16 MONTHS IN LONDON
A Crash Course in Becoming British
Written by Alice Bell & Heartleigh Little
Written by Alice Bell & Heartleigh Little
Last August, when I first stepped off the plane at Heathrow Terminal 2, I didn’t feel like I had traveled very far from my native country. Everyone still spoke English, there were McDonald’s and Starbucks everywhere, and the big city vibe of London is in many ways very similar to that of New York.
It was only after I had already spent a few months in the U.K. when I started to notice just how strange British people really are. Boys were alarmingly boring over text message, my new London friends never laughed at any of my jokes, and I received strange stares when I ordered a ‘glass of tea’ one afternoon. A year and half of this nonsense later, I’ve had to teach myself a whole new way of living, and to be honest I didn’t like it here until I did. While I may be leaving London in a few days, my fellow American friend, Heartleigh, and I are passing on the knowledge we’ve gained when it comes to bonding with the Brits. For anyone contemplating a trip across the pond, keep reading below to save yourself from any future embarrassment.
1. Step one is to accept the life you’ve been given and hope for nothing better. Don’t be too ambitious or try to outrun the natural course of things. Instead, know your place and stay in it. Even if your life sucks, you don’t want to upset the way things are. It’s called the “American Dream” for a reason, so leave it to the Yanks.
2. There is never a wrong time to drink in the U.K. As for where to do it, Brits will choose their local pub with it’s dark booths and sticky carpets over a trendy new bar any day. A cocktail menu is never needed, because a classic beer or ale is always the right way to go. If you’re feeling particularly frisky on a night out though, order a “snake bite” for a pleasant surprise. The morning after, embrace your hangover as another fact of life, and be sure not to mention Alcoholics Anonymous to anyone.
3. Always stay within your comfort zone. If it’s not comfortable, just stay in it anyways. In social situations remain in your close knit friend circle. Socializing with strangers can be awkward and uncomfortably personal. If a girl talks to you at a bar, just ignore her and she’ll eventually go away.
4. Don’t express emotion…ever. If you fancy someone, never let them know how you really feel. Date for a few months, get married, have kids with this person and then maybe utter the words “I love you” in passing. The same goes for your enemies. Avoid confrontation at all costs even if this means crawling under your desk to hide from them.
6. Though the Brits speak English, it can often be a wholly different language altogether. “Cheers” is used in place of any words like thank you, goodbye, come again and you’re welcome–but don’t use it to clink glasses with your mates–that’s embarassing. Do not say “subway” or “metro.” It is “the tube,” full stop. Coriander is cilantro, fag is not a slur, and you probably live in a flat, not an apartment. If someone asks, “You alright?” they mean “Hi, how are you?” They’re not asking if you are actually okay. You’re fine.
5. Forget lung cancer and any and all general health concerns. Smoking is still cool, so light up a cig or five the next time you go out. You’ll receive no judgmental glares, I promise.
7. Everyone loves the royals. From her grey grannie bob to her notorious hand wave, everything about the Queen is lovable. It’s totally normal and acceptable to know all details about the royal family, including what Kate wore on her most recent outing and when Harry is going to meet his new girlfriend. Royal events are a big deal, especially the Queen’s birthday, which is celebrated more than once a year.
8. Politics, religion and money are a no-go in conversation. Brits avoid awkward situations at all costs, and that includes discussing anything more personal than the weather or their social calendar for the month. Dinner parties are an excellent place to not discuss any of these topics. Instead ask, “How was your weekend?” “Did you get a haircut?” or just talk about the Royals. If you find yourself drunk and asking the wrong questions, just keep drinking. It will help.
9. Ride the tube everyday, to and from work. Don’t forget to abide by a set of unspoken rules whilst underground though. These include (but are certainly not limited to) avoiding direct eye contact with other passengers, not speaking to strangers, politely looking away when the rare misfit gets on and asks for money, and of course minding the gap between the train and the platform.
10. You receive a month of paid vacation time in the United Kingdom each year, so “holiday” is taken quite seriously. Grab a huge group of your best mates and fly down to Ibiza or Mallorca for a week of non-stop partying. You’ll most likely run into everyone you’ve ever gone to uni or secondary school with, so there’s no need to mingle with the locals.
Heartleigh Little is an American freelance stylist and journalist