- England and the US are generally presumed to be culturally similar.
- But aside from sharing English as a predominant language, England and the US have more cultural differences than author Jennifer Still expected before she packed her bags and moved across the pond.
- Here are 10 things about living in England as an American that Still wasn’t prepared for but learned to adapt to.
When I emigrated to the UK in October 2016, I was excited to finally make my long-distance relationship something of the past and see what England had to offer.
Having lived in the UK for two six-month stints previously, I thought I had a fairly good idea of what to expect when I obtained a spousal visa and moved there permanently.
Yet I was surprised to encounter cultural differences in the UK that I didn’t expect before crossing the pond from America.
I’ve since adapted to the terrible dollar-to-pound conversion and the reserved nature of British citizens (at least compared to Americans), though I still feel homesick every now and then.
Here are 10 things about living in the UK as an American that I wasn’t prepared for:
1. British people are more reserved than Americans.
While Americans have a reputation for being brash, direct, and not shy about sharing their feelings, the opposite can be said for the majority of Brits.
Of course, you can’t apply generalizations to all inhabitants of any country. But I’ve found that many Brits value having a stiff upper lip, a finding mirrored by a BBC survey. My partner is a perfect example of this; she tends to bottle up her emotions rather than talking about them because she prefers to just get on with things without complaining.
Rather than processing events in depth, many Brits would rather just brush things under the carpet and keep their opinions largely to themselves. Not following suit can be considered rude and obnoxious, two qualities I’ve heard Brits ascribe to Americans.
That being said, I’ve found that many Brits appreciate American candor and find it charming – like most things, it depends on the person.
2. Everyone wants to know your opinions on Trump.
If you mention that you’re from the US, you will invariably be asked about President Trump and what you think of his policies and personality.
The first few times, such questioning didn’t bother me – it still doesn’t, really – but it is a constant reminder of what I consider the sad state of affairs in my home country, which is more than a little depressing.
3. You can pretty much say or do anything on TV after 9 p.m.
After 9 p.m., the rule is lifted, and basically anything goes. From foul language to nudity, it’s all OK. In the US, “indecent content” is banned on broadcast channels between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., but I’ve never witnessed half the things that air on UK television at any hour in the US.
4. The political situation in England isn’t any less complicated than in the US.
While Donald Trump’s presidency may be disrupting political norms in America, things are no less complicated in Britain, which is in the middle of trying to negotiate a Brexit deal for the nation to leave the European Union.
It’s a decision that fewer than half of UK citizens are behind, according to a recent YouGov poll, but which was decided by a referendum devised by former Prime Minister David Cameron (who stepped down the day after the vote was completed).
The future in England seems just as uncertain as it is in the US.
5. Most cars here are manual, so you might have to relearn to drive.
While you can certainly get automatic cars, cars with manual transmissions are widespread in the UK, although The Sun reported that this could change in coming years. Regardless, in 2016, only 7% of people taking driving tests in the UK chose to take them in automatic vehicles.
If you don’t know how to drive stick shift, you’ll likely have to learn at some point.
I’m from New York City, and I never got my licence, relying on public transport to get around. But public transit isn’t as convenient in the English town I live in, so I had to learn from scratch.
It took me three tries to pass the driving test, but I felt accomplished when I finally did.
6. Opening a bank account is a major ordeal.
While every bank has its own policies when it comes to opening new accounts, it took at least a month after arriving in the UK for me to actually get one.
Proving your identity is important, of course, but a major part of that here is having your name on a utility bill, council tax bill, or rental lease – all of which are hard to do if you don’t have a bank account.
I ended up going with Lloyds, which allowed me to open an account with a copy of my passport and residency permit.
7. Alcohol is a central fixture in the social lives of many Brits.
I’m not a drinker, so this has been one of the most jarring and somewhat frustrating aspects of British culture. Alcohol isn’t just reserved for a night out at the pub – it’s pretty much a daily part of many Brits’ lives.
Particularly in the north of England, where I’m living at the moment, it’s hard to find social things to do that don’t involve alcohol in some form or another.
Of course, I appreciate that there are plenty of people like me out there who aren’t interested in drinking, but in my experience, they have been hard to find (and I’ve tried!). Instead, I stick to hanging out at coffee shops and chilling at home (kind of like I did back in the US).
8. Businesses close way earlier than they do in America, especially on Sundays.
This likely differs in major UK cities, but for the most part it seems to hold true. Retail shops like Argos, Boots, and Marks & Spencer tend to close by 8 p.m., if not earlier, while on Sunday, even supermarkets are closed by 4:30 p.m.
While I do think retail workers deserve to be able to do things during the daylight hours, this has come as somewhat of a shock to me coming from New York City, where businesses are open late or even 24 hours.
9. The US dollar to British pound conversion is pretty terrible.
If you bring money over to the UK from the US, the conversion rate is maddening.
I work with clients in the US that I perform for remotely, so I feel this loss regularly.
10. Homesickness is real and intense.
While living in the UK makes sense for me and my partner at the moment, and I’m very grateful to have been able to move here, I miss New York City. The 24-hour bodegas, walking through the Union Square greenmarket several times a week, decent bagels and pizza … the list goes on. I also miss America as a whole, despite the upsetting and infuriating political situation happening there now.
Going back home is a wonderful experience each time, but so is learning to make a new home and experience a different culture.
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.