How many pence are in a dollar?
The title of this week’s blog experience is 1000% accurate. At one point, while purchasing a little phone I had never heard of at a phone store I had never heard of, I asked the woman ringing me up “How many pence are in a dollar?” and she looked at me angrily.
I significantly underestimated just how much of a cultural barrier there is between the UK and the US. One would think that a country that speaks the same language as us would be easy to communicate with, but since we have such different cultures, this could not have been more untrue.
Getting into the country as an American was totally straightforward. I spent all summer collecting documents I thought they might ask for at customs and was afraid they might tell me I didn’t have the right papers and send me home (happened to a friend of mine). BUT, despite the fact that I spent all that time mentally psyching myself out, it turned out to be totally easy. They asked me for my landing card, passport, proof of study letter, gave me a stamp, and I was on my way. (Although don’t be fooled by my nonchalant attitude, it was A LOT of standing around and waiting and being a grouch monster after an 11 hour flight). When people use the phrase “hurry up and wait” when talking about traveling they are so right.
Once I arrived, I discovered that I had severely underestimated the number of things that needed to be done in order to prepare for a semester in a foreign country. It’s completely different from Vassar where one buys everything they need (from linens to school supplies) at the good ol’ Poughkeepsie Galleria. The biggest struggle is trying to find all the things I need to survive as a student without access to any of the giant American conglomerate corporations that Americans thrive on. Like, how can a country not have Target? Target is love, Target is life. What if someone wants to buy a shirt, develop some photos and eat some popcorn at the same time? They simply don’t have big stores like that here which means you have to scope out a different store for each and every one of your needs.
Without access to a Target, a Costco, a Staples, or any other of these capitalistic playgrounds, one needs to find a specific place to: exchange currency, open a bank account, purchase a phone/phone plan, buy school supplies, kitchen supplies, textbooks, figure out where to do laundry/where to buy soap, unpack, etc. while simultaneously trying to adapt to a new environment and attend orientation on a campus spread throughout a crowded metropolitan area where my credit cards aren’t always accepted and no one knows what I’m talking about when I say “Target”.
However, woven in between all my errands, I get to walk around in one of the most beautiful cities in the world. While walking around, I’ll come across Big Ben, or Trafalgar square, or the Thames River, and be completely blown away. Everywhere I look is something I need to take picture of and I love that no matter where I go I can always see the London eye in the distance. I take pleasure in discovering a small coffee shop on the corner of a busy street, getting my feet splashed when those red buses drive through a fresh rain puddle, and wandering around London wondering what it would have been like if I had grown up here. My walking around averages like 3-4 miles a day for classes and errands, and I enjoy every moment. It’s literally the best.
Noteworthy cultural differences this week:
1. Brits like to have beans with breakfast.
2. Subways have corn as a topping.
3. When I asked for cream in my iced coffee, the barista started to put whipped cream it was terrifying. They say “milk” not “cream.”
4. Binders have two rings, not three.
5. The underground tube is so clean and beautiful I have yet to see a rat.
6. Coin increments include 1 pence, 2 pence, 5 pence, 10 pence, 20 pence, and 1 pound.
7. They don’t know what “ranch” is.
8. EVERYONE IS SO POLITE! When I apologized to someone for being in their way they responded with “no apologies necessary!” I was blown away.
9. Netflix doesn’t have Family Guy. I almost flew directly back to the states.
10. Dorito flavors include “tangy cheese” (heinous) “cool original” (I don’t know why they refuse to acknowledge ranch) and “hint of lime.”