In only one short year as an expat living in London, I have already noticed a blur in the line of my identity. Although my American accent and citizenship are still intact, I now find myself minding gaps, moaning about the weather, queuing, apologizing, burning, embracing new sports and spelling like a true Brit!
Below are a few of the quintessentially British things that I have picked up in my stint here thus far:
Learning to navigate London’s intricate and sophisticated public transport system is one thing, but understanding and adhering to British public transportation etiquette is imperative if you'd like to avoid contemptuous stares. After learning some of following rules, the hard way, I am now proud to say that I am a protocol-abiding passenger:
Always allow all passengers to exit the train before you begin boarding
Always allow all passengers to exit the train before you begin to board
Give up to your seat to the elderly/disabled/pregnant (you'll know they're pregnant, because they'll most likely be wearing a button)
On the Tube escalators, you MUST stand to the right and walk on the left
Above all else, avoid eye contact with any other passengers at all costs. If your eyes happen to meet in the window reflection, look away immediately. No, seriously, don't even pretend to look at anyone.
Regardless of the weather being too cold or too hot, it is inherently British to complain about it. According to the Daily Mail, ‘The average Briton whinges about the climate four times a day, for a total of eight minutes and 21 seconds.’ I find that I am talking about the weather more these days than any human ever should. I even find that I an now guilty of beginning conversations with statements like ‘Lovely weather today’ or ‘It’s meant to rain this weekend’ Of course it's meant to rain; it's England!
Queuing (or as we call it in the US, lining up) is a famous English ritual that is taken very seriously. In the US, long lines often lead to chaos and shoving, but not here. The British are renowned for their polite and patient queuing techniques. At Wimbledon 'queue cards' are handed out, with strick instructions. This is for the benefit of the foreigners, as Brits are well aware of the queuing laws. This is no joke, people. If, god forbid, the high queuing standards are ever breached, the Brits will moan about it, but only to their friends, never directly to the delinquent.
If the British made anything other than queuing a national pastime, it would be apologizing. Typically, Brits don’t like to ‘make a fuss’ about things, so they commonly apologize for every small infraction or perceived wrongdoing. It’s not uncommon to hear an apology for things that are out of their control (‘I’m sorry about this rain’) or things that are not their fault, like saying sorry when someone else steps on their foot. Sentences often begin with sorry, even when unnecessary (‘sorry, is anyone sitting here?’). I wonder if a Brit could go a whole day without saying sorry?! Although I haven’t fully adopted the over-apologizing yet, I do find that I say sorry more frequently when I’m in England. It just feels right.
Pale skin is a stereotypically English trait. There simply is not enough sun, most of the year, to get a natural tan. Before moving here I would say that I had an olive-colored skin tone. Somehow England has managed to suck it all out of me though. I went to buy new make-up a few months back and nearly cried when my new color was called alabaster. On top of it all, I now burn. I never used to burn. Give me my pigment back, England!!!
One of my favorite parts of living in London are the various sporting events...and the drinking that inevitably accompanies all of them. The mainstream sports here are not baseball, basketball and (American) football. They vary quite drastically in fact and I have found that I definitely prefer the British options. In my time here, I have been to see several rugby matches, football (soccer), cricket, the Oxford vs Cambridge boat race, the Royal Windsor horse races, polo, the America’s Cup Sailing World Series and Wimbledon. For the sophisticated spectators over here, apart from the sport itself, the focus of all these events seems to center around champagne, Pimms or a bottle of Rosé.
My British colleagues take great pleasure in pointing out my Stateside battering of the English language. When communicating via email during working hours, I’ve had to learn to replace z’s with s’s (i.e. realise, summarise) and throw weird u’s in words (humour, neighbour). Math is now maths, centre is not center any longer and traveling has become travelling. Sometimes it’s just easier to succumb, rather than to fight it.
I'm intrigued to see what other English traits I pick up, in the upcoming four years that remain on my visa. Stay tuned for updates...