Over a round of food in the Icelandic pop-up-turned delicious burger shack, Tommi's, a friend asked me a question: "Before moving to London from the states, what did you expect England to be like?"
Hmmm. I actually had moved here about three weeks after being offered the job as London's newest community manager for Yelp, so I never gave this a lot of thought. An image popped into my head of people in bowler hats sitting on the side walk of a busy London street, being served tea by men named Jeeves as triple and quadruple-decker busses whizz by.
Once I pushed that nonsense out of the way, I gave it some though. Rationally, I probably would have imagined that living in London is much like living in the states. Lots of people, lots of things to do, see, eat, drink. In England, they speak the same language, the style of dress is similar, movies and TV shows and music seem to easily pass from one country to another. Maybe it wouldn't be so different than living in the US?
And I would have been right...
Except the places where I was damn wrong.
There are a few items that no one ever tells you about making the trip to London, especially because most things are indeed so similar: working, playing, eating, dating. Nine things out of 10 you do in the US, you do the same thing in England... But it's that tenth thing, though, that blows your mind.
I'm not talking about the stuff you already know, like driving on the other side of the road or calling the bathroom "the loo" (which they do but they also call it the bathroom. Never a "restroom". That's just confusing and people will ask if you if Americans actually take a rest there.) But it's the smaller, more interesting differences that no one will tell you about. Things that aren't so confusing as they are surprising.
So what surprised me?
Streets are surprising! In the states, addresses run parallel. You're at 24 Main Street, 25 Main Street is right across the street. Does it work that way in London? Not even close. Numbers start on opposite ends, so your even number address on a High Street can sometimes be a mile away from its odd counterpart. Never before have I felt more lost.
Language is surprising! If you tell someone you've taken off your pants, they'll look at you like you're insane, since pants are underwear in the UK (the word you're looking for is "trousers" or "jeans"). Hamburger meat is mince meat (but, of course, not to be confused with a mince pie, which has no meat in it), eggplant is aubergine, herbs are pronounced with a hard 'H', and sprinkles on top of your ice cream are the delightfully named 'Hundreds and Thousands'. Also the subway is for people to walk under a street, never for trains (that's the underground). And you tell someone you wear a fanny pack and they're going to laugh at you... well, more than they would normally, since fanny in London is not another politer word for your butt ("bum") but slang for female anatomy.
Board games are surprising! You play Cluedo, not Clue. Snakes and Ladders, not Shoots and Ladders. The basic Monopoly set is made up of London properties instead of ones from Atlantic City (No Boardwalk and Park place here, but instead, Mayfair and Park Lane.) And you wonder Where's Wally, not Waldo, although to be fair, the English invented Where's Wally. We (the Americans) were the ones who changed it.
Drinking is surprising! In London, people drink beer in rounds, so if you're doing it right, you down your pint at the same pace as the fastest drinker at the table. This means when they're done, someone else can buy drinks for everyone else. Also, for the longest time, bars weren't allowed open past 11pm so people went right from work to the pub. There's no going home to get ready and then going out later. You go and go hard. Last call is still 11pm in many places, and for now the tube still shuts down at midnight, so many people actually go home then, even on the weekends. Plus, you can drink beer out on the streets, which is simply the most amazing thing that there ever is.
Awesome is surprising! No one says the word "awesome," it is stereotypically American. Also no one fist bumps, fist pumps or even high-fives. All too American.
Food is surprising! Not because it's bad, as I was lead to believe before coming to London ("you'll only eat boiled vegetables and bad meat."), London has become a culinary capital of the world in the last decade or so. But there are some things that still make me go, "Wait, what?" Mushy peas with your fish and chips is standard (yes, peas mushed into a green paste). Mayo is often served instead of ketchup for fries. Tuna and sweetcorn is a common combination. Beans are a breakfast food. These are all things.
Sundays are surprising! No brunch? Really? Yes, brunch is not common. Still, they trade the classic lazy Sunday brunch for a roast dinner, which consist of massive amount of meat, roast potatoes, Yorkshire pudding (which is like a turnover but only the bread part), veggies, gravy and horseradish sauce. Mmm.
Banking is surprising! All credit cards and debit cards use a chip and pin system, so you must have your card and your code to make a transaction. It makes it much harder (but not impossible) for someone to steal your card and use it. Also, lose your pin or need to reset it? It's not as simple as heading to a bank branch or calling a number, you have to have a new one sent to you in the mail.
Washing your clothes is surprising! Most apartments ("flats") have a tumble washer but not dryer that come standard. And it's location? In the kitchen, of course. Where else would you put it. I'm also going to include washing yourself in this category, since many sinks and baths do not have a combination hot and cold faucet but come as a different tap for each temperature.
Flipping someone off is surprising! Someone cut you off while driving and you want to express your feelings with your hand? It's two fingers, not one, and it looks like the backwards peace sign.
Electrical outlets are surprising! Not because it's a different type of plug (which it is, buy adaptors immediately before arriving. And a ton of them, you have more things that you plug in than you can possibly know), but because there are none in the bathroom. Sometimes they'll give you one for an electrical shaver with a special outlet, but that's all. Charge your bathroom appliances elsewhere.
Watching TV is surprising! Well, maybe not as surprising as it is costly, since to own a TV and watch live programming, you have to buy an annual TV licence costing £145.50 (about $240) for a colour set and £49.00 (about $82) for a black and white set. Yes, every year. Also, Eurovision is surprising. Look it up. Trust me, it's surprising.
The ground floor is surprising! The floors of a building here start at zero, not one. When you walk up to the 4th floor, you walk four sets of stairs.
And potato chips are surprising! American potato chips ("crisps") are pathetic when compared with the flavours England has. Sea salt and cider vinegar, shrimp ("prawn") cocktail, sweet chili, steak and onion, smoky bacon, roast chicken. These are not speciality flavours but standard chips you can find almost anywhere. Also, chocolate is richer and tastier in this country. Sorry Hershey's, it's true.
These are just a few of the surprising bits of moving from the states to London. Some I stole from my friends, some from this talk thread on Yelp. Have any of your own or done it in reverse, and found surprises from the US after living in London?? Post in the comments or tweet me at @YelpLondon! I'd love to know what surprises you.