Saturday, March 03, 2018

Saturday and Sundry Cultural Differences

During the week, at Quora, I read some entries in answer to this question:
"If an American were to visit the United Kingdom, what would they be culturally shocked by?"
 Husband in England holding a US local newspaper
I enjoyed the read, then asked my husband what, if anything, had shocked him during his year in England. He told me that nothing had actually "shocked" him, but some differences were interesting, mainly age of historic buildings, public transport readily available. He could well have been "softened up" by having spent time in Canada in the past. Canada, though not the same, might still retain some semblance of Britishness in certain cultural tones.

It's 13 years since I was in the UK myself, the Brexit vote happened, some things will have changed, but deep seated culture will, no doubt, still live on much as it was.

From answers at Quora I extracted snips in relation to the most mentioned areas of potential "shock", mixed and matched, grouped them together. I've added a few illustrations to the mix. When I began this post it was rather compact, but over a couple of days it has grown, as other answers appeared - now it straggles on...and on! More answers could well have been added by the time this is posted - but got to stop somewhere!

Names of the Quora writers whose words are included below - some are from the UK, others from the USA:
Vince Millett, Quentin Stephens, Neil Anderson, Sean Foster, David Craig, Nick Hughes, Lee Dennett, Matthew Sullivan, John Mulhall, David Barton.

The Flag & National Pride
We don't have the same kind of national pride. Those that vigorously wave and salute the flag are viewed suspiciously as probably a couple of short steps from racist or fascist. Don't mistake this for not being proud or grateful to be from the UK.

We don’t worship our flag. It’s just a piece of cloth and there are a variety of attitudes to it.

We don’t generally have guns or live in fear of guns. Most of our police are unarmed.

We’ve been around longer. When someone says that their family or house has been there for over 900 years, they can probably point to the relevant entry in the Domesday Book.

There's a lot of history. There probably isn't a town in the nation that doesn't have some buildings older than the US. We still use them, they aren't all museums, sometimes they're just pubs, shops and offices.

The extremely old nature of many towns and cities puts restrictions on road size and layouts. About a dozen cities originated as Roman settlements 2 thousand years ago. We're still preserving plenty of buildings that are older than the American colonies by a few hundred years. It can give us a very different perspective on time and relevance.

Size and Distances
Just as 100 years ago is relatively recent to Britons, 100 miles is a really long way away.

Everything is probably going to seem smaller and more compact. From portions to houses to shops to roads to cars to towns to the countryside. You can drive the length of the UK in a long day.
[Note: See here for other size comparisons]

Getting around
Most cities and large towns have decent public transportation that means you can do perfectly well without a car, remember smaller. If you do hire a car the fuel prices will be a surprise, not in a good way, but our cars are generally more fuel efficient.

You drive on the wrong side of the road....and yes we actually do pay that much for petrol!

The thing that shocked me was how everyone walked. Not, as some others have suggested that everyone walks, because I live in Boston and people walk plenty here. Specifically the thing that shocked me was that people did not keep to the right or the left. They just sort of went every which way. I figured it would be one or the other, but it was just a free-for-all. I was starting to get used to it by the time I left, but it was disconcerting.


You may or may not be surprised at the levels of multiculturalism and how integrated cosmopolitan areas are. We've had waves of integration from a world spanning Empire. It's not that there are no frictions or problems, but nothing in the scale of parts of the US.


Compared with the US, Britain is relatively secular. Note we are not actually hostile to religion, just indifferent. Of course you will find true believers of all religions here and sadly some genuine hostility towards some faiths, but there isn’t typically the same kind of appetite or fervour for faith in the UK compared to the US......

Healthcare related

Healthcare: the NHS. As an American, you will be expected to pay, but only afterwards, and it won’t be the zillions American doctors and hospitals charge. If you can’t pay, you probably won’t be chased.

Teeth. We have them, there just the normal colour rather than some shade designed in a lab to look like moonlight on an elephants graveyard.

Americans don’t get the British drinking culture.................Sunday morning in the police station is usually awash with hungover twenties and middle aged men and women who’ve been in pub brawls and can't remember what happened. I’m not aware that this is seen outside of teens and students in the states. Excessive drinking is seen as normal here. It would not be unusual for someone to describe a night out as follows:
“I had ten pints, and a load of jäger bombs, then I had a fight with some matey who looked at me, and then had a kebab and threw up, then went to a club and can’t remember a thing, and couldn’t see straight until Sunday afternoon. It was brilliant.”

Beer isn't warm, but it's not ice cold larger type stuff in many places.

There is no such thing as a British accent. How people speak changes from area to area. There are whole parts of the country where you won't be able to understand a word, but it is still counted as English.
 Note from your blogger - these are not even all of 'em!

Eating Out
Our eating habits and cost of eating out - indeed the whole cost of living especially food and housing [potentially shocking].

Tipping: restaurant staff in the UK are paid a decent wage, tipping is much appreciated but 15 or 20% is well over the norm here!

[There's a recommendation that US visitors should watch a soccer or rugby game...]

Get to a pub near the ground a couple of hours before kickoff to get beered up and you’ll be amazed by the tribalism that exists in modern life. The chanting and singing makes you feel you are really a part of that club like your family. No National Anthems here (unless it’s an international game), just singing about past glories and taunting the opposition. There’s no racism, homophobia and no singing about death either, but pretty much anything else goes.


Wisewebwoman said...

Interesting post. I was sharing with my book club recently that when I moved to Canada I had to learn a whole new language and they were surprised. And the largeness of everything compared to Ireland (detergent, shampoo, toothpaste, etc). Laundry not washing, never using the word "toilet'. On and on and on. And then everyone finding me "adorable" and "cute" in my Irishness. Never listening to the content of what I was saying and being proud of that: "oh I could listen to you forever, that brogue!"
I nearly went mental. Seriously. As I tried to extrapolate a financial statement yet again.


Twilight said...

Wisewebwoman ~ Thank you WWW. Yes, you have found that similar bits and pieces need updating efforts to the once pristine memory bank.
Yep - I got the "I could listen to you for ever" a few days ago! And two gals at the Doc's office just the other day : "Oh I love that accent - I wish I had it!" I'm always gobsmacked, even after 14 years. I try to be gracious and reply the "I love your accent too." And I actually do!

anyjazz said...

I think I miss the public transportation in the UK the most. Being able to walk anywhere one needs is really a pleasure. We didn't NEED a car! And being able to conveniently travel up and down the country without a car is great.

Twilight said...

anyjazz ~ Me too - though I do love our road trips. If public transport were widely available we'd do different trips - and love them equally...And that'd better for the environment, but The Powers That Be care little about the environment!

A Casual Reader said...

I've never been to England, unfortunately, but I've been to Ireland and was delightfully surprised to see all the 'Ladies Hat Hire' shops in Dublin, which was a concept I'd never considered before. I still chuckle when I think of them. They make perfect sense.

Aside from that, there was one worrying incident: After a good dinner one evening in Skerries, we decided to walk for a bit. Earlier that afternoon, we'd come across an interesting thatch-roofed pub down a side street and decided to go back there before calling it a night. When we stepped inside the dark doorway, we heard what must have been a hundred men all talking furiously. Within seconds, they all stopped and turned their heads to look at us. Their silence and our sudden unease forced us to abruptly turn and leave. About twenty minutes later, as we walked, we heard a group of men drunk-singing from about a block behind us. Apparently, there was some big football match the next day and these guys (and all the other guys in that pub) were pumped up about it. The lyrics they sang are not printable here - having to do with invasive sexual actions to be performed on the opposing team. Because we had never in our lives seen or heard this sort of public display, we ducked down the nearest street-corner and stood there in the darkness until they had (safely) passed us by. I've never forgotten that incident - and it certainly doesn't elicit any chuckles.

What I remember about my first visit to Canada in 1965 was that their money was colorful and beautiful, compared to our boring green and white stuff.

I returned to Canada in 1970 and, now being a smoker, I was very impressed with the way Canadian cigarettes were packaged - in little boxes. There was one brand whose name I don't recall that had a calendar printed on the inside lid. Very classy compared again to the American product.

Twilight said...

A Casual Reader ~ Thank for you contribution - it's a good read!

Though your experience was in Ireland, very similar experiences will abound in England, Scotland and Wales when encountering the soccer-mad pub-going crowd, close to the date of an important game.

Not sure about the 'sudden silence' you experienced though, but it could well happen in some rural pubs. I do remember my maternal grandfather telling me, often, that though he had come up north to Yorkshire, from Wiltshire, much more than half a century ago, he was never fully accepted in the local pubs - in spite of the fact that he'd been a taxi driver for many years and was well known locally.

Tribal feelings persist, it seems.