Five Surprising Cultural Differences I Wasn’t Expecting when I moved to the United Kingdom

Good morning lovelies! It is almost time for me to head back across the pond! As I get ready for my flight, it has been fun to reflect upon some of my favorite lil misadventures of last year. This post was originally written for CampusSociety, a new social media platform that connects uni students according to their interests, universities, courses, etc. Seriously folks, it’s my new favorite website. I spend a lot of time on there : )

 I decided to write about the cultural differences I wasn’t expecting… told in the form of embarrassing stories because seriously folks, would you expect anything better from me? Without further ado: 


Living in the UK has been an incredible adventure for me. I’ve loved almost every minute, but there were quite a few surprising cultural differences that I’ve found challenging to deal with. Of course, YouTube and google searches had me prepared to deal with word-choice differences, the obsession with tea and biscuits (which I quickly adopted), and other well-known cultural bits and bobs. However, there were a few surprising (and frankly hilarious) encounters that I never could have expected.

Allow me to embarrass myself:

  1. The Volume Factor

I am used to talking above the crowd in public spaces. It seems  natural to me, that if at a restaurant or public event everyone is talking around you, you have to talk above the din for your friends to hear you, right? Wrong.

My first social event in the UK was a real shock. Instead of talking above the humdrum of the room, each group of students talked beneath it. Did they expect me to know how to read lips? Because I physically could not hear/understand most of what they were saying!

The first few months of school consisted of a whole lot of smiling and ‘uhuhing’ without really having any idea what people were talking about. You know the funny thing though? I’ve gotten used to it! I can hear people now (or maybe I have subconsciously learned to read lips, which would be even cooler). And when I go back to America to visit, the noise levels in restaurants and other public spaces really annoy me.

  1. Normalised Levels of Enthusiasm

I love, absolutely love, cooking. However, for the first few months of my study abroad in the United Kingdom, I was convinced that everyone else hated my food. I’d make a meal or a dessert and my friends would thank me with a simple: ‘that was nice’.

I’m used to my family exclaiming at almost everything I make: ‘‘This Broccoli is cooked PERFECTLY!’ and ‘This is probably the best pasta I have EVER HAD in my ENTIRE LIFE!’.

A few months into study abroad I met a new friend who told me that she had heard that I was a good cook. I couldn’t believe it! I genuinely thought that the lack of over-the-top enthusiasm meant that everyone hated my cooking!

Eventually I learned  ‘that was nice’ actually means ‘that was nice’. It is a true compliment, not a polite way of saying that you want to vomit.

  1. Pens > Pencils

Right before a lecture one day my friend turned to me and asked:

‘Susanna… why do you always use a pencil? It is kinda awkward.’

I was shocked. How was a pencil in anyway superior to a pen? My friend went on to explain that in primary school, only little children work with pencils. Eventually, when students handwriting is good enough, they are awarded their first pen.

The girl on the other side of me piped into the conversation: ‘Yeah, it is kinda a big deal. We don’t use pencils after that.’

One glance around the room and I quickly realized that I was the only student in the entire lecture hall using a pencil for my notes. But…but… I love my mechanical pencils!  

  1. Where is the Obsession with the Royal Family?

You know what is funny? When I arrived in Cardiff I figured out pretty quickly that Americans ( teenage American girls) may be significantly more obsessed with the royal family and the Union Jack than the average Brit. In fact, I think that I saw more Union Jack t-shirts, backpacks, iPhone cases, baseball caps, and wall posters in the U.S. than I have seen in the UK. And I must admit I’ve had to work to temper my enthusiastic squeals over every tidbit of William & Kate news.

Now, I am sure there must be Royal Family fans around in the UK. Maybe they are just harder to find… taking into account both of the things I’ve already talked about (normalised levels of enthusiasm and quieter voices in public), I could see how that would be.

  1. Fashion And Style

One of the most obvious outward things I noticed upon arriving in Wales was the sense of fashion was so different than what I was used to. I loved the thick scarves and chunky heels that girls wore. I loved the fact that even when it was raining, everyone still managed to look super stylish. It wasn’t long before I was feeling supremely underdressed and unstylish.

Why? Well, for one thing, the average British guy is way more fashionable than I am, and it makes me uncomfortable. In the US, I normally don’t feel that I have to compete with guys for fashion points. Don’t get me wrong, the US has plenty of fashion conscious men. However, it often seems as if the average guy walking around campus pulled on the first t-shirt he found in his drawer that morning, plus his lucky basketball shorts. In the UK, guys seem to dress more intentionally.

Secondly, students dress up for class! I always looked forward to university as the time of life when it is generally acceptable to go to school in your pajamas. I was surprised to find that in the UK students look put-together, just for attending lectures! Even wearing shorts or activewear is uncommon (unless you are on an team). I’m trying to get used to it and I do genuinely appreciate the effort takes in looking nice before going out in public, but I have to admit I miss the dream of wearing my comfiest of comfy clothes in public.

So there you have it, a few of the things that surprised me when I arrived in the UK. Of course, those points have led to more than a few embarrassing moments. However, I like to dream that by the time I graduate I’ll be an elegantly dressed, softly speaking, pen wielding student with grace and class. Here’s to hoping!  

Author: Susanna

I'm Susanna, a 20-year-old Christian girl incorrigibly addicted spontaneous adventures. My first dream was to become a pioneer. Unfortunately, I was born a couple centuries late, so I've decided to read, cook, run, and travel the world until my time machine is finished. You'll mostly likely find me getting into trouble and/or eating licorice. I am currently blogging the misadventures of a middle-school teacher in training. Come join me on my quest to become the next Ms. Frizzle!

11 thoughts on “Five Surprising Cultural Differences I Wasn’t Expecting when I moved to the United Kingdom”

  1. These are so true, especially the ones about the fashion and speaking volume. Everyone dressed so nicely in London and I have to admit I liked the quieter talking when I was over there 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much for your comments! You know what, after I got used to it (and was actually listening to friends instead of politely nodding), I loved it too. In fact, I experienced a bit of reverse culture shock when I came home from the summer and found that everyone talked. so. loud.


      1. Yeah I definitely had that same reverse culture shock coming back from London. Restaurants were especially loud and overwhelming!


  2. In all of Europe they tend to dress up, and I knew that, but it was mostly nice skinny jeans and nicer, dark colored tops with fashion sneakers or boots in Germany at least. I like dressing up most days in vintage style skirts and dresses with at least one bright color. So even though we both “dressed up,” it was in a different way. I kept my flowier dresses and skirts, but did notice that after a year I was fine with wearing all neutrals.

    Liked by 1 person

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