What I’ve Learned in England Thus Far

I’ve been abroad for almost a week now and although I have yet to really explore much outside of the University of Hertfordshire Campus and the surrounding area of Hatfield, I’ve already taken note of quite a few differences between England and America. I’ve had to get used to the language, the transportation, the weather, and the differences in teaching styles, among other things. I still have a lot to learn about this country and its culture, but I’d say this list of little factoids is a decent start.

30 THINGS I’VE LEARNED WHILE IN ENGLAND:

1. The second floor is the first floor.

After taking note that one of my classes was on the first floor of a building, I scanned the entire floor before finally asking a couple of English girls to help me find my classroom. They then took me upstairs to the “first floor,” one level above the “ground floor.”

2. Being called a “treacle” is a good thing.

One guy addressed me as a “hot treacle.” When I told him I didn’t really know what a “treacle” was, he admitted that he didn’t really know how to describe the British slang word, but that it was a good thing. I then googled the word and found out that a treacle is “a thick, sticky dark syrup made from partly refined sugar; molasses.” So in England, being referred to as molasses is a compliment.

3. It’s always freezing. Always. (At least by California’s standards).

It could be that my Californian body is just terribly vulnerable to the cold, or it could be that even if it’s in the 40’s, (which is considered warm) it still feels as if you’re in Antarctica in the middle of the continent’s worst snowstorm to date (only a slight exaggeration). Bottom line: when I take one step outside I am immediately reminded that I am definitely not in California anymore.

4. People don’t drive on the right side of the road (both literally and figuratively- also by California’s standards).

It was the oddest feeling driving on the opposite side of the freeway on the way back from the airport and you can bet I had several mini heart attacks when I would see that we weren’t in the “right” lane.

5. Pedestrians do NOT have the right of way.

This makes crossing the streets, especially at roundabouts, quite scary. There are also few places that offer buttons that allow pedestrians to cross, and the cars never really stop. It doesn’t help that the traffic comes from the opposite direction that I’m used to, so it gives the phrase “Always look before you cross the street” a whole new importance.

6. People here cuss. A LOT.

Today in one of my workshops my lecturer (professor) dropped the F bomb at least five times, among other words like “bloody hell” and “bastard!” Likewise, I have heard my classmates say phrases such as, “What an a–hole!” and “This world is already completely sh*t enough as it is.” when responding to a lecturer. Keep in mind, this is only what I’ve heard in class and not on the streets.

7. I have the navigational skills of a lost puppy.

Okay, so I already knew this long before coming to England but in my defense, this campus isn’t helping. I spent an hour yesterday trying to find my academic advisor’s office. Along the way I had to ask for the help of five different people before I finally managed to come across it, and I don’t think I’d be able to find it again if I tried.

8. Living quarters are quite different.

A week in and I’ve finally met my second flatmate (I didn’t meet my first one until a day or two in anyway) and they’re both guys. There are six suites but I’m not even sure if anyone lives in the other three. We share bathrooms and a kitchen but all doors have to be closed at all times due to fire hazards. It’s very non-communal compared to the apartments in America.

9. People here don’t use umbrellas as much as they should.

I suppose this is sort of more of a personal opinion than an objective observation, but it struck me as odd. The first two days I was here, it rained quite a bit. Whenever I would go out I would take my umbrella, but all the locals seemed to be doing just fine with their jackets and hoods. I’m still not completely sure if my coat is even waterproof, so I won’t chance walking around without my umbrella in the rain.

10. Irish, Scottish, English, and Australian accents are quite similar.

I thought another exchange student from Australia was English and I’m still not sure whether or not these two boys in one of my modules are Irish, Scottish, or English.

11. Asda is the British Walmart and you have to pay for shopping carts or “supermarket trolleys.”

Asda is literally Walmart, same symbol and everything. The main difference is that here, you have to put a pound coin into a slot to disconnect the cart from the others, and you get the pound back once you return the cart and reconnect it to the others at the end of your shopping spree. They do this in order to discourage people leaving carts all about, and it works.

12. People are friendly and almost always willing to help the lost, confused foreigner.

When I got lost trying to find my advisor’s office, one of the lecturers asked me if I was okay, then proceeded to help me find my way. Anytime I’ve asked for help, the people here have been more than happy to offer any help or advice they can give.

13. It’s not Hurt-Ford-Shire, it’s Hart-Ferd-Sure.

Until I got to England, I pronounced my own university’s name (the University of Hertfordshire) ALL wrong.

14. The stoplights go back to green the same way they go to red.

In America, the stoplight pattern goes green, yellow, red, then straight back to green. Here, the stoplight pattern goes green, yellow, red, yellow, green, so that the lights warn you when you’re about to go again. Quite a good idea actually.

15. TJ Maxx is called TK Maxx here and stores such as Pound Land and Pound World are the same as Dollar stores in the U.S.

I see what you did there England.

16. People here drive absolutely crazy.

When taking the bus from one campus to the other, I have learned to hold onto the handle on the wall and brace my feet on the ground so that I don’t go flying off of my seat. This also applies to normal car or taxi rides as well.

17. It’s not unheard of that there will still be frost on the grass midday.

Like I said, this place is freezing. Literally freezing.

18. The roads are narrow and sometimes the two way roads converge into one small lane.

If it wasn’t bad enough that I already have a heart attack every single time the shuttle bus from campus to campus passes by another vehicle, there are some spots where the two way roads completely converge into one lane. At this point, if there are ever two vehicles going in opposite directions, one will have to move to the side of the road to let the other pass.

19. British people smoke a lot.

In America I got used to having a non-smoking campus but here, people start smoking around age 14.

20. 40% is considered passing a class.

The grading system here is COMPLETELY different. I have one module where 85% of my grade is based on a final essay, and the other modules pretty much weigh the grade on one essay and one final, or something of the sort. But here, getting over a 70% in a class is unheard of. In comparison to America, a 60%-70% would be considered excellent, a 50%-60% would be considered good, and a 40%-50% would be considered average.

21. I have seen my breath more after living one day in England than I have in my entire life in California.

No matter if it’s 27 degrees F or 45 degrees F, I can still see my breath, which I hadn’t seen much of until I moved here.

22. Half of the people here look like they could be models.

England (for the most part) is filled with gorgeous people who are very highly fashionable. You don’t see people going to class in sweats and flip flops like you do in the U.S.

23. England loves automatic doors.

Everywhere you go, there are automatic doors. Although sometimes they don’t work all that well and you have to stop yourself from running into them before they fully open, they do save some effort.

24. In contrast, England hates elevators, or “lifts.”

Outside of the airport, I have only seen one lift while I’ve been here. The flats and apartments don’t have lifts,  which makes moving in and dragging three very full, heavy suitcases up several flights of stairs very difficult.

25. It’s not abnormal to have a single sink in your bedroom.

There are sinks in the communal bathrooms, but sometimes if you just need to brush your teeth or wash your hands or face, the bedroom sink is very convenient.

26. When people say, “You alright?” or “You okay?” it’s like asking “How are you?”

At first I thought I just looked incredibly lost all of the time and people kept feeling the need to check on me, but instead they were just asking how I was. Although I will not deny that sometimes they might have been concerned about my well being.

27. Although it’s always freezing outside, it’s always boiling inside.

When you’re walking through the cold, you don’t realize that you’re actually working up a sweat since you’re walking so quickly to get to your destination and get out of the cold. The rooms are always highly heated to make up for the freezing outdoors, so when you come in to a room from being outside, it’s quite a shock to the system. I often end up ripping my coat off within the first five seconds of walking inside a room.

28. In messages, people send “x’s” to signify friendship.

People here input random “x’s” throughout their texts. At first I thought people were sending me symbolic kisses via text, but apparently the “x’s” are just friendly ways to express platonic affection.

29. I will come home with an accent.

I’m already thinking in British English and often say certain words with an accent to my friends here. I also accidentally imitated a woman (including her accent) when she told me “cheers” the other day.

30. My time away at University will be the best time of my life.

It hasn’t even been a week since I’ve arrived in England and I’m already wishing I had signed up for a year instead of a semester. There is so much to do and so much to see and the classes here, although I’ve only been to the first week of them, are the best classes I’ve ever taken at university level. I am so thankful for this opportunity to study and live in this new place and I am set on making the most of it while I’m here. Cheers!

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