I don’t know how to cross the street: Culture shock in London

Culture shock is a given when you live, or travel, somewhere new. I expected to have to get used to seeing cars and pedestrians on the other side of the road or hearing lift, football or chips opposed to elevator, soccer and fries. But I figured since we spoke the same language and I was quite familiar with Europe that it wouldn’t be as different, but being here has been far more ‘shocking’ than expected. 

I think the most obvious is walking around. People stay on the left on the escalator and the street, and of course cars drive on the left. So when I pass people on the street my instinct is to go to the right, but then I end up almost bumping into the people who’s instinct is to go to the left. And thank goodness for the look left and look right signs on the busy roads, reminding tourists which way to look so there are no major accidents. On the smaller roads with less traffic however, I always find myself getting confused about which way to look, and I’m looking back and forth on each side to make sure there are no vehicles coming either way. It’s probably obvious to Londoners that I’m a visitor since it looks like I don’t know how to cross the street. 

And while I’m on the topic of walking around the city, the streets and the Tube stations are so clean. Living in a major city like this one I would expect the streets to be littered with trash like Philadelphia, but no! And I also find it weird that it is so clean, but there are so few trash cans on the corners of streets. 

Number two is the way I dress. I’ve never really dressed up unless I’m going out or to work. The clothes I packed for this trip are reflective of what I wear at home: slides, t-shirts and leggings. But I realized as soon as we could leave the building that I did not bring the right clothes, and I will be going shopping asap. I don’t think I’ve passed a single person on the street that’s been dressed down. I stick out like a sore thumb if I go out in my go-to, leggings and a hoodie, even if I’m just walking to class or getting a coffee—which is another thing I’ve had to get used to. 

Number three. I cherish my iced coffee. I would rather drink an iced over hot coffee any day, unless it’s 25 degrees outside and I have to walk holding a freezing cup in my hand. The same goes for any drinks; I love them cold. But in London, and Europe in general, ice is not a given. Most cafes don’t serve iced coffee, and if you order a drink (alcoholic or not) you have to ask for ice specifically. It has been a tough transition for me. 

Number four: everyone is so polite and outgoing. A few friends and I will be sitting at a table at a pub or restaurant and someone will turn to us and start a conversation. And it’s not like a minute or so of small talk, you end up getting into a real conversation. For example, I was at a pub and there were two men sitting at a table across from us whose beers looked good. So I asked them what it was so I could try it. They answered and I said thank you and turned back to my friend thinking that was the end of it, but they started telling us about something else and it turned into a 5 minute conversation between our two tables. 

Five: charcoal is a big thing here. I see charcoal croissants (which I recommend), charcoal pastries, and charcoal pizza crusts are offered at almost every Italian restaurant. It’s a silly little difference I’ve noticed, but I wonder why it’s so popular here and not in the states. 

Finally, the sun sets much later. We’ll go out to dinner at 7:30 and it will still be nice and bright out by the time we leave. The days feel much longer, which is nice since we only have a month or two to really experience the city. It’s lovely, although it can be a little disconcerting. Sometimes I’ll wake up from an afternoon nap thinking I only slept for an hour or so but check my phone and realize it’s already 8:45. 

A Message from the Office of Global Engagement:

The safety and security of Drexel students is a priority for the University. As part of the efforts to support Drexel students that are studying abroad during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Office of Global Engagement has conducted a rigorous review of programming and provided additional support to participating students with customized pre-departure orientations and regular check-ins during the required self-isolation period and the term.

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