My name is Jessica Wang, and I’m one of the Study Abroad Liaisons for London this semester. My major is Business and Political Economy, meaning I’ll also study in Shanghai next spring. While living abroad for a year can seem daunting at times, I’m excited to explore new places, try new foods, and share my adventures with you all!
- Black vs. White Coffee – As a coffee addict, I wanted to explore local coffee shops and chains in London. Although I’m fairly well-versed in coffee terminology (so I’d like to think), I was thrown off by the question “white or black?” when ordering coffee here. It turns out that the only difference between black and white coffee is the addition of milk in white coffee. This seems like common sense in retrospect, but I was genuinely confused and ordered a “black coffee with milk.” The barista looked at me like I was crazy.
- Exchange Rate – I assumed that pounds were relatively similar to US dollars, but the extra 30% makes a big difference. While a £15 entree sounds fairly priced at a restaurant, it’s important to remember that that’s nearly $20 USD. It’s easy to accidentally overpay when you disregard the exchange rate.
- Small Talk – British people hate small talk and will avoid it at all costs. I was used to making conversation with strangers in elevators and on public transportation, but speaking with strangers is nearly unheard of in the UK. Many people will pretend to look at their phones rather than speak with others in public.
- Tip and Tax – It’s customary to tip around 10% at restaurants rather than the usual 20% in the US. When in groups, restaurants sometimes automatically include tip in the total. Additionally, the VAT tax is always included in prices and totals, meaning the prices you see in shops already factor in tax.
- Pub Culture – It’s common to go to pubs after class or when going out with friends. Everyone orders in “rounds” at pubs, meaning 1-2 people will go to the bar and order for the rest of the group. Instead of paying them back, the others will simply “grab the next round.”
- Still vs. Sparkling Water – Unlike in the US, restaurants don’t typically provide tap water with your meal. They usually ask whether you want still or sparkling water -– these waters come in bottles and are usually rather expensive. Instead, ask for tap water and they’ll give you a pitcher of water that you won’t have to pay for.
- ‘Quite’ – In America, the word ‘quite’ has the same connotation as ‘very’, but in the UK, ‘quite’ has the same connotation as ‘fairly’. For instance, the saying “that movie was quite good” by Americans would mean that they genuinely enjoyed it, while this saying by Brits would insinuate that they did not like it.
- Shopping – Grocery stores are “supermarkets” and stores are “shops.” You have to pay for plastic bags when checking out (environmentally friendly!), so I usually carry items in my arms or spend a few pence buying bags for my groceries. Another difference is that eggs aren’t refrigerated here, so they’re located on normal shelves within supermarkets.
- Taxis – Traditional London black cabs (similar to yellow cabs in New York) are much more expensive than taking an Uber, and Lyft doesn’t operate in the UK, so Uber is always the way to go. When I travel in groups of 3+, it’s often cheaper to split an Uber ride than to take public transportation or a black cab.
- Early closing times – Everything closes earlier here, so I make sure to do all my shopping earlier in the day. I expected to have 24/7 access to stores, restaurants, and public transportation (just like in New York), but I was surprised to find that nearly everything is closed by 10pm.
- Crossing the road – Since people drive on the left side of the road, I always have to look both ways before crossing – cars often come from the way that you don’t expect. Also, jaywalking isn’t illegal here, so feel free to cross at your own risk!
- AC – Air conditioning is known as “air-con” and it’s rarely found in buildings. Dorms, shops, and public transportation all lack AC, since it doesn’t normally get too hot here. The best way to combat the heat on warm days is to open windows and use fans (the cold setting on hairdryers does the trick).
- Fries are “chips” and chips are “crisps” – The classic American mistake!
Since my major is Business and Political Economy, the most fascinating part about studying abroad in the UK is that Brexit is about to take place. Every one of my professors talks about the UK’s exit from the EU in context of what we’re studying – whether that’s finance, politics, or economics – and it’s intriguing to learn how large an impact one vote will have on the future of the entire nation. If you’re considering studying abroad in London in the spring when Brexit will take place, I highly recommend it! My email is firstname.lastname@example.org if you ever have any questions. Cheers!