What I’ve Learned: Living In The UK

It has been one year since I moved to the UK & while the culture shock was not traumatizing, there have been many differences with which I’ve had to accustom myself. It seems like I only arrived yesterday, but at the same time I feel like I’ve been here forever. Everything is familiar now. My routines are stuck in & I am living as any regular Brit would; that is to say – I’m just living normally.

Initially I would often resort to ‘record-mode,’ repeating my story for the confused people I would encounter – mostly pub customers, sometimes shop cashiers, sometimes random strangers hearing me talk. Usually they’d look at me like I was crazy to come here – to this city of all places. And the general consensus was: ‘why would you want to live in England!?’  I’ll admit, at first it was kind of entertaining to delve into these conversations, but then after a few months it became a bit tiring. Look: I’m just here, okay?  To be fair, I can’t really fault them for their curiosity, but what was intriguing to them had become ordinary for me. To all the foreign people I have ever stopped in Canada to ask ‘where are you from? what are you doing here?’  – I apologize.

English is English, no? No. No it is not. England is a place full of many accents & many dialects. No two cities or towns or villages will be alike. No two areas in a city will be alike. No two people will talk alike. For all my love of English television & films & books did me, I wasn’t prepared for how much I’d struggle to understand people. I was used to hearing the Downton Abbey of England, the proper Queen’s English. Adham, his family, his friends – they all speak quite eloquently and defined. Ignorantly, I had imagined that the majority of people would also speak this way. So it was definitely a slap to my ears when this was not the case. When I started work, I was surprised at how my co-workers all sounded different. They may have all been from Leicester, but they all sounded different. The only thing I could say they had in common was that to me they all sounded like they had marbles rolling around in their mouths. I honestly had to put a lot of effort into understanding the simplest words. I would have people repeat themselves. I would stare at them blankly – ‘what?’  I would nod along to conversations where I had no idea what was being said. I would take a few seconds longer to reply because I was literally replaying what they had just said. If I can’t understand them, can they understand me? I’ve had to tune my ears to another frequency. At some point along the way I was able to stop having to think about what I was hearing, but it took me at least three or four months. I can’t imagine living in a country where English is not the spoken language.

Curious about dialects, I discovered that Leicester does indeed have it’s own nuances and ‘rules.’ Most notably, I would say, is that people from Leicester tend to mash their words together or slur their words all into one long sentence. An old, but interesting article on the accent of Leicester: http://www.leicestermercury.co.uk/leicester-accent-undergoing-changes/story-19642610-detail/story.html

There are several Rules Of Thumb which I’ve found essential to everyday living:

  • Always carry an umbrella. Even if it’s not scheduled to rain. Even if there is an absolute zero chance of precipitation. Even if it is sunny and there are no clouds in the sky. It’s gonna rain at some point, somewhere & you’ll probably be there. Yes, it does rain a lot, but I personally don’t find the UK to be overly cloudy & dreary.
  • Always carry a carrier bag. The charge for plastic bags was put into effect last year, making major retailers charge at least 5p for plastic bags. Now & again is alright, but 5p can add up after awhile. Foldable reusable nylon bags are fairly popular for smaller, light items; sturdier, more reliable woven or jute bags are great for groceries. Walk down any street 7 the majority of people will have a reusable bag. I always take one with me because I’m cheap I don’t want to be caught out.
  • Always carry a cardigan. Much like the umbrella, even if it is warm & sunny, it will get cold. There will be sudden cloud coverage. There will be wind. Or, if you are like me, you will just be cold for no reason.
  • If you are waiting for a bus & want it to stop, you damn well better put your arm out otherwise it will just keep going. Does it matter if you are clearly standing at a bus stop? No. Does it matter if it is the only bus that stops at said bus stop? No. You need to tell that bus in no uncertain terms, with your arm: ‘hey I’d like to get on, please pull over.’ Now I’ve always known this, so I can’t say I’ve had any instances contrary to the fact, but it just seems pointless to me.
  • If you want to eat, you need to know how to use the stove top. I haven’t managed to master the art of the hob. The turn-push-down of the knob, which needs to be held while pushing the ignition button. I shouldn’t need to use two hands for this! Apparently, the gas will come on & stay on if you are a Hob Guru. Alas, I am not. I belong to the Three Tries & More Club. On the off chance that I skilfully am able to light the hob on the first go, I cannot tell you how pleased this makes me.
  • Tea. It’s just always there, you’re just always going to drink it. My tea stash is probably pretty basic compared to the standard: Earl Grey for the mid-day boost & a flavoured box for other occasions. I surprised myself the other day when I came home & went straight for the kettle to make a cuppa. I’d barely removed my coat! What madness has overtaken me!?  I am loath to prepare a cup of tea for anyone British though; I fear I shall fail miserably in something so simple, yet so individually complex.




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