I have been in London for about a week now, but it feels like it has been so much longer. Since classes have not started my days have been filled with exploring the city and people watching. I feel like the best way to learn a culture and become fully immersed within it is to watch how the locals act and behave.
The first time I realized my flat mates and I were standing out from the crowd was on the tube. Here, the tubes are a rather quiet place where people read a newspaper or their phone while commuting throughout the city. There is not a lot of chatter on the trains, but if there is, the noise seems loud and out of place. People will sit next to someone they seem to know and say little to nothing to them throughout the ride.
After a couple of trips on the tube of clearly standing out, we decided to sit quietly and just observe. When we did this, it became apparent that all the noise on the train was coming from tourists, especially Americans. We stick out not only because of our accents, but also because of how loudly we talk, especially in quiet places. After this experience, I have made the effort to stay quiet on the tube and blend in with the locals because I do not want to be a tourist here for long.
When leaving the underground, we sometimes have to take escalators and it did not take long to realize that taking up the entire escalator is not the norm here. It is common for people to stand to the right of the elevator and walk up the left. I was caught up in a conversation with someone on one of these escalators and this person got more or less yelled at by someone trying to walk up the left hand side and being unable to. After this one encounter and seeing how everyone else rides the escalator I have quickly adjusted to standing single file on the right side of an escalator regardless of who I am with or talking to.
Another observation I made was while out to eat at a restaurant that served mainly burgers. In the USA burgers and fries are finger food, but while waiting for our food, my flat mates and I realized this may not be the case here. Everyone in the restaurant was eating both their burgers and fries with a fork and knife. When our food arrived, we hesitated before eating, but in the end, we decided to attempt to eat this typical finger food with a fork and knife. It was weird at first, but by the time I finished my food I realized it was not that difficult or strange to eat a burger and fries this way.
In addition to the way this meal was eaten it has also been a difficult adjustment knowing when we are supposed to seat ourselves and when we are supposed to tip. Every time we walk into a restaurant there is neither a sign to seat yourself nor someone standing at a host stand. In the beginning we would stand there awkwardly waiting to see if we were supposed to be seated, but after a few experiences we realized that it is very common to seat yourself and many locals do it instantly. It still feels a little awkward to go in and seat ourselves, but I have made an effort to try and adjust to this.
Tipping is also confusing here because we never know when it is appropriate to tip as it depends on the type of restaurant or how the bill is laid out. If there is a service charge included in the bill, then you do not tip anything. I am so used to automatically tipping 15-20%, so it is weird to look and see if a tip is included or if it needs to be added on in addition to the bill.
When initially thinking about London I was under the impression that we share the common language of English so it can’t possibly be too different from a typical city in the USA. I could not have been more wrong. We both speak English, but it is not the same. There are signs to “mind your purse,” but here a purse is your wallet and your purse is actually referred to as a handbag. Little differences are seen like this when talking with locals or reading signs, and they do not seem like a big deal but not realizing there are differences can lead to some potentially confusing and awkward conversations.
Although I have only been living in London for a short time, I feel that I am already adapting some of behaviors and tendencies to match the locals. Often when I travel, I am a tourist, but living here for six weeks gives me the chance to blend in and learn more about this rich city and the people who live here.