Culture Shock in London: Small Yet Big Differences

Zakiyah Harrison, ’24, is a Graphic Design student studying at the Foundation of International Education in London this Summer 2022

After being for London in two weeks now there are multiple differences in culture that really surprised me! Prior to leaving for this trip, I was extremely excited, I had never been out of the country before and was super eager to be involved in this new experience. But of course, I had a little bit of nervousness about how well I’d be able to mesh into London life and culture. Wondering if I would feel out of place was a concern for me which is very normal for going to a foreign country. But after these two weeks, I experienced and already seen ‘Britishness’ that I wasn’t aware of and that includes the culture shock I’ve experienced thus far.

British Terminology

The first day my fellow classmates and I stepped foot in the UK for the first time, we immediately picked up on different terminology that we just assumed would be the same in an English-speaking country like London. Exiting out of our plane to retrieve our suitcases from baggage claim, we saw multiple signs directing us to the “LIFT” instead of the elevator which made me chuckle at first sight. 

“The right side is the left side”

Exiting out of Heathrow Airport we had to hail a taxi which unlike American ones, are not the distinctive bright yellow color. They’re all black, old fashioned carriage cars that look straight out of an old movie. Taxis in London are much nicer and cleaner than they are in Philadelphia which I really appreciated, and honestly was a little jealous that they weren’t that nice in America. The drive to our housing quarters felt so surreal that it took me at least 10 minutes to realize that we were actively driving on the left side of the street! This was definitely something that took me until right about now to get used to. So, if you plan on visiting London make sure you look down on the street when crossing because most of the time, they’ll tell you which way to look first! Take it from me who has almost gotten hit by a biker multiple times LOL.

Experiencing the new yet unexpected

I also have some other random cultural differences you could look out for when in London that I thought were quite peculiar. Taking a trip to the grocery store I headed to the refrigerated dairy section expecting to see eggs there, except in the United Kingdom, eggs are not refrigerated, they’re stored on the shelf. This was a little alarming to me at first but after some research turns out it’s to prevent salmonella poising, so it’s actually a safety precaution. 

Food service culture is completely different in the UK than it is in America. I was so used to being checked in on throughout my meal and having a server refill your water. But my experiences in London with restaurants is that the servers aren’t super nice to you, they’re not kissing your butt to get a good tip like American servers would. You typically ask for the check when you are ready instead of waiting for them to bring it and tipping is nonexistent. So if you find yourself in a restaurant and you feel like you made your waiter mad, you didn’t – they’re typically standoffish. 

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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