What did I do wrong now?London, Summer 2011 - UK Today Program

In this city, I definitely learn something new every day.  There have been some surprising cultural differences that I and other people in the IES program have noticed or learned the hard way.  Here are just a few:

-          It is considered rude to say “Excuse me,” such as when you need to pass by someone; it is far better to say “Sorry” or “Pardon me.”

-          There are rarely salt and pepper shakers on the tables in restaurants.

-          Even though I don’t eat ketchup, I am offered it when ordering a wide range of food.  This is because I am American and they seem to think that Americans put ketchup on everything, including egg sandwiches.

-          Though most of the city is really expensive, there are plenty of things to do for free, like museums, parks, walking tours, shows, and a ton of other activities.

-          Saying “can I get a” is considered rude when ordering.  Instead, say “may I have…?” or, according to my roommate Greer, just end your order in a question (which comes naturally to all American teenagers):  “I’ll have a pint of Guinness?”

-          Which reminds me:  when we first arrived, some people were told that it is considered masculine to order pints in a pub, so girls should order half-pints.  Not true. Or, if it is true, so many girls order pints now that no one can believe it anymore.

-          Strangers don’t make eye contact on the Tube.  This even applies to babies.  (Not that the babies don’t make eye contact, but people don’t coo at other people’s children.) If I’m traveling alone, I have to have my iPod, a book, or the newspaper.  This is probably why the newspaper comes out twice a day.  And the reason it is free is because the whole country supports the activity of ignoring strangers sitting and standing in close proximity.  Just a theory, though.

-          There are no garbage cans to be found 90% of the time.

-          Stand on the right-hand side of the escalator, walk on the left.  Always.

-          Finally, English muffins are just called “muffins” here, naturally.  And they are slightly different than at home.  They are scrumptious.

I hope these don’t sound scary or mean.  They’re just different.  And as unexpected as some of these bits of information were, none of them are that serious.  Usually, the worst thing that can happen if we make a mistake is that someone will scoff at us and make a mental note about Americans.  But it is all a learning experience that definitely has made me evaluate what I consider to be “normal” in my everyday life.

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