting out in Europe, though I’ve heard how European it can be.


  5. Aspasia,

    As far as race relations….that’s a VERY interesting point! It is true the American-born author sees racial tensions in terms of black and white only. I see all sorts of races here and haven’t yet detected any issues but sometimes I’m tone-deaf. Being a tourist doesn’t help either. Good to know and kind of strange too. Wonder how Asians have offended the Brits so mightily.


  6. As an English woman living in London, I really loved this piece. It actually made me laugh out loud at some of your observations.

    It’s interesting that you think we’re responsible for our own safety – I often feel we’re SMOTHERED by absurd health and safety regulations.

    I LOVED your thing about the green man on the pelican crossings looking like he’s lurching across. I won’t be able to look at a green man in the same way again!!! Lol! The thing about crossing the road wherever you feel like is a real London thing. If you go into a small village & adopt the same take no prisoners attitude, they don’t know how to handle it & there’s a lot of abrupt braking because they’re just not used to it.

    Will have to look harder at the construction workers… Construction workers catcalling women just isn’t the done thing.

    You mention race relations specifically Asians. There’s a difference between Pakistani and Indian attitudes. After the tube bombings of 7 July 09 there was a massive police investigation to find the perpetrators which I know caused a lot of resentment amongst the Pakistani community. Maybe that’s what Aspasia was talking about. I don’t know of any Indians who feel that racism is a major problem in Britain.

  7. That was a fascinating post – I love these kinds of observations.

    How have you made out adjusting to British accents and vocabulary?

    One thing I have heard from others who have been in England, and also picked up from various British media, is that it seems many people there associate America primarily with the West and Texas. For us in the Northeast, this sometimes comes across as tiresome and naive. Being from that part of the country yourself, though, you might take it differently. Have you noticed this at all?

    How prevelent is smoking over there?

  8. Kat,

    Thanks for stopping by!

    I don’t get the feeling of smothering by governmental concern here quite as much in America where everything must be stamped and wrapped in disclaimers and signed waivers. But then, I’m a tourist here and may not run into that sort of thing as much. I do like the “Smoking Kills” warning on cigarette boxes. To me, it’s refreshing honesty.

    Thank you for the warning about crossing the road! I assumed it was a British thing, not a big-city thing. I will keep that in mind and not annoy other motorists when I visit the countryside.

    The street/construction workers I’ve noticed all have some real muscles, a well-defined jaw and a certain scruffy look. Do take a closer look! It’s fun! 😉

    Thank you for more insight into race relations. As an American, “Asian” means someone from China or Japan (or the smaller countries). I wasn’t thinking Paki or Indian. Yes, I can see tension there. It’s in America as well (mostly because Americans tend to lump all brown people together).


  9. Lee,

    I’m having some language difficulties and I’m not even out of London yet. I can only imagine I sound as strange to them. I’m trying to work on that.

    Yes, people have already asked me “You’re from Texas, like Bush?” And I tell them yes from Texas, no, not like Bush! I’ve run into a number who have only been to New York City and nowhere else in America — which also gives them a skewed view of the country. I think the real issue is that they don’t comprehend how big America is in terms of land mass. Being so big, it has many different climates and regional quirks. Not that England doesn’t have it, but on a more-cramped scale. I really do think size makes a difference in this case.

    There are plenty of smokers. At least, it seems that way since they all must smoke outside on the sidewalk where I’m walking by. Given that they can’t smoke indoors anymore — I’m guessing the numbers are falling as more people discover they have lungs and demand smoke-free spaces.


  10. That was really interesting, I am fascinated about what foreigners make of us.

    I like the way waiters need to be asked for the bill, it means that if you want to you can stay at your table and talk, if they give you the bill I feel a bit rushed.

    As for “circus”, we have the one with clowns and elephants too. I have no idea why we have two junctions with that name in London.

  11. Kelly,

    I don’t even want to imagine someone’s impressions of America! Though guess it depends on what city they’re in.

    I’m used to expecting the bill at the end of my meal so that I can leave immediately if I want to. I understand the “no pressure” approach of not handing the bill without being asked. I’ve adjusted. I can’t expect the waiters to read my mind. Though I’m still a little miffed about having to ask for water refills. I think that should be obvious.

    Oh, I assumed “circus” was widely used in England for a major intersection. It’s not? I’m laughing at how I came to a completely wrong conclusion!


  12. Amanda,

    I’m not sure which circus you are referring to but Piccadilly Circus got its name from the original Latin for a circular open space. I assume any other circus in London is named for the same reason, though when I was in London I only went to Piccadilly so cant say for sure.


  13. Robert,

    There’s Oxford and Picadilly Circus that I’ve noticed (because they’re both Tube stops).

    A round open space — that would explain it. Still a bit disappointing to realize it’s just a round open space full of shops and hordes of people. Not an lion-tamer in sight.


  14. Amanda,

    If you make it to Rome you will have to go see The Circus Maximus, not much going on there now but at least in antiquity it would not have disappointed you. Of course I don’t think they had lion-tamers. 🙂

  15. Amanda,

    Exactly, while the Romans did have lions, taming them was not part of the show. 😉

  16. This was a great post! I am imagining you walking around London and making all these observations, and I am giggling out loud.

    Have you discovered the antique book stores in West Hampstead yet? My favorite! The LSE bookstore is also amazing (Houghton and Aldwych– follow Houghton to end, take a left).

    And that reminds me- how do you like the crazy names of places- like Chiswick, which is pronounced “Chis-ick”, or Marylebone, which is pronounced “Marley-bone”, or Leicester Square which is pronounced “Lester”? And the charmming names of places that bring back Dickensian times, like Charing Cross and Chancery Lane? And of course, Baker Street, which one can’t read without thinking of Sherlock Holmes.

    And have you experienced the buskers in the tube yet? I love the buskers!

    There is a delicious Turkish restaurant on The Cut in South Bank (cross Waterloo from the Strand, pass Waterloo station on your right, and take a left on The Cut, walk about three blocks, and it is on your right). It is called Tas. They have a live guitarist on some evenings, and really yummy waiters with sexy accents!

    There is also Kaslik in Soho on Greek Street (if your back is to Soho Square, Kaslik is on your right). They have amazingly delicious food, and there is a beautiful waiter there I have been dying to bed for years…just never had the opportunity. He reminds me of a midieval knight: a brawny fellow with a long ponytail and a goatee. I think he likes me too… 🙂 Honestly, when I eat there, I get absolutely wet as I watch him work. He steals lingering glances at me and I melt. Perhaps some day! Lol. Maybe you can get lucky if you find him to your taste. Also a sexy accent.

    And Cafe Nero has the BEST hot chocolate in London, hands-down!

    Have fun, beautiful, and I will make my way through the rest of your blog!

  17. Holly,

    I was walking around thinking these things to myself! Totally!

    No, haven’t gotten to do much book-shopping — this is one thing I’m regretting already. Yes, I do love the street names. They’re fun.

    Don’t know what a “busker” is.

    Oh that’s right…forgot about your Greek place. 😉 I should check it out! And the Turkish one, though I ought to go stare at your waiter.

    Always up for good hot chocolate.

    Thank you for the little tips that make things that much better.


  18. Hello gorgeous!

    A busker is one of the impromptu musicians who set up inside the tube stations or on the streets, and play for tips. Many of them are incredibly talented!

  19. Holly,

    Oh yes! Indeed — many of them are VERY talented! I noticed some stations have colored spots for them to perform in. Do the stations allow them to come in without having to buy a ticket?


  20. Amanda

    Fantastic post, it reminded me very much of a place that until recently I called home.

    Am enjoying your blogs.


  21. As a transplant, I also got a kick of this entry.
    To Europeans, refills are a foreign thing, signaling to patrons that it would be time to leave is rude, and crossing the street means “mingling” with cars, buses, and bikes of all kinds (I still do that)…
    Have you watched people parallel park? In many tight places, one has to actually make contact with the bumpers on both ends. You’d get shot for that here…

    It’s also true that all our safety concerns, warnings, and disclaimers would be considered insults to their intelligence. And judges simply throw out most frivolous lawsuits. They have a different take on common sense.

    It’s like what Vincent Vega (Travolta’s character) said in Pulp Fiction about Europe: not that different, but so many details are a bit “off”.

  22. Hobbyist,

    Actually, yes, I do recall seeing some parallel parking and laughing my ass off.

    Crossing the street is Asia is a lot of mingling too. In fact, driving down the highway (in some countries) is massive “mingling.”

    Though in Asia, not only are you charged for every refill (so they will happily refill your glass), you have to flag them down like you’re trying to guide aircraft into the jetway.


  23. Didn’t know about the asian refill… Makes sense to me, actually: I never understood why one would expect free seconds, and thirds, of something the initially bought!

    On traffic, the French drive fast, but with skill and gusto, the Italians will race anything, anybody, anywhere, and I hear that some asian countries (Thailand, Philippines) are absolutely hair-raising…

  24. Hobbyist,

    Beverages like tea are really inexpensive, plus I just like the American system of free refills on the cheap drinks. Makes sense to me.

    Asian drivers ARE terrifying. Completely.


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