For most of my life I lived only 500 miles away from England, but never visited until recently. I guess now, that I live 4,000 miles away, in America, made England a more desirable destination, so my wife and I recently made a 4-day trip to London. The fun thing as expats living in an English speaking country is to experience another English speaking country and to find out about the differences. Here’s what we noticed the most.
The obvious one – British people drive on the “wrong” side of the road, but I already knew that and therefore refused to get a rental car. There was no need for one either, because London has a fantastic public transportation system with lots of buses and the Underground. So we thought this whole driving on the left side wouldn’t concern us at all, but no! It was still confusing as heck, even as pedestrians. People in London drive like maniacs, and in the middle of all the rush are some maniac bicyclists, who are riding just as fast. They kind of have to, so that they won’t get run over by cars and buses, but to us it looked a little suicidal. Maybe we’re just too Americanized already, because in the US, people are not that used to see bikes on the road and other people are not even willing to share the road with bicyclists. Anyways, all this fast traffic right in front of us made us a little dizzy, especially when we were trying to cross the street. I didn’t know anymore where to look first, even in one-way streets. So I was very grateful for all the road marks telling me “Look left” or “Look right”, otherwise I would have not made it back alive.
Since I can’t really compare the London traffic with the slow and easy going Southern traffic in Charlotte, North Carolina, I can compare it a little to New York traffic from the eyes of a pedestrian. In New York, people constantly beep at each other, especially at traffic lights. In London people don’t beep a whole lot, but patiently wait for the green light like race car drivers, trying to get to their destination in record time. However, within all the rush Brits do know to stop at a crosswalk (zebra crossing). I wouldn’t rely on that in America.
This seems to be a growing trend over in Europe, because I’ve experienced it first-hand in both England and Germany. There are hardly any public restrooms anymore, that you don’t have to pay for. Even in some shopping malls. And restaurants and stores explicitly let you know, that their restrooms are for PAYING customers only. Speaking of restrooms. I found it funny that Americans usually ask for a restroom or a bathroom, not really indicating why they need it for even though everybody knows they have to use the toilet. Brits are a lot more straight forward and simply call it toilet. Why beat around the bush? That’s what you’re looking for anyways, right?
Despite the more conservative verbage of Americans for this facility, I love that I never have to worry about money in America when I need to use a toilet. If there aren’t a lot of free public restrooms around, there are always a ton of restaurant chains nearby, that are happy to let you use their bathroom. They frankly don’t really care, because the people who are working in these chains usually don’t own the restaurant and bathrooms are getting cleaned on a regular basis anyway. In Europe it seems that store and restaurant owners have to pay a fortune for a cleaning lady and therefore protect their bathrooms like the Crown Jewels. Most stores don’t even offer a bathroom to customers. Thank you America for letting me pee for free!!
After eight years in America and quite a few colds triggered by a constant air-conditioned breeze in every building, I eventually got used to cold indoor temperatures. When we go watch a movie in the theatre I usually bring a sweater or just any extra layer to cover up when they crank up the A/C. In London however it was the total opposite and we almost had to strip down to our underwear when we went to see The Hobbit – a 2 1/2 hour long, stretched out movie. With a long movie like that plus sauna-like temperatures you have a really hard time to stay awake. However, I’m not sure where you would miss more of the movie: England, because you constantly fall asleep due to the heat. Or America, because the cold makes you go to the bathroom more than usual. I vote for the cold and an extra layer of clothing.
Kudos to Americans. They really know how to line up, so that the person who has been waiting the longest gets served first. In London, just like in Germany, it can be a battle on some occasions and you might be missing the American courtesy at times. Especially younger people and kids don’t seem to care a lot about lines and just walk right past everybody to get to the front of the line.
That’s all I can remember. London was awesome and is definitely worth a trip, even when you’re living 4,000 miles away. Have you experienced both America and England as well? Tell me about it in the comments!