England is a beautiful place to visit, and for American travelers, fairly easy given the language and lack of visa requirements. Culturally, the two countries have a lot in common, but there are cultural differences between the UK and US. Most articles and videos on the subject tend to focus on stereotypes (e.g., weather), but I wanted to avoid them. Instead, I wanted to focus on things that I noticed as an American that were fun, unique, and quirky.
We visited in December 2017. Since Fiona’s family lives just outside of London, we decided to spend the holidays there, and also take a couple of side trips to Barcelona, Lisbon, and Bath. Since Fiona is a Brit, I’m always surprised at what she finds unique and different when we are in LA. This is a summary of things that were surprising to me as an American traveler.
1. Traffic flows:
Like a third of the countries around the world, the British drive on the left side of the road. This was especially disorienting when I first arrived. I kept looking for traffic on the wrong side when crossing the road.
Parking is also less structured than in the US. You can park on either side of the road, even if you’re facing the wrong side of traffic. It may be illegal, but it wasn’t enforced anywhere that we visited.
Lastly, I thought the traffic lights were great. The British use the yellow or amber light to not only signal when the light is turning from green to red, but also from red to green. I wish we had the same system in the US.
2. Plastic notes:
I was surprised that certain cash bills were now plastic. While Brits also use a lot of coins, which we are not accustomed to in the US, I found that the plastic money to be pretty very slick. I definitely would love to see the US adopt the plastic notes like many other countries.
3. Gigantic plugs:
The plugs in the UK are different than the rest of Europe, and they are huge. The plugs are gigantic compared to what we are used to in the US. Also, each outlet has an individual switch, which is easy to overlook as an American. You’ll want to make sure to flip the switch and verify power before charging up your phone at night.
4. Interesting foods:
It was fun being in England for the holidays. The British have some interesting cuisine like mince pies, Christmas pudding, and scotch eggs. What’s interesting is that they are not often what they are named. For example, mince pies have “minced meat,” but don’t actually contain meat. Christmas pudding is not really what we Americans would call a pudding. And scotch eggs are essentially a hard-boiled egg surrounded by sausage meat. All were extremely delicious!
5. Gas stations:
Gas or “petrol”, as most of the world calls it, is really expensive in England. Also, I found that they use the green handle to represent regular unleaded gas. In the US, we typically use the green handle to designate diesel. If you’re filling up your tank in the UK, make sure you read the labels carefully at the pump!
6. Mobile payments everywhere:
I was impressed by the widespread acceptance of mobile payments in England. I would say that that 90% of transactions could be made with Apple Pay, which was very convenient since I didn’t have to deal with the whole chip and signature process. Since most of the world uses chip and PIN, signatures are typically not used when paying for products. That is unless you’re using an American credit card since most of our cards do not support the technology. Though using mobile payment allowed me to pay without any complications. It worked on the London Tube, which was a nice bonus.
7. Military time (or 24-hour time) is commonplace:
While we typically don’t use military time (or 24-hour time) in the US, you’ll notice that most Brits use it in their daily lives. I noticed that Fiona’s phone in the US was set-up with 24-hour time, but when I saw that most other phones in the UK used it, I realized that it was a normal thing.
8. Tuna and sweetcorn sandwiches:
I love both tuna and sweetcorn, but I never thought of putting them together. When we stopped at a Marks and Spencer’s Market to pick-up a quick lunch, I noticed that they had several unique seafood options. This included tuna and sweetcorn, prawn, and salmon sandwiches. I opted for the tuna and sweetcorn, and it was delicious!
9. Tons of accents and dialects:
Great Britain is just over half the size of California, but even within such a small country, there is such a variety of dialects and accents. I personally found the accents from Scotland and Wales to be most difficult to understand as an American, but even some of the northern accents were challenging. Still, I think it’s so interesting that a country so small can retain so much variation in the language. In fact, I found it fascinating that a person’s accent can often be traced to a specific town or city, rather than a region.
UPDATE: Based on the comments that we received, we wanted to address them in a follow-up post/video.
Have you been to the UK? If so, what differences did you notice? I’m also curious to hear from Brits who have visited the US. I’m sure there are a ton of things that must be completely nuts to those outside the US.